Aparecida 280: Four Dimensions of Formation

280. Formation encompasses diverse dimensions that must be integrated harmoniously throughout the formation process, namely the human and communal, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral missionary dimensions.

Here, the Aparecida bishops outline how mentors address the practical aspect of treating human beings as part of the formation process. First, how does a person achieve healing and balance in the realm of psychology?

a) The Human and Communal Dimension. It tends to accompany formation processes that lead to taking on one’s own history and healing it, so as to become capable of living as Christians in a pluralistic world, with balance, strength, serenity, and inner freedom. It entails developing personalities that mature in contact with reality and are open to Mystery.

Next, there’s an attuning of a person’s gifts and charisms (both the natural and supernatural abilities) and the development of a spirituality that sustains the individual. For those in a religious order, that means the development of the charisms of the founder and members. For lay people, it can be more difficult to pick through the various flavors of spirituality proposed by saints, founders, and mystics.

b) The Spiritual Dimension. This is the formative dimension that grounds Christian existence in the experience of God made manifest in Jesus, and leads it by the Spirit over the paths of a deep maturation. Through the various charisms, the person is rooted in the journey of life and service proposed by Christ, with a personal style. It makes it possible to pursue wholeheartedly by faith, like the Virgin Mary, the joyful, luminous, sorrowful, and glorious paths of one’s Lord and Teacher.

There’s education:

c) The Intellectual Dimension. The encounter with Christ, Word made Flesh, empowers the dynamism of reason which seeks the meaning of reality and opens up to Mystery. It is expressed in serious reflection, constantly updated through study, which opens intelligence to truth with the light of faith. It also trains for discernment, critical judgment, and dialogue on the overall situation and the culture. It particularly assures well grounded biblical and theological knowledge, and knowledge of the human sciences, in order to acquire the necessary competence for the sake of the ecclesial services required and so as to be suitably present in secular life.

There’s training for particular tasks in ministry; I’d interpret this as more of the particular apprenticeship in discipleship ministry:

d) The Pastoral and Missionary Dimension. An authentic Christian journey fills the heart with joy and hope and moves believers to proclaim Christ continually in their life and their environment. It projects toward the mission of forming missionary disciples at the service of the world. It trains for proposing appealing projects and styles of Christian life, with organic actions and fraternal collaboration with all members of the community. It helps combine evangelization and pedagogy, communicating life and offering pastoral itineraries in accordance with the Christian maturity, age, and other conditions proper to persons or groups. It fosters the responsibility of lay people in the world for building the Kingdom of God. It arouses continual concern for those who have distanced and for those who are oblivious to the Lord in their lives.

It wasn’t until recently that human beings have had a science behind the first of these dimensions. That’s not to say that formators were running clueless before the twentieth century–certainly psychology remains deeply misunderstood in some quarters today–the Church and its agents still make mistakes here. The hope is that those formed for discipleship are not only well-formed morally, but also have a basic orientation to personal health and joyful service. In sum, this must be supported by a prayer life of substance, ongoing permanent catechesis, as well as practical techniques needed to be fruitful and effective amongst real people.

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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Where Will It End?

A better place, hopefully.See the source image

November has been a very bad month for men. I don’t take joy in seeing the high and mighty topple like Psalm 113 princes. The Project Veritas blunder probably underscores the truthfulness of the vast majority of women who protest. That one, I have to admit, was for a bit of joy-taking.

Image result for metooThe #metoo movement has certainly taken many people by surprise. Me too. It’s not because I’m surprised by the number of bullies or survivors outed. I’ve known too many women, and seen and heard too many episodes, to think this isn’t fairly and unfortunately common. I’m pleasantly surprised that a moral issue has taken root in 2017. Just when I thought we were all going to be mansplained into white male supremacy and a rejuvenation of the Reagan Era Me-80s.

The whole progression has been whiplash-inducing for the ideologically-driven: first, a presidential candidate, then Hollywood, then the GOP of the Deep South, then a prominent Dem, then a Catholic blogger, now some media personalities.

I found this essay quite interesting. In highlighting the differences in reception to women of various colors, one might wonder how deep the solidarity goes in this reaction to powerful white men.

Solidarity, at its most basic level, however, requires a level of trust and an understanding of shared goals that are not always present. Demanding it without attending to the nuances of privilege ignores the spotty track record that white women have when it comes to being allies to people of color. America’s history provides example after example of how dangerous this disconnect can be. In a moment focused on rectifying power imbalances, it would be irresponsible to forget that white women have often cast the fight against sexism and the fight against racism in a zero-sum game, from suffrage to the present day.

