FORMATION FOR MISSION: From a Pastoral perspective

By Henry Jerome SJ
[Paper presented in Mysore, February 2006]

As a way of introduction, let me begin badly….

I am neither a Pastor nor a Formator – in their usual meanings. I am working with the Indian youth belonging to various categories…Catholics, other-faithed youth, Dalits, Adivasis, women, refugees and any other marginalized…

 

I shall be throwing some sporadic reflections both on the Religious formation and Pastoral apostolate of today.

 

I dare to do this, as the theme demands only PERSPECTIVE. A buzz concept in today’s philosophy, theology, sociology, philanthropy, and in every other field! Which directs us to proclaim, “All of us are pastors, but it is ‘that’ perspective that matters.”

 

‘Perspective’ does more than one thing in our lives.

Perspective…

Prepares our agenda

Plans our operations

Percolates our mindset

Predicts our actions

 

In fact, agenda, operations, mindset and actions…are the crux of our formation.

 

Therefore, change the perspective, a temporary pandemonium results in.

 

An advantage in owning a perspective is that a person need not camouflage into ‘that’ to have ‘that’ perspective.

 

I may be a poor and have an ‘elite perspective’. I may be a Dalit, and I can have a brahmin perspective. The vice-verse may have to undergo a check, but can happen.

 

I may be pastor and still remain totally ‘unpastoral’. I may be a formator but still completely and actively ‘acting’ all the time!

 

For, what matters is perspective…and perspectives!

 

This perspective can be…

 

Elitistic…

Perspective from Below…

Sub-Altern Perspective…

Educator’s Perspective…

In our religious formation, as perspective, agenda also matters!

 

An Agenda is as strong as concrete within. And as loose as sand without!

 

An agenda is created by targeting the objectives, aims. What I – we – you – all – Vincentians, Jesuits, Salesians, Franciscans, Dominicans, local and papal, small and big, want to reach!

 

Therefore, an author known as anonymous says, “If your aim is low, you keep on shooting at your foot”.

In fact, creating an agenda is the essence of our formation.

Practically and spiritually!

 

An agenda is created within first then only outside. Similarly formation is done within first then, will come our novice-master, junior master, senior master and tertian master.

 

An agenda fixes us. Therefore, we find most of us are fixated. The more we get fixated, the less we are free. Less freedom in religious formation points to a truncated formation.

 

The question here is whether we create a pastoral agenda in our formation?

Pastoral agenda has many aspects:

 

Being prophetic in our approaches to the community…

 

Prophetic means being ‘both centrifugal and centripetal’. Journeying to the centre and marching to the periphery!

 

Being intimately passionate and discreetly compassionate…

 

Both intimate and discreet are not diametrically opposite. Our love for all is passionate. Our love-expressions are not same for all… therefore, discreet compassion.

 

Being rooted and grounded and widely branching out…

 

Roots and branches are organic. Unless one is rooted in context of both faith and its little practices, branching will be enormously thorny. Ecumenism dies when there is no root. Fundamentalism is active when there are only branches.

Being concretely realistic and leaping into broad vision…

 

Pastoral tensions are realistic. Pastoral field is broad. Being real at times is an escape from being actually real. It is the vision that should guide us.

Being apostolically aggressive than to be passively aggressive…

 

For passively aggressive harms not only individuals who are so, but also disrupts growth of a community.

 

Being ‘Peoplelistic’ than ‘Paperistic’…

 

Which means to pull down bulls and bills, documents and decrees to the people than to look for little periscopes to fit our moods.

Therefore to create an agenda that is altruistic is the need of our hour.

Does our formation give space for such an agenda?

Now, an agenda operates. Operations are related to our relationships and communication.

When there is no relationship, there is no operation. When there is no communication, there is no relationship.

