Formation and Accompaniment of Formators

In this talk I am not dealing with our academic training of priest and religious. Many efforts have been put into that to produce a very high standard of academic work.
However, I would like to refer to the Vatican II document on priestly formation where it clearly states that all seminary staff should take part in courses of special institutes of a pedagogical nature which would prepare them better for their work. Reading the document, I felt the type of institute they were thinking of, did not exist, and when Cardinal Hume as my boss mentioned to me: “Do something different from what is being done,” I founded the Institute of St. Anselm under his auspices with a very different approach, with stress on the development of the leadership and formation personality. Our courses became process-orientated to help people to personalize what they have learnt in their academic subjects.
I am focusing, this morning, on the people who are specially appointed to be formators in seminaries and religious formation. My conviction is that we need to invest more personnel with better and longer formation for those people who are involved in the most delicate work of accompanying students and candidates. We would need more qualified staff of this nature who are able to accompany their students on their bio-psycho-spiritual journey on a deep level. That investment will pay off through more relational and more effective priests and religious who are better equipped to bring about a deep renewal of our congregations and church by fostering deep and authentic faith in those entrusted to them.
Supervision is a common practice in the therapeutic world. The church prefers the term of accompaniment. Accompanying formators by a properly trained person will improve the quality of formation work. A person who accompanies a formator needs to have much more experience in the field of accompanying people. As I explain what formation means in 2022, it becomes clearer what kind of experience such a person needs to have.
For several decades we have reflected what our formation of priests and religious should be like. Many good suggestions were mentioned. I just mention some of them. There needs to be a focus on sexual and emotional development. It has to be more pastoral and practical. Relationships should be at the centre of formation. Candidates and students need to be trained to be more responsible with money, use of time, telephones and general behaviour. There is a great need to help them to develop a deep spirituality.
In these discussions, the focus was very much on personal formation. After the Synod on priestly formation, a bishop who had taken part in the Synod came on our course and told me: “Every day we were asking the question who will train the formators. Here I see you are doing exactly that.” Formation and vocation work are priorities for the church and every religious congregation. I am convinced that any money spent to train formators, vocation directors and leaders is the best investment for the church and society. Renewal in the church and in society can only come about by personal renewal of individuals. I started with the renewal of leaders and formators.
Primary formation and ongoing formation are the best places to achieve renewal. Both need essential changes. We have focused in our formation mainly on content, input. Now we need to focus in addition to that on process, on personalizing the input. That is where redemption, maturing and growth come about. Knowledge is one essential aspect, however applying this to our lives is the second essential aspect which needs much more attention than we have given it.

I have taught people process work and deep process work for many years now. One of my principles is that what I teach I try to practice myself. Lots of what I teach comes from my personal experience. Formators need to go through a process of growth and renewal. Obviously, Jesus wants us to have a full life. The only way to participate fully in our lives is to use our bodies, brains, feelings, intuition, awareness, thoughts, our spiritual faculties and our unconscious, by using tools to bring it to consciousness, in other words all our faculties-mind, body, and spirit.

How many faculties of the above list have been developed in our priestly and religious formation? A too strong emphasis on thinking and leading with our brain has led to a disembodiment of our knowing. This led to a distortion of our knowledge. It also led to an inability to receive and understand a large portion of information that was actually available to us. We are not operating on all cylinders. We are not using a vast amount of the information and knowledge of which we are capable.

What is this new formation all about?

It is about our inner process. In our formation we have strongly focused on information, on content. Obviously, that was important and is still important. However, most people are not able to translate that content into their own personal lives. They learn to know what they should do, but they do not know ‘how’ to do it, ‘how’ to personalise the knowledge they have learned. This new approach does not replace what has been done so far, but adds on something which is only being done embryonically, if at all, in the formation most of us experienced.

In our old paradigm which is based on physics and which is part of our scientific thinking, because of its very nature we become alienated from ourselves, from others, from the environment and from God, self-centered, materialistic, mechanistic, agnostic or atheistic, and static in our thinking. The old paradigm has brought many good things, the whole technological development, but at the same time due to many factors we have lost essential aspects of who we are as human beings and have become directionless.

