We are reading through Aparecida’s presentation of “The Formative Itinerary of Missionary Disciples.” The chapter has four steps: it begins with the “Trinitarian Spirituality of Encounter with Jesus Christ,” then examines the “Process of Formation,” next more closely examines “Initiation” and what follows after, and finally considers the “Places of Formation.”
The second chapter, on Process, has two parts. The second is perhaps what we are more inclined to think about, and what seems to be the focus of many formation programs: the “diverse dimensions” of formation (human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral), care for “accompanying the disciples,” and an emphasis on turning the formed into formators, through a “spirituality of missionary action.”
But first Aparecida again points us to fundamentals: “fundamental aspects of the process.”
6. The Formative Itinerary of Missionary Disciples
b. The Process of Formation of Missionary Disciples
i. Aspects of the process
1. The encounter with Jesus Christ
In a sense, the document is repeating what it says in the previous section (and we examined last week): that all our “processes” have to be focused on Jesus. Let us not get ahead of ourselves, more worried about process than about the real goals of the process!
These five “fundamental aspects,” Aparecida underlines, “appear differently at each step of the journey.” That is to say, they are not five steps; we do not “move on” from encountering Jesus, then get to conversion, then discipleship, communion, and mission. Instead, every step of our journey must re-engage these five fundamental aspects. These, together, are the measure by which we gauge whether each new step is a step forward, or off the path.
Then too, these five aspects are “closely intertwined and draw nourishment from one another.” Without a sense of mission, our encounter with Christ is sterile; there is no conversion without communion, no true discipleship that isn’t about conversion, etc.
Again Aparecida underlines the “encounter with Jesus Christ.” “Without the kerygma,” that is, the basic Gospel message, the basic proclamation that Jesus is Savior, “the other aspects of this process are condemned to sterility, with hearts not truly converted to the Lord.”
Everything we do must constantly return to Jesus Christ.
But so too, everything must focus on real conversion, a real change of heart. Formation is not just about learning new things, and not about just any kind of personal change, but about the kind of change we call conversion.
Aparecida helps us measure our focus on conversion by pointing us back to the constant remembrance of Baptism and Confession.
Baptism is, fundamentally, an act of repentance, of rejecting our old ways, dying to the world’s standards, and embracing the new life of Christ. John the Baptist’s Baptism did not have the power of Christ’s, but it reminds us what that power was about. John told them to repent!
We have to keep alive that sense that our life is rooted in Baptism, rooted in repentance, and conversion. The fundamental instrument of that repentance is Confession. Any part of formation that does not fundamentally lead us back, and deeper, into Confession, is a kind of formation that has missed the mark.
All true formation must also always be about “discipleship,” which Aparecida defines as “constantly maturing.” Disciple means “student”. True formation means maintaining that attitude; life-long formation means never ceasing to be a student of the Lord Jesus.
Aparecida says our discipleship must be a constant maturing in knowledge, love, and following Christ. Any formation that doesn’t lead us to know, love, and follow the Master always more and better is not real formation.
The fourth fundamental aspect of true formation is “communion.” Just as true formation leads us deeper into the encounter with Christ, it also leads us deeper into the Church. That includes the teachings of the Church, as part of discipleship, but communion points us deeper. Communion means we learn always love our neighbor more and better; always to find ourselves more in relationship with other Christians.
We begin to see better how these five elements are “closely intertwined and draw nourishment from one another.” True conversion draws us to better love, deeper communion with the Church, both local and around the world. Deeper communion, deeper love, points us right back to conversion, as we want to love better. True discipleship points us towards both. And a true encounter with Christ both leads us to conversion, discipleship, and communion, and is then fed by those things. The deeper we love, the more truly we will encounter him.
And so too, will we be sent forth in mission, to draw others to encounter, conversion, discipleship, and communion.
Are we moving forward in all these ways? When we think about evangelization, do we tend to overlook any of them?