(This article was written by Rev. Fr. Rodolfo Bugna, OSA. This was originally published in the Augustinian Initial Formation Congress in 2012. )
On a personal level, I would like to commend and congratulate the formators and the formandi of San Agustin Center of Studies (SACS), Quezon City for the annual celebration of The Augustinian Initial Formation Congress. The title of the theme: A Cry of a Wounded Heart made me reflect and wonder. Does the Province of Sto. Nino de Cebu have a wounded heart? Do we have a wounded heart even before we enter the Augustinian Order? Are we, by nature wounded per se and do all of us, therefore, need healing? These are just few questions we need to answer as we tackle the modern challenges of formation in the contemporary world.
In my series of talks, I will limit my sources to the Constitution of the Order, the Ratio Institutionis, some books written by Fr. Theodore Tack (If Augustine Were Alive and As One Struggling Christian to Another), the Confessions, Vatican II documents, Scriptures, some documents from the Order and my own personal reflection and experiences.
As we know, the Augustinian Province of Sto. Nino de Cebu, Philippines is very much concerned with the initial formation of our candidates and the ongoing formation of the solemn professed friars. The speaker would like to believe that the initial and ongoing formations are both important aspects of our life as Augustinians, but the latter, that is, “the solemn professed friars,” is more important than the former. Why I am saying this? Because our experiences and my own personal experiences will confirm that problems will occur after the profession of the Solemn Vows. The so-called “true color” will come out once the friar is already out in the initial stage of formation. That is why it is very important to train our young formandi and examine their motivation in order for them to get acquainted with the life of the Province and the Order.
To begin with, let me quote our Plan of Formation of the Order of St. Augustine or the so-called Ratio Institutionis that strongly emphasizes the following points of formation:
1. A Human Formation
2. Christian Formation
3. Religious Augustinian Formation
4. Pastoral Formation
It is evident that the “formation of religious life in the Augustinian Community is of greatest importance for every one of the brothers and for every well-being of the Order (Ratio 85).” As indicated in the Ratio, “formation is to take place in the gradual and systematic way, while keeping proper balance between human values and those based on the evangelical counsels.” (Bold letters and emphasis is mine). Let me stress very clearly that values are caught and not taught. Values cannot be taught inside the seminary; it can only be caught. The speaker believes that our values in life came from our own family. This is the reason why we need to have an investigation of the motivation and the family background of our candidates.
“The greatest care should be taken both in the selection and in the preparation of candidates before they are admitted to the novitiate (Cf. Ratio # 74 and Constitution 226).” Vocation promoters should be aware that selection of candidates must show some evidence of an attraction to community life and the capacity to share material and spiritual resources. Let me stress clearly that “candidates are ultimately responsible for their own formation…growing toward a level of maturity, a capacity for self-control and an ability to make responsible choices (Cf. Ratio # 75).” Furthermore, “a candidate should be given whatever professional help is needed, so that the values of the Gospel will be his prevailing focus, rather than personal status or security.” The Ratio clearly gives a warning that “without this personal conviction and commitment, community life is undermined and runs the risk of becoming merely an arbitrary vehicle for satisfying the human need for support, understanding and belonging.”
Our Constitution explicitly states that “during the time of formation candidates are to be led to discover, discern and understand what Augustinian religious life is (Const. 189).” I will try to explain the meaning of this as we move along because the way I see it, it has something to do with what Augustine called “Interiority.” The speaker believes that the real vocation to religious life comes from within and not from without. We have the famous saying, “We can only give what we have.” According to T. Van Bavel, “the Augustinian Community is just an instrument and place to unfold God’s glory.” That means, every human being is always searching for the meaning of life (in its fullness). A fully alive person will give a wholehearted response to God’s offer of life and love.