The new paradigm and new formation are essentially process-orientated. “Panta rei”. Everything is in flow. We are in process; we are not static. The new formation is process-orientated. People learn how to live in the present moment and how-to live-in process in daily life. They become aware of their emotions, their sexuality, their beliefs, their needs, their values. They learn to challenge themselves to live according to their Christian values by facing their lived values, unredeemed emotions, unredeemed belief systems and need systems, and replacing them with Christian values, redeemed emotions, redeemed beliefs and needs. They also learn to deal with deep processes which pop up in all kind of forms like hurts, unforgiveness, loss experiences and many other unredeemed emotions.

Living in process reconnects us with self, others, the environment and God. Without these connections, we cannot live a wholistic life, to which God has called us. “I have come so that you may have life abundantly”. The new formation teaches us how-to live-in process and how to teach others to live in their process. It will take time to achieve this because of the deep processes that will come up and need to be worked through and because we all come from a society of the physical paradigm which is not suitable for psychology and theology.
We are all influenced by the effects of the old paradigm. It is not surprising that many people have given up their faith, because it is alien to the values of the old paradigm: money, power, control and matter. These values are constantly put before us. We understand now that young people find it difficult to see any meaning in religious life or even priesthood. Therefore, they need accompaniment to find the values of the Gospel meaningful to lead a fulfilled life. For this to achieve, the person who accompanies them needs to be happy and needs to express that happiness in his/her whole being. They may be happy in themselves, but their non-verbal communication may not show that.

The essential aspect of the new formation is that it reconnects us with the great mystery of the blessed Trinity as our model, inspiration and strength. It leads us into the eternal process of the self-giving love of God the Father to the Son in the Holy Spirit. Through baptism we are taken into the community life of the Trinity and through the frequent participation in the Eucharist we slowly become divinized and healed from our woundedness. In this way, at the end of time, Christ will reign over everything and everybody and hand his kingdom over to God the Father.

The new formation shows us in detail how this process needs to unfold by dealing with our emotions, sexuality, values, wounds, beliefs and needs. At the same time, it clearly explains who is suitable and who is not suitable for religious life and priesthood. If students or candidates do not want to enter this process, they are not suitable for religious life or priesthood, because they do not want to become part of the trinitarian community.

Why do leaders and formators need to be properly trained in this new formation?

Obviously, if we want a deep renewal in the church and society, it must start with the leaders and formators, to be effective. A few people have gone through this process in spite of the old paradigm and its values. Most people, however, need to find the values of the Christian faith as worthwhile to spend all one’s energy for building up God’s kingdom in themselves and others. They have taken in the values of society in which they grew up. They need to discover the new, true Christian values. This takes time and they need capable and properly trained people to accompany them in their bio-psycho-spiritual journey towards union with God.

Moreover, there is a great lack of maturity in our younger generation due to the exposure to so many stimuli which take time to digest. However, that time is not available, because new information reaches them constantly through their phones and computers.
Good, solid Christian families have become a rarity. In former times, solid faith foundations were established in the family prayer life and their Christian values, attitudes acquired in the family and lively parish celebrations.
Due to many circumstances people in our time, particularly because of family breakdown and lately because of corona virus have undergone deep wounds, which are in need of healing.
Candidates for priestly and religious life need much more accompaniment, which leads to bio-psycho-spiritual healing.
All kinds and forms of addictive behaviour such as the perpetual use of phones have become part of people’s life. Most people are not even aware of their addictions. This makes living in the presence of God difficult. It makes it impossible to acquire deep faith which is necessary for priestly and religious vocations. Another addiction is money which often leads to monetary abuse.
Now I go into details of why we need to train our leaders and formators properly. These are just a few general statements.

Young people especially, but people in general need role models. We see this particularly in sports.
When I was president of the Missionary Institute London, an international training centre for missionaries of seven missionary societies, not seldom students said to me: “I don’t want to become a priest like this lecturer”. If we want more religious and priestly vocations, we have to invest the best members in formation. Formation in our time is much more demanding than decades before. They need to be good in establishing healthy relationships and they need to have acquired a deep spirituality.

