I've thought a lot about this topic as I have worked with individuals and communities who are making this difficult journey. And I resonate with much that this article expresses.
The article ends with a poem by Tagore, and these lines express an important truth:
No; it is not yours to open buds into blossomsThis poem reminds me of the fact that vocation is not the work of vocation or formation directors, or of leadership or the sisters/brothers in community. Vocation is a mystery of gift and response and our task is that of a gardener who prepares the soil, waters and tends. Vocation unfolds in the life of the individual in relationship with their God.
Shake the bud, strike it; it is beyond your power to make it blossom.
In the vocation / formation journey, some will come, and some will go. Ours is to pray deeply, discern carefully, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God and with those on the vocation/formation journey. The decision to leave formation is complex, whether it is initiated by the community or it is initiated by the individual.
- The individual in relationship with God and in their sense of self can experience a major personal turmoil. This will vary from one person to another, and with the length of time in formation, the reasons for leaving and the degree of mutuality of the decision. Sometimes the very characteristic that is the cause of departure is the characteristic that will show itself with a vengeance in the departure process. Communities do well to ensure that the individual is supported in discernment and in transition out of the community. Honesty and clarity, coupled with empathy and gentleness will help us to honor the blooming of this person's flower - even if it cannot bloom within the community.
- Others in formation are also impacted by the departure of someone in their group. That departure will likely raise questions about their own suitability and perseverance. It may also raise questions about the community and its formation program, and about those serving as leaders and formators.
- Formators can also feel the challenge of a departure. They have lived, worked and prayed very closely with the person leaving. From this experience, they can see both the potential and the challenges the individual is facing and they have their own sense of the propriety of the departure, which may differ from the one leaving and/or those in leadership. While maintaining their own personal integrity, as formators, they have a pastoral duty to the one they have been accompanying and the community. Honesty and clarity, coupled with empathy and gentleness can also be applied to their own personal journey and to their work with leadership, others in formation and the community at large.
- The whole community is invested in the formation program. Various brothers/sisters may have supported a particular candidate and encouraged them to pursue a vocation with the community. Confidentiality prohibits full disclosure of the dynamics of a departure. At the same time, that same honest and empathy that are used with the departing individual should be directed to those who have supported them in the community. A candidate, novice or temporary professed takes their first steps in our community. This can have the effect of touching each of us at the deep roots of our own vocation. It can be a moment of renewal, or a moment that touches our woundedness or unsettledness in our vocation. Awareness and compassion can guide us in this sensitive time.
- Families and friends of those who leave will also be impacted by the transition. Within the constraints of confidentiality, pastoral outreach to family and friends may be helpful both in supporting the individual who is leaving and in addressing the concerns of family and friends themselves.
Many people experience the departure of an individual from community. When possible, ritual can help to express this experience and bring it to prayer, supporting everyone in their continued journey of faith.
The article touched on many of these factors, and helped me to focus my concerns about this issue. I believe that it is important to consider departure as we design vocation and formation programs. It is a reality of life, and as we invite people to consider our community, we should be ready to walk with them in good times and in bad, in arrivals and in departures.