Part Seven B
Stages of Formation - The Novitiate
Reflecting on the formative process proper to the Novitiate, according to the means and criteria of our Ratio, on this particular occasion it is convenient and necessary to focus on and emphasize our PRAYER LIFE. The living of our charism and spirituality has as its source the Evangelical Counsels. God's Grace strengthens the joy and freedom of the consecrated life, in service to the Church and to the world in Christ's name. The emphasis on a life of prayer does not minimize other aspects of the formative process. Instead it is the source of our being and action.
In the context of our lives and the formation of our friars it is no easy task to teach and promote basic Christian prayer, which is dialogue, listening, interiority and unconditional faithfulness (set times every day), moved by faith in God. We will see and recall the double foundation for prayer in conformity with Augustinian thought. Sacred Scripture and its view on human beings (their anthropology), which comprises basic elements that should not be neglected. We must passionately respect human beings and the Word of God, which will always be like an arrow which pierces the heart and renews the love of God in his children. The text will remind us of the urgent need to emphasize conversion and interiority united in prayer, to make such an exercise fully Augustinian.
In the second part of this presentation, emphasis will be placed on interiority as a place of encounter between the individual and God, whose objective is to be grafted into Christ, to become Him. Consequently, prayer demands the capability to interiorize and know one’s self. This two-fold requirement which we must seek to engender in our candidates is human and spiritual maturity.
The readings will encourage us to become aware that prayer is meant to stimulate charity and that charity makes prayer consistent. We are called to integrate prayer and commitment, inseparable aspects of Christian life which moved Augustine deeply, requirements of faith clearly recognizable in Christ’s teachings.
Finally, my brothers, we will be reminded that Prayer-Interiority-Contemplation are inseparable in Augustinian thought and Christian spirituality. There is such richness in our Charism and Spirituality that we cannot but assume the commitment to develop earnestly both aspects in initial formation, which by the Grace of God will accompany an Augustinian throughout his entire life.
The methodology is familiar as you will notice upon reading this document. The questions will help to seek ways to fortify this phase so loved by us all.
It is crucial to read and meditate on: The RULE AND CONSTITUTIONS OF THE ORDER OF SAINT AUGUSTINE, second Part, Chapter V, and the Canon Law Code (CIC), Book III, Part III, Section I, Chapter III, Canons 641 through 661. A brief bibliography is included at the end as a complementary reading.
As you will notice, the Ratio Institutionis (Augustinian Plan for Formation) 94 – 99 has been transcribed. The text in italics is a literal copy of the original text and subdivisions are purposely added for a better reflection of the texts.
A servant of our Order whom I knew once said that a serious consideration of the Rule and Constitutions would suffice for the faithful observance of our Augustinian way life. I do believe that he was right. The theme surely is not something new nor does it pretend to be the final word on the matter.
94. The Novitiate is: a privileged moment of formation in Augustinian religious life.
Basic purpose: to make known and to live out the essential requirements of this life through a personal discovery of Christ, interior Master and saving Word.
Means: true conversion, the following of Christ, in keeping with Augustine's experience and that of our tradition, as the ultimate norm of our religious life.
95. - 1.- Without other tasks getting in the way, to dedicate unhurried time to:
96. In this process the Master of Novices will assist each of the novices in a fraternal manner and will dialogue with them frequently regarding the different aspects of formation (PI 52)
97. Important means of encouraging all the goals of formation are:
Where an intercongregational novitiate exists, specific Augustinian formation is to be imparted separately.
98. Although the most important asceticism for Augustinians is community life itself when lived in love, it is important not to overlook:
Criteria for evaluation
99. The Master of Novices and his assistants shall make a periodic evaluation of:
Some aspects to be taken into account in this evaluation are:
1. THE HUMAN REALITY
We know that the preparation of the novices does not depend only on the formation received but also on their own personal aptitudes, that is to say, their capabilities (PI 45).
Indispensable for an Augustinian novice are, self knowledge, knowledge of God (interiority), as well as appreciation of silence, asceticism or discipline, prayer, confidence in one's formators and companions (common life). These are all fundamental aspects to be promoted from the beginning of the formative process by the formators in charge.
