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Priestly formation must lead to understanding of ‘spiritual fatherhood’, says bishop

.- Bishops and priests are called to be “true spiritual fathers” to the faithful, but there are important cultural factors and attitudes that challenge this call, said Bishop Samuel J. Aquila. Speaking at the Fourth Annual Symposium on the Spirituality and Identity of the Diocesan Priest in Denver March 3, the bishop of Fargo challenged bishops and priests to examine their lives and honestly confront how their “spiritual fatherhood has been possibly compromised or defined by the spirit of the day.”

One of these challenges that must be addressed is the tendency to see the priesthood as a job, said the bishop.

“Have we adopted a false sense of privacy by which we do not confront, discipline or visit with our spiritual children?” he asked. “Do we abandon our spiritual children by defining our call to the priesthood as a 9-to-5 profession, with an attitude of ‘Don't call me after hours?’”  

Another cultural influence is “the secular view of sexuality, which is hedonistic and nihilistic, and completely counter to the intention of God,” Bishop Aquila said.

The bishop added that this view of sexuality is complicated by the fact that “some theologians, especially those who have accepted the radical feminist critique in their theological reflections, have rejected God the Father” and rejected Jesus Christ as man, the Word made flesh.

“The radical feminist critique of the Trinitarian doctrine provides a Gnostic approach to human and spiritual maturation in the Holy Spirit,” he said. 

Sensitive to these influences, seminarians must be guided to “a true understanding of spiritual fatherhood, which comes to us primarily from the Gospels and Jesus' relationship to the Father,” the bishop said.

For this to happen, priestly formation must adequately address fatherhood, he suggested.

“If some of the seminarians have never had fathers, or if there are concerns about their relationship with their fathers, this will need to be addressed both on the human and spiritual level, especially if the man is ever to develop a relationship with God the Father,” he said. 

“Every priest and bishop interiorly in faith must know how to receive and experience in his heart the eternal love of the Father for him if he is to communicate that love to others,” he added. 

Seminaries must also teach on human sexuality and help seminarians develop a healthy masculinity. 

He urged bishops, priests and seminarians to meditate on the chaste generative life of St. Joseph and use the fatherhood, displayed by St. Joseph, as a model.

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