Forming a Healthy Disciple. Part 1 - FORMATION FUNDAMENTALS

1992 Pope John Paul II with a document called Pastores Dabo Vobis (PDV). The Pope wrote this document especially priests and seminarians. Yet, his intention was to offer wisdom and advice for the entire church. It was the Holy Father who wanted to establish some kind of a framework for healthy living. In the Catholic world,” this is called “formation.” Ongoing formation follows the pattern of faith and God’s action in different dimensions and different phases in our lives. John Paul II traveled around the world. The Pope saw that people and priests were struggling in trying to live holistic and healthy lives. Pastores was his attempt to try to address this challenge.

The Holy Father called upon bishop’s conferences around the world to take Pastores as a foundation. He asked them to write documents and guidelines that were more specific to their particular situation and culture. In 2001, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published The Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests (TBP). The introduction of the book talks about transformation and formation. It fits very much into the topic of transitions about which I wrote last week.

These two publications look at vocations and different phases of formation. They examine age, phases of life and number of years of real-world experience.

The Basic Plan outlines various phases. Both documents discuss how age and the number of years in a vocation play out within these phases. This is the case whether one is married, a priest or in religious life. Blessings and graces are part of formation in each of these phases. Challenges and shadows also are present. The phases presented in The Basic Plan are as follows:

  • Formation During the First 5 Years
  • Formation In Transition: Changes of Job, Location, Arrival of Children
  • In Charge: Formation During Initial Leadership Roles
  • At Midlife: Formation after a Certain Number of Years
  • Growing in Wisdom and Grace: Formation During Senior Years

What are the essential characteristics of ongoing formation? Formation is, first of all, personal. It belongs to an individual’s responsibility to foster their integration. At the same time, ongoing formation is ecclesial and social. Formation unfolds in a context of the community of faith. It involves the inclusion and support of people in the church, the community of priests along with the bishop. Formation also has to do with the community in which the person serves. Society benefits from the growth of a person who engages a healthy, “formed” lifestyle.

Ongoing formation begins with - and is sustained by - commitments made by the person. A person must make a deliberate and intentional decision to engage the process. Without this engagement, ongoing formation cannot happen. This means that the proper resources of time, personnel, and finances must be allotted.

Finally, ongoing formation is a process that unfolds within the context of a vocation. This has a programmatic side. Formation includes planning, programs, various practices, and events. These serve as instruments to help a person’s call, vocation, occupation, ministry and life to emerge.

A preliminary sketch of ongoing formation calls us to first examine the elements of a person’s identity. Function, service, vocation, occupation and mission flow from this identity. We will begin to examine this in greater detail next week.


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