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09.02.2024 17:10:01 965x read.
INSPIRATION
The importance of Ongoing Formation (Bro. Raphael Besigrinee, General Council)

The importance of Ongoing Formation

Bro. Raphael Besigrinee, General Council

In Religious Life, “formation” is considered a conscious process that leads to the transformation of an individual and which experience affects his whole life. It is important not to confuse formation with “education”, “training” or “learning”. The term “formation” goes beyond these three concepts and is much more involving on the part of the formator, as well as the one in formation. Formation to religious life is the development of the individual to the point where he achieves a sense of freedom in his responsibilities. There is initial formation and ongoing formation. In the FIC Congregation, initial formation ends with first profession of vows, and it is understood that this time marks the beginning of ongoing formation, which lasts the rest of our life.

Formation in the pre-novitiate period usually prepares the candidate for the novitiate, and the novitiate program in turn prepares the novice for first religious profession. From this period, the individual religious is expected to be mature, and possess “a deep motivation and capacity to renew and perfect himself” for the rest of his life. With the pronouncement of vows, the brother completes initial formation and is ready for fulltime ministry. Like a fully grown tree, ready to bear fruit, the individual religious  has reached maturity, and is now required to exercise great autonomy, as well as take initiatives and responsibility for his life. I think this is the time to begin to live real Religious Life.

De Souza defined “ongoing formation”of religious as “the constant personalization or interiorization of Christ’s life. Consequently it is a learning process, which involves change, growth and the transformation of the person.” De Souza added that the entire action of formation is a process where the individual becomes more and more a disciple of Christ. In this way formation becomes a continuous process of conversion and of transformation. Ongoing formation thus becomes the facilitation of the continuing growth of the whole person so as to promote a deeper and fuller commitment to the person and mission of Christ. The goal of ongoing formation is to support the individual religious in his religious journey from the time of commitment to the end of his life. Even though, in practice, formation is broken up in different stages such as pre-novitiate, canonical novitiate, and in some cases post-novitiate, each with specific objectives, formation itself is considered ongoing or continuous in the life of the religious.

What is the significance for ongoing formation? De Souza listed three main reasons for religious formation throughout life, namely “the challenges of contemporary culture and society”, the constantly changing times, and what I understand as new experiences in life. It is true that we are living in times of fundamental and rapid cultural changes which require a continuously renewed approaches of confronting the demands of these changes. This calls for a conscious effort of discerning and interpreting the signs of the time. As one goes through life, the changes that occur in society call for new approaches in dealing with current issues. Changes in society may impact on the direction of the vision and  mission of the community. All these call for ongoing formation.

Moreover vita Consecrata expresses a strong requirement for ongoing formation in art. 69 as follows:

Continuing formation, whether in Institutes of apostolic or contemplative life, is an intrinsic requirement of religious consecration. The formation process is not limited to the initial phase. Due to human limitations, the consecrated person can never claim to have completely brought to life the "new creature" who in every circumstance of life reflects the very mind of Christ. Initial formation, then, should be closely connected with continuing formation, thereby creating a readiness on everyone's part to let themselves be formed every day of their lives. Ongoing formation therefore is indispensable not only because of the need to renew oneself but also because the very nature of consecrated life requires us to go on training ourselves for our task, to keep abreast of developments in the church and society, to have a ready eye to the signs of the times; and to continue developing our spiritual growth.


Due to the nature of ongoing formation, some theologians say Formation has to be permanent. That is to say it never ends. It is a task that should be upheld throughout life because nobody can say he has reached the last objective of formation: to be completely conformed with Christ. The one whose life is completely conformed with that of Christ has become a ‘new creature’, or one whose life reflects the very mind of Christ. Our Constitution goes on to say that continuing formation is not limited to a particular period of time: Not only during our formative years, but throughout our lives we should be open to development, formation, and deepening the meaning of our lives. As persons and as community we should seek this in various ways (Art 115). These ways could include the ordinary things in life which are intrinsically formative: programs of formal education, advanced studies and/or post-graduate studies, life with fellow brothers in community,  apostolic experiences, relationship with God, the Word of God, sabbaticals, retreats, and workshops dealing with personal growth issues, and so on. In the words of Saint Bernard: “not to advance is equal to going backward”. Life either progresses towards maturity or undertakes the way back towards self-destruction. Thus, we always have to be ready “to begin anew”.

For this kind of formation to perdure, the individual religious must explore well and engage  some agents who act as support. I will mention only five. The chief human agent of ongoing formation is the brother himself. It is his responsibility, as a mature person, to make use of all the experiences around him. Apart from himself, the community leader is an agent who provides guidance and direction; he is also expected to inspire and stimulate the brother in living his consecration. The apostolic community is also an agent that offers support, fosters and guides the ongoing formation and growth of each member. The Spiritual Director is an important agent in guiding the spiritual development of the brother. The brother himself seeks spiritual accompaniment through a person of his choice as his Spiritual Director. This person can be a fellow religious, or an intimate, honest, and trusted friend with whom he can share freely.

Last but not least, the person particularly appointed to guide the ongoing formation program. The one in charge has the task of helping the brothers come to a better understanding and appreciation of the daily experiences in their community, social life, and their apostolic activities.  These experiences are to be seen as encounters with God and opportunities to let the Kingdom of God continuously grow in themselves, in the community, and in the places of their apostolate.

In conclusion, ongoing formation is very important for every Institute and therefore every religious, whether he is in temporary or final vows. The formation programme should not only target those in initial formation, but incorporate those who are in temporary or perpetual vows. Those in charge of the ongoing formation program should make a conscious plan of activities every year for the continuing formation all brothers. The chief purpose of this plan is to provide all consecrated persons with a program which encompasses their whole life. None are exempt from the obligation to be formed every day of their lives. It is therefore binding on every mature religious to give careful attention to ongoing formation "until Christ is formed in us" (Gal 4:19).








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