Church documents on Affective Maturiy

The Church Documents on the need for Affective Maturity
Fr. Bhyju cmf

In the recent years the need to have a solid Human Formation of the candidates for priesthood and religious life is stressed very much by the Church. It also emphasises the need to have a well developed personality capable of living a life of dedication as a response to the call of God. The Church documents which are related to the formation and life of priests and religious underline the need for affective maturity to live a life of celibate chastity.

Vatican II Documents

I would present a brief account of three documents which indicate the need for affective maturity in formation and to live a life of celibacy. Decree on the training of Priests, Optatam Totius, 10 speaks on the need to grow in greater maturity, mastery of mind and body and achieve a kind of integration of the renunciation of marriage to live responsibly chastity. No 11 indicates the need for Religious education to be supplemented by sound psychology and pedagogy. It goes on to advocate the need for well-planned formation that helps the students to achieve a proper degree of human maturity. According to this document human maturity shows itself in stability of character, ability to make carefully considered decisions, sound judgement of events and people, etc. The candidates are advised to form habits of self-control and develop strength of character. Decree on the up-to-date Renewal of Religious Life, Perfectae Caritatis, 12 emphasises the need to achieve maturity and especially affective maturity before one is admitted to the profession of vows. The council fathers note that “the observance of perfect continence touches intimately the deeper inclinations of human nature. For this reason, candidates ought not to go forward, nor should they be admitted, to the profession of chastity except after really adequate testing, and unless they are sufficiently mature, psychologically and affectively.”[1] Finally, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, Presbyterorum Ordinis, 16 presents the need for asceticism to appreciate and live the gift of celibacy. One thing common to all these documents is that the Church recognizes the need to have a formation program that helps those in formation to grow in affective maturity. But these documents do not define what is affective maturity. That would be done by post-conciliar documents. Let me proceed to present some documents now.

 Post-Vatican II Documents

At this point I would first elaborate a few points stressed by the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II written in 1992 after the Bishops’ Synod on Priestly Formation entitled Pastores Dabo Vobis [‘I Will Give You Shepherds after my own heart’ Jer. 3:15]. And then add a few points from A Guide to Formation in Priestly Celibacy by the Sacred congregation for Catholic Education. Let me begin with Pastores Dabo Vobis. This rich document draws not only on the work of the Synod Fathers but also on all the other documents on priestly formation which have been published as a result of the Vatican Council. PDV[2] has been viewed as distinctly innovative and as promoting human development in priestly formation. It has encouraged those charged with the formation of future priests to use the insights of secular sciences, particularly those given by developmental psychology, in the holistic formation of the candidates. This document has emphasised that human formation does not end with the time of formation a person spends in the seminary. It asserts that human formation is to be considered as a sine qua non on which the priest will base the whole of his developing life as stage and age appropriate transitions are encountered. The human formation of priestly life is viewed as the bedrock to which all other formative experiences are attached in an integrative manner (PDV 43). The document is not only concerned with the initial phase of formation but also with on-going formation and issues which pertain to various stages of life and ministry. [3]

The crux of human formation, according to PDV, is the promotion of the candidate’s human maturity but, in keeping with the integral nature of priestly formation, this must be related to the overall goal which is “to make them true shepherds of souls after the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, teacher, priest, and shepherd”. The rationale for human formation is not the humanistic desire to develop full personal potential but, rather, the desire to enhance the candidate’s effectiveness for the church’s mission. The aim of formation, therefore, is to transform the personality of the candidate more and more into the likeness of Christ the priest. It individuates three particular objectives of human formation: first, to develop interior freedom; second, to foster a strong moral conscience; third, to enhance affective maturity. Let us take up the third objective of affective maturity. The discussion on affective maturity is based on the presupposition that love is central to human life (PDV, 44). The document sets forth both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of a love which touches every aspect of human existence. This stands in contrast to the pervasive socio-cultural tendency to reduce love and sexuality to its physical dimension, and to the belief that sexual continence is an unrealistic ideal in today’s world (PDV, 8.29.48). The basis for priestly celibacy is a particular relationship of love which unites the priest to Christ in service of the Church (PDV, 29). Priestly celibacy has both spiritual and a human foundation. The spiritual foundation gives celibacy its specific meaning and purpose: celibacy “for the sake of the kingdom” cannot be properly understood outside the context of religious faith. The human foundation of priestly celibacy is the priest’s capacity for mature relationships which, in turn, depends largely upon his degree of affective maturity. The charism of celibacy does not change the human nature of the priest nor does it suppress his normal sexual instincts (PDV, 44). The priest requires a personality with sufficient psychological balance to sustain the demands of celibate life. The document stresses the importance of selection of candidates and the need for adequate formation for celibacy. Finally the Pope stresses the need for ongoing formation and says that an appropriate human formation is the necessary foundation for every aspect of the priest’s ongoing formation. The document adopts a developmental perspective towards ongoing formation. It is based on a vision of human life oriented towards a progressive growth in maturity (PDV, 70) but always understood within an anthropology that is open to the full truth about human existence (PDV, 45).[4]

A Guide to Formation in Priestly Celibacy was prepared by the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education[5] as a response to the call given by Pope Paul VI in his Encyclical Letter Sacerdotalis Caelibatus to draw up instructions with the help of truly qualified men treating with all the necessary detail the theme of chastity. Let me highlight a few points from the guide on the theme of Formation in Human Maturity. According to this guide plans for priestly formation should have three aims: answering the need to form personalities which are integrally human, Christian, and priestly. The guide presents the need for human maturity in the context of living the celibate state. “Human maturity, as shown by a mature personality, is a harmony of elements and an integration of tendencies and values.” The following qualities are presented as the mark of a mature person: “a person who has acquired a ready and habitual capacity to act freely; a man who has integrated his developed human potential with habits of virtue; a man who has acquired an easy and habitual emotional self-control by integrating his emotional drives and placing them at the service of his reason; […] one whose conduct obviously follows his conscience; […] finally, a man who has succeeded in bringing all his specifically human possibilities and potentialities to their due development” (18). It also invites the person in formation to make a journey from emotional appraisal to rational appraisal (20). It stresses also the need to attain sexual maturity. “Sexual maturity represents a vital step in the attainment of psychological adulthood. Hence, it is necessary to give proper place to sex in the total picture of a personality in the process of formation.” (21). It speaks of the difficulties in integrating sexuality and the need for self-control. So this document presents the need for affective maturity in the overall context of formation in human maturity and specifically in the area of living the celibate chastity.

[1] Perfectae Caritatis, 12.

[2] From here on Pastores Dabo Vobis would be referred in its abbreviated form PVD.

[3] J. MURPHY, The Priest for the New Millennium an internet article accessed from on 25th February 2004.

[4] For a detailed discussion see T. COSTELLO (2002), 87-93

[5] This document is referred from National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Norms for Priestly Formation, Vol. 1 (November 1993), 153-205.

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