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JESUS MASTER
AND THE MASTER IN OUR FORMATION
ACCORDING TO FR. ALBERIONE

Acts of the International Seminar
on "Jesus, the Master"
(Ariccia, October 14-24, 1996)

by Josť Bortolini ssp

 

II. THE GROUP MASTER
IN THE MIND OF FR. ALBERIONE

2. Way, Truth and Life method in studies: growth of personality

It is known by all that Fr. Alberione insisted on the method Way, Truth and Life as the only method for his followers. Such a method embraces the life of the Pauline and it is the "obligatory path for reaching God."

We as well know that such a method includes in itself a pedagogy capable of taking the human being in his totality, bringing it to the full identification with Christ: "It is necessary that man lives in Jesus Christ with his whole being," (16) in such a manner "the whole Pauline life is inserted in Jesus Master Way, Truth and Life: prayer, study, apostolate, formation..." (17)

Regarding study and its relationship with the method Way, Truth and Life, we do not have an organic treatise among the writings of the Founder.(18) In spite of this, we have adequate orientations to affirm that, according to him, the entire study is oriented to Jesus Master, from whom study acquires energy and towards whom it leads until it transforms the Pauline into another Master,(19) using the words of Paul dear to the Founder "donec formetur Christus in vobis" (until Christ is formed in you).

Fr. Alberione speaks of study with a double meaning: docendi and discendi, mission and conformation with Christ, apostolate and discipleship/spirituality. He affirms that study involves the entire life: "It involves the whole life... Everyone must commit himself after religious instruction, in order to better know God and to improve service to God. Everyone must improve himself, by getting instructed, in his assignment, in social relations, in the ministry and in the apostolate. In order to improve the activities and life, knowledge comes first, then love, in the third place is to work. ‘Nihil volitum quin precognitum.’ All this is included in the fundamental duty of every religious: to attend to perfection." (UPS II, 168-169.)

The objectives of study are important for Fr. Alberione: "Study has its own end, rather, double end: to perfect the gift of nature, intelligence; and to prepare one’s self to accomplish the mission entrusted by God... What is useful to life, this has to be accumulated to the maximum... The end serves to define the means" (ibid.).

Specifying a bit more the purpose of study, the Founder underlines three: "a) To sanctify the mind: study of sciences brings one to know the works of God. Such study, offered to the Lord, is most pleasing to him and before him has merit. Service to God done with the use of our principal faculty, which comes from Him, makes us remember the saying of the Divine Master Jesus: ‘You shall love the Lord with all your mind.’ b) If later one moves from science to the truths of faith in order to know and follow them, it is clear that we arrive at the supernatural; which is in direct relationship with the beatific vision in Paradise... c) Study for the Pauline has for its immediate end the apostolate, which is already a ‘regale sacerdotium,’ and apostolate with ministry for him who aims at priesthood" (UPS II, 171-172).(20) (return to summary)

3. Some indications for us

At the close of this century and some decades from the most significant texts of the Founder regarding the theme we now are dealing with, it is proper to question ourselves regarding the validity of his teachings, granted that the congregation has (as regards formation) changed so much, as much as social reality in the broad sense has also profoundly changed.

1. In the first place, it is licit to ask if it is proper to still maintain the term "Master" or "Master of the group." There are those who prefer to change such term with "educator" because they consider this more dynamic and modern. The Ratio Formationis, for example, clearly opts for the term "formator". There is the fact, however, that the terms "Master" and "Master of the group" have, for Fr. Alberione, a close relationship with the same biblical title attributed to Christ.(21) Aside from this, the Founder sees in the role of Master of the group "a real ontological participation of the ‘religious Master’ with what Jesus Christ, Way, Truth and Life is and possesses." (22) At any rate, it is not a matter of limiting our reflection to the validity of the term "Master" and of the expression of "Master of the group." What is important is not to lose sight of the "ontological content" underlying the term "Master", also when another term is used.

