“…having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end”

shepherdThe formator has a key role in accompanying the young Claretians in their growth into conformity with Christ (Cf. CC 77; 68; PI 30).  The spirit of Jesus is at work through the formators  (GPF 107). The primary requisite of a formator is his own intimacy and conformity with Christ, the evangelizer.  In order to grow in the qualities expected of a formator (GPF 108; PI 30), he has to gaze at and learn from the supreme formator, Jesus, whom he represents. All academic qualifications and other formative preparations will become effective only when backed by the credible life witness of the formator.

A Formator assumes the attitudes and sentiments of Christ towards the formandi when he is in constant contact with his Master and Lord and learns to be a formator from the Master Formator  whose short public life was mostly spent with his disciples in formation. Jesus’ formative period with his disciples was short, but its impact was great. His disciples  entered into a formative process which prepared them to lay down their lives in the style of the master except Judas Iscariot whose own variant personal project drove him away from the master. Other disciples became formators of communities.

Jesus’ paradigm of formation

Paradigm of Incarnation. John who identifies himself as the disciple Jesus loved summarizes Jesus life briefly as “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… and we have beheld the glory”.  Jesus’ life is the manifestation of God’s way of leading humans to their divine destiny. He shared with us everything  except sin which is a denial and disruption of true humanity.  The incarnational approach demanded twofold  fidelity all through his life: a fidelity to his Father in obedience and fidelity to the fellow humans in his love and compassion for them even amidst rejection.  He carried out his mission in constant communication with his Father and reaching out to the People from the perspective of the Father.  Incarnation gave visibility (taken “flesh”) both to God’s love for humans and human response to this love.   The disciples, assisted by the Holy Spirit, progressively became willing and capable of giving visibility (giving “flesh”) in their own lives to the paschal mystery lived by the master.

Authentic formation has to follow the same logic of incarnation.  All the formative attitudes and practices are derived from this approach.  A formator becomes an effective presence to the formandi when he personalizes the attitudes and style of Jesus who accompanied the disciples in their growth process.

A paradigm of Kenosis

St. Paul’s transformation from a persecutor to evangelizer was the encounter with the risen Lord who identified himself with those whom Paul persecuted. Paul saw Jesus who, “though in the form   did not count equality with God something to be held on.. but emptied himself. It is this discovery of the self emptying love of God in the crucified rather than the majesty and might of the creator God that transformed the life of Paul. Self-emptying love has is transformative.

jwashAuthentic formation has to follow this kenotic path.  Very often, formators have to consciously choose this kenotic way by opting the pain of self emptying in numerous ways and occasions.  He may have to spend his life with a handful of formandi, forgoing the gratification and serving a large group of faithful.

Perhaps, the first and foremost of the preparations a Claretian formator has to have is  to gaze at Jesus and learn his way of forming disciples.

The person at the center of the pedagogy of Jesus (Sabbath was made for man, not man for  the Sabbath  Mk 2.27)

Jesus’ life and mission was totally dedicated to the proclamation of the reign of God. The realization of God’s Kingdom takes place in the measure the human person is restored to his true dignity and awakened to receive the fullness of love and life. Jesus affirmed the absolute value of the human person and relativized the traditions and customs which are meant to serve man.  He would reach out to the socially outcaste, sinners, lepers, women and children. He alleviated the suffering and the sick through various signs and wonders. Authentic formation should bring out the best in the human person.

Jesus presence with his disciples

The gospel accounts present Jesus who is mostly with his disciples except those moments when he went alone to pray in solitude or those times the disciples were sent in mission two by two. The risen Lord gathered the scattered disciples and assured them of his presence in the community till the end of times (Mt 28.). The formator’s awareness of the presence of the risen Lord in his life and ministry is important for communicating formative presence to the formees.

His deeds backed his teaching

It was the very life of Jesus that gave credibility to his words. Doing the will of the Father was the supreme rule that guided his life. When Jesus was asked about his credentials by John the Baptist who sent two of his disciples to him, he responded, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard…” (Lk 7.22). The consistency between his words and deeds is recurrent in the gospel of John. Jesus told the doubting Jews, “  I told you and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness to me…. If I am not doing the works of my Father, do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (Jn 10.25, 37-39). It is the lived life of the formator that gives credibility to what he teaches the formees.

He raised questions to probe deeper

Jesus knew how to involve his disciples and others into self exploration and search for truth by raising right questions at the right time. Some times the questions could penetrate right into the heart inviting a response. Look at the following questions:
“What do you seek?” (Jn 1. 38)
“But who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8.29)
“Do you also wish to go away?” (Jn 6.67)
“Simon Son of John, do you love me more than these?” (Jn 21.15)

The power of these questions is evident in the response they elicited in the disciples. Knowing how to raise right questions in the right time is crucial for formative journey.

