Now we come to the last lesson of this Course for Formators and their communities, with the subject matter being Ongoing Formation.
1. To begin with, here are some preliminary ideas that will define the topic of ongoing formation:
- Initial formation ends with solemn profession. From that point on, ongoing formation lasts a lifetime.
- Ongoing formation finds its basic meaning in the need to continually nourish and revitalize the grace of one’s vocation. As Augustine reminds us: when you said, “That’s enough”, you began your downfall. This is why we must constantly stir up our spiritual life, find renewed meaning each day in our common life and fraternity, and renew untiringly our mission of proclaiming the Gospel. Ongoing formation is essential, if initial formation is not to wear thin or become a passing and ineffectual means of following Christ and of being faithful to the Spirit in the Augustinian Order (Ratio Institutionis, 119).
- In common with all baptized people, we religious grow towards adulthood in Christ. Because of this, our ongoing formation needs to be life-long and to cover all aspects of our life. We have, therefore, the serious responsibility of the continuing work of our formation in order to respond to the ever-renewed calls of God and to live our vocation more authentically with our brothers and friends.
2. Ongoing formation must be situated in both an historical and a personal context. On the one hand, the period of rapid change in which we are living requires openness of mind and heart and constant updating. On the other hand, every person is an incomplete being, still in a state of becoming; that is how the baptized or consecrated person grows toward adulthood in Christ. In this context, ongoing formation offers a double goal:
a) The development of the person. This involves bringing to fruition one’s human qualities, spiritual gifts, and professional aptitudes.
b) By means of personal growth, one will also attain a communitarian and ecclesial goal as well: the building up of the Kingdom of God. The local community and the Province level will become more apostolic, more useful to young people, to society, and the Church. They will develop the full richness of our Augustinian charism. In other words, the entire vitality of the Order is involved with ongoing
3. It is clear that ongoing formation must include all the important aspects of our human and religious formation for the purpose of mission. Of the many points for ongoing formation, we will only highlight two, namely: a) integrating creativity within fidelity, and b) formation for freedom.
a) Integrating Creativity within Fidelity
The Directives on Formation in Religious Institutes highlights, Whereas initial formation is ordered towards a person’s acquisition of an autonomy sufficient for faithfully living a religious commitment, ongoing formation assists a religious in integrating creativity within fidelity. This is because a Christian and religious vocation demands a dynamic growth and fidelity in the concrete circumstances of existence. This in turn demands a spiritual formation which produces inner unity, but which is also flexible and attentive to the daily events in one’s personal life and in the life of the world.
“To follow Christ” means that one is always on the road, that one is on one’s guard against sclerosis and ossification, in order to be able to give a living and true witness to the Kingdom of God in this world.
In other words, there are three basic motivations for permanent formation:
- the first arises from the very function of the religious life within the Church. There it plays a very significant charismatic and eschatological role that presumes on the part of religious men and women a special attention to the life of the Spirit, both in the personal history of each one and in the hopes and anxieties of others;
- the second comes from the challenges which arise from the future of the Christian faith in a world that is changing with increased rapidity;
- the third concerns the very life of religious institutes, and especially their future, which depends in part upon the permanent formation of their members. (Directives on Formation in Religious Institutes, 67).
b) Formation for Freedom
To form and be formed in the religious life is a long journey of liberation:
Liberation from so many exterior riches in order to set free the interior riches, the human and spiritual ones with which every creature is richly gifted, and then make them fruitful; to liberate the gifts of God, all the possibilities inherent in the human person and which can be translated into creativity and the search for new ways of responding to the daily surprises of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us;
Liberation from so many pseudo-riches within ourselves, like our defensive turning in on ourselves, or those rigid mental schemes which exclude all dialogue or concentrate on so many marginal aspects of the charism while avoiding the essential;
Liberation from routine, from the satisfying habits which stupefy time and paralyze the spiritual path, that routine which often generates an attitude of disillusionment and rejection, or an empty repetition of rituals and gestures which fail to express our inner selves.