At a prudent time after the initiation of the formative process (after six months of Aspirancy) it is necessary to proceed to the psychological testing phase in order to confirm first impressions and thus to be able to offer immediate help at this level. It is perceived that the present generation, although possessing various resources and capabilities, can be particularly fragile emotionally and in need of professional help or integral and trained accompaniment.
It is quite necessary and important to educate, teach and accompany the candidates during the Pre Novitiate phase. This is the fundamental task of the formator and of the formation team, and the exercise of such task deserves to be always seriously evaluated. A novice should not discover any of the above to be a complete novelty.
It has been observed that although candidates have good intentions and qualities, they may have had little guidance and accompaniment from their Pre Novitiate formators, (something which is not addressed, and which raises serious and significant questions for us all). In other words, their personal history, emotional wounds, self-esteem, experiences of abandonment, violence, personal emptiness, the ambiguities in the formation of their moral consciences, sins committed or those from which they cannot break free, are some personal points in which some novices have received insufficient or no accompaniment or help (Cf.Const. 200).
Formation work implies that a given phase depends on previous phases and their sum a final outcome. No one phase can replace the particular processes of any of the other phases. Formators and candidates need to have a clear knowledge of that which the Church and Order expect from them as members of a religious community.
It is true that the Novitiate is a privileged time (not "a moment", according to the original translation here) in the formative process of the Augustinian religious life and a time of growth and strengthening of one's personal faith experience.
Here we insist that the experience of the Novitiate be assumed not as a parenthesis in the religious life, that is to say, like a privileged, unique but transient time, but rather assumed as a crucial aspect of an entire formative process, which has -without exaggerating- a before and an after in Augustinian religious life, where what has been learned and interiorized in the Pre Novitiate phase is reinforced, and where the personal convictions, which will accompany the future friar for his entire life, are strengthened.
1.2.- The Novitiate Experience:
It is necessary and important to verify the personal willingness and capacity for self-sacrifice on the part of the novices towards the novitiate experience, particularly where several circumscriptions participate in one Novitiate.
That the novices be aware and have an attitude of healthy openness and confidence in their companions and formators and their style is an important element that should be worked on from the Pre Novitiate phase. This would allow for a mature contribution by novices to this particular year of formation.
The novitiate experience is meant to be one of mutual dialogue, trust, respect and acceptance, for the personal as well as the common growth of the candidates.
1.3.- The Formators:
The formators and the formation team in a formative community carry out an irreplaceable ministry, which engages constant dialogue, unity of criteria and use of one formative plan and terminology (for example, the reports on the candidates and their progress).
The unity and communion of the formation team are positive and necessary conditions for Augustinian formative work. It is also a testimony, an example, of the Augustinian way of life for the Novices. This reality should not be foreign to the formative process; but rather a known and experienced reality, although able to be improved upon, without doubt.
2.- BY WAY OF ENLIGHTENMENT
THE LIFE OF PRAYER
A.1.- Prayer is possible for the Christian because the Holy Spirit lives in us and has been poured upon us. The Spirit is the sweet guest of the soul, and blesses us with goodness.
We pray in the Spirit and moved by the Spirit, and it is on account of this that we should clearly do the following:
(Cf. Volume 20 of the collection CREER Y CRECER: "El Espíritu de Jesús", published by the FAE (Federación Agustina Española), Madrid, 2005, (pp. 14 and 15), by Hna. Marta Barros Fandiño, OSA.)
A.2.- "In the group of believers all thought and felt as one; no one considered as his own any of his possessions, but rather all shared all things in common… they placed their goods at the feet of the apostles, and these goods were distributed to each according to his needs" (Acts 4, 32,35), and Rule I, 4.
Please note the reference which Luke makes to the verse previous to this passage which served as inspiration to Saint Augustine: "Upon finishing their prayer, the place in which they met trembled; all remained full of the Holy Spirit and began to announce the word of God bravely" (Acts 31).
This reference is not gratuitous, because we truly need to be filled with the Holy Spirit to walk with joy and bravely as Augustinians with hope to live better our charism and our spirituality and to be able to share it generously with others. We have a great gift to offer to the Church and to the world, and it is our prayer that the Holy Spirit will continue to inspire models of holiness, prophets of our time.
