Friday, January 3, 2014

Francis On Religious Formation Which Is Really Formation For One And All

The LCWR can take real hope from Pope Francis' chat with their male counterparts

Vatican Radio had a piece about an article in Civilta Catollica, the flagship journal of the Jesuits, in which Fr Anthony Spadaro writes about the meeting between Pope Francis and the Congregations of men religious.  I found the piece very enlightening in terms of describing Pope Francis' thoughts, not just in regards to religious vocations and formation, but also with evangelization and clericalism. Francis urges his religious leaders to always keep the "People of God" in mind for all that they do and teach.  On a personal level, I found it wonderful because religious congregations are not the only places one has to put in place formation programs or keep the people of God in mind.  As a teaser, here's one of my favorite Francis quotes from the article:

"Formation is a work of art, not a police action.  We must form their hearts.  Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the People of God.  This really gives me goosebumps".

One of the reasons I found that line both poignant and funny is because we have the same issues in training residential staff.  I don't know how many times I have stated "we are not in the business of policing behavior, we are in business of forming healthy attitudes".  Of course in my particular line of work, the 'police action' attitudes don't give me hypothetical goosebumps, they give me one real crisis after another.  In our version of formation, the idea of forming hearts, which is where all the good work comes from, always takes a back seat to forming minds pleasing to our liability insurance provider.  We have training after training designed to form that kind of thinking, but very little about the importance of forming hearts, of learning to act first from a sense of compassion rather than a need to control others.  It's easy to give some training in how to de escalate a particular situation.  The real trick is getting staff to understand why their attitudes or knee jerk responses triggered the escalation in the first place.

Here's another line that really struck me:

"We all make mistakes, and we all need to recognize our weaknesses.  A religious who recognizes himself as weak and a sinner does not negate the witness he is called to give, rather he reinforces it and this is good for everyone."

This is another mantra I use all the time in training, especially because we are supposed to be using the Recovery Model as our therapeutic paradigm.  I tell both staff and clients repeatedly that you have to know your own weaknesses and be realistic about them, otherwise you get in the way of your own recovery or your own ability to 'heal' anyone.  If a person 'punches a button' or causes you to react with strong emotion, that's not first and foremost about the other person, that is all about you and your issues.  This is why extending a little mercy and compassion to ourselves is really a critical skill to develop. If we can't do that, we are not predisposed to extend the same to people, who by the very fact they are in our care, shows they probably need a whole lot more mercy and compassion than staff does.  
Extending compassion to another is really hard to do just from educating one's thinking because emotions come first.  When your emotions are triggering a strong need to give 'so and so' a swift kick in the behind, training doesn't compensate all that well.  When I can freely admit 'so and so's' drunken state is going to trigger all my anger about my dead alcoholic brother and I have legitimate reasons for that anger, I am much more likely not to make 'so and so' the brunt of all that pent up anger about my dead brother.  Or as I also say a lot, honest self appraisal about one's weaknesses does not lower one's perfection quotient, it raises it in the minds of others.  This is the same point Francis is making when he states admitting one is a sinner does not negate witness, it reinforces it.

And finally, one last favorite Francis quote:

"I am convinced of one thing: The great changes in history were realized when REALITY was seen not from the center but from the periphery."

This idea of change coming from the seeing the reality from the periphery is not just about institutions and cultures, but also about interpersonal relationships.  One of my clients, irritated with me for some reason, put that idea this way:  "I do not live in the center of your personal universe."  That was a wake up call to say the least.  Or as one of my co staff couldn't refrain from saying:  "Whoa, you just dropped your perfection quotient by a good standard deviation."  It was hard not to fire him on the spot, which I didn't (and couldn't) but I restored some of my perfection quotient by actually laughing out loud at being hoisted on my own petard.  Laughter is still the best medicine.


  1. Have you seen the movie "K-PAX" (2001), with Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges? I think the Recovery Model is mentioned in passing in that movie.

  2. No I haven't. I will have to check it out.

  3. Thanks to both of you, Coleen and Dennis. But I must respond to the statement that the bishops will get their posteriors sewed off. Do you really think that will stop the crap? Just more blockage to me.

    Now, if we just take them to court......

  4. I think civil suits will in the end stop some of the crap. The sexual scandal has reviled a real crisis in clerical leadership. We have seen just how dependent the Bishops have become on mana. I think that some of the crap of youngster assault has been handled a little better because of the suits. The bishops know that civil servants are watching them and even changing the criminal code. So yes, particularly when a Catholic Hospital is told to practice sub standard medicine by the Bishops, doctors, hospitals and bishops will all be sued. The Bishops have threatened to “sell” all the hospitals if forced to practice what is the standard of care all over the world. Let them sell to the highest bidder, or let the hospital systems brake away as did Catholic Health Care west. I think Catholic Universities particularly with Medical Schools are going to have to decide on weather they want to be sued repeatedly, break away from the Bishops or be sold. What the no nothing Bishops are trying to do is practice medicine without a license and it is particularly egregious conduct when they attempt to interfere with the Catholic Ethics committees in hospitals. The administrators may not be alarmed yet, but St. Joseph’s in Phoenix is only the start of what can and will happen.

  5. I don't know that bishops control much about Catholic hospitals except the right to call themselves 'Catholic'. The Phoenix situation pretty much proved that Olmsted could rant all he wanted, but he couldn't, in fact, shut down the hospital. I suspect more and more hospitals and colleges will find themselves freely dropping a formal "Catholic" affiliation in order to maintain some integrity as hospitals and educational centers.

    Dennis, I also think you make a good point about civic ethics vs Catholic religious dogma. In a rapidly changing culture a little 'relativism' is much healthier in the long run for everybody.

  6. Thanks for sharing, I will bookmark and be back again...

    Go to Meeting Conference

  7. Seems like Catholic Bishops rules about abortion are affecting practice of physicians all over the country in catholic hospitals. Women with ruptured membranes and mid trimester pregnancies are forced to expose themselves to infection because of the influence of bishops in these hospitals. They are not even told about the dangers.

    I am waiting for a Catholic hospital to refuse a bleeding woman a tubal abortion. Recently several Bishops have stated that these are abortions that are not allowed even though they were done for at least the past 50 years in all Catholic Hospitals. This is a very dangerous proposition as was the case of the women in Phoenix with Pulmonary Hypertension. An interesting side note is that Creighton University's medical school was working on an affiliation with St. Joseph' s in Phoenix for many years and they went ahead with this plan even though Bishop Olmstead calls it no longer a Catholic Hospital. I think that there will need to be some suits and some accreditation problems in Catholic hospitals. Obviously the answer will be for both the doctors and the hospitals to disregard the wishes of he Bishops and call themselves Institution in the Catholic Tradition. This may well happen in many of the better Catholic Institutions and has already begun in some. It will not be accomplished, however, with out a big stink from the Bishops who will end up no respect at all. In fact they will gain far more distain amongst intellectual and professional in all fields.