CHALLENGES OF RELIGIOUS FORMATION
The formation period has paramount importance in the life of a religious. Consciously involving in the formation programe, identifying various dimensions of challenges and handling them in a mature way, are all part of the process. No money and no energy is a waste when they are invested in the area of formation and ongoing formation of the religious. This article is the result of a search in that direction.
Religious formation could be compared to the growing process of a tree or the process of constructing a house. As everything is vital in the growing process of a tree, so also the different aspects of formation is very important. Having the good seed at hand, sowing the seed in the right place, watering it regularly and protecting it from all sorts of dangers occupy paramount importance for the healthy growth and consequent fruit bearing of a tree. In the same way, identifying a genuine vocation and helping it to grow, constitute a great responsibility. The stability and authenticity of a religious congregation is very much related to the genuine process of formation in the congregation. No amount of money or energy is wasted when they are invested in the formation programe. Whatever one has gained in formation will accompany him/her always.
There are many challenges related to the topic of formation and in the light of the new document of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, ‘New Wine in New Wineskins’, the challenges could be summarized in the following way: Formation tends to be more informative than performative. Formation is not a fine blend of spiritual and human dimensions. Young religious are more oriented to professional degrees than theological courses (12, 14). Regarding the ongoing formation the same documents states that on-going formation is at times reduced to religious tourism (visiting places of origin or pilgrim centres), attending some theological courses and lacking reflection and revision (16). Rethinking the objectives, the structures, the style and the method of formation becomes very relevant in the face of the various challenges. The intention of this article is to present the double dimensional challenges connected with formation and to point out some concrete to ways to handle the challenges.
I Subjective Challenges
As ‘New Wine in New Wineskins’, the new document states that consecrated life today is placed before the challenges of creative fidelity. This is evident in all areas of consecrated life including formation. Among the innumerable challenges connected with formation, the first part is related to the challenges which a formee faces from within, and they are known as subjective challenges. The attitudes, aptitudes, desires, dreams and visions of the formee come under subjective challenges. These challenges could be converted as opportunities for the further growth of the formee. However, all these depend very much on the formee. These subjective challenges have to be really handled well, if not the whole person will be very much conditioned by them and would curtail his proper growth. The following are some of the challenges in the subjective field.
- The Formee and his Basic Disposition
When formation in religious life is referred, the main agent is the formee who has expressed his wish to be lead and thus to be formed in a particular religious life style. Voluntary readiness is therefore, something that is taken for granted to initiate this process of formation. The main aim of formation is to help the candidate to understand himself/herself and thus conform himself/herself to Jesus Christ whom the formee considers as the real Master and the Lord; and who decides to commit his/her life to Him, and Him alone. This process of conformation to the person of Jesus Christ will take place in a formee regularly and constantly when the formee shows the basic disposition of openness from his/her part. However, this process will be hindered once the attitudes, aptitudes, desires and dreams of the formee are not healthy and genuine. This becomes the greatest challenge for a person under formation. It is worthwhile to remember the words of Pope Francis when he spoke about ‘existential schizophrenia’ in the life of a follower of Jesus, which means to be in a position which adopts a double life. This is going to be very dangerous for him/her and for others. And let it be very clear that the external challenges are secondary compared to the inner challenges or the subjective challenges. Lack of basic disposition in a religious, especially for a candidate under formation, is a serious challenge. As years pass by in the formation period, some formees replace the basic disposition with purely human motivations. In this context, real crisis emerge in a formee as there is the inner struggle between the professed ideal on the one side and the adopted human motivations on the other.
- b) Unhealthy Attitudes
An unhealthy attitude is a wrong or negative attitude which the formee possesses and this becomes all the more complicated when the formee does not want to be liberated from it. Some of the unhealthy attitudes which directly defeat the purpose of formation are excessive inferiority/superiority complex, totally negative approach towards others, constantly finding fault with superiors etc. A formee with constant unhealthy attitude is very difficult to be guided or formed in the expected way. Constant uncritical approach to ones choices and decisions really destroys that person. This situation is very much opposed to the real ideal connected with formation. In formation what we are trying is to make ourselves a better person with proper guidance and direction. Unhealthy attitude constitutes a real threat for the over whole growth of that individual be it in the family, society or in a religious congregation. A formee with deep rooted unhealthy attitude needs to work hard to come out of it. Strong formative and self awareness courses are the means with which a formee could be helped to come out of this state.