1. To learn to live in process and to do
deep process work are new skills which
we need to learn, which were not part of
our own formation.
Present leaders and formators could acquire these two skills through workshops which could be arranged according to demands. For future leaders and formators the Institute of St. Anselm has already developed these training programs. They are based on my personality model which is wholistic and in which the spiritual formation is right at the centre of the process. I have always tried to develop the leadership and formation personality in my programs starting with input on the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. These lectures are practical, so that one can easily apply the input to one’s personal life. In fact, this first lecture contains all the other elements of the program in embryonic form.
At the centre of it is the self-giving love of God, particularly shown in the creation, incarnation and in the self-giving of Jesus on the cross and Eucharist. God’s love is the model for our love. God’s self-giving is the model for our self-giving.
Through living daily in process and doing deep process work we learn the self-giving love. We no longer remain products of the old paradigm which fostered self-centeredness and individualism. The process work helps us to acquire the Christian values which we know from Sacred Scripture. Since we live under the strong pressure of the old paradigm, living in daily process is a necessity to survive as authentic Christians.
In this daily living process, we connect with the Blessed Trinity which lives in us and we work together with the Holy Spirit to heal and divinize our frail and wounded human nature. To do this daily gives our life much purpose and enthusiasm. I enjoy every day in spite of all restrictions and many inconveniences. Life is exciting and a great gift from God. I become more enthusiastic every day, in spite of my aging process.
Life is so excitable, because I discover new things of my personal history nearly every day. This gives me a chance to integrate my past life with my present life and make sure that past negative experiences are properly worked through and become assets for my future Life. In this way my life becomes richer every day. This is what living in process and doing deep inner process work does to me. I experience more and more God’s guidance and illuminations in my life. Leaders and formators need to be enthusiastic and full of life and joy. Through this process work anybody can achieve that, because it brings us in deep contact with God on a daily basis by establishing more and more God’s kingdom in ourselves.

2. We need a clear vision for our
formation in our time. Pope Francis has
provided us with this new vision in his
simple statements of “smelling the
I interpret “smelling the ship” with being close to the people entrusted to our care. For many priests and religious this request to be close to those entrusted to them is very difficult. They may be shy or are afraid of men or women or authority figures. Thus, their ministry suffers. From my experience over many years, these emotions of shyness and fear are very common. As we help them to deal with their shyness or fear, they start enjoying human relationships with people of whom they had been afraid before.
It is a great pity that this help was not given to them during the years of formation. Many years of their ministry were much less effective than they could have been, if they would have had an effective formation. This is what they say to me often, after they have worked through certain woundedness from childhood. We need to be able to enjoy the company of those who are entrusted to us and ‘smell’ them.
Many people have authority problems. They are afraid of authority and act this out with their authority figures in the parish and often with their bishops. This could have been worked through during the years of formation. These authority problems cause a lot of waste of energy, which could be used for positive purposes. Parishioners often tolerate such priests because they are priests, however, they are not models of a Christian way of relating. Many of these people are not even aware that there is a problem on their part, but blame the parishioners or the authorities.

3.I was pleased to read on the 10 of May 2021 in the interview with Cardinal Stella:
“A seminary is a “laboratory” where not only the intellect is formed, but especially the heart, every fibre of the person that is human prior to being Christian, of men called to become pastors of souls.”
Frequently in my lectures I have said “this course is a “laboratory”. I like the stress on the heart. Very often the emotional formation is still very much neglected. It is not enough to give academic lectures on emotions. The first step with dealing with emotions is to help people to become aware of their emotions. Many people are not aware of their emotions. Two years ago, a participant asked me: “What are emotions?” He was destined to be in charge of formation. He said that he had never heard of emotions.

4.Leaders and formators need to be able to help those entrusted to them to be able to forgive and to be reconciled which is a central aspect of Christian living.
Sticking to our own opinion is just another addiction and the cause of many conflicts. Conflicts are unavoidable and part of community life, leadership and formation. Many conflicts arise from intra-psychic conflicts. The more leaders deal with their own intra-psychic conflict the fewer conflicts they will encounter in interpersonal relationship.
Leaders and formators need to be experts in forgiving and helping others to forgive the hurts which are or were inflicted upon them. Many priests and religious who have been hurt carry these wounds for years and years. Every Christian would need to become an expert in forgiving. There is a tremendous need to teach and model for people how to forgive. Jesus is our model and has taught us that we need to forgive again and again. There is a difference between forgiving as an intention and emotional forgiveness. Leaders and formators need to be taught to forgive emotionally. That is true forgiveness.
Leaders and formators need to learn to forgive and to be reconciled where possible. Hot emotions will be thrown at them and therefore, they need to become emotionally robust. They need to learn to deal with their emotions constructively. They need to learn to be proactive and not reactive.

