Towards a Transformative Formation

– Mathew Vattamattam cmf

Introduction

forge5Forms of Consecrated life have attracted and continue to attract thousands of generous hearts to embrace the style of life which Jesus has chosen for himself ever since the Jesus event inebriated human life with the incarnate love. Many forms of consecrated life have sprouted in the Church and have undergone growth, decline, and re-foundation or demise especially at different crossroads of history. Today we speak of a “crisis” in religious life caused by decreasing number of vocations and increasing presence of old members in places which were once cradles of religious vocations . On the other hand, many thinkers speak of our times as a historical moment of transition in human consciousness (cf. Beck, Ken Wilber). The ever new wine of God’s love needs new wine skins to serve the people God today.

1. The changing scenario of consecrated life

Statistics of religious life show a sharp decline in traditionally fecund Christian communities in the west and a steady growth in Asian and African continents. This geographic shift in number of vocations to consecrated life can be positively seen when we compare it with the fact that vast majority of the world population are living in these two continents. In this sense the religious in Asia and Africa have an important role to play in the Church to fulfill its mission in the world.

In the recent past Church suffered a steady erosion of its credibility due to the sex scandals involving the clergy and religious in different countries. The emerging secular culture is less and less supportive of the central values of consecrated life. Often the values of consecrated life stand out as counter cultural in a hedonistic and consumerist world view. In the complex context of today, honest living of religious consecration requires greater personal integrity, spiritual depth and prophetic commitment. The silent cry behind the accusations and public interest in clergy scandals is for authenticity in lived life that gives credibility to the proclaimed values of consecrated life.

The fragility of the religious living amidst a very tempting social environment is noticed in the number of desertions, petitions for exclaustration and secularizations that reach the General curia of most of the congregations. Moreover, mediocrity of life style and ineffective witnessing in community living erode the power of religious to be a prophetic presence and to be “an antidote to the ills of the society”. Unless the religious ground themselves in the charism of the their respective congregations and in the fundamentals of consecrated life, they can be easily swept away by the socio-economic-cultural-media changes that are taking place in our times. If the religious of Asia and Africa want to assume their emerging role in the Church, they have to pay serious attention to their holistic and integral formation both at initial and ongoing stages.

In this paper I intend to offer some insights that could enrich the formation of our religious and clergy . I hope you can take home some insights that would enhance your personal formation and meaningful celebration of your consecrated life.

2.Formation of Priests and religious- trends after Trent

We shall situate the present reality of formation within a historical perspective after the council of Trent (1545-1563) which made an epoch making decision for institutionalizing formation of clerics in a seminary to bring about changes to the lamentable state of clergy during the reformation times. It was Vatican II that gave a renewed attention to priestly training through the decree Optatum Totius (1965). Without going into the many directives on formation that came from Rome after the council I like to highlight the three main trends that occupied the formative scenario in the Church.

2.1.Orthodoxy:

Orthodoxy is concerned with correct interpretation and respect for a truth. The council of Trent formalized priestly training through a program of obligatory studies so as to prepare the clergy so as to respond to the challenges posed by reformation. The need of the hour was right knowledge of the precepts of catholic faith. Much emphasis was given to right understanding of the dogma and morals in order to teach the faith of the Church correctly to the people of God. Orthodoxy has always been the major concern of the official Church in training her clergy and religious.

2.2.Orthopraxis:

Orthopraxis is concerned with correct use of decision, in accordance with a correct grasp of truth. Often correct practice was taken for granted in the study of theology and morals. The chasm between faith and life, thought and action especially in the context of massive poverty and marginalization due to amassing of wealth by a few in the Christian social milieu of Latin America caused the emergence of liberation theology. Communities of insertion and formative programs that emphasized radical option for the poor and struggle for justice were preferred to academic excellence. In spite of certain polarization in the Church based on political ideologies, the affirmation of orthopraxis highlighted the importance of action inspired by the Gospel to transform the society. But radical options without the support of adequate interior life and psychological maturity often failed to stand to the test of time and trials of life.

