The Ministry of the Word in Formation
39. The following of Christ as set forth in the Gospel is “our supreme rule of life.” Now it is through the Word that we have access to Him, come to know Him, contemplate Him assiduously and cultivate friendship with Him. His Word makes him present in the spaces of our existence with clearly personal resonances.
40. Following the example of Jesus and of our Fr. Founder, everything in us must be transformed into a sign and expression of the Word of God. Hence, the missionary service of the Word in the Church, is not simply a pastoral action or an appendage to our apostolic mission: it is a core essential of our apostolic charism, a dynamism that integrates the whole of our being, acting and signifying, and it should be understood as such from the very outset of initial formation.
41. Likewise, since we are indeed missionaries, we contemplate and assume the Word, in order to communicate it and announce it. Hence the Congregation exhorts us to strive to search for the best way to teach others what we ourselves have contemplated.
42. During the formation process, the Word of God must mold and structure the personality of the formandus (his values, interests and motivations), must bring him to full conformity with Christ the Missionary and must move him to live in accord with the lifestyle, attitudes and options of Jesus.
2. Formative Agents
2.1. In the light of the Spirit, who anoints us for mission
43. Our vocation as hearers-servants of the Word is a gift, a charism, a present from the Spirit. The Spirit, who anoints us for mission and is the chief protagonist in the process of increasing identification and conformity with Christ, is also the One who makes us understand the Word of God. The Spirit really acts in us, leads us into all truth (Jn 16:13), changes our vision of reality, makes us like, appreciate, judge and choose all that relates to Jesus and his Kingdom, and gives us strength to commit our life to mission. It is the Spirit who, as inspirer and inner teacher of the Word of God, opens up our access to it and equips us to become fitting ministers of the Word. Hence it is necessary that we pray much and ask insistently for the inner light and love of the Spirit who makes us understand the meaning of the Word and its vocational dimension. It is necessary for us to invoke the Spirit before reading the Scriptures, as the whole of spiritual tradition tells us, and as our Fr. Founder counsels us.
2.2 With Mary and like Mary, our Mother and Formatrix 71
44. Made fruitful by the Spirit, Mary engendered the Word. Without her maternal mediation, the Word would not have been made flesh. What came to pass when the fullness of time arrived, continues happening in the process of faith whereby Christ is born in believers when they accept the Word proclaimed. Without the power of the Spirit and without Mary’s mediation, the Word would be merely a human creation that could at most become a source of intellectual and moral inspiration. Through the Spirit and Mary, the Word continues to be incarnated and becomes a living presence of the Risen Lord in the midst of the Church, a true place of encounter with God. It is this joyful reality that Claret experienced when he recognized that he had been shaped as a herald of the Word in the forge of Mary’s Heart. And this is the same reality that we experience when we receive and venerate Mary as our Mother and Formatrix. Hence we must help the formandus to recognize, be thankful for and gladly second Mary’s generative action in his process of welcoming and assimilating the Word.
45. We also recognize in Mary a model of a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. She who conceived the Word by God’s grace and her obedient attitude, is also proclaimed blessed as the first of the simple faithful who hear it, fulfill it, keep it in their heart, and proclaim it promptly and joyfully. Hence the vital synthesis that every formandus keeps building throughout his formative process is inspired in Mary.
46. As in all dimensions of the educational process, it is essential in this one, too, to start out from the centrality of the person of the formandus. He, as a hearer and servant of the Word, must be the first one responsible for this process of growth.
47. As a point of departure, it is very important that the formandus attend to the human base of his personality that will facilitate the whole process of his initiation into the ministry of the Word. This human base, formed for silence and listening, makes possible and guarantees the reception, internalization and communication of the Word. In order to be able to enter into methods of praying or reading the Word, it is important that the formandus review his own self image, his image of God, and his religious experiences, since all of these will decisively condition the process of assimilating the Word.
48. It is proper of a formandus, as a disciple of the Lord who calls him to the perfection of the Father, to be ever alert and listening for the surprises that come from the Word and from the Spirit. To this end he must cultivate docility to the Spirit, by opening his mind and heart to Him and by allowing himself to be shaped in the forge of Mary’s Heart. Although he may feel weak and little, he must trust in the Word which, when it takes hold of us and we are docile to it, acts efficaciously in those who hear it and fulfill it.
