Looking at the formation programs which aim at promoting change and transformation, a formator may wonder what is that change which changes everything in a person. In other words, what is that change which, if it does not happen, there is no real change in a person even if one advances in age and accumulate academic degrees. Only very few formees are naturally tuned to benefit from the formation programs and grow towards higher levels of transcendence. It is after initial formation when life offers serious challenges that some religious go through the process of “breaking and building”, the Pasqual mystery of dying to the old and rising to new life. Such a change often begins to happen in people at crucial moments of their lives. It can be through an encounter with a person, an escape from an accident, an illness, a failure, an experience of betrayal….
Often these events shatter the existing securities of one’s life and open up space for something new. Paradoxically, the same events may lead some others to depression, bitterness, aggressiveness, revenge, suicide, abandonment of chosen commitments etc. Formal training in religious life seldom prepares a person to transform calamities of life into growth moments. If only formative programs could provoke the change that changes everything!
Awakening and growing: the two formative movements
Religious Formation is not so much about acquiring more information, but rather about facilitating transformation in the formees. Personal transformation takes place through two processes: awakening and growing. The first step towards transformation is through awakening to one’s true self. Before that it is the false self or the state of identification with “ego” that prevails. Various religious traditions express this reality using terms such as conversion, realization, enlightenment, emergence, waking up, opening the third eye etc. When it happens, a person begins to see everything in a new perspective.
Growing is the process of consolidation and growth of the true self by progressive realization of one’s uniqueness. This realization makes one to conform to Christ in and through one’s unique history, unique gifts and opportunities. It provokes deep sense of gratitude and a high sense of obligation. Awareness of being a unique story of God’s love brings with it an inner urge to fulfill the obligation that goes with the uniqueness. If you are the unique face of God’s love, you feel an obligation to live it to its fullness at the service of the fellow humans.
The change that changes everything in formation is the encounter with the Risen Lord in one’s proper history. It is in that encounter that a formee awakens to his true self and de-identifies with the superficial and passing realities such as physical prowess, talents, social positions etc. What is done previously out of obligation and duty now is embraced out of love and done with joy. There is no magical formula for this awakening to happen. We can prepare an environment which favours such an encounter. Oriental wisdom prepares the ground for awakening a person by creating the environment which starts with cessation of bad habits and initiation of virtues. Then one initiates the mind and heart to focus on the divine and starts meditation and contemplation . Transformation is the work of the Holy spirit in a willing person. Then an authentic formative program is one that prepare a formee to be actively available to the work of the Spirit.
If long years of formation fail to effect transformation in many of the formees, perhaps various formative activities which we offer produce more noise than silence, more dispersion than focus, more identification with ego rather than awareness of self in the interior of the formee. Formation centers will do well to evaluate the effect of the various programs in creating the proper setting for the change that changes everything to happen. Besides, The formee who has joined the formation process with sublime intentions need to be challenged to assume responsibility and protagonism to prepare himself for the change that changes everything.