The word Formation and indeed Formator are relatively subjective concepts. Through my own experience, starting from my time in Formation as a Candidate and my experience of working in the field of Formation as a Formator, I have come to distinguish 4 types of ‘Formator’, in Formation. These ‘Formators’ may or may not nurture the good growth of the Candidate. This is the reason I would like to share about them so as to help anyone in our Houses of Formation. Here, I present these ideas with their strengths and limitations. These 4 Formators are: The Holy Spirit, The Candidate, The Peer Group, And the Elder or the officially appointed Formator.
Obviously, the only Formator, for most of us is the ‘Elder’ who has been given the duty and right to form the Candidate. You may not agree with me, but I think we should also give importance to the three others. In addition, I wouldn’t mind putting them in this order of importance: 1: the Holy Spirit; 2: the Candidate himself; 3: the Peer Group and 4: the officially appointed Formator or Elder. My experience has shown that the three other “Formators” are even more important if the Candidate desires a deeper transformation and growth throughout his life.
The Holy Spirit
It is God who calls, and this call is heard, carried and cherished by the power of the Holy Spirit. In any call, the great initiator is the Holy Spirit. (Jesus’ calling Lk 4: ‘The Holy Spirit has come upon me…’) Without any doubt, the Holy Spirit is the First Formator. Not only is he at the beginning of any Formation, but he is always there till the end of that call-mission, present till death.
I would like to dwell on this point awhile. If there have been people who have crossed our path in life, if there have been events which have unfolded throughout our lives, if we have been experiencing a way of life, I believe it hasn’t just come by sheer luck. Rather, God has poured his Grace upon us, and will sustain that love infinitely. Just as his love for us is infinite, so any action within this love goes beyond a particular time and place. So, before the so-called Formation took place, and throughout that Formation and even long after that Formation had taken place, God or the Spirit of God, continues to form the one who has been called.
It means that any young man or woman in Formation will blossom if s/he considers and follows this ‘Formator No. 1’ seriously. The non-awareness of the Holy Spirit in any Formation will weaken seriously it. The privileged sphere and place for this ‘Formator No. 1’ is prayer. I am always amazed to see how Jesus took this ‘Formator No.1’ so literally seriously. Before and after any event in his life, he retired alone to pray.
The Candidate Formator
Formation has to be internalised. Therefore, the Candidate has to be active in listening to this ‘Formator No. 1’. He needs to be creative and take initiatives so as to make clear the voice which is calling him. It goes beyond fulfilling the required timetable for prayer. It is about creating a man who becomes tuned into God’s Spirit every day.
‘Formator No. 2’ will eventually let himself be a product of ‘Formator No. 1’, the Holy Spirit. This ‘Formator No. 2’ needs time and soil-humidity in order to sink roots and bear fruit. He needs to be regular in meeting ‘Formator No. 1’. I don’t see how a Candidate can answer his call and be happy if he doesn’t take himself seriously in meeting with the Holy Spirit. (Gal. 5: 22-24).
For the future missionary, this will imply developing a strong habit of daily personal prayer or meditation. Obviously, this will demand self-discipline in carrying it out, even when ‘Formator No. 4’ is not around. The sustained effort of the Candidate, during and after Formation, becomes an opportunity to acquire a high degree of personal responsibility, because when the Spirit of the Lord speaks, he conveys a specific message, which will become an imperative mission to be carried out.
If this internalised Formation doesn’t take place, most likely the Holy Spirit will not be given a chance to communicate a calling or indeed to deepen it. Miracles do happen, but in normal circumstances, our collaboration and predisposition is very important. If the Candidate doesn’t take himself as a self-Formator, his freedom to grow will be seriously jeopardized. The test of this ‘Formator No. 2’ comes into view at the end of the prescribed time of Formation. What remains of all the Formation when the young confrere finds himself alone, far away from any structure of Formation? How does he manage this (His) mission-call in a parish set up? What about his personal prayer life?
The Peer Group
Another rather invisible Formator is the Peer Group. The presence of individuals will bring a bearing, positive or negative, on the whole group. In Formation, at any stage, we are going to perform within a team/community, big or small. Though we don’t choose our community, the community spirit does play a very important role. If the spirit in the community is a good one, it bears up even lukewarm spirits. The quality of presence which, in general, calls everyone to take part in fraternal correction and promotion make this ‘Formator No. 3’ very important. We may not pay attention to him, but he does bring flavour and colour into any community. More and more, we rely and, indeed, pray that the Holy Spirit may bring a good spirit within the Formation group. To the question, ‘How are the Candidates doing?’ the common satisfactory answer is, ‘There is a good spirit.’
Very often, the Peer Group knows things about the Candidate long before the ‘Formator No. 4”. When, within the group, people are more motivated by envy, jealousy, competition and selfish interest, this ‘Formator No. 3’ may just arrest individual and communitarian growth.
The Elder Formator
There are many things which have been said about ‘this Formator’. I only present some practical considerations. The ‘Elder Formator’ can only help when the Holy Spirit is already at work in or on the Candidate. Often the ‘Elder Formator’ only needs to encourage and nurture what is already present in the Candidate. He is a companion, an Elder brother. I use the word ‘brother’ because it is essential for the Candidate to progress in an atmosphere akin to family.
When necessary, ‘Formator No. 4’ should learn the art of challenge. As for any good family, the Elder needs to show Christ’s love for his disciples. He needs to tune up with ‘Formator No. 1’, so that whatever conclusion he takes has to come from the Spirit. This is not easy and the temptation is to think that he is the sole Formator.
Our wish is always to carry out the call through all 4 Formators. They are present in our lives. Through discernment, we will be able to fulfil God’s mission wherever we are sent.
Raphael Gasimba M.Afr
From Petit Echo n° 1010 2010/4