The future of Ongoing Formation.
“In a modern and changing world, the Chapter invites us to be creative in our missionary approach and commitments, bearing in mind the need to adapt to new realities.”1
Basing myself on this statement of the last Chapter concerning our Mission today, I plan to consider the challenges facing Ongoing Formation in our Society.
Why speak about “in a modern and changing world”?
Has not the world always evolved? Certainly, but today is marked by a feature which is taking over everything: the pace of change. Whether we are at the level of financial and economic transactions, means of communication, the evolution of world opinion in the areas of ethics and religion, everything is going faster and faster with all the consequent disparities.
“Modern and changing” means what exactly? First of all, we are experiencing a triple revolution: in the financial and economic world, in digital technology, in genetics particularly biotechnology. These three areas are creating a system that is becoming less and less manageable: they are affecting the future of humanity and the planet. To all this, we can add the big changes in Africa still suffering the pains of growth (with its own particular structures of violence and injustice but also growing creativity), the Church which is savouring a missionary and ecological renewal brought about by Pope Francis and we should not forget our own Society which is also modernizing itself and changing with immense challenges in areas of formation, managing our human resources and leadership.
So, how can we be ‘creative’ and ‘adapt to new realities’ as Missionaries of Africa? How can we acquire this ability to adapt to these changes and the increasing pace of life which will affect us all? How can we apply, at a personal and community level, a discernment which will make us more proficient at recognizing these different challenges while keeping a genuine equilibrium in life on the spiritual and human level?
Towards an on-going discernment
I believe that we will live up to our mission only by being always “on the way” and being attentive, at all times, to the pulsations of the Spirit there where we are engaged. However, this demands an attitude of openness and an enquiring mind which is specific to Ongoing Formation. It is not a question of organising interesting sessions for a couple of days a year. A Cencini writes: “Ongoing Formation is carried out in the context of everyday life, there where everybody lives their own proper reality…it begins to be permanent when the person learns to experience every existential situation and every relationship as a place of formation.”2
That is the ideal… but a recent evaluation carried out by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies for Apostolic Life notes, “We have to admit that a culture of Ongoing Formation does not yet exist. This absence is the result of a mentality that is partial and reductive when it comes to continuous formation; hence, sensitivity towards its importance is insufficient and the involvement of individuals is minimal…The idea that formation is truly continuous only when it is ordinary and carried out in everyday life is struggling to catch on. There is still a weak or sociological interpretation of continuous formation that ties it to a simple duty of adaptation or a potential need for spiritual renewal, instead of a continuous attitude of listening and a sharing of calls, problems and horizons. Each individual is called to let himself or herself to be touched, educated, provoked, and enlightened by life and by history, by what he or she proclaims and celebrates, by the poor and excluded, and by those near and far.”3
Deciding to put the brakes on…
How can we discover an authentic attitude to Ongoing Formation? Where can we find the analytical and interpretative tools? How can we read the sign of the times when we are submerged in pastoral work or teaching? Can we do so by putting the brakes on in order to find time to educate ourselves? A number of us, zealous missionaries, seem to find it very difficult to acquire such an attitude. Ongoing Formation is considered a waste of time if it does not teach us the latest thingumabob that would make us more efficient on the ground. However, what do the folks really expect of us with our level of formation and the importance of the functions we exercise in the Church and in society? Do they not expect a true Christian vision and keys to discern the problems of the world, the weakening of relationships, young people troubled by a lack of values, and indifference to the poor on the side of the road? We will not find any solutions to this on videos which circulate on Whatsapp all day long.4 This is what confreres engaged in Ongoing Formation in our Society painstakingly try to make others understand. I said at the last Chapter that in our Society, we have all the necessary expertise and all the tools to assist our confreres to make these transitions, but we have too few ‘clients’ and too little motivation5 to acquire the tools and to take the time for a true discernment adapted to today’s world.
So, I invite you to become more aware of our priorities in terms of the quality of our witness and our creativity and I allow myself to ask for more active collaboration on the part of those responsible at different levels, because after seven years’ experience, I have discovered a lot of resistance and inertia in our Society in this regard.6
- Capitular Acts 2016 p25
- Cencini A ? La formation permanente … Y croyons- nous vraiment ? Lessius, 2014, (in French only ?)
- New Wine, New Wineskins: The Consecrated Life and its Ongoing challenges since Vatican II (n°35 b/c) January 2017
- I have nothing against these applications in themselves. I use them myself, it is a question of how to use them.
- This does not mean to say that we are limited to the Society for educating ourselves. The Chapter invites us to look at different possibilities.
- Our Society is renowned externally for the quality of its programmes for Ongoing Formation. However, inside the Society this is not so evident, but, all congregations are facing this challenge.
Bernard Ugeux, M.Afr.