I like particularly Constitution 192 which states that, “In as much as the formation of candidates aims at an integral development of the person, it must be one that is human, Christian, affective, intellectual, religious and Augustinian, as well as apostolic and pastoral (emphasis is mine). These various aspects complement one another and should be attended to in a greater or lesser degree as age and maturity demand.” I would like to summarize this with a code word PEPSI in order for us to easily recall, memorize and understand.
P – Physical = exercise regularly. We do not want to produce sickly and invalid religious right after their Solemn Profession. Science will prove that when we exercise we release the toxics in our bodies. I strongly suggest that there must be a yearly physical check-up of our candidates.
E – Emotional = every human being must develop harmonious relationships. This is the core of being human. This is very clear in the Rule of St. Augustine on asking pardon and forgiving offenses (Cf. Rule 41-43). Immature candidates (i.e., too sensitive) cannot handle responsibilities. There is no magic during Solemn Profession.
P – Psychological = know yourself well. This is “interiority.” We can only give what we have. Let us stop dreaming with closed eyes. Rather, dream with open eyes so that the dream will become a reality. A long journey begins with a single step. Vatican II document, Optatam Totius (Training of Priests) clearly states that, “The standards of Christian Education should be faithfully maintained and they should be supplemented by the latest findings of sound psychology and pedagogy (Optatam Totius 11).”
S – Spiritual = love your spiritual life. Being late in scheduled prayer and late in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist are clear indications that something is wrong in the candidate’s motivation. I always listen to the body because the body is always telling the truth. You can lie with your lips but never with your body. That is why we have the famous saying, “Action speaks louder than words.” The problem with the modern world is that we focus so much on activity, productivity and utility. We no longer ask: “Who are you?” but: “What do you do?” Ratio 57 gives us a strong admonition on working too much. “Workaholism is a modern problem, and religious too have to be in their guard against becoming the slaves of their activities (Cf. Ratio 57 for more details).”
I – Intellectual = you have all the time to study and develop your intellectual capacity while you are inside the seminary. Remember, St. Augustine was a great rhetorician and an excellent professor. Today, the apostolates of the Province are Education (Schools), Formation (Seminary), Pastoral (Churches) and Mission (both local and abroad). Those who are aspiring to be in school must strive to have further studies and must teach. There are many Orders and Congregations/Societies today that adopted a rule that candidates cannot be ordained unless they teach first or at least, have a Master’s Degree. This is the sad reality of the Province because there are many friars who are not teaching. Augustinians abroad are well known because of their job as professors and lecturers in their fields of specialization. “Reading and study were for Augustine essential aspects of contemplation in both men’s and women’s communities…If our relationship with God is not nourished, we cannot hope to have a fruitful relationship with people (Ratio 65).”
“The affective life should take on a significant importance in this process of ongoing growth; therefore, special care is needed for the integration of mind and heart. Appropriate psychological growth will help to develop affectivity in the life of the candidate and is the basis of authentic holistic formation (Const. 193).” I have expounded above the importance of emotional and psychological training. The focus of religious or priestly training before Vatican II (1962 – 65) was mainly intellectual. Today’s training focuses more on the Psycho-Spiritual Integration (PSI). According to Cardinal Walter Kasper, too much focus on intellectual formation has produced ‘monsters’ inside the life of the Church. We produced religious or priests who are intelligent but no heart and affection for people and fellow brother-religious or priests. Jesus, as our model, is never intellectual-centered or work-centered but rather he is a person-centered person. This is very clear in the Scriptures and the documents of Vatican II. That is the main reason why Jesus can always forgive and can never condemn.
