Personal Accompaniment: The Interview
GUIDELINES FOR PERSONAL INTERVIEWS
1. Preliminary Observations
- “The novice-master is the person designated to spiritually accompany each and every novice.” He is the person that the Congregation offers to each novice for so basic aspect of formation as spiritual direction. His role is to accompany the novices, especially through personal interviews, in various ways: spiritual direction, manifestation of conscience, disciplinary accounting, personal direction or frequent dialogue, counselling, etc., all of which differ from sacramental confession in the strict sense.
- Novices are to approach the novice-master with trust and be able to open their hearts to him freely and spontaneously. If they prefer, they may arrange the interview with him so that it can take place at the time best suited for it.
- The frequency of the interviews or dialogue with the novice-master depends on the need or will of each novice. They should take place often. It would be enough to have an interview at least once a month.
- Preparation: before each interview the novice should spend some time reflecting on the topic or matter to be dealt with in it; he should make written notes. And, above all, it is very appropriate for him to trustingly put himself in God’s hands through prayer.
- Topics: the content of the interviews depends on the concerns or needs of each person and the times and circumstances when they are held. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to cover certain definite points in conversations with the novice-master throughout this period of formation.
2. Guidelines or Assessments for Interviews
The following assessments suggest some possible points of conversation. They are intended merely to give a direction to the interview. The contents proposed in some of the assessments are very extensive and may be covered in a number of sessions.
Assessment 1: The Initial Interview
The initial interview, at the beginning of the novitiate, can simply consist of an exchange of impressions. There is no need for it has any other purposes unless there is some matter that demands immediate attention.
In this initial interview, the novice may present general data about himself and his family, how his vocation arose, etc.
It is good to talk frankly about possible fears, as well as the hopes with which one begins novitiate.
At the very beginning there are things, customs, etc., that clamor for attention. The novice can ask questions and talk about how he feels.
Assessment 2: The Novice’s Life Story
The novitiate provides the opportunity to calmly reflect on one’s own life, on one’s life story, and on the meaning of certain details which he perhaps has not deeply reflected on up to now.
One may develop a life story assessment: putting together a simple autobiography, praying over it, in the Lord’s presence that he may also share in his interview with the novice-master. In drawing it up, the novice could make use of the following outline:
- Personal data
- Family data
- Studies and/or work experience
- The religious environment in which he has lived (apostolic commitments, etc.)
- Relevant facts and anecdotes that are important to him
- Especially meaningful people that have had an influence on his life
- How his vocation appears in the context of his own life
- How the novice would describe himself (who he is, his character, his likes and dislikes, his dreams, etc.).
Assessment 3: The Personal Project
Once community planning has been done, one must develop a personal project. This must take into account both the community planning and the concrete circumstances of each novice, with the individual emphases and nuances that seem appropriate to add.
The personal project will be a point of reference in the interview. Later he will have the chance to revise the project, making appropriate corrections in light of events or the passage of time.
1. Contents of the Personal Project
Specific areas of the project:
- SPIRITUALITY (prayer, living, dominant passion)
- VOCATION (discernment)
- COMMUNION (fraternal life)
- CONSECRATION (vows)
- MISSION (mission or apostolate)
- CLARETIAN CHARISM (main characteristics of the charism)
- OTHER possible formation dimensions: health, psychological aspects, family concerns, etc.
In each of these areas one needs to be concerned about describing the following:
- Starting Point (what is my present situation in each of these areas)
- End Point (objectives or goals to pursue in each specific area)
- Dynamisms (means, concrete actions, tactics, etc.)
2. Evaluation of the Project with the Novice-master
Assessment 4: Prayer Life
The spiritual life is broader than merely prayer life. But prayer life is a central element of the spiritual life: Do I agree with these statements? Do I actually dedicate enough time to prayer each day and reserve my best energies for it?
The presence of God in my life: Do I habitually and naturally raise my mind to God in the midst of my daily occupations? What is the relationship between the prayer I practice and the rest of my life? Is there a consistency between them?
Missionary Projection: Do I feel that missionary projection is essential to my prayer and to my spiritual life in general? Is there frequently a place in my prayer for concerns of justice, peace and human problems (prayer in solidarity)?
Cordi-Marian Spirituality: the way I experience Mary’s presence; Do I live the spirit of sonship with respect to Mary, my mother and mistress, in my life? Do I think of her as my formatrix? Do I understand and appropriately assess the symbolism of her Heart?
Community Prayer: insofar as it depends on me, do I put sufficient effort into preparing acts of piety or liturgy? Am I careful about details? How do I participate (degree of attention, interior and exterior recollection, effort, dedication, etc.)? Do I feel I am united with Congregation and the Church at community prayer?
