General Plan of Formation (GPF 2020)

GPF can quite fittingly be considered as the Magna Carta on Formation that the Congregation, as mother and teacher, offers to its members, and above all to its new missionaries. It gathers up the core essentials of our missionary life and high lights its dimensions: charismatic, Christocentric, ecclesial, cordimarian, and human.

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1. Jesus formed his disciples by calling them to be with him and to be sent out to preach the Gospel with the authority to drive out demons[1]. Jesus shared his life and mission with them by living together as an itinerant group and sent his disciples in pairs to preach the good news in places he himself was about to go[2]. The disciples discovered God’s love for them and for all humanity by being with Jesus in his public life, witnessing his passion and death on the cross, and, thereafter, sensing his unseen presence as the Risen Lord while being sent in mission all over the world[3]. The early Church weathered hard times of persecutions by walking in the Spirit whom the Lord had sent to them as the protagonist of every charism and creativity in the Church.

The formative journey of Claret

2. Being with Jesus and being sent out in mission are the two poles of the compass of Claretian missionary life. The Spirit of Christ dwelling in us and amid us works the marvel of transforming a Claretian aspirant into “a man on fire with God’s love, who spreads that fire wherever he goes[4]. For our Founder this process takes place in the forge of the heart of Mary where a missionary is formed in the fire of God’s love to conform to Christ. Like an arrow poised in the hands of Mary, he is ready to be released to combat the evils in the world.[5]

3. Claret had the spiritual acumen to gaze at Christ in prayer and to learn from those whom the Lord gave him as his mentors. He learned the art of taking care of his missionary vocation by being attentive to his spiritual, intellectual and apostolic health. As a young priest Claret was keen to nourish his life and mission with suitable means which we can observe in his annual retreat resolutions.[6] Claret never gave up on his formative journey.

The formation of Claretian missionaries

4. From the beginning of our Congregation, the three pillars of missionary life—prayer, study and apostolic work—were carefully cultivated in our formation processes as mutually enriching sources of our missionary vitality. We were blessed to have well defined plans and guidelines for the formation of our missionaries. We have also shining examples of the formation culture of the Congregation in our martyrs who chose to die for Christ and the Church proclaiming their love for Christ the King, the Heart of Mary, Holy Mother Church and their beloved Congregation.[7] Authentic formation processes prepare the missionaries to be faithful to their vocation until the end.

5. The renewal thrust of II Vatican Council inspired the preparation of a comprehensive General Plan of Formation which Rev. Fr. Aquilino Bocos, the Superior General, promulgated in 1994. We shall call it “GPF 94”. It has greatly enhanced the formation of our missionaries for over two decades. The new GPF (GPF 2020) has retained the wealth of GPF 94 and incorporated new insights according the signs of our times. I would like to share some reflections to set the context of GPF 2020 and point out some key insights that guided its preparation.

Towards an integral and transformative formation for our times

6. The present social and ecclesial scenario is quite different from that of the 1990s. GPF 94 was born in an era wherein mobiles, emails, and the world wide web were yet to be realities. Our congregation has more members now than two decades ago[8].  We also find a significant shift in the geographical origins of our missionaries and their distribution across the continents[9]. Interculturality has become part of our everyday life. We live in an era of rapid and revolutionary changes in almost every aspect of human life made possible by the boom of communication and information technologies. The evils that haunt the human person have also made equal claims on human affairs and our common home, planet earth. Like a mother who bears the brunt of the transitional crisis of her children, the Church has been hurt and humiliated by the misadventures of her children; yet, at the same time, she is empowered by the Spirit to be the voice of the voiceless.

7. In this epoch of change, we ask ourselves: What is the profile of a missionary that the world needs today? How should we form our missionaries to speak to the hearts of the people about the living word that heals, the unconditional love that fills human hearts, the water that regenerates one into new life, the bread from heaven that ends human hunger for God, the treasure hidden in the field on which we tread each day, the abiding joy that the world cannot give.