2.3.Orthopathy:

Orthopathy is the correct development and use of affective dimension in the person. In spite of good will and bold steps towards prophetic action, many proclaimed ideals seemed remain in the air. Affective immaturities of people influence the way they theologize and carry out their ministry. Public scandals of clergy and religious, some of them highly qualified, proved the inadequacy of intellectual preparation alone to lead to self-transformation. Both orthodoxy and orthopraxis would be easily undermined when right ordering of affectivity (orthopathy) is neglected. Orthopathy is growing in the sentiments of the Son. The help of psychology began to be sought in formation, though at times tending towards exaggeration of its role and overlooking other dimensions of formation.

2.4.Integral approach:

Many documents of the Church on formation (Guidelines on formation-1990, Pastores Dabo Vobis-1992) rightly affirmed the need for an integral approach to formation giving attention to sound human formation. We know that there is need for integration of all the dimensions of one’s life in order to become an authentic witness of God’s love. But what is often overlooked is the way to move in the direction of authenticity as one progresses in religious life. It is one thing to attend an hour long discourse on meditation and quite another to spread the mat on the floor and sit in meditation for an hour. Unfortunately, the common practice in the westernized formative world is organizing discourses without complementing them with practice. It is practice that gives life to the beautiful ideals that are proclaimed by the religious.

Formation is a progressive transformation of the whole person into Christ by internalizing vocational values that integrate all dimensions of one’s life centered on the Pasqual mystery of Christ. An integral approach requires the following:

  • Clarity of Goal and direction of all forces towards it. Conformity with Christ is the goal of formation and hence every formation program is measured in terms of how they contribute towards this goal.
  • Absence of dualistic thinking which causes competition, exclusion and condemnation of views different from one’s own. There is no “either/or”, but rather an “and” which welcomes and integrates divergences.
  • Avoiding exaggeration of any one dimension to the detriment of another. Orthodoxy is equally important as orthopraxis and orthopathy.
  • The quality check for any proposition is the lived experience which reveals the level of transformation.

I shall now present a few insights from different authors from different disciplines which I have found helpful for a formation that leads to transformation.

3. New perspectives on learning

The science of education has made tremendous advancement in providing ways to make leaning relevant to life, engaging multiple intelligences and a rendering it enjoyable. Formation has much to profit from these contributions.

3.1. Adaptive learning and transformative learning

Without undermining the value of the intellectual preparation we receive, a shift of attention to what happens to us through our learning can place us on the path of transformation. We shall distinguish two kinds of learning to highlight this point.

Adaptive learning: In adaptive learning your are asked to fulfill certain requirements (pass exams, follow certain rules) and when it is done, you will be approved to move to the next phase of training. You do not have to reveal yourself to the trainers. Attention is paid to the inputs rather than on what happens to you through your learning.

Transformative learning. Here the focus is how you internalize and use the information received in formation to improve your life. The major concern is the growth and development of your person. You have to be open to the formator and reveal the impact of the learning experience on your sense of identity and vision of life. Learning involves integration and internalization of the materials learnt.

3.2.Whole person learning and learning to be a whole person

Transformative learning consists of involving the various faculties of the person (sight, hearing, communication, thinking, imagination etc.) in the learning process. You learn with your whole person.

A genuine learning activity enrich your life and empower your mission. Formation is learning to be a whole person which involves self possession and self donation.

3.3. Pedagogy and Androgogy

There is a difference between the way children and adults learn. Pedagogy refers to the styles of instruction and teaching suited to children (greek paidos). It is mostly imparting knowledge with the presupposition that the teacher has information which the students are helped to learn. Androgogy is a term used for the instruction of adults. Malcolm Knowles who popularized the term insisted that adults benefit from self-directed learning and look for what makes them effective in their functioning.

We have much to gain from principles of both pedagogy and androgogy in choosing appropriate strategies that support transformative formation.

4.The four perspectives of reality

Ken Wilber has proposed an integral theory which incorporates the wisdom of various disciplines in a holistic vision. We shall see one of his contributions to see how expansion of a horizon make a difference in our way of seeing things. Every language uses three persons to express three perspectives- first person (I, we), second person (you) and third person (it, they). Based on these distinctions Ken has identified four primary perspectives through which we experience the world: subjective, inter-subjective, objective, and inter-objective.

