Vocational Consistency and Fidelity Today
A journey of dialogue with God, oneself, others and the world
Encounter of Prefects of Formation of major Organisms Claret Nivas, Bangalore, September 10-23, 2006
Formative concerns in the congregation
Mathew Vattamattam cmf
The encounter of the prefects of formation of the major organisms of our congregation is an important moment of evaluation and reflection on the formative process in our centres of formation in the light of the recommendations of the last General Chapter.
We have every reason to thank God for the many young men who come forward to follow our charismatic life style and the very many formators who are dedicated to accompany these young men in their formative itinerary. We have also the responsibility to assure holistic and integrated formation according to the guidelines of the universal church, the General plan of formation and the directives of the General chapters. There are at present 491 postulants, 149 novices and 761 students in the congregation who are formed in our 76 centres of formation (30 postulantates, 16 novitiates and 30 scolasticates). It is a grave responsibility on the congregation to accompany these young men in discerning and nourishing their vocation by creating conducive formative climate in our centres, by assigning committed and trained formators to accompany them and assuring adequate pedagogical means to reach the formative goals stage by stage. The young men who aspire to join us, moved by the Spirit, trust us with their lives and the congregation and the Church entrust them to the care of the formators for their holistic and integral growth into Christ. It is important that our formators and the formative processes live up to this trust.
I hope that the encounter of the formators will help us to assume this responsibility together and that we courageously carry them out at the service of the congregation and the Church in keeping with the roles entrusted to each one of us. The theme chosen for our reflection is “Vocational Consistency and Fidelity Today: A journey of dialogue with God, oneself, others and the world”. This theme is chosen to respond to some of the concerns of formation expressed in the last General Chapter. The union of superior Generals chose the theme of Fidelity in one of their General meetings. Both immature abandonment as well as unhappy permanence are counter productive for effective missionary commitment in the world today.
We need to make a concerted effort to carry on the great work begun by our founder by forming committed and integrated missionaries for our times.
2. The call of the General Chapter
The General chapter of 2003 appreciates the many blessings we have in the formation of our missionaries. A concern raised by the chapter is regarding the deficiencies and lack of attention to the spiritual accompaniment and the little attention given to human and affective maturity which results in vocational inconsistency (THML.55, 73.3). Another formative concern raised by the chapter is the vocation promotion and formation of missionary brothers (THML 54, 73.4).
The chapter noted that though most Claretians are integrated vocationally, there are members who lack integration and suffer personal dissatisfaction which leads to facile abandonment of one’s vocation. (THML. 46, 47). It suggested cultivation of one’s own vocation in fidelity to our evangelical and charismatic roots expressed in the Constitutions as one of the priorities in this sexenium ( THML.48)
If we want to be effective in our society today, we have to be faithful both to our heritage and to the signs of our times. In order to be relevant in out times we need to stimulate our formandi and the formators to make efforts to move from:
– mediocrity to excellence.
– “comfort” culture to commitment culture
– role orientation to goal orientation
-diocesian accent to priestly life to prophetic and religious character
– fear and compliance to freedom and responsibility
– momentary and unreflected reactions to planned and reflected actions
3. The formative tradition of the congregation
We have a rich formative tradition in the congregation in preparing thousands of committed and courageous missionaries along our 157 years of history. One of the bold witness of this tradition is the witness of the martyr seminary of Barbastro. The lives of many joyfully committed Claretians in all our organisms are testimonies of the kind of transformation that can be brought about when all the agents of formation work in unison to realize the project of God in an aspiring Claretian.
The congregation has been also keen to update its formative processes in accordance with the needs of the times and the directives of the church. We have strived to be timely, effective and opportune in our approach to the formation of our members at different moments of our history. Even in the early period of our formation history the concern for fidelity and quality was expressed in the writing of Fr. Xifre. In his circular “Ser fieles a la congregacion” he urged the members to be always faithful and grateful to the grace of vocation. This fidelity is not just remaining in one’s vocation, but living it well. Based on the experience and expertise of the time, Fr. Xifre prepared a “regulamento” for the proper functioning of our formation centres in 1894.
The call to fidelity to vocation was reiterated by Superior General Fr. Clement Serrat in 1902 as he exhorted all to remain faithful in the vocation to which one is called and overcome the trials that emanate from fidelity to one’s vocation.