5.In the last decades we became familiar not only with IQ, but also with EQ and with SQ.
EQ or emotional intelligence was very much introduced into the business world, because they became aware that people with a high IQ are not as effective as people with a high EQ. Later SQ (spiritual intelligence) came into the picture. What do we develop in our formation programs? In most programs we still develop mainly IQ and some SQ. IQ is extremely important for universities and therefore needs to be fostered for further developments on all levels.
For practical life EQ development is essential together with SQ. SQ gives us the direction in which to move in our personal and daily living situations. SQ can lack the “groundedness” which we need in our daily living. EQ development provides us with these insights. In our formation we are still a long way off from finding the right balance between the three types of intelligences to produce the best formation for our candidates to priesthood and religious life.
My experience is that many have acquired a high IQ. But are lacking in EQ and applied SQ. Therefore, wisely the document on priestly formation mentions that seminary staff should go to Institutes (like St. Anselm’s) to acquire more EQ and even practical SQ.

6.A skill which is essential for leader and formators is “caring confrontation”.
It sounds very simple and easy. That is what I thought, too, until I discovered that people who I thought could do it, were completely unable to do it, because they had serious problems with any confrontation. On the other hand, some people did it in a way which was anything else but caring. These are the two extremes. Some people need a lot of time to work through their problems, their fears with confrontation. Others need to work through their anger which goes into confrontation and makes confrontation a destructive process.
Caring confrontation is the tool for psycho-spiritual growth. One of the main purposes of formation and leadership is to help people in their psycho-spiritual journey towards union with God, which is the main purpose of every human being whether they know it or not, but particularly of priests and religious.

7.Leaders and formators need to have a good amount of self-awareness.
What is going on in myself at this moment? What are my thoughts? What are my expectations? What are my feelings? Are they positive or negative? Am I angry, disappointed, fearful? How do these emotions affect what I am going to do? How does it affect my decisions which I have to make today? How does it affect my relationships with people?
Am I optimistic about the future of my congregation? Am I overworked? Am I in too much stress? How can I deal with these situations? Am I constantly irritated? What do I do about that? Am I a Christian example to the people entrusted to me? What is happening to my faith and prayer Life? Have I got a deep relationship with Christ? Do I keep on fostering it in spite of my workload? What are my expectations of my students? Are these expectations reasonable? Are they too high? These are just somethings of which I need to be aware and do something about it, if I see it is necessary or good for the benefit of those entrusted to me or even for my benefit.
Awareness is the first step of change and growth. The awareness how we come across to others may invite us to change our behaviour. Often others notice our negative behaviour and can give us feedback, if we elicit it.
Living in the present moment, living in the presence of God, living in process will help us enormously to become aware of what is going on in us.

8.Leaders and formators need deep faith.
Without deep faith we cannot enjoy our ministry as leaders and formators. It is essential that we enjoy our ministry. Without joy our ministry is dead. Deep faith gives tremendous meaning to our life. We all need to have meaning in our lives. Particularly, priests and religious have reason to search for deep meaning in their ministry.
Our society needs help to become reconnected with God. Many people are alienated from God. To achieve this, they need to be reconnected with their bodies, their feelings, their deepest values. This is healing work which happens when people learn to live in process. It happens through establishing a living relationship with God and healthy relationships with people.
Deep faith is a great gift from God, but also a responsibility to share this gift with others who may be struggling or even despair, who have not had the opportunity to develop such deep faith.

9.Leaders and formators need great confidence.
This confidence will come out of deep faith and working to develop a healthy self-esteem. Many people lack a healthy self-esteem due to negative experiences in childhood. Often, I have seen how some people grew enormously into a healthy self-confidence during the course. If I have a deep faith and see that as an asset for my living, this experience will provide the confidence to share it with the people entrusted to me. People pick up very quickly whether a leader or formator is confident. If they are not, some people take advantage and abuse such a formator or leader who then turns often into an authoritarian leader and formator.