- Eucharist: Do I put great value on celebrating or participating daily in the Eucharist and dialogue with Christ in visits to the Blessed Sacrament?
- Liturgy of the Hours (attention, effort, sense of Church)
- Meditation (method, achievements, difficulties)
- Personal prayer (time, place, method)
- Examen or examinations of conscience (time, method)
- Sacrament of Reconciliation (preparation, execution, frequency)
- Spiritual reading and Lectio Divina: How do I daily enter into contact with the Scriptures and with other spiritual books?
- Rosary and other devotional practices (doing them, degree of participation, dedication, recollection, results, difficulties, etc.)
- Other forms of prayer (both communal and personal).
Assessment 5: Evaluation of One’s Life in the Novitiate
(Some time having passed since its beginning)
Living centered in Christ: Have I fully entered into the novitiate? Do I really live centered, about the Father’s business, like Jesus Christ? Do I notice changes in me since novitiate started?
Interiority: Do I appreciate solitude, contemplation, silence, work, life hidden in God, prayer? Do I see indications in myself of superficiality, avoidance, routine, refusal to change, a desire for stimulation from the outside?
Purification and detachment: How am I working to eliminate my main defects? Are my relationships to the outside (meetings, letters, other communications, etc.) appropriate to my present situation? Do they rob me of calmness, time, dedication? Am I advancing in evangelical detachment with regard to people, memories, things, business affairs?
Dangers: Have I succumbed to any of these dangers: loss of time available for personal study, prayer, reading, etc.; an artificial spirituality or one imposed on life; avoidance (at home or in the apostolate); fatigue, conformity (getting along); impatience; lack of realism?
Personal project: revising it.
Assessment 6: Deepening Discernment of One’s Vocation
Recalling the history of one’s own vocation (origin or awareness of it, difficulties, evolution).
What is the conviction I presently have concerning God’s call to religious life in this Congregation?
The degree of excitement, esteem, vocational enthusiasm, etc., that could more or less measure it choosing one of the following responses:
- Great esteem or affection for my vocation (very happy)
- A moderate affection, calm and stable, toward my vocation, coupled with a usual feeling of finding myself on my chosen path
- Frequent ups and downs (alternately encouraged and discouraged)
- Little attraction, lack of intention (seriously tempted to give it up).
My aptitudes or vocational abilities:
- Am I convinced I am cut out (have the qualities, ability or suitability) for the Claretian vocation?
- How am I actually responding to my vocation?
My motivations or reasons: the basic reasons I have for remaining in the novitiate or in the Congregation (why and for what purpose).
It is normal for other motivations to also exist, more or less conscious, that are not so valid or appropriate to the Claretian vocation, and which need refining or elimination in order not to be interfere harmfully. What are they?
Being faithful, responding to God’s call, does not exclude the possibility of doubts and temptations against one’s vocation. When these occur, do I strengthen my faith and cultivate great trust in God? Do I consult the novice-master about them?
Do I watch over my vocation with Gospel humility? Do I respond thankfully, with a joyful and generous spirit, to the gift of my vocation?
Assessment 7: Community Life
Do I understand community life from a faith perspective? Am I aware that our fellowship is not based on a merely human rationale?
Do I consider my specific community to be guided and permeated by love for God and the brothers? How do I personally contribute to building fraternal communion?
Do I cultivate fellowship with prayer? Do I encourage a family lifestyle? Do I express it through participation in community works, services and charges?
How are my interpersonal relationships? (Analyze them in light of what the Constitutions say about them in nos. 15-18).
Do I carry out what is entrusted to me or what I take on (inside or outside the house) as a work taken on in the community’s name?
Do I know how to work as part of a team, relying on others, subjecting myself to the discipline involved whenever one works with a variety of people?
What are the main difficulties I experience in the area of community life and especially in interpersonal relationships?
Assessment 8: Comments on the Evaluation or Review That the Community Offers the Novice
Some formation centers have the custom of doing an evaluation or review of each member of the community at some special moment (retreats, exercises, etc.). This is a service that is offered to each brother in a spirit of charity. It is an evaluation in which priority is given to the recognizing the achievements of each person, with excluding the possibility of also mentioning things they could do better on or allowing for fraternal correction. Where this is done freely, it is also worth the effort of having it commented on later in personal conversation with the novice-master.
The viewpoint of other members of the community—novices and/or members of the formation team—, expressed in a privileged way in such acts of review, must also find their privileged moment in a more intimate conversation with the novice-master, in which he can nuance the impressions and discover the feelings that such a review has awakened in each individual. It also allows for the development of strategies to overcome deficiencies and to support the achievements attained over the course of time.
