Part Seven A
Stages of Formation - Pre-Novitiate
Now that we have gone through the different aspects of formation, we are going to present its different stages, beginning with the Pre-Novitiate.
To begin with: here are some ideas of vocation…
The Pre-novitiate could be understood….. (Please read the Ratio nn. 86-93)
The pre-novitiate or postulancy is understood in a general sense as a preparatory time for the novitiate. Its chief purpose is to help the young man who is experiencing the possibility of a vocation, to recognize this possibility and to be able to respond (Cf. RS 11). At the same time, it is the context in which to determine whether a candidate to the novitiate has achieved sufficient maturity, a maturity that would somehow guarantee that in the future he could progressively fulfil the requirements of religious life. However, this preliminary time of probation is designed not merely to reach a tentative judgment concerning the talents and vocation of the candidate, but also to ascertain his knowledge of religious subjects and, where necessary, the deepening of them to the degree judged necessary; and lastly, to permit a gradual transition from lay life to a life proper to the novitiate. But the most important objective during this probationary period, to repeat, would be to secure assurance that the candidate for religious life is endowed with such elements of human and emotional maturity as will offer grounds for hope that he is capable of undertaking properly the obligations of the religious state and that, in the religious life and especially in the novitiate, he will be able to progress toward fuller maturity. (Cf. RC 11)
As Augustinians our Constitutions add a proper Augustinian flavour: “The pre-novitiate is the time in which candidates, even though not bound by public vows, are given a gradual experience of Augustinian life in order that they can be adequately prepared for the novitiate” (Const. 201)
It follows, then, that the candidates are expected to have achieved a certain degree of personality development and a style of life by the completion of this stage. Some of these expectations are envisioned as requirements by the document: Directives of Formation in Religious Institutes (Cf. 43) as follows:
To these we can add some specific Augustinian requirements like: common life, interiority, etc. (Cf. Const. 14)
The pre-novitiate can be either residential or non-residential. However, here the material considers it in a residential context. Where non-residential, it is convenient and highly recommended that in some way these elements are also incorporated in the postulancy stage or in other levels of formation. Later, especially in the Professorium, the study of philosophy and theology, combined with many different pastoral activities, will take a toll on these specific elements which are often overlooked as secondary.
What is the end we are looking for..?
From what we have said above it is clear that in the pre-novitiate there is a need for discernment. Consequently there is a need for time, which may vary according to the candidate and the requirements of the Order. However different documents of the Church (CIC 597,2; RC. 12. II) warn that it should neither be too short nor too long. Therefore, our task here is to equip the formator with an adequate understanding of (1) the stage of formation, (2) the candidates and (3) his own role, so that he, together with all the other agents of formation, can make a good judgment concerning the candidates in this specific period prior to the novitiate.
We shall do this through the examination of a threefold program of the pre-novitiate which would allow the candidate to examine himself in terms of the demands and joys of religious life, i.e. to help him discern his call in the true light of the religious life.
First: we need to analyze the reality of the candidate and to adopt adequate formative measures.
The age of the aspirants to religious life, apart from some adult vocations, normally ranges between 18-25 years of age. And in today’s world people of this age are disposed to fellowship, friendship, solidarity, and a deep sense of justice. But frequently these attitudes are not inspired by Christian principles. Therefore, there is need here for evangelization. On the other hand, beyond these positive elements there are other less positive ones, such as negative experiences of aspirants within their families and in the Christian community; some lack a healthy psychological balance, others are influenced by various degrees of consumerism, individualism, a false sense of freedom, violence, drugs and eroticism, etc. Therefore, for the sake of both human and Christian maturity, attention must often be given to a well-balanced affective life, moral development, etc.
Of course, there are young candidates with sufficiently exemplary Christian life, but perhaps they are becoming fewer and fewer. Thus, generally speaking, all should be given sound instruction on how to embrace a new way of life through the benefit of fraternal love, sharing, true freedom, the generous concern for the happiness of others etc. In some places they may need to be reminded that religious life is not the place to look for social gain nor future security (cf. Rule, 6), nor is it an opportunity to escape from a world they may think corrupt. Elsewhere there may be the need to stress human and spiritual balance based on renunciation, long term commitment, calm and enduring generosity, authentic joy and love, etc. Consequently, it is important to find suitable instruments in each pre-novitiate program in order to meet all these requirements.
Psycho-affective balance is very important as it is very much needed for community living and the common life. Hence careful screening and psychological evaluation are to be done, respecting the rights of privacy (CIC 220) and accurate information gathered concerning it. Here it is important to point out that the formator is generally not equipped to supply all the means of evaluation which are needed at this stage, especially those related to psychological problems and the area of affectivity. In these cases he should necessarily seek the help of experts for both diagnosis and treatment.
Second: Create a rhythm of spiritual/prayer life and study (self formation-learning) that will be lifelong.
