The Apostolate During the Time of Formation
Religious life, as is described by the documents of the Church and the Order, is a way of experiencing the faith of Jesus, continuing his community and his mission, which is to say, a life of prayer in Community with a Mission. Saint Augustine himself used his brilliant intelligence, his oratorical skills and his intuitive ability to spread the Good News. Consecration implies, therefore, mission: the consecrated person is "called" for others and "sent" to accomplish God’s work in the world1.
Given this essential mission of religious life, the formation of candidates of our Order must have a pastoral character that ensures for the sake of human, spiritual and intellectual formation some specific content and features, which at the same time unifies and determines the entire formation of the future religious (cf. Const. 157, RI 8). Following the example of Augustine, we are called to meet each person in his real situation by means of our charism of community life.
1. Community and apostolate
Community life is so important to religious consecration, that every Augustinian is bound to it by the mere fact of his profession. It is the core element of the Augustinian religious life. Therefore, T. van Bavel doesn’t hesitate to state: "For S. Augustine, our first ministry within the Church is the realization of community-love. And this is a real ministry in the sense that it is one interpretation of Christ's message ... External work, the remotest apostolate, can never go against this fundamental inspiration"2. Therefore, community and fellowship are the hallmarks of our apostolic activity and should put a special and characteristic mark on our apostolic works.
Therefore, with the integration of religious in the local church, we cannot sacrifice our charism for the apostolate (CGI 1998, n. 15). Religious should be always at the service of the Church, but not at any price. The RI #62 also notes this difficulty by emphasizing that the Augustinian charism of community life does not exclude service to the Church. Even more, our community life is a form of apostolate, if we live it as Augustine teaches us and according to our tradition. This tension would not exist if from the time of formation it were clear that the ministries entrusted to religious must be faithful to the Gospel, to the Church, and to the Institutes themselves. Therefore, the ideal is to integrate and balance community life with the community's apostolates.
As a consequence of the communitarian dimension, the mission of each Augustinian religious should be commissioned and undertaken as a community responsibility. Thus, a communal sense of the pastoral work and of enhanced teamwork in each of our pastoral projects has to be instilled in the students from the pre-novitiate stage, giving testimony to others of our experience of life in communion. This corporate mission does not mean that all members do the same things, or that the qualities and gifts of individuals are not respected. It means that the activity of all members should be directly related to the common apostolate: communion, complementarity and co-responsibility in the apostolate. This should exclude the "snipers", the loners and "faction kingdoms", in which each one is lord and master.
1. Do we insist enough during the time of formation on the community dimension of the apostolate in the face of individualism, of a personalized activism...?
2. Are the formandi prepared to live and work as a team/community the values of justice and peace? Or are our Augustinian houses of formation just like diocesan seminaries?
2.1. "The apostolate of study"
If our relationship with God is not nourished by prayer and constant studies, we cannot expect that our relationship with people be successful, for we communicate to others the fruits of our contemplation and our study. The appeal to religious studies and religious formation is a requirement for the personalization of faith in the contemporary culture.
The initial stages of formation are propitious moments for the careful and gradual preparation in human, intellectual, academic and theological formation. It should be required of all applicants to Augustinian life to have a sufficient level of general education so that afterwards they are able to feed on the wisdom handed down by our tradition (St. Augustine), the culture of the nations where we live and with the reading of the great book of life (CGI 1998, n. 17).
We can say that STUDIES is the fundamental work and apostolate of an Augustinian during the formation period. Pope Benedict XVI's recent letter to seminarians written on the occasion of the Priestly Year also urges this.3 Awareness of the importance of intellectual formation and of pastoral challenges should lead us to recognize the importance of the formation period when we have so much time to prepare ourselves humanly, spiritually and academically for the future. Dedication to studies encourages dialogue and participation; it helps to identify and understand problems and challenges; it forms the ability for critical thinking, encourages contemplation and prayer in searching for God and His interventions in the complex reality of the modern world (CGI 1998, n.16). A solid preparation is a great investment at a personal, community and ecclesial level.