10.Leaders and formators need to be aware of the difference of the values of our society and the Christian values.
We live in a multicultural, secularized world and are constantly influenced by the values of our society which partly are opposed to our Christian values. Therefore, leaders and formators need to be skilled to do value clarification for themselves and those entrusted to them. How can they live a Christian life, if their values are much the same as the values of society? How can they bear witness to the Risen Lord?
We have an enormous task in Europe and other countries to proclaim the values of the Risen Lord and bring about a necessary renewal of the church and slowly of society. One way to achieve this is to train our leaders and formators in a thorough and personalized way. They need to become mystics in action.
What about charity? Are our religious communities built on charity or the values of society-I am important; I want to be the centre of community; I need to be consulted in every change which takes place in community. Who is at the centre of our religious communities? Who is at the centre of our parishes? Who is at the centre of our dioceses? Where is Christ in all this? Is it love that truly motivates us in our behaviours? Do we follow the path of Christ or of our society?
Value clarification is essential for each Christian, for each priest and religious. What are the values which I profess and what are the values by which I live? Are they the same?

11.Leaders and formators need to have
a solid commitment to renewal of
themselves, their congregation or
diocese and the church and society
as a whole.
Much contamination of our psyches and souls has taken place over the last decades in our society. We priest and religious and our candidates for priesthood and religious life are part of that contamination. We all need healing. Prayer alone will not achieve that. We need to cooperate with the healing work of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. We know this from the Bible, but do we really relate to the indwelling Trinity or is it just a doctrine we know about?
Renewal can only be achieved if many individuals take it seriously to follow Christ on a daily basis and help others to do the same. In that process they will experience what Christ has promised us: “My burden is light”, but also “take up your cross”. This daily work of building up God’s kingdom in us on a daily basis makes each day precious and meaningful.
This renewal work involves particularly our emotions. It means learning to use our emotions constructively. In our courses we spend much time to teach students to do this exciting work. I cannot describe the whole renewal work in this talk. My purpose of this talk is to show us how important it is to train leaders and formators according to this new method by giving much attention to our emotions and good, constructive communication.

12.Much of the work of formators and leaders will be accompaniment.
This work demands adequate training in living in process and deep process work besides acquiring helping skill. It often means accompanying them in their psycho-spiritual journey which requires great understanding of what this psycho-spiritual journey is. It is not just prayer and meditation. It often means removing obstacles in this process such as hurts, unforgiveness, bitterness, authority problems, unfinished loss experiences and many more.
To accompany people, we need to be very much aware of our own process. If we are not aware of what is going on inside us, we might become abusive and we would not even know that we are abusive. We would have no chance to remedy this situation. Abusive behaviour is very common. Not all abusive behaviour is a crime. All abusive behaviour is damaging ourselves -our psyches, souls-and others towards whom it is directed. This can be verbal abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, monetary abuse, or spiritual abuse. For example, are politicians aware of their monetary abuse by allowing firms to charge highly excessive prices for testing corona virus before flights?
As leaders and formators we need to be knowledgeable and observant to detect it and deal with it. Don’t think for a moment that you do not belong to this category of abusers. During last year’s course I noticed that I had been abusive to a participant in my reply to a passive aggressive statement he made. When I had become aware, I apologized to him. He, too, had been abusive to me in his statement, but was not aware of it. This is a whole area in which we all can grow and become better Christians and build up God’s kingdom of justice and peace in ourselves and others.
All passive aggressive behaviour is abusive. However, most of it is unconscious. It is an area with which a leader and formator would need to be familiar. Pope Francis has mentioned several times the damaging effect of gossip. How common is it in our communities? What do we do in our formation to help candidates to become aware of it and avoid it? It is very much against charity. Cynicism, sarcasm, coming late, forgetting things, gossip are just a few forms of passive aggressive behaviour. In our accompaniment we can help those entrusted to us, to become aware, so that they can work on themselves to avoid this type of destructive behaviour.

These are just some areas of the new formation in which we need to become experts as leaders and formators if we want to bring about a transformation in our personal life and in the life of people entrusted to us.

(Gift from Orbis Books to Sedos Library)

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