Formation – Part III: Being Called, Being Formed, Being Sent
Life is about the relationship between our legitimate needs, our deepest desires and the gifts and talents we possess. The interplay between these items hopefully allows us to try and achieve happiness. The cultural settings of different ages may change dramatically but two things remain the same:
- At every place and every age, the human heart is hungry for happiness.
- The mission of the Church is God’s direct and intimate response to the human heart’s unceasing desire for happiness.
In last week’s article, I wrote that each of us must answer the BIG questions (“Who am I?” and “Why am I here?”) that help provide meaning in our life, discern our unique path and point to our eventual destiny. But merely asking these questions is not enough. It is possible to choose not to fulfill our destiny. It is possible to choose not to “become the best version of ourselves.” It is only through our relationship with God, that our unique path of salvation, and our pathway to heaven, can be revealed in a more certain way.
Francis of Assisi had a unique pathway that was different from that of Hildegard of Bingen. Both lived at different times in a church that faced different challenges. They had varied and different gifts and talents, yet shared others. Francis had the gift of voluntary poverty. Hildegard was a linguist and talented musician. Both had the gifts of leadership and celibacy. Nevertheless, both Francis and Hildegard strove, and to a large extent did succeed, to become “all that they could be” although they did it in different ways according to the unique needs of the times in which they lived. Similarly, each of the Apostles had very different talents and personalities as well, but Jesus chose each for a specific reason to fulfill a specific role. It is the same for you and me.
So how do we determine what our role is? The classic Catholic tools are:
- Reading and reflection on the Scriptures.
- The grace of the sacraments.
- The wisdom of the church found in Her teachings.
- The guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Over the past two weeks, we examined the process – called “formation” – that helps us identify and fulfill our vocation and unique path in life (called a “mission”). A certain amount of training is, of course,
necessary for the person to be “formed” for – and within – their particular vocation. Pope John Paul II proposed one model saying that some people need to focus on four pillars of their life – the “human dimension,” the “intellectual dimension,” the “spiritual dimension” and the “pastoral dimension.” Within these dimensions, the activities and tasks that need to be completed in order to grow and become “formed,” do not come intuitively. A certain amount of effort and training, as well as human and spiritual guidance, needs to be integrated into each of these areas. All of this activity identifies the “disciple.”
A disciple (from the Greek word discipulus) is a student, a pupil, a learner. From a biblical point of view, it is someone who sits at the feet of Jesus and “receives” (either grace, sacraments, instruction or help) from Him.
During this discernment phase, a disciple begins to learn about their own identity and the reason why God placed that person on earth in the first place (The answers to the BIG questions). Inevitably this process also has
to involve a vocation. A vocation is not a job (that’s an occupation) but rather a “life pathway” which someone travels in order to serve others. It can be a married husband or wife serving their spouse and children. It can be as a priest, deacon, male or female religious serving a community or living in a community that exercises one particular, formal and distinctive competence (called a “charism”). Or perhaps the person is called to become a “spiritual power station” by accepting a vocation of prayer for the rest of their life.
At some point the disciple arrives at a point in their life where they are “sent out” on the mission or “apostolate.” The idea of “sending out” is a translation of the Greek word, apostoloi from which we get the word apostle or “someone who is sent.” Nevertheless, even after one has been trained and deemed as qualified for the mission, there are many aspects of the mission that intersect numerous facets of the person’s life (For example, their human, intellectual, spiritual, professional and pastoral dimensions). Thus ongoing human education and spiritual formation still need to continue for the rest of the person’s life.
At the dawn of this new millennium it is essential that we remind ourselves that Christ did not entrust the church with a social, political or economic mission. The Church has been provided with a mission that is primarily spiritual – to proclaim the Gospel to the people of every nation and in every age. As this mission is carried out, it can ensure positive impact on the social, political and economic order of the societies in which Christians live. During Lent, we invited a number of our young people, and their parents, to enter into a formation process – a kind of “spiritual school of the Holy Spirit.” through which they could begin answering the questions, “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” Now, during Easter, they will be invited to receive the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist or Confirmation. The hope of our community is that this process has, indeed, borne fruit and that their life will be changed and transformed, not only for their own benefit, but for the good of others too.
When we allow the Gospel to transform the way we live, love and work, it enhances and elevates every, honest, human endeavor in every aspect of society. When the Gospel is alive and active, it has the power to transform lives, communities, nations, even the whole world.