Changes in vocation and formation ministry are raising new questions, particularly collaborative formation programs on the national or international scale. These programs may gather women or men from various parts of the country or the world. Candidates may be engaging in the formation program in a language and culture that are not their own. It is important to ask how this new reality may impact those we invite, and those who will be successful in our formation programs. Someone who struggles with language or culture may be unwilling or unable to enter or complete our formation programs. Are these men and women called to religious life? Are there communities where they can live and grow? Are we impoverished if we cannot accept them with the gifts they bring?
The same changes raise questions of cost and carbon-footprint. A few generations ago, candidates came by bus, and stayed in the formation community until they were ready to go out on mission. Now home visits are much more common and often involve air-travel. In a national or international formation program, our newer sisters and brothers become frequent fliers before final vows. The saying goes: “join the convent and see the world!” While travel and collaboration may be unprecedented gifts, can we also ask about the life-style we are modeling and about its impact on the environment?
Finally, this level of collaboration in formation has begun to raise questions about the ongoing accompaniment of candidates through the formation process. A new brother or sister who raises concerns at various points in the formation program may be given the benefit of the doubt. If these programs are in different places and even different countries, it is more difficult to get a clear picture of the candidate’s deepening sense of vocation and commitment, and to connect the dots regarding troublesome behaviors. In some recent cases, when a brother or sister settled down after final vows, the community got a first clear and consistent picture of them, only to realize that they should never have made vows and perhaps should be dismissed.
All this is not to say we should immediately pull back from collaborative programs, but simply to invite us to continued discernment as to the best ways to continue inviting women and men into religious life and the best ways of accompanying them in inquiry, discernment and formation.