Our Augustinian students should be taught the pastoral character of the institutional studies of philosophy and theology, for academic preparation will be essential in exercising the intellectual apostolate in the future. Logically, these studies should help not only intellectual development, but also the formation of critical judgement and the maturity of the whole person. Only a serious commitment to studies will allow an active presence in the development of culture and the necessary dialogue with faith. Furthermore, it should stimulate the desire and the habit of reading and study for a lifetime. Those who reduce their reading to newspapers and the breviary will have an inadequate pastoral activity.
Within the field of studies, special attention should be give to homiletics, and to the study and proper use of new mass media and its pastoral application.. Young people have great skill in using these tools (internet…), but they should be aware that the new technology is only a “means” and not an end in itself. Its improper use implies a waste of time.
1. The urgent need to engage in pastoral activity occasionally causes us to offer an inadequate intellectual formation to our formandi. Is it enough that during the period of formation one be a good person, though he be slothful in his fundamental work which is that of study? Study is of little gratification to formators and formandi. 2. How can we motivate ourselves and our students to discover the importance and taste for study, reading ...?
2.2. A "cross-cultural" Apostolate
There is a phenomenon in many countries today, as well as in our formation communities: multiculturalism and its implications for the apostolate. Therefore, initial formation must be accompanied by a greater understanding of other cultures and promote experiences of insertion in other cultures and learning other languages.
• This helps us respect diversity.
• It facilitates dialogue with other religious and cultural heritages and mutual enrichment.
• It will make possible mobility and the internationalization of our communities and of the Order.
2.3. Pastoral work during the formation period
The primary purpose of initial formation is not to carry out many or various pastoral works, but the experience, development and the deepening of religious life in all its dimensions. Therefore, pastoral activities must be integrated into the formation process and have the importance they deserve at each stage.
This means that the pastoral activity of the students must be "timely" and clearly defined in time.
Pastoral activities should not be an “excuse” to be outside or to avoid the community.
During the formative stages, the individual should to try to discover and to be initiated in various apostolic and pastoral activities, depending on the circumstances and places, in which preferential option for the poor and marginalized persons must play an important role. The diversity of ministries will be determined by the needs of others, thus, it will vary according to cities, regions, countries or continents. At each stage of the formation process, students will discern how they are able to pursue pastoral ministry (RI 108). It is a period in which they must learn active collaboration with lay people who are working in various fields of evangelization.
Depending on the personal circumstances and local situations, the formation team will decide, in dialogue with the student, whether or not to exercise a particular pastoral work at every stage of initial formation, as well as some supervision of the work.
The pre-novice, depending on his experience and formation, can be integrated into Augustinian activities, so that he will be gradually imbibing the spirit of Augustine.
He can be integrated into the liturgy of Augustinian parishes, into Augustinian youth groups, in social activities connected to the Augustinians or participate in some Augustinian projects.
Taking into account the personal background of each novice (his pastoral experience, age ....), the pastoral needs of the place where the novitiate is located, and given the special nature of this formative stage, only with the positive opinion of the novice master/team, may the novice carry out some pastoral activities of support or help. But this pastoral work should not suppose a deviation from the fundamental task of the novitiate.
The Augustinian community of professed brothers should be imbued with a fraternal spirit so that dialogue and fraternal co-responsibility can take place. For this reason, continued dialogue among all the brothers of the community on the various themes and values of religious community life must be encouraged: community life, the meaning of the vows, the apostolate, a precise way in which each brother gradually discovers how to work in the mission of the church. The community aspect of the apostolate should be emphasized.
Means of pastoral formation with some guarantees
Society is changing at a rapid pace. These changes are forcing us to seek new ways, strategies and effective methods to communicate the Gospel to the world. What methods should be followed in programming pastoral work, so that it can achieve its goals?
