- Who we are
- Where we work
- Youth services
- News and Media
- Ways to Help
WHAT IS SALESIAN FORMATION?
Formation is the joyful acceptance of the gift of one’s vocation and its actualization at every moment of one’s life and in every situation. Formation is a grace of the Spirit, a personal attitude, an education for life. A Seminary is an institution where young people who are training to be priests/religious live in an atmosphere that is helpful to growth of the total person - in the emotional, social, intellectual, moral and spiritual dimensions. “The first Salesians,” our Constitutions say, “found their sure guide in Don Bosco. Living at the very heart of his community in action, they learned to model their own lives on his.”
Salesian formation means identifying oneself with the vocation which the Spirit has raised up through Don Bosco, possessing his ability to share it with others, and drawing inspiration from his attitude and method of formation. Don Bosco lived this vocation joyfully, aware that the gift he had received was to be communicated to others. He was able at every moment to evoke participation and sharing in responsibility. What was true for Don Bosco is true for every Salesian: when the living out of one’s vocation is identified with one’s actual journey through life, it becomes the place of encounter between God’s initiative and human endeavour. And again, for Don Bosco as well as for every Salesian, one’s personal vocation is closely linked with that of the community, itself the bearer of the charism and responsible for the mission. Don Bosco the Founder wanted a community of consecrated persons at the centre of his work, persons who would dedicate their lives entirely as educators and missionaries of the young, especially the poorest, living in fraternal and apostolic communities, and following Jesus in his obedience, poverty and chastity.
Conscious of his responsibility for the charism the Lord had entrusted to him, Don Bosco devoted himself to the formation of his first sons as his top priority. “One cannot think of Don Bosco as a Founder without at the same time thinking of him as Educator.” Formation was his “constant preoccupation and greatest endeavour, from the time of the Oratory when he chose from among his boys those who gave hope of eventually remaining with him, until the last years of his life when his insistent recommendation to Provincials, Rectors and all Salesians was to work earnestly for vocations and their formation.
JESUS AND HIS FORMATIVE PROCESS
Every believer of Jesus is his disciple and not just the ordained ones! But when Jesus initiated the Mission of establishing the Kingdom of God, and in order to accomplish His Mission, he took upon Himself the task of calling and training his disciples, to conscientiously form these men so that they would continue this mission after him, a task which the Church continues even to this day. Jesus played a vital role in the preparation of these men for the task ahead of them. In all the four Gospels, we see Jesus surrounded constantly by his disciples with whom he had a special relationship. He had great trust in them, although they were of simple and humble origins. He made these simple men his disciples and apostles in spite of their initial failures and frustrations.
Jesus called eleven ordinary fishermen and a tax collector. Let me briefly highlight some of the important features of the process adopted by Jesus in giving formation to his disciples.
Presence with Jesus
The physical presence of a master with his pupils is vital for formation. Their close presence with Jesus enabled them to observe every word and deed and learn from him directly. In this way the disciples became aware of the true identity of Jesus and how they should imitate him in their mission later.
Participation in Jesus’s Ministry
In some of his mission initiatives, he involved the disciples too. The miracles of the loaves tell us that they were fully involved in the event.
Experimenting in His Mission
Proclamation of the Good News to people, accompanied with deeds of healing and exorcism were the essential factor such a mission. So, Jesus gave a tentative run for such a mission by sending them out two by two.
Instruction by Jesus
Proclamation of the message of the Kingdom by word of mouth has been an essential feature of the mission of Jesus. Some of his popular instructions have been the sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7), the Seed parables (Mk 4 and Mt 13), parables of compassion (Lk 15). Although Jesus gave general instructions, he gave some special lessons to his own disciples like the explanation for the parable of the sower.
Discernment needed by disciples
The most important aspect of discipleship is that the disciple should know the Master and all his deeper sentiments and attitudes apart from his external teachings. Eventually, they would learn and even witness to the world that Jesus Christ was the expected Messiah!
Newness in Discipleship
Jesus’ disciples should have their normal happy nourishment so long as Jesus was with them. The presence of Jesus with the disciples symbolizes the gratifying presence of a bridegroom with the bride. It is only in his absence they will be expected to go through a life of suffering and want.
