In his Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores Dabo Vobis, Blessed Pope John Paul II called for a sufficient period of preparation prior to major seminary formation due to differences between the “style of life” in the times in which we live and the “style of life” required by seminary formation (cf. n. 62). As a supplemental program, the Spiritual Year of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary responds to this, consistent with Vatican II teaching which called for “a suitable interval of time for a more intensive spiritual preparation” for seminarians (Optatam Totius, n. 12).
In the Spiritual Year, which ordinarily follows the seminarian’s college graduation, the seminarian is offered the gift of time, space, and direction to develop a rich, interior prayer life. In the process, the seminarian can achieve a deep solitude, solidifying his self-knowledge and vocational calling. This spiritual year strives for a life-experience which will allow the seminarian to “find God in all things” such that the stillness of the year—freed from academic grades—will foster a solitude in the heart to remain with the candidate through ordination and priestly life.
Components of the Spiritual Year include a focus on prayer, interactive learning, pastoral experience, communal living, and healthy recreation. The schedule of each day is structured around the celebration of the Eucharist, including a holy hour, the divine office and rosary prayed in common. Approximately two hours a day are spent in the classroom for a “contemplative study” of scripture, the catechism and spiritual classics as core courses.
Pastoral experiences are gained weekly, and via a month-long “immersion experience” in which seminarians are sent out two-by-two to enter the lives of the extremely poor (e.g. at a soup kitchen, shelter, etc). Spiritual monuments of the year include a Fall 3-day preached retreat, a late-winter 5-day directed retreat, and, in Spring, the 30-day Ignatian Exercises. Preparation for these rich experiences is integrated throughout the curriculum.
To assist in the quiet, the Spiritual Year community participates in a “media fast.” Sunday evening through Saturday morning, the seminarians refrain from the use of cell phones, television, computers, internet, and all other electronic devices. This allows a new personal freedom to be realized, over the shallow and even empty gratifications of modern popular media.
Mark 1:35 describes, “Rising early the next morning, [Jesus] went off to a lonely place in the desert; there he was absorbed in prayer.” The Spiritual Year offers the future, busy diocesan priest a foundation of solitude, following the pattern of Jesus. The Spiritual Year will be inaugurated the 2014-2015 academic year.