I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is
within you through the laying on of my hands
(2 Tm 1,6)
As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me (Jn 17, 21)
Chapter three of the Chapter Acts (CA) 2003 deals with Ongoing Formation (OGF). By giving priority to OGF the members of the Chapter have followed a trace, already opened by the Chapter of 1997, for the renewal of individuals and of how we do mission (CA ’03, 51)
“In the next six years we want to make OGF the priority that will help us to live mission together, in our ordinary, everyday lives” (CA ’03, 57).
1. The problem is real
A glimpse at history may shed light on our reflection and, above all, help us to accept the facts that our history and our own lives teach us. It is a journey with many shades of light, but also with many limitations and difficulties.
- The witness and martyrdom of many of us in situations where others would have given up, the historical research and the study of the sources, the continuous effort to read and to update our charism in today’s globalized world and Church, the patient effort to explore and to turn into reality new ways of missionary methodology and of insertion in various continents, the contribution of mission promotion and of our mass media, the difficult service of our formators and vocation promoters, the creativity of many young confreres of various origin, the serene witness of elderly and sick confreres, all tell of a history of happy lives well founded on the rock which is Christ, with a heart for mission and following in Comboni’s footsteps (CA ’03, 15-19)
- The Chapter Documents then add: “We cannot deny that in our communities there are also identity problems, superficial spirituality and worldliness; here the tendency to shut oneself away in one's personal projects is accentuated” (CA ’03, 22). This statement belies the difficulty of reshaping one’s own life project, guided by the Spirit and by the charism as it is lived today.
Already immediately after Vatican II, all Institutes have experienced the need to promote activities of OGF, calling them year of specialization, year of renewal, sabbatical year and so on.
It was not difficult to see first hand the problems that confreres were labouring under, especially in certain moments of their lives: a new assignment perhaps undesired or not well accepted, a change of work, a sudden illness, expulsion from mission areas, unexpected situations of war and guerrilla warfare that left individuals deeply scarred and shaken, times of weakness, lack of tangible results in one’s missionary work, tensions within the community, with the people, or with civil and Church authority, the death of loved ones, growing old… difficulties in understanding and accepting “new things.”
At a certain point, often without warning (like a little car following a huge truck and finding itself inside a tunnel without realizing it), something happens that blocks the normal flow of life. Then one may begin to ask oneself strange and unusual questions on the meaning of it all, or of one’s consecration and of mission.
Even now, listening to the stories of many missionaries, especially those returning from countries that are at war or beset by political-religious persecution, it is easy to see that the problem is still very much alive. Historical events in many countries and missions have erased a lot of doing (buildings, projects, methodology…) and has only preserved the memory and remains of whatever had taste and light, a particularly Comboni sign of that “I die but my work will not die” of our holy Founder.
Let it be clear, our doing is blessed by God, but is not complete: without our being, it is like food without salt and flavour. The many walls we have built, will themselves be a memory of blessings and, perhaps, in some cases, even of condemnation. If we make a comparison with situations of war, we see how people, even though they have being unable to rebuild the walls, have accepted the message that they had made their own.
Both in times of light and in times of difficulty, God’s Providence calls us to take a step forward, go beyond ourselves and grow, be converted ever more, “always keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ” (S. 2721) and with the mission in our hearts.
In situation of OGF, therefore, one is capable of recognizing that each day is the acceptable time to move forward and grow together with the other members of his community.
- The first difficulty is to understand the meaning of OGF itself.
Often we speak of OGF as of a tool to be used in time of crisis. This is not always true. OGF, well planned and executed in a pro-active way, is a great help in the spreading of ideas, as a source of encouragement, as human and psychological support, as a sharing of experiences and witness, in promoting an acceptance of diversity and new styles of life, as well as alerting people to the variety and richness of ministries and charisma that the Spirit sows in us, in the Church, in other Institutes and Church groups: all this helps the process of renewal of communities and missions, for the benefit of the people we serve.
Another limitation is also the belief that OGF only happens at special times: spiritual exercises, retreats, assemblies, meetings, and so on, forgetting that real life takes place in the ordinary of each day from which the special times draw nourishment and to which they infuse energy.
- There is another difficulty as well, namely the mistake we make of believing that, by changing community, place, people, or by doing something different, perhaps attending a pastoral or a theological course, or whatever, everything will be all right. Instead these are simply other forms of “doing things” that hinder our growth.
- Furthermore, there may be the strong temptation (or sin?) to “run away or go into hiding,” because the task at hand is hard, one is very tired, because we carry the scars of the many injustices and wrongdoings we have suffered, because we are tired of talks, documents, meetings and assemblies, because in the end everything goes on as usual and nothing ever changes. Frustration ensues, if not downright indifference, and we drag ourselves along somehow: “This is how I am, I have always done things this way, why should I change?” Yet we all know that running away does not help.
