Last week I introduced two Church documents,
Pastores Dabo Vobis (“I Will Give You Shepherds”) [PDV] written in 1992 by Pope John Paul II. “The Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests” [TBP] was written by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2001. Although written as a guideline for priests and seminarians, these exhortations have value to people in any vocation. They are especially useful for people who are trying to live a holistic, holy and healthy lifestyle. A term for this kind of this holistic, holy and healthy lifestyle is called “formation.”
Any discussion about “formation” starts with identity. Why? Because identity shapes our way of being in the world. It enables us to say who we are. It goes to the big questions of life such as, “Who am I?” Why was I born?” “What is my purpose in this life?” “How does my vocation help to define, support and animate this vocation …. or does it?”
Any preliminary examination of ongoing formation examines how the elements of identity, function/service, and mission interact with each other. This is how a person moves from “Who am I?” to “What must I do?” Within this conversation with oneself, we are then called to programmatically foster a process of integrating identity and activity inorder to answer our individual call and fufill our life’s mission.
Vocations play a key part in this identity. Vocations are more than just specific religious roles in society. They include people who are married. They include priests. They include those in religious life and people are consecrated. In this regard, our different vocations possess a complex identity. There are aspects where we are different. There are aspects that we share.
For example, wives, husbands, priests and religious exist in the world in three principal ways that are interrelated. They exist as human beings. They also exist as believing Christians or disciples of Jesus Christ in his Church. Finally, they exist in a unique sacramental mode. Let’s look at the first of these ways that we exist: the “human dinension.”
Our humanity reflects a complex make-up. In the case of effective formation (or asking “Whom am I?” and “What should I be doing?”), each dimension needs recognition and attention. In terms of the “Human Dimension,” the first thing that we need to consider is that we are embodied persons. Our living and functioning depend on the health and full functioning of our physical bodies. So, effective formation in the human/physical dmension asks questions such as, “How well are you taking care of your body? Do you exercise? Do you regularly visit a physician, dentist, cardiologist, specialist? What does your diet look like?”
Our humanity is especially prominent in our intellectual and psychological capacities. These include “cognitive” aspects, “affective” aspects, and “values.” The cognitive capacity includes the ability to perceive or gather information, to understand, and to make judgments. The affective capacity includes the ability to feel and to connect with other human beings and the world through feelings. The value capacity includes the ability to cultivate attitudes that can direct commitments, actions, and patterns of behavior. In terms of the human/intellectual aspects of formation, one could ask “What are you reading? Are you reading? Is, what you re reading, uplifting? is it God-centered? Does it help your vocation, your career? Psychologically, how is your emotional state? Stress is a top contributor of heart failure. So how is your stress level? If high, what are you doing about it?”
Finally, human being are relational. We live in a social order. Regardless of vocation, we come from families.We generally connect with some form of community. We are part of a larger society. Within society, we have socially defined roles with other citizens or members of society. We are participants in political life. We interact with people with whom we seek to live together peacefully and to prosper. We socialize with peole with whom we have common interests. Thus healthy formation in the human/social dimension asks, “How are you getting along with people directly involved with your vocation (husband/wife, fellow priests/sisters)? How are you getting along with your family members? What’s not working and why? What can you change (and not change)? What does your friendship circle look like? Who are your “intimates” with whom you can share on a deep level?
Next week we will begin to look at the basics of “formation” from a faith perspective.