THE CHURCH AND RELIGIOUS FORMATION
(Cf. Ratio Fundamentalis)
For the Church a formation that is of high quality and relevant to the times is the key to renewal and the vitality of vocations. While proposing it as a strategic priority and a constant commitment, the Church draws attention to the importance of certain elements: a clear identity with regard to vocation and charism, a formation that is personal and at the same time shared with others, the rapidly evolving human and cultural context and an ongoing formation that keeps alive one’s enthusiasm and fidelity in regard to one’s vocation. Several recent documents offer criteria, guidelines and instructions for formation. Among them are the following: Vita Consecrata, Potissimum institutioni (Directives on Formation in Religious Institutes), Inter-Institute Collaboration for Formation,Pastores Dabo Vobis, Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis (Basic Programme of Priestly Formation), and Directives on the Preparation of Educators for Seminaries.
THE ROLE OF THE COMMUNITY IN FORMATION
Don Bosco was not one to work all alone by himself; he sought the involvement of others and fostered collaboration and the sharing of responsibility. He was clearly aware that his vocation was meant to be shared and passed on to others. The community aspect is therefore one of the most distinguishing marks of Salesian identity. The Salesian is called to live with brothers who are consecrated like him in order to work together with them for God’s Kingdom among the young. “To live and work together,” our Constitutions say, “is for us Salesians a fundamental requirement and a sure way of fulfilling our vocation.”
In a spirit of faith and with friendly support the Salesian lives the family spirit in his community, contributing day by day to the growth of communion among all the members. Convinced that the mission is entrusted to the community, he commits himself to work together with his confreres according to an overall plan and a joint strategy. In his community prayer he rejoices in the presence of the Lord and shares his spiritual experience with others. Thus, every Salesian in the community is a Formator and a Formee and strives always to fulfil both these functions more efficiently day by day. Don Bosco’s vocation developed in such a way that it became a shared vocation, a joint mission, an experience of holiness in a communion of gifts. In his letter, with the incipit Communis Vita, dated 19 March 2019, Pope Francis notes that “community life is an essential element of religious life”, and that religious cannot leave the common life without permission from their superior. According to the revised canons, religious who have been “illegitimately absent” from their religious house for a full twelve months are dismissed ipso facto from their Institutes. This new regulation will go into effect on 10 April 2019. Thus, we very clearly see the imperative status of the role of the community in the formation, life and mission of the individual religious.
SALESIAN FORMATION AND THE SALESIAN FAMILY
From the beginning of the Oratory there were secular priests and lay people, men and women, taking part in his apostolate in a family environment and having the same spirit and goals. Still others felt they were a part of the Oratory and gave a helping hand in different ways in the work for the young. In this way Don Bosco’s apostolic drive became the common undertaking of those who joined in his enterprises. His zeal for souls, his style of approach to the young, his method of education and his spirituality became the patrimony of a Family and of a vast Movement.
The Salesian cannot fully think about his vocation in the Church without reference to those who with him share in carrying out the Founder’s will. Through his profession he enters the Salesian Congregation and becomes part of the Salesian Family in which, together with the other members who are called to pursue different vocations, he shares the spirit and mission proper to Don Bosco’s charism, and the striving for fidelity through formation in common. He takes on the responsibility “to preserve unity of spirit and to foster dialogue and fraternal collaboration for mutual enrichment and greater apostolic effectiveness”.
In the educative and pastoral community (EPC) the Salesian finds practical ways of expressing Salesian communion every day. That is where he shares the Salesian spirit, experiences the interdependence of vocations and roles, and carries out a programme of joint formation. Together with his Salesian community he fulfils his animating role by helping everyone to collaborate and share responsibility.
FORMATION AT THE SERVICE OF SALESIAN IDENTITY
The process of growth in one’s Salesian identity is the determining factor of the whole approach to formation. In other words, what distinguishes our formation - which cannot be generic – is our Salesian identity: it spells out the tasks and fundamental requirements. The Constitutions assert that “the religious and apostolic nature of the Salesian calling dictates the specific direction our formation must take”. To become a consecrated apostle like Don Bosco is the guiding principle of our process of formation.
It is through formation, in fact, that we achieve our identity as Salesians and acquire the maturity needed to live and work in conformity with the founding charism. Starting out from an initial state of enthusiasm for Don Bosco and his mission for youth, we arrive at a true conformity with Christ and a stronger identification with our Founder; we embrace the Constitutions as our Rule of life and develop a strong sense of belonging to the Congregation, to the provincial community and to the local community.
As a process of assimilating one’s identity therefore, formation is a lifelong task, a continuing process of being and becoming a Salesian in every phase of one’s life and of living every situation in a Salesian way. It is a response to a vocation that challenges us constantly. It is the responsibility of the Congregation and of each confrere. In the reality of every day the Salesian turns his identity of apostle of youth into a living experience.
