As we are learning to make sense of the prophetic act of Pope Benedict XVI in his resignation and his onward journey as a fellow pilgrim in contemplation, prayer and study, I would like to take one of his constantly repeated affirmations as central axis for our formation process. The Pope repeatedly said, “being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction… since God has first loved us” (Deus Caritas Est 1). He has reiterated it again in his Lenten message.
Since the last General Chapter we have been emphasizing the need for a transformative formation which, by the end of initial formation, should effect greater maturity in a formee at all levels of his personality in keeping with his identity as a disciple of Christ. The central factor of this transformation is his encounter with the risen Lord that would open up new horizons in his life. This is why all formation programs need to be evaluated in terms of how they help such an encounter. At times the level of maturity arrived by many formees by the end of their initial formation is quite disappointing. The level of maturity is manifested in the way a young missionary deals with the trials and challenges of his everyday life and remain faithful to his “first love” . The experience of being first loved by God and the consequent opening of new horizons and direction in one’s life is at the center of the choice of religious life. Although an aspirant may begin his formative journey with mundane motives, the formative programs and the climate in the formation house will have to assist the formee to clarify and purify his motives and help the formee to face the reality of his faith experience and his personal encounter with Christ. This factor should not be ignored in the wake of academic performance or success in developing various talents. The priorities exercised in everyday life of a formation house marks the direction of formation process. An example of a non formative climate is a situation of a formation house where neither formators nor formees give importance to personal prayer and meditation and over look them in favour of frequently occurring “urgent” activities.
Another important component of Christian vocation (and much more for vocation to consecrated life) is ego transcendence. Though early part of formation needs to affirm a solid ego formation in order to transcend it at the service of truth and charity as one grows, often the “power” and “status” of ecclesiastical orders seem to hold the formee a prisoner of his vulnerable “ego “. No wonder we meet several “managers ” of parishes or social projects among clergy than servants of the people of God .
For me the resignation of the Pope was another important Christian message in action: that power and authority is for service and the capacity for service determines the continuation in office. It requires humility and authenticity to serve with all ones resources when entrusted with an office and happily cede the office when such an act serves the office better.
A Transformative formation prepares people to assume leadership and responsibilities as opportunities of service. It is sad to see when formation is taken as the magic process that leads to “elevated status” of the humans to holy priesthood rather than as an unfolding of one’s call to conformity with Christ, the evangelizer, an authentic transformation of the whole person into the likeness of Christ who loved us and gave himself for us. Humble service is the natural flow of Christian Faith. Radical commitment is the fruit of the faith experience of a missionary. The Year of Faith offers us the opportunity to nurture our Faith, our encounter with the person of Christ, which is at the core of formative process.