During the dearth of vocations in the post civil war period in Spain, Fr. Nicolas Garcia emphasized the need to painstakingly cultivate the gift of vocation in order to remain faithful to it and advance in the way of perfection. When vocation is not cultivated, vocational temptations appear leading to the revival of bad inclinations and one begins to dream again about secular life or think that one could do more and better things outside.
After the promulgation of the Code of Canon law in 1917, the congregation drafted an Ordo Studiorum Generalis in 1929 and revised it in 1959 to adapt itself to the constitution Sedes Sapientieof Pope Pius XII (1956).
The post Vatican renewal had its impact on formation too which culminated in the drafting of the General plan of formation (1994).
The millennium call of the Church to “put out into the deep” requires a response from the formation sector too to prepare effective missionaries who are trained to dare into the deep mysteries of faith..
4. Fidelity and consistency in the congregation.
The vocational growth process of a young aspirant is a complex process involving personal, situational and pedagogical factors which may act as a ready soil or a resisting ground to the protagonism of the Holy Spirit. Fidelity and consistency can be evaluated in terms of perseverance and effectiveness of our missionaries. Abandonment of vocational commitment after many years of formation and apostolic life as well as unhappy permanence of a counter witness in the congregation are indicators of inconsistency and infidelity.
Data from 1993-2004 records an average of 495 temporarily professed students each year and in these years a total of 454 (average 38 per year) left the congregation. During the same period a total of 52 perpetually professed brothers and 113 priests abandoned the congregation. Accordingly the rate of abandonment of those who made final profession is about 14 per year.
In the overall context of the Church, Claretians are 15th in size among the largest 16 congregations (with members over 3000), but stand as 3rd in small percent of membership decrease. But it should not make us to be complacent about the level of vocational integrity in our missionaries.
The data received from the request for various permissions to the general government and the response of the questionnaires from the organisms are tabulated and given in the appendix.
5. Some comments on the data
In some organisms the rate of abandonment is very high among the postulants and in others it is high among students . In a few organisms there is high rate of abandonment among students for a few years and then it is reduced. There is progressive improvement of entrance and perseverance in some organisms while others have deteriorating trend in entrance.
Perseverance after initial formation varies from place to place and time to time. In a few organisms secularization trend is very high. Greater number of abandonment take place between the age group between 30-40 and the trend of younger persons leaving is more in the recent past. Generally in some organisms the number of definitive entry is much lower than departures and absences which leaves the provinces reduced in numbers within a short period.
From a formative perspective it is evident that some formative environments and in some instances the life of formators were not conducive for vocational perseverance. After the change of formation team, there was sharp fall in the rate of abandonment of students in some centres. Enquiry into the matter showed that it was a period of tension and fear in the formation house due to inter-personal conflicts and impatience among formators.
6. Formative Challenges Today
The world advances by leaps and bounds in almost all aspects of life. Committed research and explorations in every field of human venture have brought out drastic changes in the society. Advances in education and training of professionals have created a situation where excellence is reinforced and mediocrity is eliminated. Selection and training of personnel in any field of human activity is considered vital for effective contribution in that field. Clergy and Religious who were once wielding greater influence on larger spheres of human life are now limited to their own proper religious and transcendent horizon of life. Unless we excel in the field proper to us, we will be have nothing to contribute to the world.
In our long history many of the issues that we face today (vocational dearth, issues of perseverance, lack of formators, family pressures etc.) have been confronted at different moments in the past. We face different challenges in the different cultural settings where the congregation is implanted. The emerging global culture and fast growing communication media offer us opportunities as well as challenges in the area of formation. The spirit of enquiry and scrutiny has not left any aspect of life out of the reach of investigation and research. Some of these queries have focussed public attention on the private living of publically professed consecrated life, exposing at times the inconsistencies of the clergy and the religious. Though it has demoralized the clergy and scandalized the people in some contexts, it has also resulted in honest efforts to bridge the gap between the ideal and the actual and to look for effective and adequate pedagogy for formation. These challenges of formation can be summed up into three aspects.