8. Mere concepts do not communicate much to the people of today. Worldly tactics cannot capture the terrain of the Spirit in the human heart. However, convictions of the Gospel truths backed by credible lives have always triggered the dormant desire of the human heart for God who is Love. Missionary formation is not a matter of techniques, tools and methods. It is rather a question of the apprenticeship under the Holy Spirit and learning the art of discipleship which our Founder mastered well in his day.

9. In our changed context, formation needs to train the missionaries to care for the gift of their own vocation, support one another to persevere in fidelity and be audacious to proclaim the joy of the Gospel to our fellow humans in a credible way. On our part, openness of the heart, the head and the hands for the work of the Spirit, is the key to unlocking the treasures within each of us and sharing them with others in community and in ministry. In Claretian formation, every aspect of the person counts because “what is not taken unto God is not healed[10] and what is not healed keeps wounding the person himself and others.

Claretian formation, a single process until the end

10. We conceive Claretian formation as an undivided process of progressive conformity with Christ and joyful sharing in his mission, a journey of life that lasts till the last breath of a Claretian. For the sake of clarity, we may divide the whole period of formation into two main parts and each part is further divided into progressive stages. Thus, the first part—initial formation—consists of pre-novitiate, novitiate and post novitiate stages; while the second part—ongoing formation—includes quinquennium, middle age, third age and even a fourth age for those of us gifted with longevity. In fact, initial formation is for laying a solid foundation for the continued journey towards greater integrity of missionary life characterized by responsibility, accountability and transparency. While a good process of initial formation prepares young Claretians to commit themselves in different pastoral avenues and service positions in future, a culture of integrity and excellence in the phase of ongoing formation, in turn, acts as a catalyst for the transformative dynamism of initial formation.

Claretian formation, a transformative journey

11. An authentic formation process is expected to be transformative. The amount of knowledge acquired and the many skills leant in the life of a missionary do not serve the purpose if his life is not a credible witness to the joy of the Gospel. Transformative formation focusses on what is taking place in the life of a Claretian through the programs offered in each phase and how the missionary integrates them into his project of life. Claretian formation should take into consideration both the content (what is learned) and the process (how the learning is integrated into life) as well as the action of grace in the person. In the long run, it is the holiness of the person that matters because God calls each one to holiness.[11] The holiness of life is “nothing other than charity lived to the full.[12] The transformative factor in a Christian life is not ethical choices or lofty ideas, but “the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.[13] Pope Francis rightly affirms that “it is impossible to persevere in a fervent evangelization unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him.[14] and “no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our hearts.[15] It cannot be Claretian formation if Christ is not at the center of all formation programs and if we do not feel the pain of Christ at the plight of the poor and the suffering humanity. Transformation happens when a missionary moves progressively from ego-centered consciousness to Christ-centered consciousness by a process of inclusion and transcendence[16] and becomes more whole and holy. It takes place through the action of the Spirit in a cooperating person.

A whole-person formation (integral formation)

12. Claretian formation should involve the whole person of the formandus engaging all dimensions of his life. Any reductive approach in formation focusing mainly on liturgy, psychology, information technology, studies or apostolates tends to leave a missionary handicapped both in life and in mission. Integrity of missionary life calls for a harmonious integration and growth of the various components of a person’s life such as his intellectual, emotional, somatic, sexual, moral, spiritual, social/pastoral and charismatic/Claretian aspects. We should also give adequate attention to developing talents and skills such as music, communication media, elocution, sports, languages, painting, dance etc., which are effective channels of reaching out to others. Though no one has all the gifts and talents, we should be committed to developing and making the best use of God-given gifts and talents for the glory of God and the good of others. However, in Claretian formation, self-related capacities (of spiritual, moral, emotional and sexual maturity) and cognitive capacities (having broader perspectives of reality) should be given priority over natural gifts and talents (such as skills in music, art, sports etc.,). It is the integrity of our life that renders the proclaimed word more credible and our vowed life more joyful. GPF 2020 has maintained the same triple formative dimensions of GPF 94, viz., human, Christian and Claretian by integrating the various aspects mentioned above.

