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Because every man is a neighbor to all men, one should not allow any kind of distance where there is a common nature.
(En. in ps. 118, S 8, 2)
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Part Five A

The Agents of Formation

Introduction.

In the previous sessions, various themes have been explored as regards formation viewed from Augustinian lenses. These themes are uniformly connected and should not be treated in isolation, but as an interwoven unit that brings out a complete whole. In this lesson, our discussion will concentrate on Agents of Formation. Each and everyone of us responded to our religious calling and specifically to be an Augustinian as a result an agent that nurtured this response. The biblical call of Abraham in Genesis 12 is always reference point for such a reflection. Our individual call to be Augustinians have their instrumentality embedded in human, social and cultural milieu. So therefore, agents of formation are indispensable tools that open up one’s response to God. In this section we shall be looking at these agents that help to shape and form the vocation of candidates and at the same time enable them to appreciate their call to religious life and to be Augustinians.

1. Human, Social, and Cultural Context.

a) Human Development As Agent of Formation.

With the plurality of agents found within the contemporary culture, the title of this section fits in appropriately. However, there is need for emphasis to be placed on agents of formation that conspicuously stand out as models and conduit for the formation of candidates. To be authentic agents in formation, it is inevitable that human, social and cultural influences would need to be discerned because of their challenging trappings. A catechesis that engages the individual in a holistic way, without the individual loosing his identity as a person who is call to religious life and Augustinian way of life, a necessity to a maturity of faith and vocation. This is clearly enunciated in the document on the Plan of Augustinian Formation thus, “we must , therefore, learn to dialogue in a very diverse religious-cultural setting…It also requires us to be familiar with the constantly changing global situation of humankind, in its political, social, and economic dimensions, so that we are capable of analyzing prevailing values from the perspective of the Gospels, and with an eye to the “signs of the times”. These human, social and cultural change which are integral human development and formation had earlier been reflected upon by the Vatican Council II in its document (Read Catechesi Tradendae no51,53,56-58). The agency of the world around us and the need for integral formation is further re-echoed in the Rules and Constitutions of the Order as clearly expressed that …the formation of candidates aims at integral development of the person, it must be one that is human, Christian, affective intellectual, religious, and Augustinian, as well as apostolic and pastoral.( Const. 192-193)

As we all know that religious beliefs and religious connectivity develop within a socio-cultural setting. These settings nurture and shape the individual’s perception about God and latter in life about his religious commitments and ideals. His cultural sitz in leben serve as springboard and agents of formation, because they have become integral part of his being, coupled with his everyday living experiences. However, the inevitable agent of formation is Christ himself, who is the model and on which all the three aspects of agents of formation revolve: human, social and cultural.

The human agent is formation first and foremost is the individual’s predisposition to the Gospel values. The Gospel ought to be for the individual, that Word of God that gives shape and form to his life. The Gospel is the indispensable reagent that invites one to a modeling and styling process of life deeply ingrained as both personal and a response to a call. This is the most fundamental human structure that would lead to a consistency of values, needs and attitudes. The Gospel is all-encompassing and applicable to one’s being. The Gospel when internalized becomes a conduit where dialogue can take place between diverse social and religio-cultural setting, but care should always be taken not to supplant and replace gospel-oriented values with fast ever changing cultural and social global situation. (Ordinary general Chapter 2007, pp.11-16). Caution should be maintained not to ignore these global changes, but to be aware of them as they unleash with supersonic speed their values.

To establish any human dimension to formation, some fundamental makers are inevitably necessary, it is within these markers that human integration as agent of formation takes place and is also expressed namely:

i. the individual must be a person of communion.
ii. he must be a good communicator, especially love for truth(Ratio Institutionis no.7)
iii. a prudent and discerning person
iv. a person of affective maturity
v. one who respects, cares for, and has vigilance over his body
vi. one who can take the role of a public person
vii. a free person-to be who he is in God’s design
viii a person of solid moral character with a firmly developed conscience and
ix. a good shepherd of material possessions [1]. (Read ibid. no. 5-11)

The human agent of formation should be able to say with M. Maria Teresa Fasce thus

  • “I love him even if it costs much,
  • I love him because it is worth much,
  • I love him at all cost”.

 

The tenacity for perseverance, dedication and continued commitment to a continuous life of responding and living is essential for any human formation to take place, especially under the aegis of the Order and the inspiration of our Holy Father St Augustine. The human agent becomes foundational on which all other agents are build on.