6.1. The call for excellence:
Every field of human activity makes rapid advancement due to systematic formulation of goals and effective strategy to achieve them. All of us enjoy the fruits of this progress in every sphere of life. For example, the advancement in information technology in the past 20 years is incredible and the engineers in this field make their expertise tangible to the common people. Training of experts in different walks of life require a few years of rigorous and methodical training and if they fail to render service in his/her field of expertise, he/she will go out of business.
Priestly and religious training which amounts to 10-14 years is perhaps the longest formal training of any profession.Specialized training in most other professions takes less time, investment of personnel and probably money. Besides, the formandi are fully available for formation and even his personal time and holidays are structured within a project of formation. Some of the missionaries with some specialization have spent 16-18 years in education after joining us. The perplexing question is whether we can stand the test of quality in the field proper to us. Dr. Bartemeier puts it bluntly thus:
“We take promising young men from 13 to 25 years of age, feed them well, educate them diligently, and eight to twelve years later we ordain them, healthy, bright, emotional thirteen-year-olds”.
The world today looks for expertise and excellence from us in God experience, Word of God, Transcendent values, moral guidance, prophetic commitment and witness of religious truth. It is doubtful that most of those who come out of the formation centres are experts in the field proper to us.
The challenge of formation is to move from mediocrity to excellence in the field proper to us.
6.2. The challenge of authenticity
Many cultures hold the religious in high esteem and look to them for moral guidance. Economically and educationally advanced societies critically look at religion and are outspoken about the aberrations and inconsistencies in religious life. The episodes of sexual abuse by clergy and religious in some countries have done much harm to the Church. People no longer accept pulpit proclamations unless they are backed by authentic life of the missionary. The global acclaim of the lives of Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II are clear manifestations of the world’s appreciation for authenticity and need for gospel mystique.
We Claretians too have our moderate share of the human fragility and consequent lack of authenticity as expressed in the lives of some of our members. It is all the more sad when the lives of formators themselves at times give counter witness to the joy of a committed Claretian life. There are times when promising missionary ventures suffered serious set backs owing to the immaturity and lack of apostolic zeal of some young members. Various forms of compromises in radically living evangelical counsels have eroded vitality and missionary enthusiasm in some contexts. Our future depends on the quality of commitment according to our charismatic gifts in the church and failure to live up to certain degree of congruency would threaten our very being in the church.
The formative climate in our formation houses and the formative programs need to ensure the internalization of vocational values so as to live them consistently.
6.3. The Challenge of Fidelity
A third challenge comes from the global, consumeristic and hedonistic post-modern culture that pervades all societies with the offer of very many attractions. The mystery of the cross, need for renunciation and evangelical counsels are held in disdain. When a person is not grounded enough in Christian values, it is easy to be caught up in the lure of money, easy life and affective adventures. Analysing the departures, we notice that a good number of the departures were due to questions of affective life. Economic security and independence seem to underlie the numerous secularizations in some organisms.
Effective formative itinerary should necessarily take into account the human maturing process and empower the self-capacities of the formandi to live the vows and the renunciations involved in it without serious inner conflict. In a context where external structures are not very supportive of our life style, it is important to have solid internal structures to live our commitment joyfully.
7. Some Priorities in formation of our missionaries
In the light of the evaluation of the life of the congregation, The General chapter of 2003 placed a few priorities in the area of formation (THML 56, 73.3. They are the following:
– consolidation of the formation process
– formation of the formators
– Spiritual accompaniment
The means suggested are the following:
– Dedicating personnel and suitable means in vocation ministry
– Accompaniment and personalized formation
– Attention to the experience of faith
– Affective and sexual integration
– Human relationships
– Effective ongoing formation
– Vocation promotion and formation of brothers
In the light of the reflections of the encounter of major superiors in Vic, encounters of formators in different organisms, and my visits to formation centers, I consider it important to reflect over the following aspects of formation in this encounter of prefects of formation.
A secretariat has been created at the generalate to animate vocation promotion. Many organisms in affluent contexts face acute dearth of vocations in spite of concerted efforts and there are others in other contexts with plenty of applications each year. It is easy to fall into despair and discouragement in the first instance and the second situation can make people to take vocation promotion for granted.
Perhaps the need of the time is to ask why our kind of life is appealing or not appealing to the young men in these contexts. Only the radicality and spiritual mystique of consecrated life can evoke joyful commitment.