Two movements in the formative journey: growing and awakening

13. Classical formative approach attends to a person’s growth and improvement in acquiring more knowledge and capabilities. Awakening is a process of spiritual evolution. Spiritual growth takes place through the discovery of our ‘deepest self’ or the recognition of our ‘great identity’[17]. The biblical term for it is conversion to God which takes one through various layers of spiritual unfolding. As it is a gift of God and not a fruit of human efforts, formation in this realm is to prepare the hearts to “offer to God the free ability to arrange the course of our lives[18]. Spiritual practices and Claretian virtues which our Founder narrates in his autobiography[19] are necessary means to give oneself freely to God’s action. Theresa of Avila presents this spiritual itinerary as a journey through the interior castle to reach the seventh mansion where the mystical marriage of the soul takes place. St. John of the Cross speaks of the nights of the senses and of the soul that we encounter on the way to mystical union with Christ. Claretian formation should not ignore the element of ongoing conversion and discovery of one’s deepest identity and the call to union with God and humans.

Accompaniment and discernment in Claretian formation

14. The age-old spiritual tradition of the Church practiced by saints and mystics in the Church emphasizes the importance of spiritual accompaniment and discernment in formation ministry. Pope Francis repeatedly affirms these two practices as necessary means to navigate the course of the Church today[20]. The Congregation should offer accompaniment to the missionaries through various mediators (formators, superiors, confreres, etc.,) to help them keep their eyes fixed on the goal of their life and mission and support their vocational unfolding. In our formation, we should seek the accompanying presence of the heart of Mary and the intercession of saints especially our Founder and Claretian martyrs in order to progress in our life and mission.

15. In a formative context, discernment is a grace that “seeks a glimpse of that unique and mysterious plan that God has for each of us… It has to do with the meaning of my life before the Father who knows and loves me, and with the real purpose of my life, which nobody knows better than he[21]. Through discernment is the way to know if something comes from the Holy Spirit or if it stems from the spirit of the world or the spirit of the devil[22].

16. An important aspect of Christian maturity is related to how a missionary lives out the basic dialectics[23] of human existence played out in the theater of life. The three polarities present in the struggle of life that constitute the basic dialectics create the terrain of discernment in everybody’s life. Firstly, the polarity of sinful or virtuous life is overcome by the exercise of true freedom discovered in Christ to choose God above everything else. It also includes the acceptance of one’s sin and its forgiveness as the gift of God. Secondly, the reality of unconscious inclinations that exert influence on the choices in life creates the polarity between what is really good and what is only apparently good. Discernment is the process to uncover false motivations and worldly spirits behind the urge to go for transitory gains and listen to the voice of God in each situation. Both accompaniment and discernment are key practices in our formation process. Thirdly, the polarity of normality and pathology present in different degrees in each person requires refined attention to distinguish a cunning behavior from a mental disorder, or a lie from dementia. We need the help of various sciences to understand and deal with the fascinating, but complex human nature which treasures the gift of each person called and consecrated to be a missionary.

Prudent application of scientific resources in formation

17. We are blessed with abundant resources for education and training of future generations made available by the various scientific disciplines and cultural traditions. They are very valuable for the integral formation of our members. The scandals and abuses of priests and religious which discredited the Church in the recent past remind us of the need to avail suitable scientific tools in formation and seek the help of experts as collaborators in formation ministry.

18. It is possible that some formators and formandi get lost in the vast maze of methods and approaches available to them while others are fascinated by some methods and lose sight of the bigger picture of the human person in a vocational journey. We need to know how to sift the grain from the chaff when we use methods that evolved from particular belief systems or developed for a particular purpose. For example, the practice of mindfulness and eastern meditations are helpful if they are well integrated into a Christian view of the human person. A psychological tool designed for testing a personality trait cannot be used as an exclusive tool for vocational discernment. Hence, adequate knowledge of Christian anthropology, Catholic theology, consecrated life, and love for the Church and the Claretian charism are necessary prerequisites to select from the abundant approaches, techniques, tools and methods which the various disciplines present before us.