Subjective

Interior-Individual

“I” language

(Intentional)

Art, Aesthetics, Psychology, Philosophy, Spirituality

Objective

Exterior –Individual

“It” language

(Behavioral, operational)

Science: Physics, Cosmology, chemistry, biology etc.

Inter-Subjective

Interior-collective

“We” language

(cultural )

Culture

Philosophy, religion, morality, ethics

Inter-objective

Exterior-collective

“They” language

(Social, systems)

Social scences: Sociology,

Economics, systems theory

In each of these quadrants there is possibility of moving vertically as we grow into higher levels of functioning. Many problems in life arise when we look at it only from one of the dimensions. For example, we can err easily when we look at a problem only from personal feelings and judgments without taking into account what it is (objective), how it affects our community (inter-subjective), and its impact on the network of a wider society (Inter-objective).

5. Working on the competencies: Spiritual intelligence

Transformative formation cannot be satisfied by mere learning of concepts. The application of what is learnt in one’s life depends on the competencies one has cultivated in life. Getting a car does not help you to reach you destination, unless you learn how to drive it. Studies on human potential have isolated spiritual intelligence as the most important capability that integrates all other capacities. Cindy Wigglesworth defines spiritual intelligence as “the ability to act with wisdom and Compassion while maintaining inner and outer peace (equanimity), regardless of the circumstances.” Such an ability is important for an effective missionary. Research in this area has identified many competencies that enhance spiritual intelligence. The following twelve are proposed by Zohar and Marshall (2000).

  1. Positive use of adversity: as opportunity to grow and face adversity positively.
  2. Self-awareness. Know who we are. What are my deepest values? What do I live for? Awareness of my ego and my true self. Do I live my life in tune with my true self and be in touch with the Lord who dwells deep within me?
  3. Humility. Humans are the most arrogant species on the earth. My point of view is only my point of view. Listening flow from humility
  4. Compassion. To feel with. It is feeling with people. Your pain is my pain. I am not just my brother’s keeper. I am my brother. All are part of me.
  5. Vision and value. Need to reassess our values. Need to think of we, us and all of us. We all swim together. Commitment to God, our community, ministry, friends, planet, to quality. Fidelity and perseverance flow from it.
  6. Spontaneity. Drop many of our conditionings, prejudices, drop the baggage. Live now.
  7. Holism. The world is unbroken whole. There is no separation in this world. My negativity affects others. We are part of one another, part of a whole. No island.
  8. Ask deep fundamental questions. Ask why? How, children ask questions all the time. Questions are infinite… answers finite. Live the questions now.
  9. Reframe. Change the paradigms.. love from other perspectives.. Business seems to be major global institution that decides for the planet now. We need other paradigms.
  10. Ability to stand against the crown…not to fear being unpopular. capacity to stand for values and principles. You can stand against the crowd when you can stand against yourself, your egoic interests. Question yourself deeply.
  11. Celebration of diversity. Realizing the beauty of difference and allow the challenges and be thankful for the others being different. Guardians of diversity.
  12. Sense of vocation. Sense that I have a vocation… to serve the purpose of my life. Sense of vocation being in a religious community, recipient of a charism.

    Conclusion

In a complex and wounded society today, the healing and affirming presence of the religious is an important mission of the Church in the world. The crisis and challenges that we face are invitations for renewal and re-founding of ourselves and our communities. Authenticity stands the test of time. Our task is to become authentic disciples of the Lord by allowing free space to the Spirit of the Lord to transform us into the image of the Son. Transformative formation is basically creating this space for the spirit not just by desire alone, but by the whole of our lives.

Suggested readings

Pew Stephen, PhD, Andragogy and Pedagogy as Foundational Theory for Student Motivation in Higher Education, Student Motivation, Vol 2, 2007. Pp.14-25

Wigglesworth, Cindy, “Why Spiritual Intelligence is Essential to Mature Leadership”, Integral Leadership Review Volume VI, No. 3, August 2006

Wilber Ken, Integral Vision, 2007, Shambala, London.

Zohar, Danah, & Marshall, Ian. SQ: Connecting with our spiritual intelligence.  New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000.

Related posts: