Being Synodal in Formation

Being Synodal in Formation

February 29, 2024

I was invited by the leadership of the Association of Women Formators of the Philippines (AWFP) to reflect on the theme: Being Synodal in Formation, on the occasion of their 40th National Convention, at St. Paul Renewal Center, in Alfonso, Cavite, on Feb. 7, 2024. Below are some key points of my sharing. 

A synodal formation treats the formands as friends and involves them in the decision-making processes.   Friendship can be a good model of religious formation in a synodal Church. Jesus’ self-gift was an act of friendship, “I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends…” (Jn 15:15). The Lord demonstrated to His disciples that genuine service is rooted in the love of friendship where we are fully conscious of our being co-equal. 

In a synodal formation, all become members of the same family, each gifted differently, with equal opportunities to grow. There is no place for exclusion, segregation or discrimination. The work of formation is the fruit of the collaboration between those responsible for formation and their disciples. It should not be a unidirectional or top-bottom approach. There is a need to empower the formands and allow them to be part of the discernment process. 

The FABC synthesis paper on synodal formation emphasizes a Christ-centered and learner-centered formation for both formators and formands. Thus, the first requirement of being synodal in formation is to be convinced that both the formators and the formands play an important role in formation work. In this type of process, the formators and formands need to walk together. 

Clericalism is the worst enemy of a synodal Church. As such, it needs to be challenged from the earliest stages of formation. But one does not need to be a cleric to be clerical. Clericalism is an aristocracy or elitism that is present in other forms of life (cf. Pope Francis, The Strength of Vocation). Religious who live with the attitude of segregation, with their nose up in the air are also “clerical” in the wider sense of the word. 

A synodal formation feels and acts with the Church.   Formation is carried on in communion with the Church. It is, therefore, necessary to develop among religious “a manner of thinking” not only “with” but, as St. Ignatius of Loyola also says, “within”, the Church. This sense of the Church consists in being aware that one belongs to a people on a journey. 

  Pope Francis uses the term “ecclesial insertion”. We cannot go parallel with the Church because consecrated life is born in the womb of the Church. We must look at the past with gratitude, but not as if we were looking at a museum piece, as an artifact. Our founders are holy people, but they are not Jesus Christ. They have opened us to a great path to follow. They are our roots and to go to our roots is to drink from there, as in a fountain, and to be able to respond to them adequately. 

A synodal formation takes place in a synodal community.   Formation depends to a great extent on the quality of the community. Modeling is the best way to form the formands. A community is formative to the extent that it permits each one of its numbers to grow in fidelity to the Lord according to the charism of her institute. The positive influence of a joyful veteran missionary, aging gracefully, is worth more than all our classes on evangelical counsels combined. We call them saints-next-door in our religious houses. 

The formation community can also refer to the world outside our religious community, especially the poor in our apostolate areas. They are not only recipients of our charitable works. They are our true evangelizers. Formation is nothing but for mission. If not integrated with mission, it will be disoriented. 

A synodal formation gives importance to ongoing formation.  Formation is a continuous journey of conversion. Formators can be result-oriented, instead of being patient and discerning. Ideally, the role of formators is not to look for some immediate result, but to form progressively the candidates. For this, formators should be sufficiently prepared so as not to be deceived or to deceive regarding a presumed consistency and maturity of the formand. As Fr. Amadeo Cencini observes, “We are called to remain novices throughout life; to mature progressively in us the attitude of the disciple, always listening to the teacher, and of the pilgrim, always following in the right direction.” Indeed, formation never ends. To follow Christ means that one is always on the road. 

Ongoing formation, however, is also applicable to formators. Major Superiors should offer the formators programs and opportunities which assure the necessary theological and pedagogical formation, spiritual formation, competence in the human sciences, and specific training for the tasks to be carried out on the journey of formation. The Post-Synodal Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, reminds us of the importance of the training of suitable directors of formation, who will fulfill their task in a spirit of communion with the whole Church (VC 66). 

A synodal formation acknowledges the importance of collaboration with other congregations.  A concrete expression of collaboration and solidarity among religious families is the initiative, now spread in various contexts, of creating inter-institute centers of formation and common formation programs for the various stages of initial and ongoing formation, especially where individual institutes do not have sufficient means to offer a complete formation to their members. (cf. CICLSAL, Inter-Institute Collaboration for Formation, nn. 7 ff.)

St. Pope John Paul II spoke about this collaboration in an audience granted to the International Union of Superiors General, saying, “The essential thing is that on the part of religious families, there should be absolute cooperation in forming their members in a total, sincere and joyous love for Jesus Christ, who is deeply known, followed and obeyed”. (St. PJP II, Address to UISG, 18 May 1995)*


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