GPF 2020: a roadmap to orient our formative journey

19. In 2017, the commission constituted to revise GPF 94 studied the results of the survey conducted in all our formation centers to evaluate its impact on formation and they found consensus on two important points:

  1. The continued relevance of the contents of GPF for us today.
  2. The lack of instruments to help the interiorization of the fundamentals of formation and Claretian identity in the life of the missionary.

20. The survey revealed that we lack effective mechanisms to facilitate a transformative formation despite having an excellent document on formation. The commission advised for the revision and updating of the existing GPF but recommended the preparation of a manual or a practical guide that would contain processes, strategies and approaches to help concretize the formative guidelines of the GPF in our lived life. This will be the next effort of the General Prefecture of Formation. However, having the GPF or its manual in hand will not automatically improve our formation.

21. I like to compare GPF 2020 to a roadmap that can orient our formative journey. A map is only a map, it is not the territory. We need to walk into the territory enjoying and enduring the toil, agony and ecstasy of growing in the discipleship of the Lord in the style of Claret. Each one of us needs to do it in his own unique way. I invite all Claretians to assume responsibly their own vocational unfolding and support one another to grow together as a missionary community in the Church to bear apostolic fruits in the Church and the world.

22. It is important that all the Major Organisms prepare their own formation plan to implement the orientations of GPF 2020 in their respective region and profit from the wisdom enshrined in it. We should not leave it as a decorative piece on the shelves of our libraries, but rather take it as a rich resource to stimulate the vocational journey of each Claretian. Let us effectively use GPF 2020 as our road map to make our Claretian vocational journey an exciting experience of growing in the Spirit.

23. My gratitude goes to the two General Prefects of Formation, Fr. Leo Dalmao and Fr. Joseph Mbungu, and the international commission and other collaborators for their generous commitment in the preparation of GPF 2020. The best way to thank all of them is by making effective use of this document and fulfilling the purpose for which it is offered.

24. I commend the vocational growth process of all Claretian missionaries to the accompanying love of the Heart of Mary and the guardianship of St. Joseph whose feast we celebrate on this day.

Fr. Mathew Vattamattam CMF

Superior General Given in Rome on 19 March 2020

[1] Mk 3:14.

[2] Lk 10:1; Mk 6:7.

[3] Mk 16:20.

[4] CC 9.

[5] Cf. Aut 270.

[6] Retreat resolutions, 1843, 11: “I am effectively resolved never to lose an instant of time, but rather to use it in prayer, study and works of charity for my neighbors, both living and dead”. A. M. CLARET, Autobiography and complementary writings, p. 757.

[7] The farewell letter of Faustino Pérez is a testimony of the mindset of the young martyrs before death. Cf. Ernesto Barea, A Hero among Heroes, Claretian Publications, Philippines (1997), p. 174-175.

[8] In 1997 the total Claretians were 2844 and in 2020 we are 3040.

[9] Statistical change of personnel from 1997 and 2020 in the four continents: Africa from 234 to 579; America from 868 to 763; Asia from 484 to 951; Europe from 1255 to 747.

[10] Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101.

[11] EG 10.

[12] Benedict XVI, Catechesis, General Audience of 13 April 2011; Cf. GE 21.

[13] DCE, 1.

[14] EG 266.

[15] EG 261.

[16] A person moves to a higher level of maturity by including and transcending the characteristics and competencies proper to a lower level by acquiring more refined characteristics and competencies proper to the next stage. For example, a mature adult has transcended the dependency of a child, but he is capable of depending on another person when appropriate.

[17] Cf. GE32.

[18] CC 28.

[19] These are humility, poverty, meekness, mortification, obedience and love of God and neighbor. Cf. Aut 340-453.

[20] The term “discern” and its derivatives are abundant in the documents of Pope Francis. For example, 20 times in Evangelii Gaudium; 45 times in Amoris Laetitia; 35 times in Christus Vivit. “Accompany” is used 25 times in Evangelii Gaudium, 20 times in Amoris Laetitia and 29 times in Christus Vivit.

[21] GE 170; CV 280.

[22] GE 166.

[23] Basic human dialectics refer to the tension between the infinite aspirations and real limitations in human life. St. Paul presents it thus, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Rom 7:15).