Formation Centers as HOLDING ENVIRONEMENTS
Formation centers are to become “holding environments,” places where young men and women are “held” while they work their way to a new stage of their psychological, religious and spiritual growth. A holding environment, for example, is what a family is for a teenager working his or her way to a new identity as a member of, but distinct from the family. Formation centers are holding environments that help young adults grow into the self-chosen identity of celibate priests and religious who can function on their own in a complex world.
It is clear that mature human beings must come to terms with their sexuality as part of that growth into maturity. Such maturity is the result not of a once-for-all-time decision, but of a developmental process that takes time and needs a nurturing environment.
It is by now almost a cliché to say that we are living in a difficult time in our world and in our church. But we need to be aware of how difficult an age it is; otherwise, we will look for scapegoats to blame for our difficulties. Nicholas Lash, the English theologian, has opined that we are living in a more tumultuous age than any in human history, precisely because the crisis we face is global in nature. In such a climate, where everything is being questioned, where most of the people on our planet feel unmoored and insecure, it is difficult to find our bearings. Those of us who are engaged in fostering human development share these feelings of insecurity and alienation. In such a world, how do we help young people to find their way, especially in the area of sexual development? As we try to discover ways to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and to help the future generations to grow into maturity, we need to be aware of the complexities we face, but also not to be overwhelmed by them.
In our modem world everything, it seems, is sexualized, and yet, it almost is as difficult now to talk openly about sexual maturity as it was in the Victorian era. We often are tongue-tied when we try to talk about sexuality with others. We have not developed a comfortable way to speak and write about sexuality.
Growth into full sexual maturity must be a major goal of all formation programs whose purpose is to help others to become able to function effectively as Christian adults in a complex world. In these formation programs clear guidelines for behaviour need to be given, precisely because these programs are holding environments, one of whose functions is to uphold standards of behaviour. But these guidelines must be put in the context of a developmental process. It is expected that it will take time and mutual collaboration for people to grow into Christian sexual maturity. People in formation programs need to be held with warmth and care as they negotiate this difficult passage into sexual maturity.
Growth into such maturity will mean that people need to be honest with God and with mentors about what is happening to them as they move toward this ideal. They will have to grow comfortable talking about their sexual urges, desires and fantasies in prayer with God. As people mature in such prayerful conversations, they will be able to speak more frankly about sexuality with their mentors and their spiritual directors. Any growth process is a matter of trial and error. The only way to grow is to be honest with trusted mentors such as spiritual directors about the ups and downs of moving toward the ideal. This guideline means that spiritual directors and other mentors will have to earn the confidence placed in them. They will have to be people who are known as trustworthy, who can keep confidences, who will help individuals face the issues involved in growing into sexual maturity with gentleness, compassion and honesty.
_ Bhyju cmf