So I’m interested to see how women of color who out men of power are going to be treated in the days and weeks ahead.

I’d also have to mention that women’s suffrage was a companion movement to abolition in this country. Then we had two generations separating Amendments XIII-XIV-XV and XIX. The history has been that when one oppressed group gets what it wants, support for others can drop off.

I can still hear the echo of a Catholic school social studies teacher listing the hierarchy in (then-70s) America: white man, black man, white woman, black woman. That seems about right, still, alas.

See the source imageSolidarity is often a missing element in the struggle for justice. So many issues go lone ranger, and to their detriment. Political pro-lifers often feel no solidarity for other culture-of-death issues. Personally, I think the American  JP2 bishops ditching Cardinal Bernardin and the seamless garment was a missed opportunity. It couldn’t have made anything really worse, especially given that abortions today are rating at a new low since President Reagan.

I do wonder if fatigue on the issue of abusive patriarchy might settle in. Will it be when more women of color speak out? A good chunk of Hollywood might be taken out. What if a good fraction of the men in the federal government are outed and must go?

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Aparecida 279: Continuing Formation

Let’s look at some general criteria for the formation of Christian disciples. The bishops describe their intent here as “Comprehensive, kerygmatic , and ongoing.”

279. The primary mission of formation is to help the members of the Church to always be with Christ, and thus to recognize, welcome, internalize, and develop the experience and values that constitute Christian identity and mission in the world.

This is huge. Yet so many Christians fail to recognize regular interventions in their lives. I was talking about this with a friend the other day–someone of no particular religious practice. He had a sense of “calling,” that each person has a unique offering to make in the universe. In his experience, the Higher Power can be quite insistent when the person is unwilling to engage her or his personal mission.

Translating into the Christian experience, do we recognize God’s call to mission? Do we see our gifts and abilities as a fit into a greater mission? Many lay people seem content to let the “pro” do it. While that may have been a perception of how things have run for Catholics, it isn’t the reality for the baptized life.

Welcome, internalize, and develop: once we recognize God’s call, do believers readily embrace it, or do we play the part of Jonah, resisting and fussing? Do we make God’s call a part of our lives? Do we have a plan in the context of our mentors and our community to develop our part of the mission? These are all important benchmarks for anyone, from bishop to catechumen.

The Aparecida bishops make a case for a wide-ranging vision for individuals and communities:

Hence formation entails a integral process, that is, it encompasses varied dimensions, all harmonized among themselves in vital unity. At the foundation of these dimensions is the power of the kerygmatic proclamation. People feel the contagious power of the Spirit and the Word and are led to listen to Jesus Christ, to believe in Him as their Savior, to recognize him as the one who gives full meaning to their life, and to follow in his footsteps. The proclamation is based on the fact of the presence of the Risen Christ today in the church, and it is an absolutely necessary factor in the process of forming disciples and missionaries. At the same time, formation is ongoing and dynamic, in accordance with people’s development and with the service that they are called to provide in the midst of the demands of history.

That word: contagious–is that something other associate with Christian work in parishes, and from small groups and individuals?

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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Here I Am, Lord

I missed this posting last month at America. Written for a friend’s diaconate ordination, the story of the song’s genesis makes sense to me now, given the parameters of the commission:

His friend wanted the song to include the images of the word of God, the light of Christ and the bread and wine—images that would eventually appear at the ends of the verses: “Who will bear my light to them?” “Who will speak my word to them?”

At the time, Mr. Schutte had no idea how to work the images into the song.

This is what I find fascinating about the most popular pieces in liturgical music: what the texts have in common. So many seem to include variations on a simple question: Do you see me, God?

It’s a question those in discernment for service must ask. Such persons wonder about their calling, how their gifts might fit into ministry. The criticism of self-absorption is wrong-headed in most cases. “Here I am” isn’t an egocentric declaration. While it might allude to Isaiah 6 or Psalm 40, those passages make a certain context clear to me: it’s as much about the question. Admit it, we ask the question about ourselves–many times some days.

It’s why music like “Here I Am, Lord” or “Be Not Afraid” or even “Gather Us In” retain a certain popularity in spite of relentless criticism in some quarters. Time and time again, the Biblical passages about God’s call–and the human desire to be confirmed in what one is doing–overshadow other passages. It makes those other passages–Mass propers, traditional hymns, so-called God-centered language–no less true. But for many Christians far less relevant to their own pilgrimage.

