Formation lasts at least a lifetime; we are not finished with it when we are solemnly professed. We have very good Constitutions and formation document. We have many more Carmelite resources available to us than in the past. Great progress has been made in the area of research and publishing. However, do we take the opportunities presented to us to read and reflect on this material so that we can deepen our understanding of the vocation to which we have been called?
What is formation for? It is an important ongoing process of growth. There is a need for continual Carmelite formation but we cannot be good Carmelites if we are not good human beings. There are certain basic human skills, which are required to make life in society bearable. If these have not been learned in the home environment, they must be quickly instilled at the beginning of formation. What happens when these ordinary human virtues are not learned during initial formation? Each of us has to ask ourselves whether we make community life pleasant or unpleasant for the others? There are several elements that must be borne in mind in the formation process. There is the human level, the intellectual level and the spiritual level. These elements obviously influence one another. All of these must be worked upon throughout the whole of life. These three elements are like the three legs of a stool. If one is out of balance, the whole stool is unbalanced. What about our lives? If there is an imbalance somewhere in our lives, what are we going to do about it? Formation is to help us in our becoming mature human beings, mature followers of Christ and mature Carmelites.
No one of course is perfect but hopefully all of us are on the spiritual journey. This journey requires a great deal from us because we are called to pass through the desert where we are purified and we grow to maturity in Christ. It is a great temptation to give up the journey because it is too difficult and settle down to mediocrity. In the post-synodal document Vita Consecrata, Pope John Paul IIpointed out the importance of the various phases of the formation process. He writes of the middle years that this phase can present the risk of routine and the subsequent temptation to give in to disappointment because of meagre results.3
In this document it is also said, "Those in charge of formation must therefore be very familiar with the path, of seeking God, so as to be able to accompany others on this journey." Those who know something of the path of seeking God, know that there are moments of disappointment and disillusionment, times perhaps when we feel like the Prophet Elijah who sat under a bush and had no desire to continue. (I Kings 19,4) It is vitally important, I believe, that in the process of formation, which lasts the whole of one's Carmelite life, we should be helped to first of all be aware that darkness, disillusionment and disappointment are normal stages on the journey.
We have a profound impact on those who come to us, even if they decide not to continue walking the same path as we walk and so we have a sacred duty to give our candidates the best formation we can possibly give them. What must we do to be continually faithful to this duty? We also have a great impact on those we serve in our apostolic activities. What kind of impact do we have?