FORMATION not FORMATTING
The goal of all formation is: learning to put Christ first in all things. This is very vital. Every confrere must cultivate a knowledge of, and a sense of belonging to, both, the Catholic Church and the Salesian Congregation. He must be ready for an ongoing formation that is reciprocal and carried out jointly and prepare himself for his responsibility as a future animator within the Salesian Family. Unlike the four stages of formation that takes place in different places and at different times, during the Initial Formation, Ongoing Formation actually involves all these stages taking place simultaneously for each one of us every day of our lives, in the community we live.
The Spiritual Formation of a Salesian is really the foundation of our life as a disciple of the Lord who desires to grow in holiness. All of us have been taught the foundations of the richness of our Catholic Tradition and Spirituality through the liturgy, the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours (morning and evening prayer). Other popular devotions and traditional practices of piety include the daily Meditation, Rosary, Stations of the Cross, Adoration, Spiritual Reading should also be encouraged in the community. Every Confrere will have a Spiritual Director and Confessor thus providing him with affirmation and support while at the same time challenging him and asking him to grow deeper in his own spiritual life as he discerns God’s will day after day in his life and work. The Rector will be available for the ‘Friendly Chat’ for all the members of the community and also serve as the Spiritual Director for confreres in initial formation.
I would like to think of ‘community’ as the best place of “Human Formation” for us all. It’s important that a consecrated Salesian is able to have good relationships with men and women of their own age, with their family, with their friends from before or work or school relationships and above all with their own confreresin every community they find themselves in with each passing year! Human Formation also means that we live a healthy life, we get enough rest, we exercise on a regular basis and when necessary other special needs are also taken care of by the community. Human formation is really concerned with someone’s growth as a healthy individual. It even includes the integration of human sexuality so that we are able to live as joyful, happy, fruitful and celibate Salesians. Obviously, the communityhelps us to pray and reflect upon how we can support each other in the church and in our ministry.
Most of us have already spent sufficient years in ecclesiastical or secular studies. Those in initial formation will also have to undergo these years of intellectual formation. All the time we spent reading and reflecting on various subjects in the past, really gives us a well-grounded understanding, in the present, of our Church tradition in all of its depth and wisdom. We need to remember, the habit of serious reading and reflection, needs to continue even today! All of us need to deepen our understanding of the Salesian spirit and acquire a serious and updated knowledge of the history, spirituality and pedagogical and pastoral patrimony proper to our charism. Particular attention must be given to a personal and community self-examination based on the Constitutions and Regulations, since they enshrine the spiritual riches of the traditions of the Salesians of Don Bosco and define the apostolic project of our Society.
Pastoral Formation is where someone’s being trained to the different ministries of the Church. Throughout our Salesian Formation and Mission, we are given different placements (Obedience) through our annual transfers and appointments. The Salesian Mission is so vast that most of us experience a variety of pastoral works as we journey through our Salesian life. Called to incarnate himself among the youth of a particular place and culture, the Salesian stands in need of an incultured formation. Through discernment and dialogue with his own situation, he seeks to imbue his life’s principles with evangelical and Salesian values, and to implant the Salesian experience in his own context. Pastoral Formation is the way we carry out the mission entrusted to us, with docility, sincerity and pastoral charity, in a collaborative and all-inclusive spirit.
All of us have gone through all four of these areas of the Religious and Salesian Formation, the prayer, the human growth, the intellectual and the pastoral formation. Some of us would have spent even 10-13 years in this formative phase! Let us not forget that our past gives us a reminder of the growing expectations we place on the formation of the younger generation, but also of the institutional and political environment in which such innovation is supposed to happen. Based on our own practical experiences, we can now understand the prime importance of the early years of our initial formation that helps us in our present times. Therefore, we should be very conscious of the fact that every one of us will need to consciously live and create a formative environment even in the present time, as, especially after our initial formation, all of us become formators and formees at the same time!
Finally, we need to ponder Mt. 19:11-12 when the Church discerns whether the seminarian actually has a priestly vocation: Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. This third and last category is the only one, true call to celibacy, and to Religious Life. Hebrews 5:4 also reminds us that, “No one takes this honour upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.” While Rectors, Leaders and Formators use these scriptures verses as guides in truly discerning if a candidate has a religious vocation, those of us who have already made our Profession in the Salesian Congregation must not forget that we also were called by God, called to be a follower of Jesus Christ and called to be a faithful son of Don Bosco. Certainly, it is not always a smooth pathway. Hence, “LORD, AM I HERE?” is the question we need to ask ourselves every day, constantly reminding ourselves the words we once expressed: “HERE I AM LORD!”