- c) Wrong Aptitudes
Individuals possess variety of aptitudes in life which may help them to grow further or crush them totally. A person under formation must have the aptitudes that could help him/her to grow in his consecrated life. There could be aptitudes which the formee may possess which become real hindrance in the path of formation. It is also the responsibility of the formee to make deep introspection to identify the aptitudes. The candidate must work consciously to develop those aptitudes which could become a source of energy and vitality in his consecrated journey. A formee with wrong motivation could develop deep liking towards certain aptitudes which may turn to be slavery in his path. Excessive attachment to these aptitudes take away a lot of energy and time of the formee. At times the formee finds pleasure and comfort in these wrong aptitudes and this happens at the expense of the authentic aptitudes. Pleasure principle is the motivating factor for the person who is lead by the wrong aptitudes. These challenges must be identified and dealt in the proper time.
- d) Personal Desires and Dreams
Desires and dreams about life is a necessary element in life. Ideally a formee in the consecrated life must have the desires and dreams of a world based on Gospel values and the charism of the congregation. The formee is expected to live his life according to this ideal. Therefore, there is a process of true personalization or interiorization of what one desires and dreams. The very life will be adapted to this ideal. His world vision becomes parallel to the world vision of Jesus presented in the Gospels. Real challenge begins when a formee in consecrated life who is expected to live a life dominated by the gospel values, is being lead by purely individualistic and self centered desires and dreams. This would create real tension in his or her life, because on the one side there is the professed ideal of following Jesus of the Gospel and on the other side there is a life which is being lead by self centered dreams and desires. It is very clearly stated in number 2 of the document ‘The Service of Authority and Obedience”, by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, ‘that one must also keep in mind that when freedom tends to become arbitrariness and the autonomy of the person, independence from the Creator and from relationships with others, then one finds oneself before forms of idolatry that do not increase freedom but rather slavery’. Unhealthy witness and behaviors are often done by this individual. This will lead to meaninglessness of life for him, and real problem for the congregation.
The subjective challenges must be identified and handled properly for the genuine growth of a formee in his/her consecrated journey. In the absence of authentic steps, duplicity can creep in this journey about which the document ‘New Wine in New Wineskins’ warns: We have learnt to live with two opposing values: one a true value – following Christ – and the other a counter-value, namely worldliness in consecrated life.
II Objective or External Challenges
The objective challenges are the ones that exist externally, namely, the realities, structures and persons connected with the formee in the formation. Genuine religious formation is a collaborative work and combined effort of many persons. The objective elements are expected to help the formee to mould himself/herself and thus becomes an authentic person in various levels of life such as human, Christian, religious etc. However, the objective realities could constitute real challenges for many formees in formation. Some of them are treated below.
- a) Formator
The formator is a guru who is selected to help the formee to the expected goal with proper guidance. The role of a formator is that of a mentor who guides the formee with exemplary life. The relation between the formee and formator is very decisive in this regard. The formator must be able to consider the formee as an individual who has expressed his desire to be lead. The formee has the responsibility of creatively submitting himself to be lead. In order to facilitate this, there must be a cordial relation between the formee and formator. However, influenced by various factors, if the formee begins to consider the formator as a person who curtail his freedom or as a task master; then the person and role of the formator becomes a threatening challenge to the formee. A genuine and open relation between the formee and formator is expected at every stage of formation. In the absence of a genuine relation between the formator and the formee, the expected effects of formation may not be attained by the candidate. Instead, misunderstanding could grow, spirit of rivalry may emerge and even the vocation of the candidate could be at stake. Conscious efforts must be promoted to create genuine trust between the formee and the formator.
- b) Community
An authentic community which is disposed to help the formee is the ideal context for the formation. This community has the role to integrate the formee through exemplary life. If the formee is not a community oriented person, challenges arise. The relation of the formee to the members of the formation community as well as the community of other formees is very vital. For a religious who aspires to be a community person needs to be educated in community values. The ideal opportunities are to be provided by the community in which the formee lives. Religious who have value based life could really inspire the formee. This would happen knowingly and unknowingly. The interest of the formee and the community are very important here.
The important place that the community occupies in the formation of a religious is expressed by the document ‘Starting Afresh in Christ’ no 15: ‘Thus it will be important that all consecrated persons be formed in the freedom to learn throughout life, in every age and season, in every human ambient and context, from every person and every culture open to be taught by any fragment of truth and beauty found around them. But above all they must learn to be formed by everyday life, by their own community, by their brothers and sisters, by everyday things, ordinary and extraordinary, by prayer and by apostolic fatigue, in joy and in suffering, until the moment of death’. The document ‘New Wine in New Wineskins’ no. 13, warns that the basic cause of many leaving religious life is the result of inauthentic community life (sometimes due to lack of inter-generational dialogues in the community. A formee who does not grow in community life and who does not show any interest in the affairs of the community, is undergoing a real challenge.