An additional aspect that is double-edge in nature is the kaleidoscopic nature of global changes and how values have been canonized by either economic empowerment or political inclination, portraying gospel values as mere religious entanglements and restrains to individual freedom, truncating self-actualization and fulfillment in life. While the influence of prevailing modern cultures cannot be denied, nonetheless, the interior life that is anchored on the gospel values becomes a resource for discernment and reading the “signs of the time”. The scripture admonishes thus: “ All scripture is inspired by God and useful for refuting error, for guiding men’s lives and teaching them to be upright. This how someone who is dedicated to God becomes fully equipped and ready for any good work” ( 2 Tim. 3:16ff ).

Our Holy Father Augustine emphasized heavily on man’s search for truth, because it is in that “return to the heart that man sees what it is that perhaps you feel of God: there is the image of God”.( Io Ev.tr.8,10). With the interior search for truth and interior gaze of the heart, founded on the scripture the prevailing values of the times would not go contrary to the contents of the gospel that had been interiorly founded as inevitable agents of formation. The reason why St Augustine made that clarion call to turn to oneself, which is an inner journey to knowing the human condition, but the divine within that human condition. A human condition that is largely characterized by the exterior without the interior becomes an agent of conflict and un-formed personhood. He must constantly be reminded, however, that the vital agent of formation in the human agent is the Holy Spirit interiorly present and working in the candidate that we cannot fathom its breadth life in the Spirit (Eph 3: 17ff). It is incumbent that the unity of both vivifies the candidate into whole that responds to God in formation.

Sources to be Read.

*Amedeo Cencini.;Spiritual And Emotional Maturity, Guiding Young People in Religious and Priestly Formation.Nairobi: Pauline Publications Africa, 2004, pp.67-71. Original title in Italian: Sentimenti Del Figlio,Bologna: Dehonian Editorial Centre, 1998.

Read the Plan of Augustinian Formation Part III, no 68.

*(Read Also: Plan of Augustinian Formation no.8-10).

*Ordinary General Chapter 2007 pp 20-24

b) Social Dimension of Formation.

The social agent of formation can be approached from two main perspectives, although it encompasses so many aspects, from social anthropology to social communication, from social psychology to social communication. The two main approaches are restricted here to interpersonal social context in which our charism is heavily rooted. A sensitivity and solidarity with the social dimension that is ever changing in the global stage, such as solidarity with the poor in self-awareness of the evangelical counsels especially that of poverty. Furthermore, aiding social awareness of the environment that degrades and deprives humanity from being co-creature in the world of nature that he exists. Social awareness of this sort enriches and engages the candidate into a participant of re-building a just society and not just a spectator. Being living presences in the community integrates us into brothers of each other, connecting the individual interpersonally in friendship with those around his environment, and responding with one mind and heart intent upon God (Ratio Inst.no 23) This connectivity is necessary for discernment and formative process. Augustine was clear in his thoughts when he buttressed thus “May I always be human, Lord. May I understand people and their problems. I am a man like them. They are men like me”( Sermon 120,3 also 233,2;) Without social connectivity, the structure(s) of community fall apart and the agent nature of the formator and candidates in formation become oblivious and fruitless.

Apart from the interpersonal dimension, there remain other vicissitudes of social contexts as agents of formation, that is the continuous maturation of the individual in his search for truth and dialogue with other challenges that face us today such as terrorism, global change, climate change, interreligious understanding etc. The candidates must be ready to explore and seek these social aspects and be abreast with them, not to be divorced from them. A dichotomy must never be drawn in whatever form to bring to the fore the immediacy of these issues to our social environment and Augustinian formation. This genuine search leads to truth and appreciation in contemplative term the richness of nature and the community life we profess in our charism through the evangelical counsels. This must be done as admonished by Ratio Institutionis that “It also requires us to be familiar with the constantly changing global situation of humankind, in its political, social, and economic dimensions, so that we are capable of critically analyzing prevailing values from the perspective of the Gospels, with an eye to the “signs of the times” (Ratio Inst. No. 68).

While social virtues need to be cultivated by those who are formed and the prevailing social issues need to be critically analyzed, a sense of direction by formators who would be able to engage the candidates is a healthy dialogue that brings about healthy spiritual wellbeing with the environment, the society and within the parameters of Augustinian spirituality and charism. Furthermore, not ignoring the dangers that the ineffective channeling of social dimension may pose for the growth of the candidate in formation.

Sources:

Elements of Augustinian an Formation “ Human Formation and Augustinian Anthropology” by Miguel Angel Keller. Rome: Augustinian Publication, 2001, pp 206-228.

Preparing Formation Personnel “ Emotional Growth and development in Initial Formation” by John Byrne. Rome: Augustinian Publication, 1994, pp 60-68.

c) Cultural Impact on Formation.

