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Part Five B

The Agents of Formation

As we continue with the topic of “The Agents of Formation” we take a look at other “elements” of the Ratio:

4. The Candidate

The late John Paul II said that “the men and women of our time have a hunger for the word of life and cry out for good guides on the path of holiness… If promoting vocations to the priesthood is important, no one should think that it is less important to promote vocations to the consecrated life, a life that does not belong to the hierarchical structure of the Church, but it is a precious gift for the growth and holiness of the Christian people.” [1] Having this in mind, “we need to be careful in the selection and the preparation of candidates BEFORE [2] they are admitted to the novitiate.” [3] Because of the decreasing number of candidates coming to religious life, very often we may try to accept into our programs people that may not be suitable for religious life. We might ignore some of the basic qualifications a candidate must show and bend requirements and processes that are essential in the initial process of accepting a candidate into Novitiate for the sake of numbers or when budgets are tight we might rationalize that detailed psychological evaluations are a luxury and non essential. This is a reality we don’t want to face but at the same time a reality that cannot be overlooked for it becomes a recipe for disaster.

As the Ratio has it, candidates “should manifest a progressive restlessness for God, a desire to grow in prayer, and an awareness of being drawn towards the person of Christ and his message… They should also give evidence of an attraction to community life and the capacity to share material and spiritual resources.” [4] The capacity to do this must be present as a candidate moves into the Novitiate experience. With the many pressures of the society we live in and the many and different traumas and difficult situations young people have experienced, very often our candidates do not have the emotional and/or spiritual capability to face the many challenges of the Formation Program. Formation becomes a “therapeutic” program in which the candidate is more involved and focused in his psychological or therapeutic treatment rather than in formation as a whole. Therefore, we need to be attentive and assess with the help of professional people the capacity or lack thereof, that the candidate shows before he moves into the Novitiate since “candidates are ultimately responsible for their own formation.” [5] Obviously, a certain amount of maturity and psychological health is necessary. It is a goal of the Formation Process to help the candidates to integrate their emotional needs with the values they proclaim so that they are honest in their personal convictions and commitment. The Constitutions tell us that “of special importance is one’s ability to relate to others, a truly essential element for the common life of Augustinians who are called to be men of communion and co-responsible in community.” [6]

5. THE FORMATIVE COMMUNITY

We read in the Constitutions of the Order that “the foundation of Augustinian life is life in common, in which all the brothers by sharing themselves [7], construct a path directed to God in service to others, and in the communion of all their goods, perfecting themselves through the gift of divine grace.” [8] Very often we have the idea that the center of our Augustinian community is the sharing of goods. The Constitutions remind us that at the center of our common life if the sharing of ourselves! We are not isolated islands sharing prayers and a meal together but a group of brothers sharing who we are with each other “always taking into account the common good and the concrete necessities of each friar.” [9] Van Bavel writes that “it is good to reflect on the fundamental meaning of life in community, because even communal living can easily degenerate to externality and formalisms, from which the original inspiration disappears.” [10]

Formation communities require a rhythm of their own. Even though they exist within a circumscription, within a Province, they need to have the freedom to function at their own pace and not necessarily at the pace of a Provincial calendar or schedules. As part of the Province and the Order, participation in different events must be required of the Formation House but always keeping in mind the needs of the Formation Program. It is essential that all those who live in a formation community and who have already finished their initial formation, be aware “of the formative influence of their example, support and encouragement.” [11] What friars who have completed initial formation do in the formation house, matters; the way they interact with each other and with those in initial formation, matters. It seems that to live in a formation house is almost a call. To be part of a formation team or to be the formation director should not be seen as a job but as a ministry and a call. Those who do not have the interest and the call to live in a formation house should not be assigned there, even though this may create a challenge for those in leadership. In writing about community, John Paul II points “only a community that is very much committed to the way of holiness and to affirm the primacy of the supernatural and to recognize in the liturgy “the summit and source” of every apostolic work will be able to give birth to the desire and joy of the total offering of self to the Lord and of cultivating the seeds of the vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life that Jesus continues to sow in the hearts of so many young [and older] men and women.” [12]

6. FORMATION PERSONNEL

What are the qualifications of a formation director or what are the qualifications that the members of the formation team must have or constantly strive for? The ratio tells us that they should have a reasonably broad experience of community life and apostolic activity; they should be prepared beforehand, and their tenure in office should be long enough to ensure certain stability in the task; they need to teach, guide and direct the human and spiritual growth of the friars, seeking to discern the authenticity of each person’s call to Augustinian religious life and they need to carefully examine and evaluate each individual’s progress and make appropriate recommendations to the Provincials and their Councils! [13] The Constitutions tell us that “formators are to be prepared with an adequate spiritual, affective, pedagogical and psychological formation, acquired insofar as possible, in a specialized institute… They should be mature, endowed with the finest qualities, and imbued with a strong experience of God and a religious and Augustinian spirit and love for the Order, so that bound to the candidates by the bond of charity, they may give witness by their life and teaching to the one Master who is Christ.” [14] What a task and great responsibility!!! No wonder very few people would like to do the ministry of formation, but how important this ministry is! This is where the invitation to be a formator is also a call and a challenge to go deeper within our own lives and there, in the depths of who we are, be able to face not only our shadows and demons but also the gifts God has given us. It is a place of pain and surprises, gratefulness and awe!

