I have often made reference to the duration of the formation of the clergy and religious. In most of our centers a young man takes about 10- 12 years to complete his initial formation. Recently I have taken account of the number of courses our students are expected to complete during philosophy and theology. In duration philosophy studies vary from 2 to 4 years and theology studies are generally a program of 4 years at the bachelor level.
During the study of philosophy, a wide variety of topics are offered in most institutes. For example a philosophy institute in Africa offers 69 different topics including 6 languages during a four year bachelor course. A university in Asia where our students study offers 25 philosophical topics for a three year bachelor degree in philosophy apart from conferences, seminars and workshops. Apart from academic studies students receive spiritual conferences and formative inputs in their respective study houses.
Generally, highly content oriented academic courses are received during the four years of theology. For example, a renowned theological faculty in Asia offers about 72 topics including seminars and elective subjects which require 2700 class hours or 140 credits. A theology institute in East Africa offers 60 topics that have lessons and seminars having 147 credits.
With all these inputs, do our young men achieve intellectual competence enabling them to understand the issues that confront them and the society in which they live? My impression is that although the seminarians study more than 100 topics in philosophy and theology, they do not show a proportionate level of personal integrity and capacity for spiritual animation of the people of God given the 10-12 years of formation that they receive.
Most of the institutes of philosophy and theology formation, foster adaptive learning which only requires the student to fulfill some study requirements and not much attention paid to what happens in the student through his study. The focus on “consumption” of what is served in the class rather than “theologizing” results in a meager contribution of anything original, to catholic theology, from the wealth of Asian and African religious experience.
An emphasis on academic and intellectual performance tends to sideline faith formation, personal maturity and gospel-based involvement in the socio-cultural dimensions of life. In some contexts emphasis on the cultic aspect of the ‘royal priesthood’ without adequate exposure to the situation of the poor, and the elite life style of clergy in society, undermines the servant dimension of ministerial priesthood. Priesthood then could be easily perceived as the easiest means of climbing the social ladder.
Need for a paradigm shift?
Perhaps, the present need is that of a paradigm shift in the way formation is perceived, a shift in focus from content to that of the process of learning. It is not enough just to offer a wide range of topics; because attention needs to be given to what happens in a student throughout his learning experience. This shift is from a predominantly conceptual learning to a transformative learning which involves all the dimensions of the student’s life with, in which the student is the protagonist of his own learning. The shift is from thinking about the mysteries to contemplating the mysteries and allowing them to assume “flesh” today in lived life.
The call of the last General Chapter points us in this direction when it asked us to give importance to the interiorization of the fundamental values of consecrated life during initial formation. We know we need to, but we do not know how. But it is already a beginning, seeking to find ways to make a difference. It is in this common search that I invite the formators and students to invest their energy. Our congregation and the founder merit our best.