Let me now focus on the contextualized principles program for aspiring Filipino Augustinian Religious:
Human Formation: our vocation makes sense only when we respond to our personal choice. Ideally speaking, the life of a religious is to witness more radically to his baptismal consecration to Jesus and His Church. Hence, to be human is to be – affectionate, emotional, warm, and to be able to display empathy. Today, some candidates show they have confused faith. This is the reason why we need to examine the motivation. Here, Pre-novitiate is necessary. The following are some important points to consider regarding sub-conscious motivations. Religious or priestly life is attractive because:
a. Companionship that community offers.
b. Chance to help deprive people.
c. Opportunity to travel (for free).
d. Security of belonging to a group.
e. Security of not having to earn one’s living. The danger of extreme poverty at home.
f. Relief of giving decision-making about one’s future to others.
g. Possibility of further education. Those who are not paying their monthly contribution should ponder and reflect. Take note, you are not paying the seminary. You are simply donating the minimum. And if, you cannot pay the minimum, how can you go to the maximum?
h. Chance to get away from home. Troubled relationships with family members. Escaping through the seminary.
NOTE: Only a person with a clear goal can show commitment!
“You say, the times are troublesome, the times are burdensome, the times are miserable. Live rightly and you will change the times. The times have never hurt anyone. Those who are hurt are human beings; those by whom they are hurt are also human beings. So, change human beings and the times will be changed (Ser. 311, 8).”
To be human is to accept one’s Sexuality. Honesty of one’s feelings is very important. There must be no repression nor too much emotionalism. The genuine freedom to choose celibacy (vow of chastity) also implies genuine freedom to marry. Today, we have to view sexuality in its proper context. Difficulty in controlling or taming our sexual urges is an indication of a future problem of a candidate. Our sexuality is not an isolated dimension of our beingness. It can be an expression of our need to love and to be loved.
There is always a need to express our sexuality:
a. Hostility – forcing someone to have sex without consent.
b. Need to have a sense of being worthwhile.
c. Uncertainty about masculinity or femininity which is a sign of lack of integration of one’s emotional needs.
Steps to be taken toward a solution:
a. Self-knowledge (Interiority) – the need to identify the particular emotional needs (child, puberty, parent);
– anticipate in order to prevent difficulties;
– ask help from friends;
– charitable confrontation;
– recognize the element of truth.
b. Self-worth – face life with confidence;
– the need for relationships. There must be a harmonious relationship among celibate people.
– The choice not to marry is not to live in isolation but in order to relate and to love in a different way. Hence, the importance of true and healthy friendship.
Gossipers are described in a certain passage of the Scriptures this way: “The heart of a fool is as the wheel of the cart.” It carries hay, and creeks, and keeps on creaking without end. Thus, there are brothers and sisters who do not dwell together except physically. Gossipers stir up disharmony (Commentary on Ps. 132, 8).”
Christian Formation: regarding this topic on Christian Formation, let me take the ideas of Fr. Theodore Tack, OSA (former Prior General of the Order) in his book, As One Struggling Christian to Another. “For me, being a Christian is to have received a call to a new life, a life with God which involves a radical change from within, which involves a shift from the priorities which the world usually sets before us to priorities that Jesus has given us in the name of His Father (Bavel, 2001).” This is easier said than done. Nevertheless, this definition of Fr. T. Tack is a good challenge for Filipino Augustinians who are trying to imitate the life and works of St. Augustine. Let us be careful if we are pretending. Augustine even criticized a fellow bishop if he is not doing his job. “He is called a Bishop, but that he is not. For Him the title is an empty one (Sermon 340A, 4).”
According to Fr. T. Tack, the following are qualities of a Christian Life. I would like to make an acronym in order for us to easily recall, memorize and understand this. The code word is CHEH. (For more detailed readings, please see the book of Fr. T. Tack, As One Struggling Christian to Another, pp. 32-34).
a. C – Courage. Bravery or courage is a most needed virtue today in our world. Can we stand for our own convictions and principles? We are not called to be martyrs but definitely we are called to stand up and show our courage right now inside the seminary, at home, in our places of work and even against the government, if the policies issued go against the basic human and law of the Church. The truth hurts, and that is true! But we know from experience that the truth will set us free.