The role of culture in a multicultural society on vocation can be underestimated. As a result, candidates “should therefore be helped to progress from merely receiving what is impacted to them, to becoming able to contribute to and enrich the cultural and academic environment of the Order itself, as well as of society in general, in fraternal cooperation with others”.(Ratio Inst no. 69) The supersonic speed with which the world is changing is not only frightening, but becoming too challenging to put up a defense against it. These challenges range from ecological degradation to nuclear armament, the disparity of living among the poor of the third world and the rich of the first world, the culture of death in the first world and the culture of survival in the third world, the culture of affluence and the culture of poverty that stare us in the face, the culture of peace that has been relativized for economic purposes and the culture of capacity building for those we preach to. In addition, recently too, a culture of religious bigotry and fundamentalism. All these, just to mention but a few, encircled us with deadly intent says the psalmist, but then with a challenge that calls for witness that is strong, resilient and undaunted. These cultures might look like a form that counter-balances or proposes a contrary system to religious life, yes, indeed, but also through our charisms, we try to proclaim in another way the strong message of the gospel and that there is God’s plan that is inherent in human life that must be respected and cherished. It is within this context that justice, love and peace of Jesus can be furthered in the world.

(Read Ordinary General Chapter 2007. 3.3. and P-13 to P-14).

It must be observed and pursued that the search for God and his plan finds its deepest meaning in the humanity of a candidate and within the parameters of a particular culture. The culture within which a candidate nurtures his vocation and able to respond to God in total freedom is a lifetime endeavour and as such there must be a balance between the apostolate, the person and the community. If not, the dangers of careerism might puncture that inner initial free response to the call. While culture should be promoted, but not to the detriment of the gospel, the community and the integration of the person. Culture is not superior to the gospel, but the gospel is superior to the culture, even though the gospel cannot yield its fruit without a culture. The gospel should transform the culture respectfully enabling the candidates to understand its importance, dangers and drawbacks. The deepening of such understanding is fundamental to commitment, because when there is harmony, there is cohesion and respect for oneself, for others and respect for the environment. The totality is that self-awareness and self-consciousness of the candidates understanding that affirms his holistic growth.

Candidates are the main agents of their own vocation (Ratio Inst. No 8). The growing prevailing culture of not accepting and welcoming challenges should be carefully observed and discerned, that is, if the candidates are to be true agents of their own formation. The relentless search for God in love, prayer and community within the ambient of Augustinian charism of community living should be harmonized and geared towards union with God. This movement is furthered by the continuous interpersonal assistance given during formation which encompasses the moral, intellectual, social, cultural and spiritual resources of the Augustinian heritage.

A candidate's free response to the call is always within a particular culture with all its scales of values, symbolism, customs which that impresses human beings in such a way as to mark their very identity as rightly suggested by Jose Domingo Ulloa in Elements of an Augustinian Formation: “The Human and Socio-Cultural Context: Formation and Inculturation” pp. 230-231. Dealing with pluri-cultural situation in formation enlarges the horizon of the candidate and enables him to assimilate and appreciate other cultures other than his own. An understanding that aids his worldview, and his relationships with others of different cultures and helping him to orient and witness through Augustinian charism the gospel values and the faith he is responding to. It must, however, be recognized that the necessity of family values and needs tend to shape candidates internalization of the gospels.(ibid., 232-234). In other words, the originality of the candidate's existential experience shapes his vocation and his calling to the Augustinian way of life.

Exercise:

( Should be discussed in group with the candidates).

a) What are some of the prevailing agents in the social and economic life of the people that seem to contradict or seem to greatly influence their Augustinian formation?

b) If you are two in the house of formation, discuss these points and observed their impact on the candidates in formation.

c). In your own experience in formation, what are the signs of the indicators of human immaturity or lack of human integration found among candidates in formation, based on the cultural background that they come from.

d) With the collaboration of the formators ( if there are two or three formators). A group discussion with the candidates should be organized. During this group discussion, let the candidates point out some of the misconceptions or conceptions that have shaped their vocation to the religious life and those that go contrary to their cultures.

2. Christ, the Interior Master and the Holy Spirit.

The Following of Christ has always been and will continue to the ultimate goal of every Augustinian and every Christian. This search in the Augustinian spirituality is engrossed both in personal and communal living, and a frequent call to contemplation. Contemplation is the path to interiority and transformation. Transformation takes place within the spectrum of the giftedness of the Holy Spirit. The resultant effect of which is a continuous response that is founded in total surrender to God in love oriented toward our Augustinian charism and commitment to that charisn in fidelity, friendship and the service of God’s people. This life of selfless service and fidelity is always the nursery bed of the candidates’ God’s call and response to our way of life. It is in this dazzling search for God’s inner beauty that the Holy Spirit illuminates the candidates call and his response to religious life in our Order. In addition, the candidate also learns more about all the accumulated spiritual heritages that have been handed down to our generation.