Liberation from security which can cancel the thirst for God in our hearts and minds, cancel that holy disquiet which drives the constant search for his face and instead favours the ‘sedentary’ comfort; above all that security which is based on religious works but which often becomes ‘proprietorial’ towards God rather than being a dispossessed person who allows themselves to be transformed, progressively and dynamically by the Spirit, that security which can make rigid and ruthless judgments of others because those who keep moving are always a threat to those who are standing still, those who want to stand still! And in this case, knowing that the two commandments of love can never be separated, then to form oneself for poverty and for the search means: to form oneself for the one thing necessary;
To be formed means to be liberated from so much fear which we carry within ourselves, often unresolved from the past; to be liberated from so many preoccupations which aim at surviving in a present which is closed in on itself, desiring only to continue living in the today of a spasmodic and ‘proud’ search for vocations, like people who want to live on in their children, thinking more of the ‘kingdom’ of this world than of that of heaven.
[Bini, Giacomo, ofm. “Ongoing Formation: Formation for the One Thing Necessary” in Religious Life Asia X.2 (2008): 49-58.]
4. To address the various aspects for ongoing formation the Constitutions of the Order establish that major superiors of each circumscription will provide friars with an adequate and concrete program of ongoing formation in which all are to participate (Constitutions 217; See also Ratio Institutionis 122d).
How to establish a process of ongoing formation?
To establish a personal process of ongoing formation, one must have a passion for formation to do it. Such a process requires:
- knowledge and love for the Christian and Augustinian way of life and holiness;
- continued updating at the biblical, theological, magisterial and Augustinian level, as envisioned in the various Rationes formationis;
- preparation for and acquisition of specific competencies in the various ministries;
- openness to the great cultural changes of the present world which is characterized by an intercultural milieu;
- contact and solidarity with the poor;
- collaboration with the laity
The realization of a process of ongoing formation in our life has to be measured against some circumstances which represent for us true and appropriate challenges.
- The lack of preparation for some ministries that also make up part of our activities (finance, education, formation of our own, etc);
- The risk that ongoing formation should be left to personal initiative and not included in the community or provincial plan that makes it more concrete;
- The risk of succumbing to the complexity of the world in which we live, submitting to change without having strength and the capacity to exert some influence over them;
- The risk of taking upon ourselves such a great burden of apostolic work, that we do not find time and ways for an effective formation of our own life.
The imagination and inventiveness for sustaining and strengthening the ongoing formation in our brothers and in our communities are not lacking. This truth suggests a deep desire for formation in the brothers and great expectation of those who have the responsibility to provide for it. Ideas and suggestions lead to occasions and means which are continually being adapted to diverse circumstances and local necessity.
At the Personal Level:
At the Community Level:
At the Intercommunity Level:
At the Provincial Level:
At the Circumscriptional Level:
At the Order Level:
Today, a major creativity in the formation field is sought at the level of methodology. Systemic change does not only apply to external structures, but also to our mental structures. We have available today some modern instruments of communication, but we are not able to adopt them, though some do. Among the new technologies utilization of some modern information technologies (computers, the web, etc) for the spread of ideas and experiences; a dynamic and creative approach to the Augustinian sources, and creation of some mechanisms for the analysis of ongoing formation will be explored.
As we end this Course for Formators, we may always recognize that as formators we have a crucial role for the future of the formandi, the Order, and the Church. The future will depend on the amount we spend for ongoing formation initiatives and of course the finger of God in this formation project. May God, the True Formator guide all our efforts in this formation ministry and in the end make us instruments of hope for our students, for the Church and the world.
Readings for Enrichment
Plan of Augustinian Formation #119-127
Constitutions of the Order of St. Augustine #216-217
Directives on Formation in Religious Institutes #66-71
Carballo, José Rodríguez, ofm. “Forming for a Full Life in Order to Avoid Departures and to Strengthen Fidelity” in Promoting Perseverance in the Consecrated Life: Anthropological Challenges to Formation, (Rome 2005): 39-56.
Questions for Reflections
1. What did I learn new in these readings?
2. Review the section on “Formation for Freedom” and name your experiences of how these aspects for the journey of liberation may show up in your own life and in the lives of those with whom you live and work.
3. What questions did these readings leave me with?
1. What concrete programs does your formation community have for the ongoing formation of formators?
2. It is said, that, “ongoing formation is a look for the future”. With ongoing programs we have, what is being said about the future of the reality of religious life?