Assessment 9: Religious Life (Following Jesus Through the Vows)
Claretian life is one form among others of Christian and religious life in the Church:
Do I understand and appreciate what we have in common with other vocations in the Church and what is peculiarly ours, as a specific vocation?
Do I possess the attitudes and character that typifies a consecrated person (or one who is going to be consecrated)?
Do I intend to live the following of Jesus Christ with all its consequences, according to gospel radicalism? Concretely, am I, even now, living the content of the vows that incarnate or express that specific following of Jesus Christ?
Am I living chastity as:
- participation in, and imitation of, the virginity of Christ, whose absolute and only love is the Father, and following the example of Mary in living her virginity;
- a gift from God, who I thank and courageously respond to, with painstaking personal effort, with joy and humility;
- a commitment that involves renunciations, imposes sacrifices, and avoids unnecessary dangers;
- a serene experience of God’s love despite temptations, possible crises and human weaknesses;
- Am I living chastity at this stage in my formation? Do I have any difficulty with living it?
Am I living poverty as:
- an imitation of Jesus and Mary and as a search for the only thing necessary, which is God;
- an interior attitude of detachment with respect to all the things of this world;
- real and effective divestiture, an austere lifestyle;
- communion of goods (putting my belongings at the community’s disposal);
- a witness to, and real, solidarity with the poor of this world (apostolic dimension and witness value of a life of poverty);
- austerity of life and dependence.
Am I living obedience as:
- a search for the will of the Father, the only Lord and master of my life;
- collaboration with the community in discerning that divine will;
- acceptance of human authority (superiors, formators); dedication to tasks and charges entrusted to me by the community;
- in a active and responsible way; with a spirit of faith, out of love, promptly and completely;
- knowing how to dialogue and to express an opposing opinion, if necessary, but being ready to accept whatever is decided.
It is very possible that the novice himself may recognize that he is imperfect in his following of Jesus. This should not dishearten him. It is a life-long task. Right now he is concerned about learning well what that ideal he must strive for consists in. Therefore, if there are doubts about his understanding or if he harbors doubts about his own ability to live that ideal, it is appropriate to share this with the novice-master in the interview.
Assessment 10: Identification with the Charism of the Congregation
Religious profession is made in our Congregation and presupposes a special vocation to it. This demands a basic coincidence with the institute’s charism (harmony, communion, etc.), with the charism of our Founder, St. Anthony Mary Claret.
The novice should analyze whether that coincidence with the Congregation’s spirit exists in him, reviewing the most important characteristics of the charism:
- The deep experience of God as Father that our Founder had (divine sonship).
- Configuration to Christ in the specific ministry that inspired the Founder (Christ the evangelizer, anointed and sent, the missionary of the Father).
- The presence of the figure of Mary, Mother of the Lord and our mother (Cordi-Marian spirituality, condensed in the symbol of the Heart of Mary).
- An evangelical life following the poor, virginal and obedient Christ, in the manner of the Founder, directed toward an evangelizing and prophetic mission.
- A life of communion with the brothers, in the manner of the Apostles with Jesus.
- A feeling of love for, and belonging to, this religious family (the actual people and works; interest in getting to know exemplary figures or models from the past, martyrs, missionaries, relevant personalities and, especially, the figure of our Founder).
- Diligence in listening to God’s Word and availability for placing that Word at the service of people in a variety of ways (based on the criterion of what is most urgent, opportune and effective).
- A sense of the Congregation’s mission and identification with it (a clearly apostolic spirit; zeal for people’s salvation; sensitivity to, and interest in, human problems and concerns; an ability for, or inclination to, apostolic activity).
- A sense of availability to carry out the mission in any part of the world.
Assessment 11: Final Interview (or Summary)
At the end of the novitiate, during the days of prayer in preparation for religious profession, the final interview with novice-master may take place. This is a time for summing up, for reviewing and evaluating. In this interview, for example, the following points may be dealt with:
- Presupposing that the novice-master has written the reports to the superiors about each of the novices for their approval for first profession, the novices may be interested in knowing what they contain. If the novice-master agrees, they could dialogue about this report.
- Religious profession is supposedly near: Is the novice aware of what he is about to do, does he know what he is committing himself to? Does he know how to immediately prepare himself to make that profession?
- What is the novice’s self-evaluation concerning this stage of formation that is ending?
- Formation continues after novitiate ends: he will begin the next stage. He may want to ask the novice-master for some pointers for confronting it.
 Although spiritual direction or manifestation of conscience in the strict sense cannot be required, it is strongly recommended by the Church, by the Fr. Founder and by the Congregation as a very effective way of overcoming obstacles in the path of one’s vocation and for fostering one’s own sanctification. Cf. OPML III, pp. 241ff.