b. H – Happiness. Sometime ago, I read a book entitled Joy written by Valentino Mazza, an Italian priest. According to him, joy is the most neglected duty of a Christian. The Church has given enough sacraments to its faithful but it failed in giving the joy of salvation to its faithful. The same view was given by Henri Nouwen, a famous spiritual writer. In the Philippines, the same view was given also by Bro. Bo Sanchez. The most basic and fundamental question is, are you happy? Happiness must be rooted in our hearts. Take note that misery loves company. Study shows that a dysfunctional person cannot fully become effective in his ministry unless he is healed. Be careful of mingling with a miserable person. Character is constant! We contaminate others with our character. Either we become happy or we become sad. Be happy today, right now at this very moment. Do not postpone your happiness. Indeed, Jesus was a very happy person because he can always forgive. “Forgiving others frees us from a terrible burden that can consume our hearts and make us most unhappy (Bavel, 2001).” True love is indeed liberating! True love makes for true happiness!
c. E – Enthusiasm. Fr. T. Tack was convinced that “enthusiasm, like happiness, is an interior quality.” It is a gift coming from the Holy Spirit. I would like to distinguish between a talent and a skill. Study shows that when you know and perform your talents, you are not tired but rather energized. For example, a talented singer will never feel the tiredness during the concert but is energized by the clapping and cheering of the crowd. On the other hand, a skilled person can perform the same function and perhaps can have the same effect on the crowd but he can always feel the tiredness. That is why it is very important to discover our talent (not just skill) because that is what we can give to the Province, to the Order and to the Church. An enthusiastic person always feels the energy while doing his job.
d. H – Humility. According to Fr. Tack, “It would be hard for me to imagine a happy, enthusiastic, and courageous Christian who was not, at the same time, humble about himself and the call to follow Christ.” Definitely, humble persons are quick enough to admit their humanity, that is, they are capable of making mistakes but willing to learn and re-learn. This is not the case of a proud person and Augustine has given us a strong warning against persons who are always proud or boasting about their good works. “Indeed, every other kind of sin has to do with the commission of evil deeds, whereas pride lurks even in good works in order to destroy them (Rule, 8).” We, who are poor materially, must be aware of this warning, because mostly, we are poor anyway. Listen again to the admonition of Augustine, “Otherwise, monasteries will come to serve a useful purpose for the rich and not the poor, if the rich are made humble there and the poor are puffed up with pride (Rule, 7).” Perhaps, we have heard it many times that in order for us to become closer to God, the first step is humility, the second step is humility and the third step is still the same, humility. Augustine mentioned that if we are going to ask him, he will give the same answer – humility. The message is still the same today. Be humble!
Religious Augustinian Formation: For Augustine, “A life in which individual poverty and communion of goods were fundamental (Sermon 355, 2).” All candidates must be trained in this basic and fundamental Religious Augustinian Formation. We know very well that the Jerusalem Community (Acts 4:32-34) was the model of Augustine. It is not on the individual renunciation of possession but on the holding of all things in common. T. Van Bavel proposed a better term by saying that we live in a community of goods or common ownership rather than poverty. “Sharing one’s possession is considered in the perspective of the building up of the community with one another; it becomes the relationship among people. We are concerned with life which wishes to find happiness in the love for one another.”
Let us take Chapter 1, of the Rule as our guide to our Religious Augustinian Formation:
a. Nobody is allowed to have private property.
b. All possessions must be freely shared.
c. The poor must not seek comfortable life.
d. The rich must avoid pride in giving up their possessions.
Our difficulty of unity lies in our attachments to earthly things or people (Cf. Sermon 359, 1). Experience will tell us that private ownership foster self-sufficiency and eventually leads to division. The Rule of St. Augustine explicitly states that friars who are taking advantage and are irresponsible do not belong inside the monastery. The warnings are very clear when the poor enter religious life because of material want and the rich through renunciation of wealth become proud. St. Augustine clearly encourages all friars to a life of material simplicity (frugality). The meaning is obvious; poverty and love goes together. Poverty is regularly at the service of love, that is, building of human relationship in love.