B.- DEVELOPMENT OF THE THEME
We present here some elements of personal interest, from volume 33 of the collection CUADERNOS DE ESPIRITUALIDAD AGUSTINIANA: “Orar con el Corazón”, published by FAE (Federación Agustiniana Española), Madrid, 2003, by P. Santiago M. Insunza, OSA.
B.1.- PRAYER OF THE HEART:
Contemporary 21st century man:
What is personally inexpressible and mysterious rises powerfully from within whenever human beings experience conflict or their own frailty.
In this context it is not easy to speak of Christian prayer, that is: dialogue, listening, interiority, and unconditional faith in God.
Just as we take high blood pressure measurements, prayer measures our religious temperature, and the absence of prayer and interiority (introspection) could make us unaware of a risk situation. "Tell me how you pray and I will tell you how you live, tell me how you live and I will tell you how you pray, tell me how much you pray and I will tell you what the seriousness and depth of your Christian life is." (Op. Cit. p. 1). And let us recall the quotation of our father Saint Augustine: "He lives well who prays well" (Commentaries on the Psalms 85, 7). For an Augustinian it is not sufficient to pray, but to question whether his prayer is authentic. He must take note to live well in and with the community that which he has professed.
B.2.- AUGUSTINIAN PRAYER
There is no doubt that Saint Augustine was "a man formed by prayer" as Pope John Paul II expressed in the Apostolic Letter Augustinum Hiponensem, Madrid 1986, p.47).
The Christian life is a choice, it is new life in Christ, as grafted onto Him (Rom 6, 5). This following of Christ, and conversion, have their key in Christian prayer, and are guaranteed by interiority. We are beings who are able to become more and more perfect, through ongoing and continuous conversion. Conversion is inherent to prayer, there is no conversion without prayer.
Augustinian prayer presupposes contemplation of God and knowledge of self (To know God and to know one self). Therefore ceaseless prayer is an encounter and an ongoing search, without which there would be no personal conversion. Conversion thus is an ongoing personal process. It is endless because every day, faithfully, one carries out the same process, which permits one to renew his love and to take up again one's life project, particularly in the daily celebration of the Eucharist.
Saint Augustine compares the human soul to a boat weathered by the passing of the years and the thrashing of the waves, and which is continuously inundated by water which must constantly and without rest be bailed out in order to avoid shipwreck. (Sermon 56, 11)
The thought behind Augustinian prayer is characterized by two aspects:
The accents of Augustinian prayer are suggested by two passages from the Sacred Scriptures:
1.- PRIVATE PRAYER IS PRAYER OF THE HEART
San Augustine follows the same line of the Gospel to define prayer as "a clamour, not from the mouth or the lips, but from the heart" (Sermon 156,15). "Seek the Lord with the affection of the heart, not with the noise and the bantering of lips" (Commentaries on the Psalms 141,2).
For Saint Augustine it is clear that prayer is interior or it is not prayer at all. According to ancient biblical symbolism, life was in the blood and therefore centered in the heart. Great questions and great answers on existence pass through the interiority of man: "in the interior realm truth dwells" (La verdadera religión 39,72). "Whenever you pray with psalms and hymns think over in your heart the words that come from your lips" (Rule II, 12).
For Saint Augustine the heart of man is what qualifies as him human: his interiority, his awareness, his will, his intelligence, his freedom. It is in the heart that man is raised or lowered spiritually, because man is worth that which he loves (Confessions 13, 9,10). It is the vision of the Gospel which helps to differentiate the inner from the outer world. "It is not that which enters the mouth which makes man impure but… (Mt 15, 11 and 19). Thus it can be understood that the road of conversion or return to God is identified fully with the conversion of the heart, purifying of the heart (or the quality and object of love), through which God can be reached (Commentaries on the Psalms 99,5). "Blessed are the pure in heart, because they will see God" (Mt 5, 8). "The entire task of life is summarized by the healing of the eye of the heart through which God can be seen" (The Christian doctrine 1, 36.40)
Saint Augustine insists on interiority, which is reflected in his different writings, in particular: "You prostrate yourself with the body, incline your head to confess your sins to God and to worship Him. And, nevertheless, while I see where the body lies, I ask myself where the heart may be flapping its wings; I see the members of the body thrown to the ground, but let us ask ourselves if the mind is at rest contemplating Him whom it worships; or whether most of the time it is dragged away by its thoughts as by a powerful undertow" (Commentaries on the Psalms 140, 18).
