Reorienting Formation

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Raj Irudaya, S.J.

Assistancy Delegate for Formation


Formation in the Society of Jesus today is confronted by a context marked by profound changes, acute conflicts, complexities and new possibilities. As Pope Benedict XVI has reminded us, we are living in a period of great social, economic and political changes; sharp ethical, cultural and environmental problems, conflicts of all kinds, but also of more intense communication among peoples, of new possibilities of acquaintance and dialogue, of a deep longing for peace (Allocution to the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, 21 February 2008, no.2). Pope Francis has called ‘rapidification’ the acceleration of changes affecting humanity and the planet. “The social dimensions of global change include the effects of technological innovations on employment, social exclusion, an inequitable distribution and consumption of energy and other services, social breakdown, increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression, growing drug use by young people, and the loss of identity. Some of these signs are also symptomatic of real social decline, the silent rupture of the bonds of integration and social cohesion” (‘Laudato Si’ of the Holy Father Francis on Care for our Common Home, 24 May, 2015, no.18).

GC 35 paints a graphic picture of the growing tensions and paradoxes precipitated by a new world of instant communication, digital technology and of worldwide markets (D.3, no.11). The context of the world today has immense impact on the mission as well on formation. We are called to a new context and challenged by new frontiers and horizons. Our men need to be prepared in formation to face this global world marked by profound changes and struggles and to work ceaselessly for the growth of the Reign of God. Formation needs to be geared towards deepening our understanding of the call to serve faith, to promote justice, and to dialogue with culture and other religions in the light of the apostolic mandate to establish right relationships with God, with one another, and with creation (GC 35, D.3, no.12).

Formation in the Assistancy: An Evolving Paradigm

Jesuit formation has been going through a radical shift since 32nd General Congregation. Vatican II gave a paradigm shift to priestly formation, which envisaged a move from the monastic model of formation to the mission-oriented formation.

The inspiration on inculturation in formation was derived from GC 32 which offered a sharpened focus of mission, ‘the service of faith and the promotion of justice’. Capturing the goal of Jesuit formation then, the Inculturation Commission stated: “The product of Jesuit formation in India today should be an apostle who, as a man with ‘true freedom and maturity of spirit’ (GC 31, D.8/7), has grasped  his peculiar religious (and priestly) apostolic vocation in a personal integrated manner, who is ‘inserted’ into the language, realities and general culture of the region where he will live and work, and who remains open in temper and spirit to the wider values and realities of the nation as a whole, of the universal Society and the Church, indeed of the world at large” (Jesuit Formation and Inculturation in India Today, p.33).

The four important components of Jesuit formation as presented by the Inculturation Commission are Vernacularization, Regionalization, Contextualization, and Integration or Harmonization. The different formation stages especially the early ones like Novitiate and Juniorate and the later ones especially Philosophy and Theology entered into different experiments incorporating the spirit of inculturation. Context played an important role in formation and several socio-pastoral exposure programmes were introduced in the different stages of formation.  To cap it all, the Regional Theology Centre gave concrete expression to the call of inculturation from 1978 onwards.

The Jesuit Conference of South Asia (JCSA) came out with a trend-setting Statement on Formation for Mission in October 1989 known as ‘The Kathmandu Statement’. The Statement was seen as South-Asianizing of GCs 32 & 33. It highlighted certain important aspects of our mission, i.e. contextualized mission, building human communities, commitment to structural change and prophetic witness in action. This called for the need for review and reorientation of Formation.  Our mission calls for men of a pioneering spirit, men ready to take risks for the sake of the kingdom, men who can make our institutions innovative and responsive to changing situations, men who exemplify the prophetic dimension so evident in the early Society, universal in outlook, yet rooted in their culture, committed to serious study and striving for the Magis, conscious of the need for continuing formation.

In order to make formation structures and practices truly effective in forming the kind of men, a Formation Review Commission (FRC) in 1990 presented two key concepts Method and Content as central to the Assistancy’s vision of formation. The FRC delineated some principles of Experience-based Pedagogy like formation in mission, experience-based teaching, close accompaniment of the formees and responsibility of the formees in their own formation.

With a view towards better serving our universal mission, Fr. General on the recommendation of GC 35 has initiated in 2011 a process of renewal of Provinces and Province structures for greater apostolic effectiveness in today’s context. The South Asian Assistancy has initiated the process of restructuring. In the context of restructuring, reorientation of formation is also one important component.

In order to reorient the formation which will help the formees to face a new context challenged by new frontiers, the following perspectives need to be gradually incorporated and deepened into the different stages of formation.

a) Universal Mission: As we live in a transnational world with a growing consciousness of the interdependence of all people, serving Christ’s mission today means paying special attention to its global context. This requires us to act as a universal body with a universal mission, realizing at the same time the radical diversity of our situations (GC 35, D.2, no.20). Availability to this universal mission has to be inculcated in formation, from the novitiate onwards. That we join the Society and not a province, needs to be reiterated.

b) Integral Formation:  The aim of formation is a personal integration of all the various dimensions that go into the making of a Jesuit. The personal, psychological, spiritual, communitarian, academic and apostolic aspects of the formees need to be integrated in order to help them become integrated Jesuits. This will help them see their human person as a connected being and help them grow as holistic individuals.

