For the next several weeks we will consider chapter six of the Aparecida document, in some sense the heart of the document, “The Formative Itinerary of Missionary Disciples.” How do we go about forming serious Christians?
This is the last chapter of Part Two, “The Life of Jesus Christ in Missionary Disciples.” Part One, remember, took stock of the cultural situation we face, “The Life of Our People Today.” Part Three will consider “The Life of Jesus Christ for our People”: the tasks that fully formed missionary disciples face in bringing the life of Christ to the world.
Today we will consider the broad outline. In the next weeks we will delve deeper into the particular proposals:
6. The Formative Itinerary of Missionary Disciples
a. A Trinitarian Spirituality of Encounter with Jesus Christ
b. The Process of Formation of Missionary Disciples
c. Initiation to Christian Life and Permanent Catechesis
d. Places of Formation for Missionary Disciples
The first key word is “itinerary.” Formation is a process – as Section B will repeat. It is a long road, in two respects.
First, it is a long road for those who are being formed. To take formation seriously, to take Christian discipleship seriously, is to realize that we need to commit to the hard work of forming missionary disciples. We need to commit to the beginning of that path, which is real evangelization. And we need to commit to all the steps along the way, all the steps that lead from various kinds of initial enthusiasm to serious mature Christian faith.
And so, in another way, formation is also a long road for the formators. Pastors of souls have a lot of work to do. This goes for bishops and priests, but also for parents, teachers, friends, and everyone engaged in bringing people forward in their Christian life. And remember, the central insight of Aparecida is a Christian who is not working to help others grow in holiness is a Christian not truly devoted to Christ.
This “formative itinerary” means the long haul of establishing programs: not just fancy programs, but also the little “programs” that are daily, weekly, and annual routines, taking time with people, dealing with real issues. And even harder, dealing with real people. Figuring out how to do that needs commitment to the long haul. Formation is an “itinerary.”
At the heart is “A Trinitarian Spirituality of Encounter with Jesus Christ.” Aparecida’s take on this beautifully unites the old and the new.
On the (apparently) new side is an emphasis on the “kerygma,” and the encounter with Christ. Gregorian chant, Christian culture, moral discipline: these all have an essential place in true Christian formation. But all of this means nothing if it does not lead us to Christ himself. If evangelization is not Evangelical, it isn’t evangelization; it isn’t even Christian.
But in the process of discussing this, they put in a footnote to the Athanasian Creed. (This has the fingerprints of the Jesuit author, Cardinal Bergoglio!) The Athanasian Creed is an old and very unhip statement of Trinitarian faith. Aparecida cites it by its other name, Quicumque Vult, from its first words: “Whoever wants to be saved,” it begins, “must hold the Catholic faith. Unless one preserves this whole and undefiled, without doubt he will eternally perish.” Yikes.
The Quicumque Vult goes on to give the driest statements on the Trinity: “Father eternal, Son eternal, Holy Spirit eternal. Yet not three eternals, but one eternal,” etc. And then an abbreviated form of the Apostle’s creed, focused on Jesus.
Aparecida’s point is that there’s nothing new or Protestant about being Christ-centered. The fustiest parts of our tradition say that no matter how morally rigorous you (think you) are, and no matter how old-fashioned your cultural preferences, it all means nothing at all if you do not love Jesus, and the Holy Spirit who leads us through Jesus to the Father.
The last three sections of this chapter take us through the details of getting to know Christ.
First, a long section on “process,” which is to say, serious formation needs to cover all the bases, from beginning to end, and from top to bottom.
Second, a section on “initiation and permanent catechesis.” Again, the need to take seriously that getting started in the Christian life – including getting straight about what Christianity even is – is a challenge, and a different challenge for different people. But we need to take seriously, too, that once we get started, we need to continue formation throughout life: permanent catechesis.
Finally, a section on “places of formation.” In some ways this is the punchline: alright, how and where do we undertake this? The answer is: a lot of ways, a lot of places.
How are our lives ordered to leading other people to Jesus Christ?