He used life situations to raise their level of awareness

The disciples often acted out of a mindset very different from that of the master. When Jesus had his eyes set on Jesusalem and the impending passion, the disciples were arguing about who is greatest among them (Mk 9.33, 10.41). Jesus used the occasion to broaden their vision about power and authority, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mk 9.35, 10.44). A very dramatic scene is the denial of Peter and Jesus glance at him which had an impact on the whole life of Peter (Lk 22.54-62). Difficult life situations often offer the ripe ground for the Word of God to sprout and bear fruit. Appropriate formative interventions can help the transformation of a formee, when he is open to learn and grow.

He respected their boundaries and provoked free response

Jesus provoked the best in his followers, the offer of their very lives for his mission, by his way of relating with them. Authentic discipleship can flower as a free response only in freedom. When some of the disciples drifted away because of the cost of discipleship, Jesus invited a free response from the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” (Jn 6.67) to which Peter responded with a total surrender, “where shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6.68). None of the passion narratives indicate any negative reaction on the part of  Jesus to the rejection of his disciples and the people at the moment  of his trial. He was not conditioned by what others acted towards him. Formative accompaniment calls for deep respect for the personal boundaries of the formee and his right to make a free choice for a missionary life.

He confronted them

Genuine relationships involve moments of confrontation where the other person is invited to be aware of truths that are some how  hidden from him.  Though it is painful at first, openness to truth paves way for personal growth and true freedom. The confrontations of Jesus with Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees were invitations to open their eyes and see the action of God in their midst. The parables of the good Samaritan, the prodigal son, Lazarus and the rich man, the wicked husbandmen in the vineyard  are of particularly poignant in inviting his hearers to conversion. The cleansing of the temple (Jn 2. 13-22) is a prophetic action which exposed the rift between the sublime ideals and corrupt practices in the temple.  When Peter, in apparent gesture of affection, prevented Jesus from proceeding to Jerusalem to suffer, Jesus reprimanded him strongly saying, “get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men,” (Mt 16.23) . True love is capable of the liberating act of confrontation. Appropriate confrontations aimed at raising consciousness of the formee about his own self-limiting vision and behavior is necessary to break open to the mystic of the Gospel.

He affirmed them

Living with Jesus was for the disciples an experience of being confirmed about their true identity and mission in life. They were called to be with him and to be sent out in mission (Mk 3.13). Jesus seemed to have followed the logic of affirming the weak and broken persons such as public sinners, tax collectors and the deprived in the society, and confronting the self-righteous such as some of the Pharisees and scribes. Jesus attitude of affirming the weak is highlighted in the event of the woman caught in adultery. When the social norms would award her dealt penalty, Jesus glance would restore her to her true identity as a child of God. As the disciples were journeying progressively with the master, Jesus would couple confrontation and confirmation to break and build them into what they are called to be in life. The most difficult moment that they had to face was the passion and death of the master. The passion narrative of John presents Jesus concerned about preparing the disciples for the ordeal, assuring them of his love and prayers (Jn 13-17). But when the events took place they were scattered, their dreams charred and their hopes vanished.  They tended to return to their old trade (Jn 21.3 ).  The risen Lord would restore their peace and assure them of his abiding presence: “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28.20).

He loved them to the very end

supJohn summarizes relationship of Jesus with his disciples during the three years of his journey with them in the following words:. “…when Jesus knew that his hour has come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in this world, he loved them to the end”. The experienced of being loved by Jesus and his continued presence amidst them and in them as the risen Lord made all the difference in the lives of simple folk that Jesus gathered around him. Acts of the apostles narrate the apostolic zeal with which the disciples proclaimed the Gospel and formed communities in the name of Jesus. Jesus introduced a new logic into the lives of his disciples, a logic different from what is considered natural. It is the law of love that is willing to suffer, forgive and bless those who persecute. It is the positive energy  that transforms human aggressiveness into creative power. Authentic formation has to count on this power to effect the transformation of the formee. It is this life giving love that empowers the formator to journey with the formee in his growth process, in good times and difficult times.


We looked at Jesus from the perspective of his formative approach towards his disciples in order to learn how to be a formator after the heart of the divine formator. Jesus did not have large number of followers to be proud of. Neither did he have the best men from his contemporary society to count on.  He made his choices in calling people to follow him closely just as they too were to make their choices to respond to his call. Peter and Judas manifest two different ways of responding to the love of the master after failing him miserably.  Jesus power was his communion with the Father which kept him true to his identity (Son) and tuned him constantly to his mission (God with us). When a formator lives his true identity (son in the son)  through his communion with Jesus, he is empowered to love the formees to the very end.

Mathew Vattamattam