 

Pastoral relationship is between the pastor and his people. Formation is a relationship between a formator and a formee. But everything happens in a context…

 

A relational Paradigm will be useful here to understand…

The paradigm goes as follows:

 

I————————Relationship——————— They

 

………………..……… Contempt……………………. Despised objects

……………..……….. Condescending………………Objects of pity

…………..………… Competition………………… Objects of Potential threat

…………………… Control……………………… Actual threat

…………………….Conflict…………………. …. As enemies

 

……………………….Concern…………………….. as friends

…………………….Compassion………………… as part of related being

…………………….Contemplative……………… as a subject of reverence

…………………….Collaborative……………….. as actual and potential partners

…………………….Commiseration…………….. as placing oneself Cum.

 

Where are we here?

 

Can our formation lead individuals out of fear of security and conflicting loyalty so that we, the religious shall become one and same time…a prophet, a pioneer and a pilgrim?

 

Now, we shall reflect whether our formation has a pastoral touch and orientation, if so, how?

 

The way we formulate the pedagogy of our formation matters here.

 

The following models may help us understand this aspect…

1. Open Roof Formation: Formation takes place in camera ‑‑ outside the world and culture of the people; while the door and the windows are shut for the “worldly” influence, the roof is open for the study and experience of the realm of the “sacred”. Any reference to the “people” in theological reflections is based on what is “learnt” and not experienced.

Study of Sacred theology/classical spirituality/text/academics.

Pastor is the person of and for god.

2. Open Window Formation: Formation takes place in seclusion ‑‑ away from the people; while the door is closed, the window, however, is open for a calculated, predetermined, meticulously designed and restricted reference to the people and culture. A kind of tangential touching between the people and formation programme is provided. This can take the form of a short village exposure, live‑in programmes, social analysis and the like. The roof is, of course, kept open.

Theology of charity/cooptation/extension/reaching out

Pastor is the person of god and for the people.

3. Open Door Formation: Formation takes place in close proximity to the people and their culture. The door, not only the windows, is kept open for the “free” and decisive “intervention” of the experience of the people in the theological reflection and formation strategies. The “sacred space”, however, is kept in tact and the distance between the people and the formation is maintained by emphasising the demarcation between “formation” and “experience”. Choosing a rural area to put up a formation centre is an example for this approach.

Theology of incarnation

Pastor is the person of god‑in‑people.

4. House‑less [“Tent”] Formation: Authentic formation is to take place with and primarily by the people, and not merely for the people. This demands that there be no special house of formation because formation takes place where the thrust people are.

Theology of resurrection

Pastor is the person of people and in that person of god.

Formation does not always go along with Pastoral Practice.

1. There is certain arbitrariness in the choice of pastor and the parish.

2. The pastor is normally an outsider to his parish. He is imposed on the community.

3. The actual pastoral milieu does not permit temporary [convenient?] insertion into the community.

4. A pastor who has had a particular type of formation often will find it difficult to cope with the demands of a different pastoral milieu.

5. Pastoral practice is not a theory. It is actual living.

6. Majority of the faithful in most of the parishes are conservative, when it comes to religion.

 

Now, how do I understand Priesthood? …. as a religious.

 

In our formation what sort of persons we want to form?

 

Phase I:

Priest as Ascetic… Holy looking man, Controlling one’s passion. Prayer and penance, esp. self inflicted penance.

 

Phase II:

Priest as God-Man. Daily mass as obligation. Pray for the Church. Exclusively we are sacred.

 

Phase III:

Priest as Church-Man. Organizational Man. Interest of the organization at all cost. Even at the cost of the people.

 

Phase IV:

Priest as People’s Man. Esp. after the growth of Theology of Liberation. People at the centre.

 

Phase V:

Priest as Friend of the oppressed. Becoming as the servant of the marginalized.

 

In fact, the way we understand Jesus is the way we preach him, and is the way we are priest…

 

A pastor is invited…

 

Using his Power, resources, and commitment to preach and live Jesus

In

Word

Work

Worship

Witness

And live that Jesus who

Saw….the reality

Searched… for God’s will

Struggled…to live it

And

Surrendered…totally!

 

 

 

 

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