Prayer is a dialogue, a happening or event or inner encounter. "Your prayer is a conversation with God. When you read the Sacred Scriptures, God speaks to you; when you pray, you talk to God" (Commentaries to the Psalms 85,7). Although the interior dispositions are most important it is also true that it is the entire person that prays and he cannot be separated from his body, because our external gestures move our interior self. Let's not forget that prayer is at the service of an Encounter which satisfies hunger, which nourishes, the ENCOUNTER with the living Jesus.
Augustinian interiority will be united to the need for transcendence, because the road that begins in oneself ends eventually in God: "Enter within yourself … transcend yourself…direct, therefore, your steps to where the light of reason is lit (La verdadera religión 39,72). "Return to your self, but do not make of it your final stop. Place yourself in the hands of Him who created you, and sought you when you were lost and found you when you fled from Him, and converted you or returned you to Himself, when you had your back to Him. Return, therefore, to yourself and go to Him who created you. Imitate that younger son, because perhaps you are he" (Sermon 330.3).
2.- TO PRAY ALWAYS WITHOUT FAIL, OR THE CONTEMPLATIVE VIEW OF REALITY
Jesus suggests to us in the Gospel: "It is necessary to pray always and without fail" (Lc 18.1) and Saint Paul exhorts us to: "Pray without interruption" (1Tes 5,17). These suggestions and different interpretations of the biblical texts on continuous prayer in ancient times sparked discussions and disagreements as they may do today. Some monks came to think that prayer was opposed to manual work and Saint Augustine intervened to defend the need for work. It is for this reason that he writes the The work of monks where action and contemplation are harmonized and justified.
Saint Augustine in the following text offers us a reasonable and human interpretation of the Sacred Scripture: "Are we on our knees or prostrate without interruption, or do we have we our hands raised to remind us to pray without interruption? If such a thing is asked of us, I believe that we cannot pray without interruption. There is, therefore, another type of interior prayer, which is desire. Whatever you do, if the desire for such rest remains in you (for eternal life), you are praying without interruption. If you do not you want to end your prayer, do not interrupt your desire. Your continuous desire is the continuous voice of your soul. You will become silent if you stop loving. The coldness of charity is the silence of the heart; the fire of charity is the desire of the heart. If charity remains, you will always cry out" (Comments to the Psalms 37, 14). This identification of prayer with desire provides us with much enlightenment.
Indeed, all human desire, is a desire for truth and love, it is the desire for God, and only in Him, does it find satisfaction. This uniqueness of human desire totally concentrated on the expectation of God, as a yearning to see the face of the Father, is expressed very well in the petition of Philip to Jesus: "Lord, show us the Father and it will be enough for us" (Jn 14, 8), in which the "and it will be enough for us" seems to signify exactly that it is the only desire deeply rooted in the heart of every living being, source of our desiring and the possibility of complete satisfaction. (Cf. A. CENCINI, Continuing formation. San Pablo (4ta Ed), Buenos Aires 2002, p. 200).
The love of God not only aims to satisfy a need, as noble and legitimate as it may be, but tends to recreate in the heart of the human being the same capacity to love as God loves. God has loved us and continues loving us, making us capable of loving in His manner. Consequently the consecrated person who seeks to grow in spiritual maturity, besides experiencing the love of God, and giving evidence of God's benevolence in his personal history, offers generously to walk this path, the path of concrete love, in the service of others, with active kindness, with humble service, concerned for the poorest and disadvantaged, namely washing their feet. He who is grateful will know how to be generous and sincere in his gift of self (op. cit. pp 206 -207).
It is understandable why we should pray even though God knows all our needs and the depth of our hearts. "Our God and Lord does not intend that we show him our will, since He cannot but know it; he intends to carry out our desires with prayer, and thus makes us capable of receiving what He is to give us. His gift is very great, and we are small and limited in receiving it" (Letter 130, 8,17).