2. The "ontological participation" of the Master of the group with Christ Master, Way, Truth and Life, has some very clear objectives. We know that for Fr. Alberione the trinomial Way-Truth-Life synthesizes the whole Christ for man in his wholeness. It seems therefore that to the Master of the group belongs, in the first place, that of being responsible of the identification of the formandi with Pauline spirituality centered precisely on Christ Master, Way-Truth-Life.(23) This is what Ratio Formationis understands when it affirms that the objectives of the formation process consist in forming the man, the Christian, the religious and the apostle (arts. 45-66.2).

3. Aside from this, the Master of the group is the first person responsible of a specific formation, which the Founder called "true and clear Pauline color and tone." (24) And it is proper to underline that formation is not limited only to the aspect of spirituality, if it were so, the same spirituality would run the risk of being alienating, that is, it has not the mission as its end. The Pauline color and tone have necessarily to do with spirituality, study, mission and their challenges, the vision of the world and of society, etc. It is in this sense that insistence of the final document "Pauline formation for mission" fits very well, when it says: "Formators shall be engaged in some duty in the apostolate, a duty that would not take them away from their principal occupation and make of them also competent teachers in the Pauline mission" (p. 36, no. 10).

4. It is necessary that the Master of the group be one who is capable of fraternally living with the formandi at all moments of their life.(25) My experience through these years accompanying the juniors has made me reach this certainty: one of the greatest values of the formator is the capacity to live with the formandi the longest period of time possible and in all moments of their life: prayer, study, mission, community life, etc. A formator who does not accompany closely the steps and the moments of the formandi, without expressly saying it, states that it is possible to have a foot inside and another foot outside the community.

5. The formator must be a friendly, paternal and maternal presence to the formandi in such a way that he also may be at the same time model and stimulus of Pauline vocation, guiding and forming in the delicate process until Christ, Way, Truth and Life is formed in each one of them.(26) Hence it is required of him appropriate talents (27) and specific training.(28) At times, however, specific training – and even academic titles of the formator – could become an obstacle between him and the formandi. Such an obstacle is overcome by means of a great dose of humanity, patience, understanding, friendship, affection which the formator must have in guiding each of the formandi.

6. The Master of the group acts together with the other persons responsible: the superior of the house, the spiritual director and the confessor.(29)

7. An important point and permanent risk in formation: to want that the formandi may become like the formator. It is of fundamental importance to bear in mind that the formandi never imitate submissively the formator.

"The Master must bring the young to love the Lord, not win them over for himself, seeking in it human esteem and vain and dangerous affection" (CISP 776, no. 7).

It is not a matter of being "conformed with the formator" but of working "donec formetur Christus" in the formandi. Hence, although the role of the formator is of such capital importance, he never stands between the formandi and Christ, who is the objective to reach on the part of the Pauline formandi. In this sense the Founder underlined that the role of the formator tends to disappear, like John the Baptist, in order to give place to Christ (cf. Jn 3:30).(30) (return to summary)

4. Some types of "formation methods" (31)

Formation methods offer more disadvantages than advantages. Although they are very good, they with difficulty manage to establish "a manner of life that proves formative," because method tends towards "fixism" while "manner of life" presupposes creativity and disposition to serenely face what is new. Every manner of religious life generates a formation model. If the manner is antiquated, based on the "golden age," it generates a formation model which is dated; if instead it is oriented by the action of the Spirit, then it is projected towards the future. (return to summary)

There are different styles, each of which generates its own formation method.

a) Antiquated life style which generates a continuist formation. It is characterized by a static tradition: traditional and conservative reading of the sources (and of the texts of Vatican II), rejecting what is new. This manner formation gives priority to the following values: prayer, sacrifice, penance, separation from the world, obedience, discipline and observance. To form means the same as to adapt to what is existing. Meanwhile, the values of the past are emphasized, conferring on them a mystical aura and of utopias now lost. Utopias belong to the past.

