Formation Of Hearts And Minds

Valerian Pereira sdb

As a Province, we are very much concerned with the dearth of vocations. Naturally, the decrease in numbers has evoked a great deal of discussion, and theories abound as to why young people are not enthused by religious life. Some suggest that young people are too self-centered, too materialistic, unable to make a lifetime commitment. Others suggest that parents have failed to pass on the faith adequately, failed to encourage their children to consider vocations to religious life. To lay the blame on one or the other is rather unfair. I propose that as we prepare for the Provincial Chapter, we should engage in a little soul searching. Let us be grateful for the numbers we have and let our formative environments help them develop as mature men in service of the Church.

When I think of the term ‘formation’, what immediately comes to mind is the seeking to prepare men/women to be bridges for, not obstacles to, the spread of the Gospel. The identity to be fostered in the candidate is that he/she becomes a man/woman of communion, that is, someone who makes a gift of self and is able to receive the gift of others. Here one needs integrity and self-possession in order to make such a gift. The capacity to be fostered is the affective ability to engage in pastoral leadership with Jesus as the model Shepherd. Hence our formation and our formative environments should have the following characteristics:

Formation that Helps Personalization
Human formation programmes should begin with the assumption that the candidates have the potential to move from self-preoccupation to an openness to transcendent values and a concern for the welfare of others; a history of sound and rewarding peer relationships; an ability to be honest with themselves and with others; and an ability to trust the Church and the agents of formation. Formation should be geared to enable the candidate make sound prudential judgments; develop a sense of responsibility and personal initiative; develop a capacity for courageous and decisive leadership; an ability to establish and maintain wholesome friendships; and an ability to work in a collaborative, professional manner with men and women, forgoing self-interest in favour of collaborative efforts.

Formation towards Creating Human Communities
As religious, our mission suffers due to divisions created by us on the basis of caste and linguistic narrowness. What makes me a religious is not just the common ownership of goods, or my being unmarried. What makes me a religious is my being an agent of communion, reconciliation and forgiveness wherever I go. Can our formation work towards this aim?

Formation to Leadership
Our culture promotes ‘authority figures’ and ever so often these figures resent being challenged or criticised. Unthinkingly, we could bring into religious life paternalistic or autocratic patterns of behaviour and define obedience in terms of the “subjects” doing what the “superior wants”, rather than build a community of adults seeking to discern the common mission and fulfil it responsibly. Many superiors fear criticism and challenge, and feel threatened by persons who think differently. Religious communities often have an unwritten agenda to stay immature, in perennial adolescence, and worship mediocrity rather than excellence. Could we give an honest reflection to this task of walking with our candidates rather than directing them?

Formation to Mission
Very often we claim to know what the poor need, take decisions for them, give them what we think they need. They are generally not consulted about what we want to do for them. Don’t we assume that we know better about what is good for them? Isn’t it time to consult the poor, learn from them, treat beneficiaries as subjects of decisions rather than as objects of charity? This demands a change of perspective in us, and will lead to big changes, both personal and structural, in our works.

Formation to Justice
Our formation is devoted towards bandaging the wounds of the victims of the system, rather than to challenge and change the system. Can we reflect with our candidates on ways to network, challenge and change unjust social, political and religious structures?

Formation to Affective Maturity
Our formation should aim towards the affective maturity of the candidate. Certain habits or skills are necessary instruments on the path to effective and healthy celibate chastity, and these are to be encouraged in our formative programmes. Among these habits and skills are appropriate self- disclosure, a cultivated capacity for self-reflection, an ability to enter into peaceful solitude, vigilance over one’s impulses and drives, and a capacity to give and receive feedback.

Formation to Simplicity and Honesty
Human formation should cultivate a spirit of generosity, encouraging the candidate to become a man for others and to curb expectations of entitlement. Manifestations of undue materialism and consumerism in behaviour should be confronted and corrected. The formation programme should articulate the distinctive qualities of simplicity of life appropriate for one preparing for religious life. Simplicity and Honesty are particularly important in our own age when human needs and desires are so consciously manipulated and exploited.

In conclusion,
I believe that our candidates do have their faults, but on the whole, this generation of young adults are generous, spiritually hungry, seeking truth, and longing for community. They too desire to answer the universal call to holiness. We should also accept that our candidates are a cynical, “show me” generation, looking for the reality beyond the rhetoric, platitudes and religious jargon. They are turned off by people who ‘talk the talk’ without ‘walking the walk’. Our formation should convey the message that we are much more than just a well-intentioned social-service organization that supports the individual good works of their members. We are rather God-centered communities that enthusiastically act in the name of the Church, and promote through our works for the young the universal call to holiness.

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