The reason for vocal prayer is likewise understandable, although it consists essentially of an interior dialogue. "But at certain intervals of hours and times, we also pray vocally to the Lord, in order to admonish ourselves with the same symbols of those realities, to gain awareness of the progress that we make in our desiring, and in this way we encourage ourselves with greater enthusiasm to have it increase" (Letter 130, 9,18).
To insist on constant prayer could make us think or conclude that Christianity is a spiritualistic or disembodied religion which separates us from reality. Therefore, in response to this Augustine would answer "he who prays well, lives well" (Commentaries on the Psalms 85, 7). "So whenever you show greater concern for the common good than for your own, you may know that you are growing in charity" (Rule V, 31). Saint Augustine carefully reflects on what Jesus has said and contrasts prayer and division, which forgets that we are totally before God, as his creatures and children. The important things in life have an inner dimension. There is no reprieve from them, such that we must love always, just as we need to breathe always.
Saying that desire guarantees prayer does not rule out specific times for prayer. The recommendation of Saint Augustine is clear: "Be assiduous in prayer at the hours and times appointed" (Rule 2, 10). The same Saint Augustine express disapproval that the occupations of some be so great in the monastery, that they have not time to be present at prayer (El trabajo de los monjes 17-20).
"A father remembers his wife and his children during his work time and when he is away from home, but since his desire is great, he returns as soon as possible and seeks time to be with the people whom he loves most. Neither the telephone, nor letters, nor the Internet, take the place of one's presence, or caresses, or conversation eye to eye. If desire is genuine –which is the same as saying, if love is true- it makes forms of relationship, bridges of communication, moments of encounter grow".
FOR REFLECTION AND DIALOGUE:
B.3.- DOES AN AUGUSTINIAN METHOD OF PRAYER EXIST?
B.4.- TO HUMBLY CONFESS THE NEED FOR GOD
To make light of human praise, helps us to be free and immunizes us before so many frustrations and unfulfilled expectations. "Keep your heart simple, be pure of heart, make little of human praise and in living look for and seek only to please Him who sees within our conscience. Everything which proceeds from a pure conscience deserves all the more praise, the less it exhibits a desire for praise." (The Sermon on the Mount 2, 1.1).
B.5.- THROUGH JESUS OUR LORD
Jesus was a teacher of prayer to his disciples: "He prayed in order to teach us to pray; he suffered to teach us to suffer, and he rose to instill in us hope in the resurrection" (Commentaries on the Psalms 56.5).
Jesus is the mediator of our prayer before the Father: "He is with us, speaks in us, speaks of us, speaks for us" (Commentaries on the Psalms 56, 1).
Incorporation into Christ is the first step in prayer. Here our security lies "because Christ, who is one with us, is also one with his Father" (Commentaries on the Psalms 142,3). It is well known that Jesus is he who gathers the community; therefore, if I am or I remain far from Christ, consequently I will be far from my brothers. This is a powerful and simple truth.
B.6.- PRAYER AND COMMITMENT
Prayer is called upon to stimulate charity, and charity gives constancy to prayer and this relationship brings us near to the awareness that prayer and commitment are inseparable.
Prayer is a harmony between feelings and words. "God is more concerned for how one lives than about how one sings; when the tongue sings one thing and life manifests another, there is dissonance; it is neither beautiful nor pleasant (Commentaries on the Psalms 146.3)
When one prays to God in spirit and in truth, he does not draw apart from others. "No one should be so absorbed in the things of God that he forgets mankind, his brethren. No one should be so immersed in the things of men, that he would forget the things of God" (The City of God 19.19)
The involvement or commitment of the entire person in prayer is important. "It is necessary that you praise God with your entire self, do not praise only with tongue or voice, but with your entire consciousness, with your life and with your works. Now that we are assembled we certainly praise God, but when one returns to his occupations, does praise stop? You interrupt the praising of God, if you move away from that which is just and is loved by Him. If on the contrary, you do not move away from an honest life, even when keeping silence your tongue proclaims your life" (Commentaries on the Psalms 148,2). Radical conviction is to know of God's love for us.
B.7.- PRAYER – CONTEMPLATION
Prayer, interiority and contemplation are a triptych in Augustinian thought and in Christian spirituality, although unfortunately in reality this is not manifested as well as it could be.