Christian Europe and the "New World" are becoming decreasingly Christian, and the panorama of priestly and religious vocations is changing fast. Prayer and other religious practices in family circles are almost vanishing; many Christians are non-practising; the number of nominal Christians is increasing. There was a time when vocations were coming from a Christian environment, but things have changed; today young candidates who respond to our vocational ministry have not even had a basic catechetical formation; and a good majority of vocations also comes from mixed religious backgrounds. In these circumstances the candidates often are not familiar with our traditional prayer life and the popular devotions of the Church, such as the Angelus, the Rosary etc. There are instances also where their sacramental life is quite poor. Though they are well versed in many disciplines, their knowledge of the Christian tradition and culture (for example, life of the saints, history of the church, the contribution of the Church to humanity etc.) is very insignificant. In this situation care should be taken that they are introduced to all the possible forms of prayer: personal, common, liturgical, etc. It is true that, at this stage, the candidate is not bound by religious profession and therefore not obliged to pray the Liturgy of Hours, but he should be given sufficient experience and reason for the same prayer because it is to become an integral part of his religious life to come. Sacramental worship, especially the mystery of the Eucharist should be sufficiently explained to make participation more and more genuine. While not obligatory, other forms of pious devotion should not be neglected. The important thing is that candidates be exposed to all expressions of Christian spirituality, especially those such as the Rosary, the Corona etc. (Ritual of the Order, pp.96ff.) which occupied a prominent place in the life of many saints, popes and eminent Christians. Thereby candidates will be given a chance to enrich their personal spiritual life, rather than not be offered the opportunity due to ignorance.
Another important aspect of this rhythm is study in the sense self formation. This is all the more important as sometimes a candidate is lacking in Christian culture and tradition. The reading of Scripture (Lectio Divina), the Christian Classics, the lives of the saints and other spiritual reading should be encouraged, with assimilation strategies such as the writing of reviews and group discussion of the contents. Special care should be taken to make known books which are related to the meaning of religious life and particularly the significance and relevance of the evangelical counsels
[Sup. Reading: Conf. VI, 14, 24, The Life of Augustine, Possidius, Ch.3, 1-2, Letter 21]
Third: Expose the candidate to a broad range of subjects and disciplines so as to equip him to be better prepared to engage in the apostolate, wherever the Church needs him.
In some countries there is a tremendous gap between secular and religious knowledge. The life of faith is oftentimes based merely on elementary knowledge of doctrine, in sharp contrast to the development of knowledge of profane subjects. A similarly poor faith formation exists in other places due to the total deficiency of academic formation. In this case, the candidates are to be provided with a general cultural foundation which should correspond to what is generally expected of young persons who have achieved the normal education of their country. In either case, there should be adequate preparation in the basic Christian catechism in order to overcome this deficiency.
In cases where the novitiate is being done in a language other than the mother tongue, care should be taken that future novices are trained in the language that will be used in the novitiate.
For us Augustinians a basic knowledge of the life and works of St. Augustine and the Augustinian tradition obviously form a relevant part of this third component. Additionally, each region should familiarize their candidates with those apostolic areas where the communities are rendering their service.
In short, the aim of this program should give the candidate an initial idea of what he is going to live in the future, in accordance with his age. It is certainly not expected that a candidate for religious life be able to assume all of its obligations immediately, but he should be found capable of doing so progressively. That is, on the one hand, there should be sufficient knowledge so as to help the candidate choose the life he is to live in the future (RI. 87 a.), and on the other, adequate means and sufficient time employed in his preparation, so that the formator and the community can reasonably encourage or discourage him in pursuing Augustinian Religious Life, without holding out false promises.
Where the pre-novitiate is not residential, there is a serious lack of community experience which, of course, is the fundamental feature of Augustinian life (Rule 3). Other aspects of Augustinian and religious life, in general, can be well provided for through reading and other academic means, but an initial acquaintance with community life should be experienced in a community atmosphere. Because common life is a special mark of our charism, without it, the pre-novitiate experience would be seriously handicapped (Cf. Const. 59). This is all the more important in today’s world where young people do not have any opportunity for community living and sharing even in their families.
03. Some guidlines for the Augustinian Pre-Novitiate Formator.
He should be, above all, a friend. In the Confessions, De Ordine, etc. Augustine is seen influencing the people around him. He is a friend to them, first of all, and they admire his various qualities.
He should be a reader of St. Augustine. [Sup. Readings: Scanavino, Preparing formation Personal, P.21; Tom Martin, Elements of an Augustinian formation, pp. 34-50].
He should sufficiently know the Augustinian tradition of many centuries. [cf. P. De Luis, Elements..., p.32]
He should be familiar with Church documents that have special relevance for this stage of formation, for example:
He should have a familiarity with the life of at least the more important saints and great men in the life of the Order and the spiritual, as well as, pious traditions of the Order [Sup. Reading: Book of Augustinian Saints, Ed. John E. Rotelle,osa]
He should be familiar with the important documents of the Order, especially those pertaining to formation.
The formator somehow should follow Augustine in his own pilgrimage, leading and guiding while, at the same time, following the Divine Master who is the only Way towards the true homeland: God. (Cf. P. de Luis, Elements....28ff.)