- c) The External Structures
In the Church and in the consecrated life, the external structures are to be at the service of charism. However, these external structures can become real challenges for the consecrated life. The document ‘New Wine in New Wineskins’ is very prophetic in its warning when it states that the consecrated life is call to parresia; to creativity; to the conversion of structures; to retrieving the beauty of the essential in life; to taking on the newness of the Gospel; to changing things according to the law of the Gospel; to abandoning structures which by now are transient and useless; and to taking the ‘wineskins of the Gospel’. And therefore, we must dare to ask: are current structures really at the service of the life and mission of an institute or is it more that this life is at the service of the structures? There are various challenges that could emerge in the background of the structures that the consecrated life possess. When a life is under the jaws of structures, then charism is at stake. Where structures are given importance the spirit of the Gospel is destined to die. All must be taught to appreciate structures but for the healthy growth of the charism and the revival of the spiritual energy.
- d) The Cyber World
The scientific discoveries and technologies have offered innumerable possibilities and opportunities for the human beings. They have helped us to reduce the distance of space and time. In the life of the Church, they could be meaningfully employed to communicate the good news of salvation offered by Jesus Christ. In relation to formation, cyber world can assist the formee in various areas. However, there must be proper discernment and adequate guidance in this field. Excessive dependence and uncritical use of cyber world facilities could weaken the interest of a person in formation. Cyber world addiction has the capacity to kill the fundamental option in a formee. Furthermore, this would lead the formee to unexpected areas which create real struggle and challenge for his/her life. There are many victims of the cyber world in the consecrated life. Virtual communities and friends are born in cyber world and this is always at the expense of the real community and friend which is a real threat and challenge for a religious.
Challenges that are arising from the cyber world are many and the consecrated persons need new discernment. Proper education in managing the cyber world facilities are to be given to the candidates in formation period. Real learning and maturation takes place not always through denying the possibilities rather helping to conduct ourselves in expected way in the given situation. The formees must be taught to grow in personal responsibility.
- e) Relations/Family
Families and relations could become real source of inspiration in the life of a candidate to consecrated life. The committed Christian life of the parents, their exemplary spiritual life, the sacrifices they undergo in life, their appreciation for consecrated life etc are some of the areas from which a formee get real inspiration. However, challenges could also emerge in this area where a formee is excessively connected with families and friends which put in danger the quality of his vocation. Unnecessarily meddling with the family affairs could cause serious troubles for the religious. One may be forced to take up excessive tensions and unwanted worries. This would create less interest for the genuine elements of consecration. In the face of the challenges that are connected with family and relations, the formee must be educated to relate with them without this posing a threat to his consecrated journey.
III Process of Integration and Facing the Challenges
In order to handle the challenges connected with formation, there must a programe of life in the formation and ongoing formation period. This programe of life is designed for the overall growth of the formees which includes information, accompaniment, correction, dialogue, decision etc. In order to face the real challenges, the mind set up of our religious congregation and the mentality of the religious should undergo authentic changes. As the document ‘New Wine in New Wineskins’ points out that every Institute must find the way to be new wineskins that receive the new wine to revitalize the charisms as gifts of the Spirit and not as pieces of archeology that must only be safeguarded. The formees must be given every opportunity to discover his/her vocation in religious life which includes a formator who guides him/her well, a community who helps the formee, a structure and context which animates the formee etc.
While proposing certain concrete strategy to face the challenges faced by the religious in their formative journey, ‘New Wine in New Wineskins’ says the following things: fraternal life in community should be reviewed (n. 22-28), as well as the new itineraries of formation for young people, in order to achieve an increasingly better integration of the theological and anthropological visions, with renewed educational pedagogics in order to achieve a harmonious growth between the spiritual, cultural and human dimensions. Therefore all improvisations should be avoided and the same may be said all intellectual formation that is separated from formation in following Christ (we must avoid producing ‘monsters’). The formee must be provided with the positive tools to handle the challenges in his consecrated journey. From the part of the formee, a process of integration must take place all throughout his life where the learnt ideals must be applied in real life situations. This process must be periodically checked and corrected.
Revising the old strategy connected with religious formation is a need of the time. The candidates who enter into the religious life are the products of the changed culture of the society of today. They need to be understood properly, they need more time than the formees of a decade ago. The challenges the formees face today are greater in magnitude than the ones that were faced with the older generation. Their world is different and their language is different.
Constant accompaniment of the formee is the need of the day which would create a companionship between the formee and formator. This will help the formator to enter into the world of the formee and guide him properly. The old idea of ‘father’ figure of the formator is less accepted by the formees. It could be replaced by the figure of a friend who accompanies them constantly. This will create more creative space for dialogue between the formator and the formee. Concerning religious life Pope Francis has categorically stated that we must not form administrators and managers, but fathers, brothers, traveling companions. We must dare to question the way we are forming ourselves and our candidates.
Fraternal Life in Community (1994)
Starting Afresh from Christ (2002)
The Service of Authority and Obedience (2008)
New Wine in New Wineskins (2017)Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Pinterest