St Theresa, A Vibrant Model for Formation

India is a land of many faces. It is home to diverse and vibrant cultures and theological claims.  Situated in a plural reality, the Church in India is called to become sign and sacrament of the kingdom of God.  As such, she is to become a sacrament of union with God and unity of all humankind.[1] The Church in India besides being a small minority is also affected by conflicts arising from gender, caste, ethnic, regional and linguistic difference.[2]  Being a minority, it is called to become light, salt and yeast to all Indians.  Consecrated persons have a great role in the mission of the Church in India. Hence, the formation of the consecrated persons is paramount for the Church in India. We undertake a critical analysis of the challenge of formation faced by the religious in our country. The study is divided into three parts. We first attempt to analyse the crises affecting religious formation in our country, next we attempt to carve out a dynamic and responsive path ahead and finally, to actualise the same, we propose St. Theresa as a powerful model for religious formation in our country.[3]

Crises Affecting Religious Formation

With hostilities growing against the minorities in our country,  the cup of suffering of the Christians in India is already full. This precarious condition poses great challenges to life and ministry of consecrated persons in the Church in India.   Reading the signs of the time, we can feel the call of our Lord to seriously analyse the effectiveness of religious formation in view of the growing antagonistic environment in our country. Besides, we have several issues with regard the human formation of the candidates to handle profoundly human emotions which often wound the persons as well as their communities.  Hence, it appears that religious persons largely remain underprepared to provide leadership to new ministries like fighting for human rights, working for the emancipation of the poor and marginalised , inter-faith dialogue, net working with NGO’s , eco-justice etc.  Besides the regular ministries like the pastoral care of the faithful, running  of the Schools and health institutions pose new challenges due to the changing their contexts.  Often to due to lack imagination as well petty jealousies, rich human resources of several religious persons remain undiscovered and developed effectively.  Moreover, we face stiff competition in the field of education and health care today and often several of our personnel are found lacking competence to shoulder responsibilities that are given to them.

Quality of Presence

The Ministry of the presence is an effective means of evangelisation in a religiously and culturally plural and vibrant country like India.  The quality of our presence particularly among the poor is a powerful witness of the Gospel. Often, the quality of our presence has failed to make us effective evangelizers. We have failed to smell our sheep and did not succeed to present a Church of the field as a hospital to people in our country.

 

Integral Emancipation of the Poor                                           

The institutional Church in India is extremely rich.  The individual religious persons as well as communities do live a life of poverty yet religious societies have huge lands, bank balances and institutions. The plight of the poor is still to challenge us institutionally. Missionary enterprise has to truly inculcate the inclusive spirit of evangelii Nuntiandi.[4]  The congregations and societies have begun to look like corporate houses and failed to be faithful to the evangelical counsels as institutions. Perhaps, the religious congregations in India have the challenge to become poor like our people.

Dialogical Ministries

The exponential growth of communicative technology requires us to open ourselves to new dialogical ministries. Unfortunately, due to poor human formation, the religious display serious difficulties facing emotional conflicts and therefore are incapacitated to a large degree to take up new and challenging frontiers  of dialogical ministries. Moreover, there is a considerable lack of competence to venture   in these new ministries because of prevailing culture of mediocrity among the religious. Besides, the bureaucratisation of leadership has reduced the role of leaders to being mere functionaries.

Towards a Paradigm shift in Formation

The dynamic changes in the context of ministry of the consecrated person calls for a paradigm shift in the way we approach and conduct the process of formation. Besides, sound theological bases of formation, the growing developments in human sciences challenge us to initiate a effective integration of their findings in the process of formation.  Along with the development of the IQ (intellectual Maturity), there is a need to pursue the growth of EQ (Emotional Maturity) along with the SQ (Spiritual Maturity) through our formative programmes.  This approach would require us to adopt a new pedagogy of formation.  Unfortunately, the prevailing paradigm that is operative in most houses of formation in our country has its roots in the Tridentine model.[5]  The process oriented incarnational model of the second Vatican council needs to be embraced with greater urgency than before. The Holy Spirit and the formee being the first agents of formation, all formative programmes hves to  formee centred. The ‘making grow’ model of the porter and clay has to give way to ‘letting grow’ model of the seed, soil and the farmer.

Formation as an ongoing process of self Transformation

Goal of formation is to enable the formee to grow unto the fullness of Christ (PDV nos. 43-60, VC no. 65).[6]  The principle agent of formation is the Holy Spirit. However the primary responsibility of formation rests with the formee. Therefore, all formation is ultimately self formation (PDV NO. 69).  Human sciences indicate that effective self formation takes in an atmosphere of freedom, responsibility and inner conviction. The role of the formators is one of accompaniment of the formee in their journey of self transformation. Self transformation in wholeness involves the somatic, affective, moral, spiritual, charismatic, intellectual and socio-political domains of the person’s life

 

Formation for a Life of Communion

The escapist, fuga mundi paradigm of formation has to give way to an incarnational model of formation.  The capacity to relate to others is the foundation of the life and ministry of the religious person. Hence, Apostolic Exhortation, Patores Dabo Vobis , teaches that human formation is the basis of all formations and call the religious to be persons of communion.[7]  This communion has to be lived an experienced in the house of formation as a life of joy of the Gospel. Hence, the quality of formation will depend on directly on the quality of formators. The life of communion also involves a life of sacrifice and joyful embrace of the evangelical counsels a means of becoming effective witness to the consumeristics materialistic culture all around us.