49. The formandus should live and cultivate a truly apostolic spirituality. To do so, in addition to other formative dynamisms, he must develop an intense love for the Word of God, in the reading and meditation of which he will, like our Father Founder, achieve the surpassing knowledge of Christ and a growing conformity with Him. Through daily contact with Holy Scripture, he will personally experience the attraction of the Lord’s person, His love and friendship, and will acquire a clear awareness of his vocation to follow Him faithfully. He will hold his life up to the Word in order to grow in fidelity to the gospel. Finally, he will unceasingly ask God to make him a fitting minister of the divine Word.
2.4. In a formation community called together around the Word
50. The formandus has been incorporated into a family that has been called together by the Spirit to proclaim the Gospel. It is a community that is at once evangelized and evangelizing. In order to be able to transmit the Gospel he must let himself be converted by the Word and, through it, by the events that affect human beings, especially those who are most poor and needy, to whom he is sent. In order for the Word to be both credible and attractive, it must be proclaimed by a community of brothers who live united by Jesus and in Jesus. For us, most definitely, the Word of God is as essential to community as community is to the Word.
51. Being formed to be fitting ministers of the Word is a process that can only be carried out in a missionary community. It is in community, as an environment for growth, that formandi develop their capacity for listening and dialogue, that they learn to listen to the Word together, to communicate and receive it, to discern the will of God and to work in team with their brothers.
52. In order to be able to grow in the light of God’s Word and be a milieu for a missionary’s formation, the formation community must celebrate the Word of God. In it both formators and formandi will fraternally share in listening to, living and announcing the Word. In the community’s celebration of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, in its shared reflection on the Word of God, and in prayer that analyzes the events of life and holds them up to the gospel, is the milieu in which the community expresses its faith and where it encounters and dialogues with the Lord. All of this will be possible if the community lives in a climate of faith, creates surroundings and moments of silence, takes due care and time with its celebrations and makes creative use of the most adequate methodologies.
2.5. The Formators
53. Formators play a very important role in this whole process. They must be an example, guide and stimulus to formandi so that they may become fitting ministers of the Word. They must be keenly aware from the outset that one of the core aspects of formation is initiation into the ministry of the Word and that this must be one of the hinges of the formative process. Through personal preparation and dedication, as well as their own daily experience as disciples and hearers of the Word, they will accompany the formandi along this road. They will furnish them with the Word of God, instil in them a great love for Scripture and help them to learn to read reality as an authentic word of God and to listen to it with an evangelical attitude.
54. The same may be said of the professors as regards the study of the Word and their collaboration with the formator to help toward an integration of faith-study-life. Professors of Sacred Scripture, our Founder used to say, will instil in their students the love of God and the spirit of prayer which, together with reading and meditating on the Word of God, will allow them to form good disciples and fervent preachers who will not preach themselves, but Christ crucified.
3. General Lines of Action
55. To prepare the kind of human base of the formandus that will allow him to receive, internalize, share and communicate the Word. Especially:
– to adjust his religious experience so that it will be adequately open to the manifestation of God in his Word;
– to educate him for silence and listening, the capacity to welcome and be open to others and to reality,
– to develop, by means of oral and written expression, the capacity to communicate and to share.
56. To educate the formandus in the attitudes proper of those who, like Mary, the apostles and prophets, have welcomed the Word, made it part of their life and allowed themselves to be transformed by it. These attitudes are, mainly:
– listening and disciple-like docility,
58. To form him to read Scripture in an updated and inculturated way, in and from the standpoint of concrete reality, especially from that of an identification with the poor and of living among them, without which it is difficult to understand and announce the Word of Jesus.
59. To favor a balance between prayer and study, so that they may help and encourage one another. Prayer must orient the apostolic thrust of study and study must provide the contents, expression and penetrating power of the Word we have to announce.
60. To promote, within a serious academic formation that is carried out with the greatest diligence, a knowledge of the Bible that is both savored and exegetical, since the Bible should be “the soul” of theology, and to make Bible study one of our central concerns. Likewise, to help them to discover theology as a privileged way of penetrating into and acquiring a better knowledge of the Word of God.