The search and longing must constant and restless, because the deep seated longing that faithfulness to God is primarily cultivated and secondary to our Order is nourished. (Confer Element of an Augustinian Formation “Mystery and the Word of God in Augustinian Spirituality” by Santiago Sierra Rubio pp 175-181). The conclusion of Santiago is appropriate, thus:

  • It is of no small consequence to formation for formandi to be brought near to the Word of God, not only from the aspect of theological studies, which is already guaranteed by the formation programs, but also from that of the spirituality and as a source of spirituality…. In this field we must nourish not only our intellectual searching, but also of our life as believers…. [but] we must have recourse more to the spiritual that to the technical…. This task will tell us about another important aspect in the formation of our young people, that of deepening their relationship with God from the interior, helping them to see themselves as persons in whom he dwells and learn to live within and from within, overcoming all forms of superficiality and giving due emphasis to the heart and the world of sentiments. Working in this inner world is both a task and a challenge in this historic moment. At the same time it is necessary to give due importance to silence, to solitude, to simple, confident prayer and to the revitalization of the contemplative experience.( ibid. pp 180-181).

This call can be seen in biblical term as found in 2 Peter 1:10. However, our Holy Father St Augustine in his effort to make sure that a person or in this case a candidate is not encapsulated in himself alone, but need to connect in human relationships in a horizontal manner placed emphasis on the inner person finding repose ultimately in Christ alone, the interior Master says that we should really go out to meet God who is “more inward than our innermost selves or being” (Cf Confessions 3,6,11.) The journey interiority of a candidate can only find its completeness in his dialogue, relationship with others in the community, if not, he would be filled with himself, deluding himself in a spirituality that is self-serving and self-fulfilling without any witness to the world around him: the world of the significant other.

For Further Reading this are indispensables articles to consult:

Our Journey Back to God “ The Holy Spirit in Augustinian Spirituality” By Santiago Sierra Rubio pp 166-192, “Augustine and the Bible” by Thomas F. Martin pp 222-239 and “Augustinian Interiority” by Francisco Galende F., pp 273-306.

3. The Church and Mary

The Church in the likeness of the Trinity, an ultimate full expression of love continues to act in obedience, which is also in conformity with the divine fiat ( Lk 1:29ff) that calls one into being, and more so gives existence and meaning to religious life. Without obedience to the Word and to the church, the continues renewal and flow of love that renews us everyday would hardly be passed unto us. The profound new covenant manifested in the New Eve recounts the prophecy of Jeremiah in the Old Testament (31:33) and Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament (8:10). “ I will place my laws in their minds and I will them on their hearts; I will be their God and they shall be my people”.

The role of Mary, the Mother of the Incarnate Word, can never be underestimated, rather it is within her obedience that a deeper understanding of love and intimacy with the divine can be understood and meditated upon. She is the model through which discipleship, religious life and Augustinian life can be truly authenticated: without obedience to God in a deep and enduring love within community life, then our Augustinian charism will never reflect the definitive Trinitarian life that it is intended. Mary’s generosity “…constitutes the first real act of freedom which is also the first and fundamental act of authentic obedience.” [2]

Obedience to God by Mary in her Fiat is an incarnated model that emanates from within our humanity and journeys with us amidst our crosses of life. Our crosses become familiar as we contemplate and mediate on the mysteries of the Rosary. Contemplating these mysteries and the challenges of life enable us to seek for her counsel, guidance and intercession on the epileptic journey that we are faced with in this present life because “ our hearts are always restless until they rest in God”.

There is no doubt that for centuries our Order has revered her in various ways and contemplated her fidelity, her obedience and above all her intercessory role: Our Lady of Consolation-4th September, Our Lady of Help-13th May, Our Mother of Good Counsel- 26th April, and Our Lady of Grace- 8th May. On the path of formation, Mary becomes a perfect model of accepting the “yes” of God that embraces both the joyous, the sorrowful, the glorious and the illuminating presence of the Holy Spirit in all that entails in doing God’s will. She is the perfect example of being a creature and attaining integral faith and sincere intimacy of love and obedience to God. She becomes the mirror through which we can look at our formation and are able to identify our continuous “yes” to God.

[1] Gerald D. Coleman., Catholic Priesthood Formation and Human Development. Missouri: Ligouri Publications, 2006, pp 34-44.
[2] The Service of Authority and Obedience. Faciem tuam, Domine,requiram. Congregation For the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2008, No.7.

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