Holiness and Wholeness

Grace builds and perfects nature. There is an intrinsic relationship between grace (holiness) and nature (wholeness). Grace works on the inner disposition of a person. Hence, the relation liturgy and pastoral ministry has to be effectively integrated in the life of a consecrated person. At a  time, when the transcendent dimension of our life is being questioned, it is of great importance that our formative programmes assists the formee to become mystics in the market spaces and convert the public square as the new pulpit. This approach requires the adoption of an attitude that is both rooted and open. This rooted openness will keep the religious persons firm in faith and enable them to reach out in joyful service animated by love.  It is an integration of passion for God and compassion for humanity.

St. Thersa of  Child Jesus and Renewal of Formation

St. Theresa of child Jesus offers us valuable inspiration to renew the religious formation in our country.[8] Her life inspires us to bring about a context driven and animated formation programmes. Perhaps, our formative houses require us adept to the ancient gurukulavasm so that our formation occurs through the dynamic and plural local idiom. St.Theresa’s approach to sanctity was profoundly incarnational. She did not see saintliness as ascending towards a heaven outside this world. She believed that heaven was an extension of our real mission here on earth.[9] Thus, the renewal of formation requires us to bring about a fuller integration of formation and mission.   The injection of the missionary dynamism into the formative process needs to begin with a deep encounter of the Human and the divine. St. Theresa offers us profound possibilities of introducing ways of total ‘self abandonment’ to God and humanity. We can draw an immense wealth of inspiration from her passion to God and compassion to humanity and animate the formative journey of the formees.

Passion for God and Compassion for Humanity

Life of St. Theresa exhibits a joyous self giving to God and Humanity. Even grave sickness did not deter her. Her pain assists her to empathise with the sufferings of the missionaries in distant mission lands. Her inacarnational spirituality directly contradicts the heresy of Jansenism that rejected the universal salvific will of God. God loves and wants to save the entire humanity. Our missionary work is a participation in the salivific mission of God. That is why we can understand how her love of God leads her to the love of humans and creation.  Hence, her passion for God that takes her to reach out in compassion to humanity can inspire us to infuse the dynamism of mission in our formative programmes.

Immanent Spirituality of the Little Way

The little way of St. Theresa is a profoundly immanent spirituality. It remains this worldly and stays fully immersed into it. It follows God in his mission. Besides, the simplicity of St. Theresa’s little way makes it available to everyone.  St. Theresa declares that ‘we only have this life to live for’.[10]  Such an immanent spirituality enables us to pour out selves into the service of mission. Formation programmes that are striving to  bring about  an intermingling of the dynamism of mission would require  such an immanent spirituality. The little way of St. Theresa is best suited to animate formative programmes in our country where staying in touch with the context of ministry has been always viewed as fundamental to all stages of formation.

Prophetic Counter-culture

Besides being a profound mystic, the way St. Theresa took her suffering can open us to usher in a prophetic counter-culture in the process of formation of consecrated persons.  The pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, forcefully presents the counter cultural nature of the evangelical counsels. Faced with an authoritarian culture enforced by the fascist Hindutva brigade, the consecrated persons have the challenge to live a life of joyful obedience. Living in a culture of extreme poverty on one hand and supreme riches on the other hand, the religious has the imperative to be poor in solidarity with the down trodden. Placed in a growing comsumerist culture, the religious has the challenge to live their celibacy with joy and freedom. Thus, life of St. Theresa becomes a great resource that can enable the religious to discover how the evangelical counsels can become prophetically counter-cultural in the vibrant context of ministry.

Conclusion

The Life and teachings of St. Theresa of Chid Jesus is profoundly ennobling to the holy project of formation of the religious for the Church in India. St. Theresa strived to bring heaven on earth. She did not imagine heaven as a form of ‘rest in peace’ place. She did not pray: ‘Give us eternal rest oh Lord’ rather she prayed: ‘give us eternal action’.  Indeed, she prayed ‘My God, give me the power to act eternally with you’. This foundational faith that God is the first missionary and we join God in his mission with joy and freedom has to be central to all missionary praxis in India. Hence, life and teachings of St. Theresa becomes profoundly significant to all formative programmes of the religious in India. Urged by the boundless love of God, all religious are challenged to give themselves and their charisms for the service of people of our country. This is why St. Theresa becomes effective an  guide, philosopher and friend to all our religious persons journeying at different stages of their formation.

[1] See L.G no. 1.

[2] See  The Charter of Priestly Formation for India.

[3]  See http://www.catholicbible101.com/St.%20Therese%20Story%20of%20a%20soul.pdf accessed on 21/ 12/2016., the Story of Soul for an in depth insight into the life and ministry of St. Theresa of Child Jesus.

[4] See Evangelization in the Modern World.

[5] See http://www.sedosmission.org/web/en/mission-articles/doc_view/1240-what-ails-priestly-formation-today accessed on 20th/12/16.

[6]  See Charter of Priestly formation of India, 4:1.

[7] See PDV, nos. 43-44.

[8] For a good introduction to the theology of St. Therese see Thomas. R. Nevin, Therese of Lisieux: God’s Gentle warrior (Oxford: University Press, 2006), p. 288-326.

[9]  It is said that before her death, St. Theresa was asked by one of the sisters whether she would look down from  heaven, she replied that she will come down from heaven. See http://carmelnet.org/larkin/larkin042.pdf  accessed 21/12/2012.

[10] Jean Guitton, The Spiritual Genius of Therese of Lisiux  (London: Burn and Oats, 2001), p.27.

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