The cardinal recalled the four pillars of priestly formation: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral.
Regarding the human pillar, he said there is a particular stress on the fact that "one cannot be a priest without balance of mind and heart and without affective maturity, and every unresolved lacuna or problem in this area risks becoming gravely harmful, both for the person as well as for the People of God."
To this end, The Gift of the Priestly Vocation emphasizes the necessity of a "propaedeutic period" in seminaries, known in some places as a "spirituality year" prior to full-time academic work.
Cardinal Stella also said that vocational discernment is insisted upon, in an effort "to overcome a conveyor belt mentality which developed in the past." He said bishops and formators "are called to exercise a shrewd vigilance regarding the suitability of each candidate, without haste or superficiality."
An effort at "integral formation" is central to the document, and so, the cardinal said, beside the traditional division of formation into the stages of philosophical and theological studies, there has been added a threefold division of discipleship, configuration, and pastoral stages.
To each of these new stages there "corresponds an itinerary and a formative content, orientated toward an assimilation with the image of the Good Shepherd," he said.
Cardinal Stella sees humanity, spirituality, and discernment as the "keywords" which form the foundation of the document's vision.
"I cannot sufficiently insist upon the need that seminarians be accompanied through a growth process which will … help them become persons who are humanly balanced, serene and stable," he said. "Only in this way will it be possible to have Priests with friendly traits, who are authentic, loyal, interiorly free, affectively stable, capable of weaving together peaceful interpersonal relationships and living the evangelical counsels without rigidity, hypocrisy or loopholes."
Regarding spirituality, Cardinal Stella said that priestly identity is founded on the priest as "a disciple passionately in love with the Lord."
"Only in this way – cultivating his spiritual life with discipline and expressly dedicated time – can old sacral and bureaucratic views of ministry be surpassed, so that we may have Priests passionately motivated by the Gospel, capable of 'feeling with the Church' and being, like Jesus, compassionate and merciful 'Samaritans.'"
On discernment, the prefect said that "who follows the Gospel way and who immerses himself in life in the Spirit, overcomes both an ideological as well as a rigorist approach, discovering that the processes and situations of life cannot be classified through inflexible schemata or abstract norms, but instead need listening, dialogue, and interpretations of the heart's movements."
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He emphasized the importance of spiritual direction in enabling seminarians to grow in discernment.
Concluding, Cardinal Stella encouraged priests, saying: "The Lord never offers less than his promises, and if you have called upon him, he will make his light shine upon you, whether you live in darkness, aridity, fatigue or a moment of pastoral failure."
"I would like to recommend to priests that they not let the healthy disquiet, which maintains their progress on the right path, be extinguished! Do not neglect prayer, take great care with your spiritual life, remain disposed daily to form yourselves and let yourselves be sustained and taught by pastoral life and by the People of God. We must remain vigilant, as this time of Advent suggests, not to let habit or mediocrity deaden the gift which the Lord has given to us."