Such a manner has the capacity to form uniform, solid and efficient groups. As regards contents, it is dogmatic and it seeks in static tradition the recipes for the challenges of the present and of the future. The agents of such a kind of formation are conservative persons faithful to the traditional values, and their strength resides above all in the power of authority. Hence, they keep distance when it comes to the formandi. Spirituality assumes an individual and inward-looking character. The methodology is dogmatic and presupposes from the part of the formandi an accentuated "fidelity". The style is demand, austerity, effort.

What does this manner produce? It produces a historical imbalance: the religious life becomes a museum, favoring "backward looking" prophetism. As a result, it leads to a pastoral of assistance, without touching the roots of the evils that afflict humanity. The religious end up becoming unrelated with the journey of history and of society. Obviously such a manner does not favor creativity and originality in every person.

This manner leads one to see the world as a dangerous place. As a consequence it tries to create a closed formation microcosm that avoids contact with reality. The formandi are reduced to mere apprentices who must observe everything proposed to them. In this manner, paternalism on the part of the formator and absolute dependence on the part of the formandi are generated. The formandi turn into repeaters of acts, preferably acts done in common, inasmuch as discipline is placed above the person. Thus uniformity is generated. As regards the sacraments, there is much insistence on the sacrament of reconciliation and, as regards morality, the importance of sexual morality is accentuated.

Certainly, Fr. Alberione did not agree with this method.(32) (come back to text)

b) Reformist manner of formation. It is the manner of those who follow the orientations of Vatican II regarding the origins (cf. PC 2), with the awareness necessary to renew religious life starting from a dynamic and creative fidelity, with the giving importance to living tradition.

This manner is characterized by an open and renewing reading of Vatican II and of the origins of the Congregation. It is sensitive to values of the historical process: the listening to the Word in the historical context, openness to human values, attention to psychological and sociological process, to freedom and creativity, sense of criticism, etc. One of its strongest characteristics is the sensitivity to values of the historical present.

Regarding the contents, this type of formation inculcates the principle that every doctrine or idea is historically conditioned; it emphasizes ideological pluralism thus helping the formandi to think alone, to become aware that what needs to be learned is much more than one already knows.

Formators are vary according to the objectives which every community sets. The methodology is based on dialogue, on comparison and group work. The style is understanding, listening, patience and attention to the person as an individual and unique being, with his own rhythms and manners.

Such a manner of formation has a series of inconveniences. It wants to embrace everything, without furnishing the essential elements for self-formation. It certainly generates imbalance, losing a sense of proportion and tensions. The major objection is related to the excessive preoccupation for intellectual apprenticeship, thus neglecting what could be acquired with the new historical experiences bearing grace and stimulus in view of gestation for a future world. Intellectual apprenticeship takes the center and eliminates the more risky aspects.

This manner has a lot to do with what we find in the writings of the Founder.(33) (come back to text)

c) Breakaway formation model. This rejects the preceding models because it considers them inept before the prophetic function inherent to the religious life. This is characterized therefore by a prophetic reading of Vatican II under the point of view of action for the poor, for justice and for peace, in opposition to the culture of death which supports such a state of affairs.

It seeks to define itself by placing itself in the social context of the poor, in solidarity with them. And it is not a matter of simple intellectual activity, but of something done by experience. It is what is usually called "formation by immersion," very frequent among Congregations who have tried, starting with the social place, to make a re-reading of formation. As a consequence, it does not give much importance to the theoretical contents. The humus which feeds this thrust is the conversion to the Kingdom of God in Jesus of Nazareth and among the poor, so that these become our formators, our evangelizers. Typical of this model is "to feel and share with".

The great agent of such a formation is the people, that is, the passive subjects of poverty (= the impoverished) and their historical reality. Face to face with it, comes the prophetic immersion in the social place of the poor.

From the methodological point of view, this manner of formation favors practice and not theory. Formation is a kind of workshop where the practice of solidarity is exercised. Its manner of living is evangelical radicalness, setting aside the issue of whether the conventual way of life is necessary. Periodical verification substitutes the fixed and rigid rules of living in common. (return to summary)

return to summary

 

           Jesus Master yesterday, today and for ever

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