– Vocation promotion and screening falls into one of the vital activities that affect the formative process seriously. Any lapse in this area have far reaching consequences for our future.
– In some of the contexts where there are abundance of vocations, very little attention is given to prepare the vocation promoters and ensure the quality of screening and promotion.
Some organisms which had many apostolic urgencies overlooked the need for setting apart suitable and adequate number of personnel in this field.
Dearth of vocations should not let us fall into the temptation to lowering criteria to get members somehow to maintain the number.
7. 2. Formation of formators:
We are grateful for the many committed formators in most of our organisms who generously spent their lives in forming the young missionaries. At the same time we should also acknowledge that the most important needs in many formation centres is the need of formators who are willing and prepared to dedicate themselves to accompany the formandi in their vocational journey. Spiritual progress takes place in a dialogical relationship between a spiritual master and a seeker. We have many specialized persons and professors in many organisms, but few formators who can understand and walk with the formandi in a vocational growth process. At times the life style of the formator himself is counter productive to formation. Some formators are tempted to dedicate more time in emotionally gratifying ministries outside. The insistence of the General chapter to attend to the formation of formators who can accompany the formandi is an imperative to attend to the holistic formation of our missionaries.
7. 3. Formative culture in the organisms
There are many agents and factors involved in an integral formative process. Often the role of the wider Claretian community (the organism) in formation is overlooked and the formative responsibility is entirelylaid on the formators. The missionary ethos of the province/delegation has lasting impact on the formandi and it’s guiding values and attitudes are easily internalized by them than the proposed constitutional ideals. Attitudes and life styles in living vows, attitudes towards cultural differences, appreciation of consecrated life, readiness for work etc. are often learnt from the Claretians outside the formation centres than from the conferences of formators. We can see that some organisms have Greater number of secularizations and it could at least partly due to the trend prevalent in that organism.
Holistic and effective formation calls for the involvement of the whole organism and the congregation. We have a rich formative patrimony as a congregation. Our formation centres are to connect themselves to this rich patrimony and build on with the new pedagogical means available today.
7.4. Integral formation (GPF 33)
Even though religious formation is one of the longest program of training, it is justifiable because it is not just learning some skills, but rather involves the transformation of the whole person. We can speak of formation as transformation of the person in his totality. It is raising the level of consciousness into the likeness of Christ. Fragmented formative itinerary which attends only to the intellectual, spiritual or psychological dimension eventually forms unintegrated persons who easily give up during critical moments of life. GPF delineates the human, Christian and charismatic dimensions of formative itinerary which is to be progressively achieved according to each stage of formation with clear strategy proper to them in all of our formation houses. Holistic and integral formation requires attention to each dimension of human life and concrete ways of stimulating growth and its periodical evaluation.
7. 5. Formation of Claretian identity (Cf.GPF 51-53)
It has been surprising that after many years of formation and apostolic life, some find solutions to personal or community struggles in opting for a diocesan style of life. In the last three years about 24 Claretians sought permission for secularization. Such trends indicate that many go through the formation without acquiring a deep sense of belongingness to the congregation. Sense of Claretian identity and belongingness can arise only from affective and effective love for the Charism, the Founder, our traditions and inculturation of the Charism in each culture. We cannot love what we have not known. The Claretian week celebrated every year in all the formation centres is one of the means to inculcate knowledge and love of the congregation. Other means are the regular conferences, meaningful celebration of Claretian feasts and study of our documents.
7. 6. Formation for Human maturity (GPF 64-65)
The chapter expressed its concern on formation pointing to the little attention given to human and affective maturity. Poor management of affective difficulties results in easy abandonment and contracting marriage (80 in the last 9 years). Reasons for abandonment cited in the questionnaire are affective difficulties and community life. Along with philosophical and theological preparation, our formation has to attend to the formation of the person in their affective sexual area as well as inter-personal relationships. Useful workshops on these themes and healing trauma or past wounds and personal accompaniment can surely enhance the human maturity of the formandi.