Luisa Saffiotti, who spoke at the Course for Augustinian Formators in Rome in 2004, invites all formators to become more conscious and effective in their ministry. She writes:

  1. Formators need to request adequate preparation for doing the work of formation, including training in the specific skills that will help them develop the capacity for compassion and conversion in their candidates, and better skills for assessing when candidates’ psychological issues are serious enough that they interfere with the work of formation.
  2. Formators need to assess their own capacity for personal and structural conversion, as well as their willingness for and commitment to forming others for conversion.
  3. Formators need to assess the extent to which their own lives show consistency between their stated ideals and their actual practice, particularly in community life and in ministry.
  4. Formators need to examine their readiness, especially in their role as formators, to adjust their own lifestyle and way of relating to others so that they are actually modeling the realities that they want candidates to learn and embrace.
  5. Formators need to develop a way of assessing, over the course of initial formation, candidates’ capacity for the work of justice and peace and of personal and structural conversion; they also need to define specific criteria for readiness in this area that candidates have to meet before receiving solemn vows, ordination or commissioning for ministry. [15]

The Formation Team needs to have knowledge of what the Constitutions and the Ratio say about formation. They also need to work together and “complement one another in the service of a coherent and consistent vision of formation in the local and universal Church.” [16] The relationship between the members of the Formation Team, the local prior and the other members of the community needs to be defined. “The prior and the director of formation team should work untiringly together in this task with tranquility and fraternal understanding, so that, they along with the other friars of the community and the young [and older] men may form a united Augustinian family which responds to the prayer of the Lord: That they may be one (Jn 17:11), and which fosters in the young [and older men] the joy of their vocation.” [17]

7. The Augustinian Order

Our Constitutions, in quoting our Holy Father Saint Augustine writes that “studies constitutes excellent means of intellectual formation and the perfecting of human and religious life; foster community dialogue; equip us for a more adequate response to the apostolic mission entrusted to us by the Church, which is responsible for the evangelization of culture. For this reason, the Order should be ready to offer the Church the service of her studies as a particular dimension of pastoral commitment. As Augustinians our vocation entails an ongoing commitment to cultivate studies and the search for truth, with love.” [18] The great treasure of knowledge that we posses as Augustinians must be offered to our students in formation.

We live in an Order in which inter-circumscriptional houses of formation are being developed more often. These houses are a great example of collaboration and brotherhood and they convey a rich experience not only to those in formation but also to the local community. They also bring many challenges: lack of understanding of very often multicultural and or multilingual situations, different visions of formation, legal issues, and many more. “On the other hand candidates are to be formed in such a way that they can deeply love their provinces, their native culture, countries, and peoples, and participate as well in the consciousness of belonging to an Order that, above and beyond juridical divisions, is committed to a universal mission.” [19] Very often it is hard to understand that in practical ways the Order does not have a mission but it is the Mission that has an Order. Looking at our world, our Church, our Order and our lives from this perspective, with a new set of lenses, we get a different vision and we not only see the many blessings of our lives, but we are also challenged in our vision. What if, rather than thinking and acting as if the Order has a mission, we thought and acted as if the Mission has the Order? It is indeed a great challenge for us to see through a different set of lenses.

Conclusion:

In this lesson we looked at the candidate, the formation community, the formation personnel and the Augustinian Order. As formators and as local communities we must ask ourselves:

1. Do we have knowledge of the process followed by the admission committee in our Provinces. Is this process strong?
2. Having in mind our location, describe the profile of a formation director.
3.  a. How do we see the Reign of God when we use the lens “the Order has a mission?” And how do we see the Reign of God when we use the lens “the mission has the Order?”
b. What is the relationship of the Church to the world, “when the Order has a mission?” What is the relationship of the Church to the world, “when the mission has the Order?”
c. As Augustinians, how do we see our future, “when our Order has a mission?” And then, we ask ourselves, how do we see our future, “when the mission has our Order?”
4. What are the blessings and challenges of an inter-circumscriptional house of formation?

Resources:

Affectivity and Formation for Religious Life: Course for Augustinian Formators, Rome 2004. Roma: Pubblicazioni Agostiniane, Curia Generalizia Agostiniana: 2006.

Buglione, Stephen A. “Screening Revisited: Issues in the Psychological Testing of Seminarians” in Human and Spiritual Formation (31-35). Washington, DC: National Catholic Educational Association:  2005.

Plan of Augustinian Formation.

Rule and Constitutions.

Saffiotti, Luisa. Forming Ministers for the Twenty-First Century, Part III” in InFormation. Volume 14. Number 5. November/December 2006.

Sperry, Leonard T. “Selecting Suitable Candidates for the Priesthood” in Human and Spiritual Formation (19-30). Washington, DC: National Catholic Educational Association: 2005.

van Bavel, T.J., OSA. The Basic Inspiration of Religious Life. Translated by Henry Jackson. Edited by John Rotelle, OSA. Villanova, PA: Augustinian Press, 1996.

[1] Letter from Pope John Paul II to the North American Congress of Vocations, April 12, 2002.
[2] Emphasis added.
[3] Ratio #74.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid., #75.
[6] Constitutions #196.
[7] Emphasis added.
[8] Constitutions #6.
[9] Ibid., #7.
[10] T.J. van Bavel. The Basic Inspiration of Religious Life. Villanova, PA.: Augustinian Press, 1996; p. 133.
[11] Ratio #77.
[12] Letter from Pope John Paul II #5.
[13] Ratio #79.
[14] Constitutions #215.
[15] Luisa Saffiotti, Ph.D. “Forming Ministers for the Twenty-First Century- Part III” in InFormation, volume 14, number 5 (November/December 2006), 1-8.
[16] Ratio #81.
[17] Constitutions #214.
[18] Ibid., #124-125.
[19] Ratio #82-83.

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