- Finally, the CA invite us to be aware of the difficulty of relating to others, encouraging communication and sharing, discernment and community projects. Communication is often of poor quality: often we do not share our faith, but only our work. If communication flows, the mutual giving of oneself also improves; otherwise we see community only as a work team.
1.2 Ongoing Formation and Basic Formation (BF)
“OGF and the first stages of formation fuse together, creating in an individual the readiness to let himself be formed every day of his life” (CA ’03, 56). “Basic Formation is intrinsically linked to OGF and to the life of the Institute” (CA ’03, 63).
It seems that a series of difficulties is connected to a certain “discontinuity” between OGF and BF: the traditional view still linger on that BF is the time of preparation to our consecration to Christ for the missions and then mission is the time when this becomes a reality, the time of giving without reserve. OGF is simply seen as the need of refuelling every so often with special times of updating and renewal in order to start afresh.
The Chapter has stated the necessity that the two be joined.
All of formation is per se ongoing. OGF recovers the values acquired during BF in a dynamic relation of beginning-continuation of one’s life journey.
BF lays the foundation of an attitude of conversion that is continuous, daily, ferial, always on the move. OGF helps us see whether a wall is crooked and helps us set it straight, or whether it is weak and helps us to strengthen it or, in case we stopped moving because we are satisfied with where we are, it helps us resume the journey.
At the centre of it all there must always be Christ and Mission: Mission depends on formation and formation depends on Mission.
To engage in OGF is not a waste of time and energy taken from Mission, but is to engage in mission (RL 99.4). Even more, it helps us and also our candidates still in formation, because… “we all feel responsible for the formation of our candidates, especially through the witness of our personal and community life” (CA ’03, 63)
2. Called to Responsibility
Faced with all these difficulties, the members of the Chapter addressed to each one of us an urgent appeal: “our renewal, both personal and of our way to do mission” is a responsibility that we must take up willingly because of the love we have for Mission and for the Institute.
The Chapter addresses the Institute (CA ’03, 52) and invites all its members to take up the following responsibilities:
1. To become aware of certain challenges:
- giving greater emphasis to being missionaries than to doing mission (CA ’03, 52.1)
- to develop a sense of belonging to the Institute (CA ’03, 52.2)
- to grow in passionate and mystical love for the mission (CA ’03, 52.3)
- to promote mutual esteem and friendship in our relationships (CA ’03, 52.4)
- to mature in the ability to live cross-culturalism as a gift (CA ’03, 52.5)
- to make the best use of the human, spiritual and missionary wealth of our elderly and sick confreres (CA ’03, 52.6).
2. To strengthen the Comboni identity by taking up God’s initiative as Comboni did (CA ’03, 53).
3. To witness with our life by making holiness the foundation of the life and mission of the Institute (CA ’03, 54) and the community as the place where experience of God and encounter with others take place (CA ’03, 55).
The primary responsibility rests with the individual, then come the major and local superiors: and it is especially of them that the Chapter has asked a coordinated effort (at the continental, provincial, delegation and local level) to prepare feasible programs of OGF (CA ’03, 58-61; RL 100)
Let us remember what the Lord Jesus told us: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (Mt 6,19-21).
A community that does not engage in OGF could run the risk of being a wonderful hut, externally beautiful, but with poles eaten from the inside by termites.
We are becoming aware that formation is a life long journey that involves the whole person. This attitude, if taken care of and nurtured by BF, strengthens in us the new person who accepts and shares the feelings of Christ, in the footsteps of Comboni, in service to the poorest and most abandoned, among whom and with whom we make common cause (CA ’03, 54.4)
3. For personal and community reflection
The Word of God
Phil 2,5-8 He emptied himself taking the form of a Servant
Eph 1,3-10 In him we have redemption through his blood
Mt 6,19-21 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth
Lk 12, 32-48 Blessed are those servants whom the master will find vigilant on his arrival
Jn 3 The dialog with Nicodemus
Jn 12,2032 Unless the grain of wheat die, it does not bear fruit
A Message from the Writings of Comboni
S 2721 Eyes fixed on Jesus Christ
S 6675 Holy and capable: prayer and charity
S 7246 I am happy in the Cross
S 2648 A cenacle of apostles
Questions for reflection
+ What do I do to live in OGF? Do I have a personal plan of OGF?
+ As a community, do we have a plan of OGF? What can we do to improve it?
+ How do I show the Trinitarian face of God in community and in mission? Do I nurture a relationship of communion with the other members of the community? Do I share my gifts with them?
+ In my journey of BF do I nurture within myself the attitude of being on a journey of formation that will last my whole life?
Fr. Michele Sardella Pio, mccj and Fr. Teresino Serra, mccj