“As far as my conduct is concerned, my conscience is sufficient. As far as you are concerned my reputation must remain intact and must claim your respect. Conscience and reputation are two different things. Your conscience is your own while your reputation is what you display to your neighbor. He who puts his faith in his conscience and neglects his reputation is cruel, especially if he has been placed in a position (Sermon 355, 1).”
Pastoral Formation: let me quote some important Basic Principles of an Augustinian Approach to Formation (Cf. Ratio 4 for more detailed readings):
a. The whole of formation should be carried out in a community atmosphere which is both inviting and challenging.
b. While respect for the individual is highlighted in the Rule, this respect needs to be balanced by the respect due the community. For the community is the place of our common encounter with God, an encounter which is ever better realized the more we strive to live in unity and harmony.
c. A strong community prayer life, centered on the daily celebration of the Eucharist insofar as possible, must be enriched by the efforts of each individual to achieve a deep interior life. Ample time should also be provided for study, dialogue, and the sharing of faith and apostolic experiences.
d. Love for God and for the Church, while expressing itself in concrete works in keeping with local ecclesial needs, must begin in the community itself, where this love will show itself above all in a practical concern and love for one’s brothers.
The Ratio clearly states that “Augustinian formation first and foremost should foster in the brothers a love for and rootedness in Holy Scripture (Cf. Ratio 13).” This is the reason why I do not like philosophy so much. I love more the Holy Scriptures as compared to philosophy. I challenge all of you to take seriously the Holy Scriptures and see its effect in your own individual life.
“The double commandment of love in Mt. 22:37-40 is the theological ground on which Augustine defends a good community life as a value in itself, because it has to do immediately with love of neighbor and responsibility for one another. It is Augustine’s conviction that love of God comes first as a commandment, but that love of neighbor comes first on the level of practice (Ratio 20).”
Since the Augustinian way of life is about searching God in and through the community, it is imperative that all friars must take seriously the following recommendations from the Ratio:
a. A Journey of Faith: The word “in Deum” in the Rule is an invitation for all friars to be of one mind and one heart on the way to God. We are called to constantly change our lives towards the kingdom of God. We are challenged to travel, that is, to make progress (Cf. Ratio 45). “Make progress my brothers, examine yourself honestly again and again. Put yourself to the test. Do not be content with what you are, if you want to become what you are not yet. For where you have grown pleased yourself, there you will remain. But if you say, ‘that’s enough’, you are finished. Always add something more, keep moving forward, always make progress (Sermon 169, 15).”
b. Formation to Encounter with God: Encountering God is an ongoing process. Definitely, all of us will encounter and experience difficulties, adversity, trials, hardships, discouragement and suffering during our life’s journey (Cf. Ratio 46). Augustine says that even when nobody else can help us, God is always there. “When you suffer, be not afraid that God is not with you. Have faith, and God will be there with you in your trouble (En. in Ps. 90).” We encounter God through the brothers inside the community. Augustine firmly believed that God acts through human beings.
c. Formation to Prayer: A man without prayer is like a tree without roots, as Augustine says. Our way of encountering God through prayer is very explicit in the Rule 2, 3: “When you pray to God in Psalms and songs, the words spoken by your lips should be alive in your hearts.” Our words of prayer must be in harmony with our works or deeds or else prayer becomes simply a lip-service. The Ratio has a very nice description of prayer as ‘desiderium’, that is, “a heart full of desire, longing and yearning (Cf. Ratio 49).” Augustine rightly puts it that our longing is always a form of prayer, even though the tongue is silent. Our prayer sleeps only when our desire cools down (Sermon 80, 7).
d. Formation to Interiority: This is the trademark of an Augustinian! For Augustine, interiority means searching one’s heart and one’s own conscience. In his Confessions he mentioned: “People set out to wonder at the heights of the mountains, at the mighty waves of the sea, at the broad waterfalls of the rivers, at the vast extent of the ocean, at the movements of the stars. But themselves they pass by (Conf. 10, 8, 15).” “Interiority opens us to the basic principles of morality, to the unmasking of deceptive solutions, and to an honest understanding of our ignorance at the threshold of the unknowable. Self-knowledge means listening to what God has to say about me (Cf. Ratio 53).”
