XIII. ROLE OF THE ASSISTANT IN THE FORMATION TEAM
Monica Tardiani, National Formator SFO-Oceania
We Franciscans are "Tau People" called to live the way of Francis, as we proclaim the Message of Jesus Christ. We are signed with the Tau Cross - the Greek letter "T". We have been chosen by God; sent on mission and assured of God's grace and protection, in order to communicate the Good News of salvation and build God's Kingdom on earth.
The only qualification for Spiritual Assistants that the Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order gives is the phrase, "suitable and well-prepared" (Art. 26). This short phrase speaks volumes, because it summarises the basic attitude towards Spiritual Assistants on the part of the friar or religious. At the same time, it gives the points of "personality" for a Spiritual Assistant.
I see the pastoral role of the Spiritual Assistant expressed, where the Spiritual Assistant is an integral member of the initial and ongoing formation team. The Spiritual Assistant, by his or her words, example and action, is called to help us to develop:
techniques of prayer and contemplation for seculars;
techniques for a life style of penance and simple living;
techniques for build a will toward, and sense of, community;
techniques for developing a sense of Ministry (especially secular), and Evangelization in contemporary society.
The ideal Spiritual Assistant, with the Formation Team, should have:
a great quality of spiritual life, a strong interior life animated by regular prayer;
a sense of mystery, and know how to recognize that all comes from God;
humility and a sense of service and humour;
a positive outlook on people and a deep respect for the experience of others;
a good knowledge of our Father Francis.
The Spiritual Assistant should know:
his or her limitations and accept them.
how to listen and wait. Allow himself or herself to be formed by the Fraternity.
Formation is a process of facilitating the total development of a person within the context of the Franciscan Order and the tradition of the Church. This formation in its initial stages comes to a high point or peak experience with temporary and later permanent commitment and is called "Profession" in the Secular Franciscan Order.
Formation is not just instruction or training, but a total experience in which the whole Fraternity is involved. It provides:
the insight and means of applying the gospel life to everyday experience, in the spirit of St Francis;
the techniques and vision for making the practical situations of life contribute to a deeper personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus;
the methodology for establishing a dynamic instruction between the person of Jesus Christ and the individual person in the Fraternity.
STAGES OF FORMATION
Stage One: Initial Formation:
(a) The Time of Initiation - Aspirant or Inquirer
(b) The Time of Initial Formation - Candidate
Stage Two: Formation of newly professed.
Stage Three: Ongoing Formation - for life.
Agents of Formation:
The Holy Spirit
Agents responsible for Formation:
The Minister and the Council
The Director of Formation and Team
The Spiritual Assistant
The Formator works with a team of suitable and interested professed members who form the Formation Team, with the guidance of the Spiritual Assistant, who is also part of the team. Whereas the Holy Spirit is the overall Formator in the SFO, He uses various tools:
A good formation program, prayerfully prepared by the Formator and his or her team and the Spiritual Assistant;
Regular attendance of the Professed and those in formation at the monthly meetings, where the Franciscan spirit is caught from one another, not taught.
"Teaching" Francis is not something one person can do for another. Francis must be learned from himself. We must be prepared to read him in the right context - we will, as well, imbibe the spirit of Francis from the many lives, the example of other people, or learn about his influence on life, in the world and on the Church.
All these are necessary. So we, as professed brothers and sisters, may be more directive about what Franciscan reading is. This is an absolute must, and we must be careful about what we choose, perhaps not the same diet for all, yet be very well versed ourselves in at least two strongly recommended lives of St Francis, e.g. Francis and Clare - The Complete Works; and St Francis of Assisi (Englebert).
Any professed member of the Fraternity should be able to take initial Inquirers for approximately three to four months. (This may change each time.) A prepared folder with relevant information about the Order may be given to each Inquirer.
When the Inquirer is ready, he or she is welcomed as an Aspirant and is allocated to at least two members of the formation team, one of whom acts as a sponsor. The period for the Aspirant should last at least six months, during which time he or she is introduced to Franciscan Spirituality, study of the Rule, ways of meditation and what life in the SFO is all about.
During this time, careful records must be maintained. At the end of this period, the Aspirant submits to the Fraternity Minister and the Council a request for admission to the Order. Attendance at a retreat should be mandatory at this stage.