7. 7. Formation for living poverty (Cf.GPF 66-71)
One of the formative concerns raised during the MSM in Vic was the need for effective formation for poverty. In some formative contexts the desire for comfort and material possession is reinforced in the young men by the life style of the Clergy and religious. Besides a consumerist culture provokes many artificial needs to boost market economy. The capacity to critically look at one’s own desires and the consumerist values is important to live poverty in spirit and in fact. Formandi are to know the financial implications of their formation and made to participate in the discernment process. The gross distance from the life in the formation house and the life at home can create serious conflicts resulting in attitudes that are not conducive to internalization of vocational values. In a few contexts the expenses on a single formandi is much more than the salary of a school teacher who has to look after his whole family with that salary.
The attitudes and life style of formators and other Claretians are crucial in imparting the values of religious poverty. The fact that a formandus has to depend entirely on outside help for the longer years of formation without contributing to his own maintenance can reinforce dependency and entitlement and lower the sense of belongingness and commitment to the community. This is why work and participation in the house maintenance and possible work experience during holidays are important both for personal formation and apostolate.
Another factor that saps the missionary vitality of some missionaries is the undue attention and preoccupation with their family situation and the search for financial support to improve the lot of the family. Added to this is the attraction for some to the diocesan form of financial management. It is important to clarify the norms regarding our style of life and address the family preoccupations and unrealistic expectations of the formandi with empathy.
7. 8. Vocation Promotion and formation of missionary brothers
This theme has been a matter of discussion in many encounters without bearing tangible results.
It is a positive sign that some new organisms have a few vocations to brotherhood (Central Africa, Indonesia, Nigeria), though many others have not succeeded to attract vocations of brothers. Cultural prejudices and clericalism seem to come in the way of nurturing vocations in some places where there are abundance of priestly vocations. Lot of self-renewal with regard to priestly attitudes and renewed efforts are required to promote vocations of brothers and give adequate formation to them according to their mission in the congregation.
7. 9. Specialization
Specialization of suitable members as part of a plan to prepare personnel for specific missions is important to keep up the vitality of our missionary endeavours. Specialization should be distinguished from on going formation which is aimed at progressive renewal and nurturing of vocation. In contexts where degrees are symbols of ego-importance, there is the temptation to seek specialization to boost self-esteem. Decorative and remunerative doctorates or licentiates have nothing to do with the desire to better serve the Church and the congregation. Each organism has to plan for specializing suitable and adequate number of its members in different apostolates especially in formation.
7. 10. Formation for obedience and community life (Cf.GPF 72-76)
Our congregation is born as a community and collaboration among the members and with others in the mission is part of our style of doing missions. Social psychology has made big contributions in the field of human relations. Difficulties in inter-personal relationships and inter-cultural living are studied closely and many formative strategies are available to stimulate team work, resolve conflicts and improve communication skills. Responsible freedom is a condition for religious obedience. Formal education alone will not guarantee this inner freedom, but rather may reinforce immature patterns of relationship with authority figures in a naïve person. It is surprising to see many “adult children” in communities who have formally completed post-graduation in religious studies, but remain immature in the way community life is lived. Without a certain level of self-knowledge and faith experience it is difficult to enjoy community life or relate with authorities in a spirit of collaboration in the mission. Not a few of our good missions have suffered set backs due to the “friendly firing” of community members.
Taking advantages of the findings and contributions, our formation process need to help the formandi to grow in self knowledge and develop capacities for team work and interpersonal relationships.
8. Some formative oritentations
8.1. Faith formation and interiority (GPF 50-53)
The reality of vocation and response is grounded in our faith experience and openness to listen and to respond to God’s call in freedom. It is of fundamental importance that our formation programs and formative climate in the centres and organisms favour and nurture deep spiritual life. Our charism can be internalized only in a spiritual milieu.
One pivot of our interior journey is the prayerful contact with the Word of God. By the end of initial formation a Claretian is expected to have a certain level of spiritual maturity born of his contact with the Word of God. Implementation of the proposals of “initiation in the ministry of the Word” and the formative itinerary suggested in it are a key growth in interior life.
Another important opening into interior life is through daily meditation. By the time a candidate completes his initial formation, he will have meditated a minimum of 1500 hours and if this time is properly used, he will have initiated a vibrant interior life. Lack of proper methods of meditation and easily allowed distractions and cancellations often lead many missionaries to give up the habit of meditation altogether after initial formation. Our formation centres should give due attention to help the formandi to cultivate meditation and personal prayer by making use of suitable methods.
