… the heart of formation
The writer has worked for some years in the formation of new Christian Brothers in Africa – for three years in a Pre-Novitiate (a live-in programme which prepares and tests interested young men before they undertake a formal two-year Novitiate programme) and currently in a Novitiate team in Lusaka, Zambia.
I believe the formation process should allow candidates to grapple with the facts of life while discerning their call to the way of life of the congregation they want to join and religious life in general. In Directives on Formation in Religious Institutes the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life clearly states:
“The proper renewal of religious institutes depends chiefly on the formation of their members. Religious life brings together Disciples of Christ who should be assisted in accepting ‘this gift of God which the Church has received from her Lord and which by his grace she always safeguards’. This is why the best forms of adaptation will bear fruit only if they are animated by a profound spiritual renewal. The formation of candidates, which has as its immediate end that of introducing them to religious life and making them aware of its specific character within the Church, will primarily aim at assisting men and women religious realize their unity of life in Christ through the Spirit, by means of the harmonious fusion of its spiritual, apostolic, doctrinal, and practical elements.”
The potter and the clay
In an interview on Religious Formation as it looks today, Father Paul Molinari SJ said: “The main artist of formation is God Himself, who acts in secret in the heart of men revealing Himself, drawing, challenging, loving. Through His Spirit he teaches, brings to mind, enlightens, enkindles, comes to the aid of our weakness, upholds. He is the potter we are the clay.” I wholeheartedly agree. God is at the center of the process of formation. Despite this, the individual called has the primary responsibility to respond to the call and take personal responsibility for his formation by being aware of what God is calling him to.
The period of temporary formation is a period that is exclusively set aside for the candidate to ask himself, with the help of those facilitating the process of formation: Is this what God is calling me to? Am I in the right place? Am I doing the right thing as someone created in the image and likeness of God? These questions are not a blueprint; rather they are meant to be grappled with, inviting God into the process of discernment.
Being ahead of doing
Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing”. I think he could also have added: “Without me you can be nothing”. For me, Religious Life is not primarily about doing but about being – being in the here and now. It is quite easy to be caught up in doing rather than being. Jesus did not only call his disciples and send them out, rather he lived with them first and taught them about himself and His Father before he asked them to go out and makes disciples of many nations. The candidates of any religious congregation will only carry out this urgent and important role if the formation process was in the first place grounded and rooted in the love of Christ. It is love which sees every candidate or professed member as unique and special in sight of God. In our mission of evangelization we endeavor to proclaim gospel values, to affirm the dignity of all people, and to work for justice and peace. We are called to witness by prophetic action to our option for the oppressed and to solidarity with them.
We are not called to be ‘success’ people. Mother Teresa once said we are not called to be successful but to be faithful. This statement maps out the essence of Religious Life, giving guidance both to candidates and to those responsible for facilitating the process of formation.
Attentive to the Word
Former Congregation Leader Edmund Garvey has said, “Show me your prayer and I will show you your ministry.” Edmund’s statement is a reality that cannot be ignored today. It is an invitation to be faithful in what we do, be, and would become. In the constitutions of the Christian Brothers, the chapter on Mission states: “Attentive to the Word and open to the power of the Spirit, we are called as brothers to form gospel communities which are our principal means of evangelization. Each of us is evangelized, both through life in community and through ministry.” The Constitution is very clear. Without the Word, gospel communities are not formed, and if gospel communities are not formed evangelization is out of the question.
Being attentive to the Word leads us towards evangelizing because of what the Word does in us.
Christian Brother Titus Kallon
Published August 2012
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