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Aparecida 278, Part 5: Forming for Mission

The last of five aspects:

e) Mission: As they get to know and love their Lord, disciples experience the need to share with others their joy at being sent, at going to the world to proclaim Jesus Christ, dead and risen, to make real the love and service in the person of the neediest, in short, to build the Kingdom of God. Mission is inseparable from discipleship, and hence it must not be understood as a stage subsequent to formation, although it is carried out in different ways, depending on one’s own vocation and on the moment in human and Christian maturation at which the person stands.

Let’s not ignore the importance of the connection between community and this joy at being sent on mission. I can’t comprehend how a person working alone could maintain a positive approach, let alone joy, without the assistance of others.

It’s also important to recognize the use of the word “formation,” not education. Disciples aren’t educated as much as they experience a transformation of life. A parallel: the marriage relationship. People can’t really be educated into married life. Fruitful marriages achieve a formation: the community of two, plus influences and guidance from family, ministers, mentors, and peers.

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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On My Bookshelf: The Moon And The Other

John Kessel has crafted an enjoyable, thought-provoking read here. The premise: thirteen decades into the future, the moon is peopled by a few dozen colonies. Two feature in this novel. One self-presents as a free Muslim society, but reads a lot like the libertarian West at the lunar south pole. In the other, women have engineered a (literally, geo- selenographically) far side culture to keep male social maladies (like violence and involvement in politics) at a minimum. Imperfect human institutions make for great plot-moving devices. A-plus for these.

Some elements of the fantastic are well-imagined, including a domed-over lunar crater (so people can enjoy parkland and grow food on farms) and a water park (supplied by south pole ice). Mr Kessel touches on some elements of everyday life in low gravity: sports, music (including a sub-plot on growing genetically modified trees to build acoustic pianos), mood-altering food and drink, and even human-powered flight with strap-on wings. These add a richness to what is essentially a family drama soaked in politics. More top marks here.

One character begins the novel as a playboy. Against the backdrop of social forces, he aspires to more. Lunar culture, friends, and family seem to work against him. He achieves a singular moment of heroism as the plot resolves. I liked that part best of all. He’s not a perfect character, but his unexpected achievements are a happy strain in the narrative.

Two technological marvels drive the plot. Though they are presented as scientific advancements, they were really elements of fantasy rather than science fiction. The rest of the novel is just so good, I felt okay overlooking the problem of them being a bit unrealistic. With a bit more thought, other devices, more-believable, could have been developed. About midway through the book, a couple has an argument and within a few pages, the very same scene is played out. It was a discordant note. If there’s a point, I missed it. I would worry an editor was asleep at the wheel here.

My measuring stick was the recent series begun by Ian McDonald (reviewed here and here). There are good similarities: well-constructed characters who evolve, excellent efforts at extrapolating technology into the twenty-second century, a fair amount of sex, a lot of politics. Characters are drawn from the lunar 1% and the others–sometimes both even within the same family.

If I were pressed to compare, I’d say John Kessel succeeds a bit more than Ian McDonald at crafting good science fiction set on the moon. I’d read more from either author. Either writer reminds me of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy. Mars seems impossibly far off these days. But the moon … I’d say the 2200s are a more realistic time frame for action than the 2100s. But The Moon And The Other offered me a lot to ponder. I think about it a few days later. That’s a good sign of a good novel. Solid B-plus from me.

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Aparecida 278, Part 4: Life in Community

A good subtitle here might be: lone rangers need not apply.

d) Communion: There can be no Christian life except in community: in families, parishes, communities of consecrated life, base communities, other small communities, and movements. Like the early Christians who met in community, the disciples take part in the life of the Church, and in the encounter with brothers and sisters, living the love of Christ in solidarity, in fraternal life. They are also accompanied and encouraged by the community and its shepherds as they mature in the live of the Spirit.

I don’t have experience with the Latin American situation, but I’d have to testify that the communal situation–call it community, teamwork, collaboration–is one of the more frustrating, disappointing, and unexplored aspects of my experience as a disciple. I catch what I can. But the American experience–even for its clergy–is that everybody has their area or moment of specialization. Top it off with the indulgence for tangible productivity, and you get an ecclesial system that works against communities of disciples. Even for parishioners, events that could develop into discipleship groups are designed for the short-term: five weeks of Lent or a handful of autumn sessions (and besides, one can get it online now, anyway). In a phrase, huge challenges here,.

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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