9.2. Clarity of objectives.
No journey can progress without the clarity of where one has to reach. We have clear goals as to what kind of missionaries we want to form. The life of Jesus and Mary and the vocational itinerary of the apostles, our founder and many zealous missionaries give us clear images of what could be aimed at. But they remain as inspirations to chart out one’s own unique journey. Each formandus has to make the Claretian vocational goal his own by concretizing them into clear and realistic objectives and means at each stage of formation. well articulated and implemented personal projects and community projects are effective instruments of goal setting and its realization.
There are other strategies today like making one’s personal mission statement, and mission statement of each community with the participation of all members.
8.3.Pedagogical instruments to achieve the objetives
A serious criticism levelled against religious formation is that it nurtures sublime desires and ideals without supplying concrete means to realize them or to verify growth towards it. Spiritual experts speak of stages of spiritual growth and laws of interior life. Though it is true that interior movements are not available for external scrutiny, they are present to one’s own awareness and visible in their fruits in one’s behaviour. Formation too requires a scientific approach proper to its own nature and should insist on proper strategies in each of the dimensions of formation.
Human and spiritual maturity requires that the capacities proper to it are cultivated during formation. GPF speak of personalized formation. Our formative process should help the formandi to become responsible and reliable by encouraging them to develop self capacities. This requires clear articulation of those capacities and suitable means to develop them in the person during the course of formation. (for a model look at the list of self-capacities presented in a program of spiritual direction given in a separate sheet).
A person becomes an expert where he naturally expends his energy and time on the priorities of his life without exerting undue effort. Effective formation has to help the formandi to take charge of their own time management. Adequate allotment of time for prayer, study, games, recreation and cultivation of skills within one’s personal project will greatly enhance holistic growth. Time management is not just having a time table, but much more than that. It arises from the sense of life as a gift and a call given in time and use of time as a response to it. Today’s society provides lot of opportunities for time pass (eg. Internet, chat, TV, Vedeos, games). They can easily create dependencies and absorb lot of time. Maturity involves using progressively greater time on objective goals. 12-14 years available for initial formation is a considerable time to achieve the integral growth of a person.
8.5. Cultivation of virtues: (Cf. GPF 77-89)
Virtues and ascetical means were privileged means of personal growth in our tradition. Claret has dedicated a larges space to describe the virtues needed in a missionary. It seems that the regard for virtues is returning to the formative and educational field. One of the ways for us to prepare for the bicentenary of the birth of Claret is to make a conscious effort to cultivate moral and spiritual virtues among ourselves and in the formandi. Spiritual growth programs have recently begun to give due attention to the cultivation of virtues in the clients. (for example, see the list of virtues given in the appendix)
When the meaning of human and Claretian virtues are assimilated and their possible visible expressions in daily life are consciously cultivated, it will lead the formandi to greater integration and consistency.
8.5.Accompaniment of the formandi
The strong recommendation of the General chapter to deal with the issue of inconsistency is the accompaniment of the formandi. Accompaniment is not just periodical meeting with the formandi. It involves the presence of the formator in the formative itinerary of the formandi as a guide and animator to walk with him, affirming, confronting and inviting him in his progressive journey towards the formative goal. This requires knowledge of the human struggles and spiritual crisis that are normal in a vocational growth process. Besides, the formator also has to dedicate time to be with the formandi and to know them by frequent personal talk apart from the other modes of presences (presence during prayer, meals and other community activities).
The spiritual insights and relational skills of the formator are important personal resources for accompaniment.
Accompaniment is different from psychological counselling which one may have recourse to with the hep of professionals in this field to render psychological help to a formandus. A prudent formator knows when to make such a help available in the life of the formandi.
In some of our formation contexts there are separate spiritual directors which can be an added support for the spiritual journey of the formandi. But is not a substitute for accompaniment by the formator, but rather be part of a formative plan for the integral growth of the formandi.
It would be helpful to organize workshops on accompaniment processes at provincial or inter-provincial levels to empower our formators.
I have mentioned some of the concerns of formation which we come across in our congregation. During these days of reflection and deliberation, we shall look into them and seek ways to enhance the integral formation of our young missionaries. Without forgetting that the spirit is the primary agent of formation, we shall do our best to form our missionaries in the spirit of our founder. May our Holy Mother form the missionaries in the furnace of her Heart.