The International Formators’ Course
Ordinarily, a 10th Anniversary may not seem like a very significant event to celebrate, however, it has been ten years since the second edition of the Ratio Institutionis Vitae Carmelitanae (RIVC) was published. The RIVC has been described as the fundamental document for formation in the Order, and as the best document the Order
has produced since Vatican II because it heralds a break-through in the understanding and presentation of our Charism. The International Formators’ Course, held in our monastery at Camocin de São Félix, Brazil from August 1st -15th, 2010, marked the occasion. It was time again to revisit and engage in a common reflection on the RIVC and to deepen our commitment to the profound work of formation.
The two week course focused on four main areas of Carmelite Formation: Carmelite Identity and The Role of Formator and Formandi; The Interior Spiritual Journey and The Role of Community; Human Development and The Vows; Internationality, Liturgy Inculturation and Fraternity. The presentations, given by experts in the Order, focused on the existing RIVC text together with new material drafted for inclusion in a new edition. The new material includes improved sections on The Liturgical Life of Community, Work on our Journey, Silence as the Meeting Place with Others, and an Inter-cultural Project.
The course was excellent, enriching and very intense. It was so well planned by the International Formation Commission that each day together was seamless. It was a meeting full of hope for the future as many of the 60+ formators were younger than forty - a sign of new life and vitality in many places. The diversity of cultures, the younger participants and the realization that many of our formators are no longer from Europe highlighted the new and emerging reality among us that the Order has a very different presence in the world than it did ten years ago when the RIVC was first published. This in itself was something to celebrate!
While vocations are plentiful in Africa, Asia, South America and parts of Oceania, sadly, there are very few vocations in Europe and Australia. The course not only highlighted the cross-cultural context in which formation is happening in various parts of the Order, it also drew our attention to the importance and urgency of the international dimension of the Order for our future as we continue to explore the new and exciting challenges that face both formators and formandi.
Each day began with Morning Prayer and Eucharist. The magnificent icon of Christ the Teacher in the newly refurbished chapel at Camoçim, reminded us that He is the way, the truth and the life. We paused for Midday Prayer and then celebrated Evening Prayer at the conclusion of the day’s work. Each meal and social gathering was filled with lively conversation as participants became more and more eloquent in languages other than their own. Building fraternal relationships, sharing our experience of formation ministry, hearing more about the challenges that we face, and being in solidarity with one another, strengthened the bonds and deepened our dialogue each day.
Our “free day” became a day of pilgrimage, visiting several places of major historical significance to Carmel in Brazil. Every place and every community we visited, every meal and every encounter with our Carmelite brothers and sisters and the people they serve was a festive gathering. The hospitality extended to us by our brothers of the Pernambuco Province was extraordinarily generous. We marveled at what awaited us at each place we visited.
Each presentation and discussion provided new insights, fresh challenges and thought-provoking material for formators to consider as we deepened our knowledge and experience of implementing the RIVC. I would like to share some brief extracts from the major talks that continue to resonate with me in the hope that they might encourage you to revisit the RIVC document for further reflection.
1. Internationality and our Cultural Roots: We are not exclusively linked to our cultures, however our culture is essential to each one of us for we are concretely incarnated into it. The challenge is that we cannot be too localized in it or too scattered by this reality. How do we achieve this balance? Prior General
2. Self-Knowledge and Carmelite Identity: A Carmelite is called to a spiritual experience of deep attraction to and love for Jesus Christ, an attraction that commits us to Christ in a journey of transformation. This requires an interior freedom reached only by self-knowledge: to accept and love myself as I am because God loves me and accepts me as I am in the secret that leads the candidate to personal interior freedom which enables him to embrace the God and the value of the Kingdom. Charlò Camilleri (Mel)
3. Formator as Sculptor: The sculptor is one who works with the beauty that is hidden in the stone. The formator liberates the beauty that is hidden in the person. This is a contemplative task in which the formator sees with the eyes of Christ. It recognizes that we begin the work of formation but it is ultimately God’s work for He is at the center. This is a mystagogical process that pervades formation. Desiderio Garcia Martinez (Arag)
4. The Challenge of Silence: Our Rule gives special emphasis to silence in our life as Carmelites. We need to be anchored in it in order to be sustained by God “to live in allegiance to Jesus Christ. It is not a silence that is merely the absence of noise or sound but a silence that is nourished by relationships, a silence that is at the service of one another and God. It is a silence that enables us to find a balance, a way of putting things in order in our living and being with one another and God. Michael Plattig (GerS)
5. Sexuality as Gift from God: That our sexuality is a great source of energy for every person, an energy that moves us into relationship with another because of our desire to connect as human beings. We recognize that both the physiological and psychological grounding needed for our capacity to love is what God desires for each one of us, which enables us to live authentic humanness, not in isolation but deeply connected with others. Quinn Conners (PCM)
6. Internationality, Inculturation and Fraternity: These three elements come together in our Rule. Albert found a way to bring the various countries and places that the early hermits came from into one language, a way of life, a formula vitae. How do we do this today? Inculturation occurs in limited time and space but it is concrete. In the concrete situations and realities that we live, how do we help people discover God’s presence in their lives? Like Elijah on Mount Horeb, we need to rediscover our mission. Fraternity is an attitude of life that permeates everything we do. Carlos Mesters (Flum)
The Carmelite formation process is also called “A Journey of Transformation”. The RIVC invites us all of us, whether we are beginning or well on the way, to continue the journey by pondering this document. No doubt, every participant felt his/her own journey in Carmel being rekindled as we were immersed in it over these days.
Let us take heart and be encouraged by the Prior General’s final words to the participants: We need to know our tradition well. We must make every attempt to bring our tradition into dialogue with the world. When we do this, our tradition will bear much fruit. Putting our tradition of contemplation, prayer and intimacy with the Lord at the service of the Church is crucial to who we profess ourselves to be as Carmelites.