A VISION OF PASSIONIST FORMATION
SECRETARIAT FOR FORMATION
The role of the General Secretariat for Formation is to help reinvigorate the formation of our members, religious and lay, by means of the charism of the Passion. Already so many people, religious and lay, have shown how the Passionist charism is the inspiration and the source of energy for their life and mission. I want to help us all to draw on that energy for the revitalization of the whole congregation.
Passion for God
I see the need to develop a vision of Passionist formation and offer an overall framework of the process of formation that respects the gradual nature of initiation into Passionist religious life and its essential elements. The key to formation for Passionist religious life is the charism of the Passion. We want to make the charism the very heart of formation. The goal of Passionist formation is the con-formation of the person to Christ Crucified and Risen (Rom 8, 29).
St. Paul of the Cross wanted Passionists to be “a living portrait of the Crucified.” Everything in formation derives from this and leads to this. Every dimension of the person – human, spiritual, psychological, social, intellectual and moral – is engaged by this process and is being gradually transformed into Christ Crucified and Risen (Rom 12, 2). Formation must be real and touch the whole reality of the person. It is a process committed to realizing the full promise of baptism – that each one be a completely new person, that Christ be formed in him (Gal 4, 19) and that he becomes an image of Christ Crucified (Gal 2, 20).
The principal agent of Passionist formation is the Holy Spirit who enflames the human heart with the passion of Jesus for the Father and the Kingdom of God. The Spirit works through the ordinary human means of the community, the formators, and other skilled collaborators. The subject of formation, touched by the Spirit, takes responsibility for his own formation by engaging wholeheartedly with the process and cooperating in a spirit of openness and trust with all the other participants. The example and inspiration of St. Paul of the Cross and other Passionist saints is a daily encourage on this journey.
From the beginning of this process the young person is encouraged to have the mind and heart of Christ (Philip 3, 20-21) and give himself generously to others in the community and in the service of the poor and people in need.
Formation, therefore, really means transformation into Christ. It is a process of change and growth in a person and in the community. Through the action of the Holy Spirit we become more and more like Christ. That means we come to share the mind and heart, the values and attitudes of Christ.
Passion for people
Throughout the Gospel Jesus manifests the compassion of God for the weak and most vulnerable people around him. He meets people who are poor and hungry. They approach him, he touches them, he is close to them. Jesus is moved by the same compassion that moved the God of the Exodus. God heard the cry of his people, he saw their suffering and he came to their assistance to delver them from bondage.
Formation means coming to share in the compassion of Jesus. The effectiveness of formation can be measured by the compassion and kindness of our young men. This is also the measure of real holiness. The fruit of a balanced and realistic formation is a new person and a transformed community.
Compassion is not just a sentiment, and it is certainly not sentimentality. It is a “suffering with” that grows through close contact with and knowledge of real people who are suffering and in need. Closeness and solidarity is the only way to know poor people. And only real knowledge can move the human heart and change us to be really caring.
Compassion and commitment to the poor cannot be learned from books. That only gives us a theory. Active engagement and concrete love is learned in relationships and close contact with real people. “It is because I met Anna, and I know her children, that I am moved to love her and find ways of helping her. “
Compassion is only a beginning. But with it we can move on to work for the change of those unjust structures that perpetuate conditions of poverty and suffering for so many. Exploitation and greed are inflicting great suffering on millions of vulnerable people as well as destroying God’s beautiful earth of which we are an integral part and on which we all depend. This is an intolerable injustice that we are working to change.
Our students will benefit greatly from living close to people in need and coming to know them by name. We need to be more creative and energetic in providing the opportunities for them to spend time away from their familiar surroundings and in places of greater material need. There they will acquire the kind of knowledge that will change them and help them in their study and reflection. It will move them to seek practical ways of helping the people they know. It will give them a new lens through which to read the Gospel and understand the message of Jesus.
In the light of their experience they will have a greater appreciation of the relevance and necessity of the social teaching of the church.
It is my hope that an integral formation of mind and heart and spirit will enable our young people to hear the words of Jesus with new ears and new understanding.
Passion for the earth
The proclamation that the Kingdom of God is coming “on earth as it is in heaven” will then be Good News for the poor people they know and love and indeed for the whole creation.
Pope Francis’ challenging encyclical Laudato Si’ tells us that we stand before the passion of the Earth subjected to systematic pillage of its resources and services by a mode of production and consumption aimed not at life and its quality but at sheer accumulation, appropriated by extremely powerful global elites. At the same time hunger and dire poverty are increasing to unprecedented levels. In other words, the Earth is being crucified and we are called to work for it to have new life and resurrection.
I was a missionary in China. The great Chinese teacher Confucius said: “When I hear, I forget; when I see, I remember; when I do then I am changed.” This is a simple but profound piece of wisdom from he East that I think is an important principle for formation.
The classical Western form of education with its emphasis on study, reading, meditation, choir etc. is still the preferred method of formation in many places. But I believe, on its own, it is no longer adequate or effective. Formation for the transformation of the person has to include a stronger dimension of engagement with people and close contact with the poor and the suffering. Passionist formation needs to be a formation with “dirty hands”. This means living, working, praying, weeping with the people we have been called to serve, people who are struggling, suffering, and in poverty.
Another important insight comes from the developments within the Congregation in recent times. We have discovered the distinctive insight of the Passionist charism, that is, that we see in the one glance Jesus Crucified and the crucified of today. The Passion of Jesus and the sufferings of his Mystical Body form one single mystery. We must continue to gaze on Jesus crucified and meditate on his Passion but we must also look, see, know, love and serve Jesus crucified in his suffering people. Without this second dimension we cannot claim to be forming Passionists today.
Pope Francis has insisted that the whole Church is essentially missionary and has given us the profile of the Christian missionary in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. The words he uses to describe the missionary are tenderness, compassion, care, mercy. We want a formation that will give us missionaries and evangelizers who fit this pattern.
The world, the Church and the congregation are in need of missionaries with the heart of Christ, with a deep sensitivity and compassion for people. This is the kind of missionary that is formed when our young are close to poor and suffering people and know them by name.
This is the message the Secretariat wants to spread and the kind of formation we want to help to encourage.
Secretariat or Formation