(Here are some useful tips on formation presented by Fr. Edward Mercieca SJ to the Meeting of Superiors General (USG) in his paper tittled “Present Challenges: Ways and Means that Superiors and Governing bodies of religious congregations may undertake” – Rome in 2006.)
Some points which cannot be considered completely acquired:
- The human person develops, grows and commits in every stage of life and in its totality: mind-heart-body; past-present-future.
- The way that relationships develop (quality, mode) with ourselves, with others and with our surroundings, is in direct relationship with the quality and the way we relate to God.
- Religious persons do not constitute a separate and distinct species from the rest of humanity; potential crises are present throughout our life journey.
- All that forms us as persons – intelligence, affectivity, body, language, history, etc. – is God’s grace. Stages of life, so much intimately related to our spiritual Life and our commitment, are God’s graces.
- In religious life one may become broken during times of crisis; brokenness caused by crises of losses and separations, brokenness due to crises coming from the charism/tradition of the congregation itself, brokenness caused by certain renunciations which one would have desired and chosen before.
- In each vital phase of life there occurs a crisis-growth experience; this is lived healthily in a cycle of confusion- pain- mature love. In religious Life these stages of life have their own specific characteristics even if deep down we share these experiences with others.
- Each person/religious in our case makes his own “reading” of the process.
My intervention is intended to help prepare the “Sharing in Language Groups”, which follows this afternoon, making it more fruitful and more focused.
I will talk about two Items or subjects:
1. Six focal existential periods in the life of a religious where a time of crisis and growth go together; in each of these six challenges along the way, if the basic conditions are there, growth and perseverance take place. If the crisis is not dealt with properly, however, perseverance will be more difficult or at least, religious life will turn out to be an unhappy lot.
2. Means and/or orientations that may help our young men to persevere and our mature brothers to live their vocation and mission happily and fruitfully, according to each stage of the religious life.
Changes in Age/ Phases in Life: Breaking off-Losing and Reconstructing in Strategic Periods of our lives
I. The time before joining religious life:
From the fear of a definitive commitment -to a vital project of fullness in life.
A disconcerting experience: There is motivation to serve, to give oneself to the poor, to Christ, to the Church…which means a change in life, in customs, in orientation. Questions arise: Why must I be there and not others? Why in this way? Why now? Take it or leave it.
Conflicting feelings arise: on one hand one feels that this is what one must do, that this is the way to full and definitive happiness; the novelty of experiencing Jesus Christ in one’s life. On the other hand there is a fear to move on, to make the decision, to decide for something so radical. The young person is after something “absolute”, “total commitment”, many times without being conscious of it. The sacrifice implied, is in itself attractive for it entails a high ideal. Many would not understand the waste of talents, of energy and of a young life. In face of the definitive commitment the heart is wondering: Will I be able to do it? What happens if…?
Suffering/Pain: separation is always painful; more so if this happens when the young person has to embark for this first very radical and definitive breaking up. Leaving the family, the peers at school or work, friends, etc. is not easy. The option appears to be a leap into the unknown, into emptiness, even though one might have had contacts with the congregation before he joined it. The candidate will be leaving behind a profession against the opinion of many others, a “personal” project that involved status, money, per-haps even a girl friend or a bride. In this case, one suffers for him-self and for the other person involved.
Growth: The discovery of a vital definite project which gives meaning to life (past, present and future), energizes and thus gives strength to the candidate to go on with his option. Some will admire him which will astonish him. The young man feels a costly happiness qualitatively different from others experienced before; a sort of potential fullness and self-realization in giving oneself, spiritual consolation. He sees the same difficulties and personal limitations in a new light and he no longer sees them as impossible to deal with.
The combination of four tools:
- Spiritual Accompaniment
- Group/guided community experience of peers /communal prayer and sharing of life.
- Social Experience/exposure to poverty, having experience of peo-ple who are marginalised and/or who are weak.
- Spiritual Experience / interior process / prayer.
During the years prior to joining a religious congregation these “four experiences” should be structured and worked out according to local realities. The absence of any one of them will affect the whole “formation process” which leads to discernment and ultimately to the decision to join or not to join a religious congregation.
- vthe young man needs to discern his great desires; to distinguish what is real and what is imaginary.
- vthe congregation needs to have a clear and attractive identity in its mission. It also needs to be rather strict in its selection of candidates.