THE ON-GOING FORMATION OF THE PERPETUALLY PROFESSED
(From the directives on formation in Religious Institutes, Congregation for Institutes of consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, 1990, no. 66-71)
66. “Throughout their entire life religious are to continue carefully their own spiritual, doctrinal, and practical formation, and superiors are to provide them with the resources and time to do this.” “Each religious institute therefore has the task of planning and realizing a program of permanent formation suitable for all its members. It should be a program which is not simply directed to the formation of the intellect, but also to that of the whole person, primarily in its spiritual mission, so that every religious can live his or her own consecration to God in all its fullness, and in keeping with the specific mission which the Church has confided to them.”
REASONS FOR ON-GOING FORMATION
67. On-going formation is motivated first of all. by the initiative of God, who calls each one, at every moment and in new circumstances. The charism of religious life in a determined institute is a living grace which must be received and lived in conditions which often are new. “The very charism of the founders (ET 11) appears as ‘an experience of the Spirit,’ transmitted to their disciples to be lived, safeguarded, deepened and constantly developed by them, in harmony with the Body of Christ continually in the process of growth…. The specific charismatic note of any institute demands, both of the founder and of his disciples, a continual examination regarding fidelity to the Lord; docility to His Spirit; intelligent attention to circumstances and an outlook cautiously directed to the signs of the times; the will to be part of the Church; the awareness of subordination to the sacred hierarchy; boldness of initiatives; constancy in the giving of self; humility in bearing with adversities. Especially in our times that same charismatic genuineness, vivacious and ingenious in its inventiveness, is expected of religious, as stood out so eminently in their founders.” Permanent formation demands that one pay close attention to the signs of the Spirit in our times and that religious allow themselves to be sensitive to them in order to be able to respond to them appropriately.
Moreover, continued formation is a sociological factor which in our days affects all areas of professional activity. It very frequently determines whether one will remain in a profession or be obliged to take up another.
Whereas initial formation is ordered towards a person’s acquisition of an autonomy sufficient for faithfully living a religious commitment, on-going formation assists a religious in integrating creativity within fidelity. This is because a Christian and religious vocation demands a dynamic growth and fidelity in the concrete circumstances of existence. This in turn demands a spiritual formation which produces inner unity, but which is also flexible and attentive to the daily events in one’s personal life and in the life of the world.
“To follow Christ” means that one is always on the road, that one is on one’s guard against sclerosis and ossification, in order to be able to give a living and true witness to the Kingdom of God in this world.
In other words, there are three basic motivations for permanent formation:
- – the first arises from the very function of the religious life within the Church. There it plays a very significant charismatic and eschatological role that presumes on the part of religious men and women a special attention to the life of the Spirit, both in the personal history of each one and in the hopes and anxieties of others;
- – the second comes from the challenges which arise from the future of the Christian faith in a world that is changing with increased rapidity;
- – the third concerns the very life of religious institutes, and especially their future, which depends in part upon the permanent formation of their members.
68. Continued formation is a global process of renewal which extends to all aspects of the religious person and to the whole institute itself. It should be carried out, taking into account the fact that its different aspects are inseparable from, and mutually influential in, the life of each religious and every community. The following aspects should be kept in mind:
- – life according to the Spirit, or spirituality: this must have primacy, since it includes a deepening of faith and of the meaning of religious profession. The annual spiritual exercises and other forms of spiritual renewal are thus to be given priority;
- – participation in the life of the Church according to the charism of the pastoral activities in collaboration with others involved in that activity locally:
- – doctrinal and professional updating, which includes a deepening of the biblical and theological perspectives of the religious, a study of the documents of the universal and local magisterium, a better knowledge of the local cultures where one is living and working, new professional and technical training, when appropriate;
- – fidelity to the charism of one’s institute, through an ever increasing knowledge of its founder, its history, its spirit, its mission, and a correlative effort to live this charism personally and in community.
69. Sometimes a significant amount of permanent religious formation takes place in an inter-institutional context. In such cases, it should be remembered that an institute cannot delegate to external organizations the whole task of continued formation for its members, since in many respects that formation is too closely tied to values proper to its own charism. Each institute, according to its needs and potentialities, should therefore create and organize various programs and structures for the formation of its own members.
SPECIAL TIMES FOR ON-GOING FORMATION
70. The following stages are to be understood in a very flexible manner. It will be useful to combine them concretely with those which may arise as a result of the unforeseeable initiatives of the Holy Spirit. The following are regarded as particularly significant stages:
- – the passage from initial formation to the first experience of a more independent life, in which a religious must discover a new way of being faithful to God;
- – the completion of about ten years of perpetual profession, when the risk of life’s becoming “a habit” occurs with the consequent loss of all enthusiasm. At this time it seems imperative that there be a prolonged period during which one withdraws from ordinary life in order to “reread” it in the light of the Gospel and the mind of one’s founder. Various institutes offer their members such a period of intensifying their religious life, in what is known as the “third year,” “second novitiate,” “second probation,” etc. It is desirable that this time be passed within a community of the institute.
- – full maturity, which often involves the danger of the development of individualism, especially among those of an active and vigorous temperament;
- – a time of severe crisis, which can occur at any age as a result of external factors (change of place of work, failure, incomprehension, feelings of alienation, etc.), or more directly personal factors (physical or psychic illness, spiritual aridity, strong temptations, crises of faith or feelings, or both at the same time, etc.). In such circumstances, a religious should be helped so that he or she successfully overcomes the crisis, in faith;
- – a time of progressive withdrawal from activity, when religious feel more profoundly within themselves the experience which Paul described in the context of moving toward the resurrection: “We are not discouraged; and even if, in us, the outward man is being corrupted, the inner man is being renewed day by day.” Peter himself, after he had received the immense task of feeding the flock of Christ, heard him say: “When you are old, you will stretch forth your hands, and another will gird you, and lead you where you would not wish to go.” Religious can live these moments as a unique opportunity for allowing themselves to be penetrated by the Paschal experience of the Lord Jesus, to the point of wishing to die “to be with Christ,” in keeping with their initial choice: “that I may know Christ, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death, in order to come, if possible, to the resurrection from the dead.” Religious life follows no other way.
71. Superiors should designate someone as responsible for permanent formation in the institute. But it is also desirable that religious, all during their lives, have access to spiritual guides or counselors in accord with their course of initial formation and in ways adapted to their greater maturity and their actual circumstances.