Fr. T. Tack, OSA, in his book, If Augustine Were Alive, proposed that the real meaning of interiority is our searching for God through contemplation and interior life. “Our search for true happiness is no other than to possess God (Tack, p. 46).” God is always dwelling within us. At first Augustine cannot find God because, “You were within me, while I was outside. You were with me, but I was not with you (Conf. 5, 2, 2).” The challenge for us today is to ‘turn back within.’ “Do not go outside yourself, but turn back within; truth dwells in the inner man; and if you find your nature given to frequent change, go beyond yourself…Move on, then to that source where the light of reason itself receives its light (De Vera Rel. 39, 72).”
Brothers, our human formation, Christian formation, Religious Augustinian formation and Pastoral formation are all centered in God through our community living. Let me now conclude this talk with the Document of the Intermediate General Chapter in 1992, The Augustinian Community Between the Ideal and the Real. Augustinian community must possess the following important factors:
The Community that Welcomes: There is a call that our community must promote hospitality, that is, we become welcoming (including people outside our community), receiving and open. “Openness among brothers and sisters within their own community through openheartedness, affability, dialogue, affection and forbearance. Only a loving community will be able to radiate love outward towards its environment. Therefore the quality of our common life should be evaluated regularly (The Augustinian Community Between the Ideal and the Real, p. 49).”
The Community that Promotes: There is a call that the Augustinian community promotes the Person and one’s personal vocation. “Everything should be held in common, but each person should be given what he personally needs (p. 54).” There should be a balance between the freedom of the individual and the community. The document is giving a danger that the right of an individual person is respected but not the rights of the community or group. Hence, “a balance between a person and community is an important task for us Augustinians (p.55).”
The Community that Manifests: There is a call that the Augustinian community should manifest our Charism. According to the document the following are important Augustinian values: (see p.58).
a. Love of neighbor as the surest norm of our love for God.
b. Community life in brotherhood.
c. Brotherhood culminating in friendship.
Thank you for inviting me. I hope I have satisfied your expectations. Again, congratulations to the formators and to formandi of San Agustin Center of Studies (SACS). Viva San Agustin!
God Bless us all!
Augustinian Primary Sources:
Augustine. Expositions of the Psalms Part iii v. 20.Translated by Maria Boulding. New York: New City Press, 2004.
_____________. Of True Religion.Translated by John H. S. Burleigh. Washington: Regnery Gateway, 1991.
_____________. Sermons Works of Saint Augustine Part iii v. 3. Translated by Edmund Hill, OP. New York: New City Press, 1991.
_____________. Sermons Works of Saint Augustine Part iii v.9. Translated by Edmund Hill, OP. New York: New City Press, 1991.
_____________. Sermons Works of Saint Augustine Part iii v. 10. Translated by Edmund Hill, OP. New York: New City Press, 1995.
_____________. The Confessions, Revised Edition. Translated by Maria Boulding. New York: New City Press, 2001.
Vatican II Document:
Pope Paul VI. Optatam Totius Decree on Priestly Training.October 28, 1965.
Documents of the Order:
Order of St. Augustine. Document of the Intermediate General Chapter in 1992.The Augustinian Community Between the Ideal and the Real. Rome: General Curia, 1992.
______________. Ratio Institutionis Plan of Augustinian Formation. Rome: General Curia, 1993.
______________. Rule and Constitutions. Rome: Augustinian General Curia, 2008.
Tack, Theodore. If Augustine Were Alive. Alba House: Staten Island NY: 1988.
Tack, Theodore. As One Struggling Christian to Another. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2001.