A prayer that does not include interiority and contemplation is chatter. "Even the blackbirds, parrots, ravens, magpies and winged birds of this type are taught by men to speak what they do not know. What we have sung with harmonious voices we should know and contemplate it in the stillness of the heart.
"Contemplation without interiority, is empty and sterile, because God's word is excluded, and it becomes a strange exercise of Pharisaic narcissism without conversion. "Thank you Lord because I am not like other men" (Lc 18.11 and following).
Interiority without reference lacks otherness (God – creature) or is closed-off interiority. Prayer – interiority – Augustinian contemplation - is an encounter, a questioning, self-criticism, and experience alive with conversion. "To praise Christ, be not a chatter box with your voice and mute with your works" (Sermon 88.12)
The center of Augustinian anthropology is man as an image of God. As a creature, he is an image of God, though an imperfect image (The Trinity 10.12, 19) and, at the same time a beggar of God (Sermon 56,9). When God is found one should continue to follow Him because the search is permanent, on-going. The search for God constitutes the essence of contemplation.
The first activity of an evangelizer is prayer. "A man of prayer first, then a preacher" (The Christian doctrine 4,15). The same applies to a religious community. For Saint Augustine an Augustinian community should be a small Church which directs in common its prayers to God.
There is no schedule for contemplation. "The will should treasure the joy of silence, using as needed the word in teaching… Place your happiness in listening to God, in your speech let only necessity move you…Why do you want to speak and not listen, to go outside (of yourself) continuously and refuse to return within yourself? Do not forget, your teacher is inside… At any rate, if you like throwing yourself into external activity so much, take care not to fill yourself up so much, that you may not be capable of entering again by the narrow gate and your God cannot say to you: enter into the joy of your Lord…" (Commentaries on the Psalms 139, 15)
B.8.- INTERPRETATIONS OF DIFFERENT MELODIES
Prayer adjusts to the various situations of individuals since prayer and life go together. A life characterized by various personal experiences alters prayer as praise, petition, thanksgiving, etc., for example.
The Psalms and the Our Father were the prayers preferred by Saint Augustine. The Our Father contains our desires, is the prayer of the City of God, the summary of the Sacred Scriptures and the seven petitions encompass everything that we can love and desire conveniently or legitimately (Letter 130, 6,12). The psalms contain the material of human life. He who speaks in the psalms is the Whole Christ. "We should keep them as something well-known and familiar, since their voice is, as it were our own, in all of the psalms, whether they be sung, be expressions of suffering, declare happiness in hope, or be a sigh for some truth ". (Commentaries on the Psalms 42,1).
To conclude this journey on the importance of Augustinian prayer in the life of an Augustinian Novitiate it is necessary to recall that even atheists speak of God, but to speak with God is only possible through faith and love, and we do so with hope because the ear of God is always near to the heart of man (Commentaries on the Psalms 118, 29.1).
FOR REFLECTION AND DIALOGUE:
CERIOTTI, Giancarlo. Los Votos en la Espiritualidad de San Agustín. En Camino hacia Dios, notas para una espiritualidad agustiniana. Publicazioni Agostiniane, Curia Generalizia Agostiniana, Roma 2005, 379 -394.
CIPRIANO, Nello. Elementos y actitudes de la Oración Agustiniana. RENOVACION Y FORMACION, curso para formadores agustinos. Roma, Curia Generalizia Agostiniana, 1994, 115- 117.
GALENDE, Francisco. La Interioridad Agustiniana. En Camino hacia Dios, notas para una espiritualidad agustiniana. Publicazioni Agostiniane, Curia Generalizia Agustiniana, Roma 2005, 269 – 301.
Potissimum Institutioni (“Orientaciones sobre la formación en los Institutos religiosos”), Documento de la Sagrada Congregación para los Institutos de vida consagrada y las Sociedades de vida apostólica. Roma, febrero de 1990. 45-47; 49-53.
Elementos esenciales de la Doctrina de la Iglesia sobre la Vida Religiosa dirigido a los Institutos dedicados a obras apostólicas: Sagrada Congregación para los Religiosos e Institutos Seculares, Roma, 31 de mayo de 1983.