61. To create in community an ambiance of faith and of relationships in which we can fraternally share in listening to, living, celebrating and announcing the Word with our brethren in community and with the laity, and in which community and formative discernment based on the Word takes place habitually.
62. To orient all formation toward the missionary service of the Word: a Word that this listened to, contemplated, internalized and shared with the People of God, that stimulates dedication to mission, that serves as an inspiration for ways for announcing it, and helps to bring out its transforming power in persons, the Church and the world.
63. To forge a missionary spirituality centered in the Word in such a way that it is one of the hinges of the whole formative process. Therefore, Sacred Scripture will be the main book for spiritual reading; it will constitute the nourishment of our hunger for study, meditation and contemplation; it will be a necessary instance for vocational discernment and for the renewal of our first vocational experience; it will stir up the inner fire that energizes our following of Jesus, and will be a treasure that we cannot help sharing in preaching, in writing and in every missionary commitment.
4. Dynamisms and Means
64. The Word of God is intimately related to the Eucharist. Together they constitute the two complementary tables of which the Council speaks, reminding us that neither the Word nor the Eucharist are objects of worship or spirituality, but rather sacraments of the presence of the living Christ, the Word of the Father who invites us to an encounter with him. Like the Word, the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist calls us around a table, creates a community —a network of personal relationships— and enkindles apostolic zeal in it. In every sacramental liturgical celebration, but especially in the Eucharist, the most perfect actualization of the biblical texts takes place, since in it they are proclaimed in the midst of a community gathered around Christ in order to draw nearer to God.
65. Since the liturgy, and in a special way the eucharist and the liturgy of the hours, are the regular context in which we receive and share the Word of God in community, we ought to hold it in great esteem, prepare it carefully and celebrate it without haste. Moreover, the relevance of the Word in the Liturgy requires specific preparation in the liturgical service of the Word, especially for the homily and for the painstaking pastoral administration of the Sacraments.
66. The synthesis between the study of the Word and prayer is basic in the process of initiation in the ministry of the Word. The formandus must become accustomed to a prayerful reading of the Word and listening to it with all docility. Prayer is the privileged moment for receiving and meditating on the Word of God: a fire that melts the heart and molds it into the image of Christ, looking at and studying Jesus in order to commit ourselves to Him and do as He would do, begging Him to make us fitting ministers of the Word. But this prayerful reading needs to take advantage of the advances that have been made in biblical studies. Claret also insisted on a serious study of Scripture, so as not to try to make the Word say what we want it to say. Hence the importance of reading it in its original languages and interpreting it in accord with Church tradition. In the Congregation we are also asked to achieve a deep knowledge of Scripture that is both savored and exegetical.
67. Given the centrality of mission in our life, apostolic experiences throughout our formative itinerary become a school in which, while we announce the Word, we are also formed as missionaries. Indeed, if they are discerned and lived according to the demands, options and preferential recipients of our mission, they should help us read reality as a word of God and listen to it with an evangelical attitude, developing our sensibility and insight to grasp the challenges and urgent needs of the Kingdom and give them adequate missionary responses. Hence the formandi should engage in an inculturated and updated reading of the Word that can really enliven and enlighten the concrete realities of mission.
68. Moreover, living our apostolic experiences from the standpoint of meditating on and listening to the Word will also help us to carry them out in union with Christ, the Son sent by the Father, and thus be spurred on by the charity of Christ to work with dedication and generosity and to assume with fortitude and joy the sacrifices, hardships, trials and failures of the apostolate, like men who know that the cross is the apostle’s shield and banner. In our apostolic sending, in teamwork and in sharing our experiences, as well as the Word, we will be able to grasp how essential community is to Word and Word to community.
– Each one should have his own Bible, which he should receive, if possible, at the beginning of his formation, as a privileged tool for discerning God’s will for his own life.
– A complete reading of the books of the Bible.
– Daily reading of the sacred texts, which, according to Claretian tradition, should be done with fidelity, attention, and painstaking care.
– Practice in the method of “lectio divina,” in popular and community reading, and in other forms of reading the Scriptures.