c) Spiritual Depth: Fr. Adolfo Nicolas refers to the ‘globalization of superficiality’ as one of the negative impacts of globalization, which affects profoundly thousands of youth entrusted to us.  Superficiality has crept into our spiritual life and so the ‘men of virtues’ in the Society, as envisaged by St. Ignatius, are dwindling. Along with living the biblical faith, the formees should be helped to become profoundly familiar with the Jesuit sources of spirituality at all stages of formation and to live the spirit and charism of the Society.

d) Intellectual Depth: Jesuits are called upon to do ‘learned ministry’. The long tradition of the involvement of the Society in the intellectual apostolate forms part of our religious identity. The challenging context of today confronts us with multiple problems, struggles and issues which require openness to intellectual reflection. The globalization of superficiality has started corroding the intellectual tradition of the formees and they need to be helped from the beginning of formation to enter the intellectual dimension which is part of all our ministries. To inculcate spiritual and intellectual depth in our formees, the four dimensions of formation, i.e. Context, Content, Competency and Charism must be integrated into all the stages of formation (Adolfo Nicolas, “Intellectual Formation of our Men during their course of Studies,” 3 March, 2014).

e) Formation in and for Mission: As formation needs to take place in the context of mission, the FRC proposed a number of creative strategies and contextual programmes for our formation. This was meant to enable the formees to acquire experience-based knowledge, coupled with rigorous reflection on praxis and perceptive spiritual discernment. With a study on the gains and limitations of this formation in mission, renewed efforts and programmes must be introduced or strengthened to prepare our men in and for mission.

f) Competency and Creativity: Ministerial competency is the third dimension of formation according to Fr. Adolfo Nicolas. Our formation should also help our formees to become creative and innovative in their future ministries. Training in ministerial competencies in the different stages of formation needs to be imparted. We need to place our men in situations which will trigger their creativity and capacity for innovation.

g) Collaboration: GC 35 has renewed our commitment to apostolic collaboration. (GC 35, D.6, no.2). The mission cannot be efficaciously carried out without collaboration with the laity, people of other faiths and cultures, men and women of good will. It is strongly recommended that from the earliest stages of Jesuit formation and throughout our lives as Jesuits, training in collaboration must be experiential. Formees need to develop maturity, interior freedom, teamwork skills, interpersonal and public relations skills to become effective collaborators in mission.

h) Ecology: Pope Francis’ Encyclical on “Laudato Si – Care for Our Common Home” is a timely and much-needed call and response to the escalating ecological crisis. The call of GC 35 to reconciliation with creation invites Jesuits and those who share our mission to show ever more effective ecological solidarity in our spiritual, communal and apostolic lives. The ecological concerns of the Church and the Society should enter into our formation so as to prepare men who are eco-sensitive and eco-active.

h) Gender Sensitivity: Our solidarity with women as collaborators in the mission of the Reign of God is considered integral to our mission (GC 34, D.14, no.16). It also has a universal dimension in that it involves men and women everywhere, cutting across barriers of class and culture. Our formees need to be sensitized regarding gender justice and equality so that they cultivate a healthy, mature and dignified interaction with women in mission.

i) Our Way of Proceeding: The characteristics of our way of proceeding were born in the life of St. Ignatius and shared by his first companions. Certain attitudes, values and patterns of behaviour form the Jesuit way of proceeding. Formees need to be helped to follow the Jesuit way of proceeding as expressed in experiencing deep personal love for Jesus Christ, becoming contemplative in action, solidarity with those most in need, partnership with others, in being men of learned ministry, men sent, always available for new Missions, ever searching spirit for the Magis (GC 34, D.26, nos.1-29).

Responding to the Kairos Moment Today

As we have spanned through the formation scenario in the South Asian Assistancy, we can underscore one important characteristic of Jesuit formation as one of ongoing and not static and stagnated. It keeps on making serious and sincere attempts to make formation incorporate the signs of the times and respond to the needs of the mission at large.

In the light and guidance of GC documents, Inculturation Commission Review, JCSA’s Kathmandu Statement, Formation Review Commission, Letters of Frs. General, several changes in the structures and programmes of formation have been ushered in to revamp our formation more personalized and contextualized. Moreover we cannot lose sight of the blocks and hurdles we encounter in the formation scenario, i.e. superficiality, mediocrity, lack of spiritual and intellectual depth, improper use and undue dependence on the electronic media, decreasing familiarity with the Ignatian spirituality and sources, lack of continual follow-up and accompaniment of the formees from one stage to another, lack of well-trained formators in pre-novitiate and Juniorate specially, inadequate number of well-trained spiritual directors, etc. There are attempts made to address the above-mentioned issues and concerns.

More needed and appropriate changes will be brought to formation in the context of the restructuring of the provinces and Assistancy. We look forward to the guidance and directions GC 36 will offer us. The Phesama Statement of JCSA issued in 2014 invites us to recognize and respond to the Kairos moment today: “We recognize the "kairos" in the Church, in the style and ministry of Pope Francis, in the paschal joy experienced by our companions at the bicentenary celebrations of the Restoration of the Society and in the imminent convocation of GC 36”. Revisiting our formation programme in order to instil in our men a greater passion for Christ and His mission, and to become learned, and skilled in ministries, imbued with the spirit of eco-consciousness, gender-sensitivity, collaboration and dialogue will be the next step in our on-going formation. The formation in the Assistancy continues to be personalized, integrated, accompanied and transformative with spiritual, social and intellectual depth inspired by the spirit of Magis for the Greater Glory of God.