Following the Reception ceremony, the Candidate commences a two-year program of Formation. Similar records should be maintained during this period, including regular attendance, comments on suitability, literature given and read, and attendance at the annual retreat, or a private retreat, if possible. Toward the end of this period, the Candidate should be interviewed by the Fraternity Minister, Formator and Spiritual Assistant. A further request should be submitted to the Fraternity Minister and the Council some months prior to the ceremony of Temporary or Permanent Profession.
FORMATION FOR THE NEWLY PROFESSED
It is suggested that a period of ten sessions be made available, following the guidelines as laid down by the National Executive, using Fully Mature with the Fullness of Christ, by Benet Fonk OFM. Alternatively, it is suggested that the newly professed join with the Candidates in formation, acting as Sponsors.
Each Formation Team should have at their disposal:
Rule, Constitution, Ritual and Statutes.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Writings of Francis and Clare - mandatory for Initial Formation.
Fully Mature with the Fullness of Christ.
To Live as Francis Lived.
The Rule of the SFO with Catechism and instruction
Francis of Assisi: Early Documents (three volumes).
The Journey and the Dream (Bodo).
The Three Companions, We Were with Francis and The Wisdom of the Poverello (when available).
The list is too numerous, and there are many new editions becoming available. I would suggest that during the periods of Initial Formation, Aspirants and Candidates be encouraged to keep solely to the Lives of Francis and Clare.
Our former International Minister, Emanuela De Nunzio, has written - and I quote:
"Brothers and Sisters of the First Order and the Third Order Regular, there is a profound spiritual relationship with us, your secular brothers and sisters, because it is you who have responsibility for our journey in faith. It is necessary that you be, for us, enlightened teachers and guides; enlightened by the Word of God and the example of Francis."
It is you who have the duty of leading us along the path to sanctity, teaching us to read the signs of our times and giving us the necessary spiritual charge through the appreciation and application of Franciscan culture, including the concrete indications for our formative journey in the orientation of our work for the construction of a more fraternal and gospel world.
I ask you, then, to teach the members of the Formation Team to be authentic and credible bearers of the message of Francis, in order to be able to give witness in the ordinary conditions of our life as laity. To teach us the poverty of the journey, the courage of the cross, the challenge of love, the risk of hope and the contemplative dimension of life.
When you attend the Fraternity Council Meetings in which you play a vital role, you must also meet with the Formator and his or her team, to prepare and discuss the program for those in Initial Formation and subsequently, for the ongoing formation of the Professed.
There are many formation programs available, some of which may not be suitable for all Fraternities, but with your gentle guidance and discernment, you may be able to suggest and advise suitable changes, if and when required.
In conclusion, my Brothers and Sisters, I sincerely thank you for allowing me to share with you my thoughts on your role as Spiritual Assistants to the Brothers and Sisters of the Secular Franciscan Order.
I ask you, please, just be patient with us, love us and walk with us on our journey.
* * *
Suggested Records to be used for Initial Formation in the Secular Franciscan Order
Record: Full name, Address, Phone number, Parish, of each Inquirer/ Aspirant/ Candidate and Fully Professed.
Dates of first and subsequent visits.
Date of Welcome as an Aspirant:
Formation team members.
Dates of each attendance / Apology over six-monthly sessions.
Date of letter requesting admission to the Order
Record of all books read and comments of team members.
Date of attendance at Annual or Private retreat (mandatory).
Date of Reception as a Candidate:
Date of commencement of 24 monthly sessions of Formation.
Record of names of Formation team members and Spiritual Assistant
Dates of each attendance / Apology - mandatory 15 months.
Dates of attendance at annual retreat - mandatory.
Date of letter requesting Profession in the Order.
Date of Interview with Fraternity Minister and Spiritual Assistant.
List of books read - comments from Formator / Sponsor / Team members.
Date of Profession:
Time of ongoing formation (at least one year ideally with candidates and formation team member)
Date of Transfer:
Reasons for leaving / Death of the Brother or Sister
The above documentation is to be kept in the Fraternity File.
N. B. It is not what the Candidate says, but what he or she does, that is most important.