So that pastoral activity during the stages of formation can really be a fruitful and formative opportunity to become initiated in the apostolate, there should be some requirements:
There should be a genuine personal commitment on the part of the student toward his pastoral activity. This implies a positive attitude towards the pastoral task that one carries out with dignity and in the best way he can. It requires:
This planning of the ministerial activity should take place within the community, at the same time a hierarchy of values should be established, so that there are not interferences with other activities of the community and the formation program (studies…).
The development and smooth running of the pastoral task is to be discussed and evaluated with the formation team and the rest of the community, so that the student can always learn from the experience of others in a constructive way.
The fields of the apostolate are many and varied, and certainly creativity will help find new places of ministry. However, there are already some more or less established as for example be: a) church ministries (parishes,....); b) education and the intellectual apostolate; c) social work and missions: hospitals, NGOs, active missions, marginalization, poverty, injustice... The Ordinary General Chapter of 2007 (1.3) invites us to read and discover the new signs of the times as a challenge of the new evangelization: globalization, secularization, injustice and social imbalances, scandals, ecology, new technologies, cultural and religious conflicts, immigration, emigration... So every Augustinian community, located in its own geographical and cultural space, must set time for reflection and critical dialogue, so that they may discern in each case the priority of pastoral areas, as well as the most appropriate way to carry out this pastoral activity.
The Augustinian students should perform pastoral activities, taking into account their personal qualities, their background and achievements in the earlier stages of training. This apostolate requires a careful and gradual preparation for the preaching of the Word, evangelization in different environments, so that it reflects positively one's own life of faith, prayer, and human and intellectual formation.
Among the most frequent activities performed by the professed are:
Meeting with Augustinians who have had apostolate experiences in their own cultures or in others (missionaries): This will enhance and promote knowledge and personal experience in mission fields. For this, students can attend courses in missiology or, during the final year of theological studies, they can have an experience in a mission project.
Timing pastoral activity
In every region or country, the formation of the students involves some pastoral activities organized in different ways, taking into account the maturity of the persons and educational or social circumstances and realities.
In every place and circumstance (both personal and community), the community should choose the most convenient way to carry out the apostolate.
Evaluation criteria of the apostolate
The formation team will coordinate and evaluate these activities periodically, either on a personal or on the community level. It should also take care to see that the development of these activities does not interfere with community life or with academic studies.
To be evaluated (R.I. 118):
The formandi during the stages of formation carry out pastoral activity:
1. But are these activities properly programmed and evaluated, or do they happen rather spontaneously through good intentions? Are they considered as entertainment or rather as a "serious task and work" of announcing the Gospel, previously lived and experienced by the candidate?
2. Does the pastoral activity have a community and Augustinian dimension?
Pastoral activity is an attractive area for people in formation, so that they are seldom reluctant to undertake such activities. There is, however, the danger of considering it as a priority to the detriment of academic education. In the formation period, however, the Augustinian should discover and be initiated into various apostolic and pastoral activities depending on circumstances and places. Therefore, we must set clear priorities for the personal and community project. Sometimes activities are too personal, neglecting to share with the community and evaluate the performance of such activities in the community. We must also inculcate in the students, that without the inner experience of what is meant to be passed on, there is always the risk of distorting and perverting pastoral work, as this can become an additional activity among others, even more compelling than others. As Augustinians, we can never forget the need to evangelize as a community.
 T. van Bavel, The Spirituality of the Rule of Saint Augustine, in: Augustinus 12 (1967) 447. T. Tack, Acta OSA, 1974, 31, expressed masterfully the same idea: "The community itself is an apostolate of the first order, our first apostolate”.
On mission and evangelization in the Augustinian Order today. Reflections of the 1986 Intermediate Chapter, Publicazioni Agostiniane, Roma 1986.
Augustinians in the Church for World of Today. Document of the Intermediate General Chapter of 1998, Publicazioni Agostiniane, Roma 1998.
Santiago M. Insunza, The Augustinian Mission Today: Elements of an Augustinian Formation, Publicazioni Agostiniane, Roma 2001, 338-354.