BECAN FORMATORS INSTITUTE (BFI), 2012
Queen of Peace Benedictine Monastery Ozubulu, Nigeria
Br Peter Eghwrudjakpor, OSB
The BECAN Formators Institute (BFI) is usually held once in five years. This year’s (2012) was the 4th in the series. The first BFI took place in 1997, the second was in 2002, and the third in 2007. One could say definitively that it has evolved in many ways, from glory to glory. This year, there were 45 participants; 28 women and 17 men from 19 communities. All the 16 monasteries belonging to the Benedictines and Cistercians Association of Nigeria were represented. And in addition, there were three other communities represented: A Benedictine nun from the Elukwatini community, representing the union of Benedictine communities in Southern Africa (BECOSA), a monk from Our Lady of Bamenda Cistercian monastery in the Cameroon and two nuns from the Poor Clare Monastery at Ijebu-Ode, western Nigeria. It was the first time a community that is not of the Rule of St Benedict was allowed to participate in the BFI. At the end, the wealth of diversity of traditions and cultures was a gain, and a huge success.
At the 2012 institute, there were five presenters: Fr Joseph Nwosa, Fr Mark Butlin, OSB; Br Colman Ó Clabaigh, OSB; Sr Phippa Manweller, OCist; and Sr M. Jane Aririguzo, IHM. And the topics they covered were wide ranging, including a survey of the monastic movement down the centuries, formation, spiritual direction and discernment; prayer and conversion, themes from the Cistercian patrology, some specific issues and elements from the Canons on Religious life, among many others.
In the given milieu of contemporary Nigerian society, this monastic institute was very important, vital one could say. It is obvious that formation has to be taken very seriously in today’s Nigeria. Our society is strongly under the influence of neo-paganism, and the dominant religion is the miracle/blood of Jesus-centred brand of the fundamentalist Pentecostalism. Other major contributors to the confusion in our society include syncretism, poverty and fraud, as well as the assault of modern technology and communication which we share with many other parts of the world.
Alongside the formal presentations, the participants had opportunities to share personal experiences, and exchanged ideas on issues bordering on formation especially in the complexities of today’s Nigeria. The participants were generally happy and appreciative of what they gained from this institute. The majority of them were new in the job of formation, with very little or no experience. Hence, this institute was seen as timely and God-sent. Most of the participants saw this institute as an opportune occasion for skill acquisition, gathering of necessary tools and for personal growth and self-development. And there was much talk about spiritual renewal at the end of it all, as part of the gains.
Much of what was presented and the style of the presentations were eye-opening as well as challenging, many testified. Hence the institute is tagged: “Formation of Formators”. Today, monasticism in Nigeria is faced with enormous challenges, and several monasteries are going through the crucible. Much of our problems are not unconnected with formation. Part of the fruits hoped for from this workshop is that the participants will gain personal help, and be better equipped to be more effective in the task of formation, with greater capacities to face the challenges which are the products of contemporary societies.
In summary, one could list some areas that were specifically helpful in the just concluded BFI. These include:
• conducive environment for reflection, learning and sharing
• enriching content
• sufficient forum for acquisition of helpful formative skills / tools
• a blend of diverse cultures and traditions
• sense of unity, sense of communion, of one family / community despite differences.
The end product was a blooming of diverse beauty forms. The participants had common liturgy, common meals, common recreation, and chores were divided round. Participants also felt strengthened in their personal journey and commitment to the monastic life after visiting other monasteries and spiritual centres during the weekends. At the end, the atmosphere was one of joy and of eagerness to share what was gained and put into practice what was learned; the message of BFI 2012.
As in the past, everyone present unanimous expressed appreciation and gratitude to the AIM for its sponsorship of this 2012 BECAN Monastic Formators Institute.
Report by Sr Cecilia Ekwunife OSB
We were greatly and deeply enriched by this workshop through the five presenters who treated the following topics:
Fr Joseph Nwosa dealt with spiritual accompaniment and direction. He started with a reference to the kinds of candidates who come to our doors. He taught us vocation discernment – from the initial, the middle and final stages in discernment. He enlightened us with the three things that can happen in formation – Compliance, Identification and Internalization. He stressed and explained the importance of emotional maturity of the candidates. He treated the four areas of human formation – human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral – as well as the anthropological and pedagogical and theological foundations of formation. The climax was the topic of formation as transformation. He analysed spiritual direction; its origin and purpose, as well as possible blocks, but he also touched on counselling and psychotherapy.
Fr Mark Butlin OSB treated the meaning of conversion and how to live it within the monastic community, a call to live a spirituality of communion in depth. He challenged us with the need of reflection in our monastic life, encounter with God, the virtue of reality. This led to teaching the experience of conversion, the experience of the monastic journey, group discussion about the definition of conversion from which came up a wealth of very profound vocabularies about conversion. Fr. Mark also presented conversion and baptism as the starting point in the process of change and growth along with the signs of growth and change in the conversion process, as well as the aim and purpose of conversion, and the agents of conversion: Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, gratitude and the holy Eucharist. He mentioned some of the ingredients of the sacrament of reconciliation. He looked with us at a spirituality of communion in depth and he introduced us to a style of lectio divina as a lived experience.
Br Colman Ó Clabaigh OSB. Colman helped us to see the thread of monasticism and its richness from its origin to the present day. He started with life of the Essenes and the Therapeutae, St. Anthony of Egypt, St. Pachomius, the Desert Fathers and Mothers, St. Basil and the Cappadocian Monasticism, John Cassian, the monastic schools in the Mediterrean world, St. Benedict of Norcia, St. Benedict of Aniane and his reform, the monastery of Cluny and reform, the emergence of eremitical groups, the Augustinian Canons, the military orders (the Camaldolese, the Carthusians), the hermits and the anchorites, the Cistercian tradition, the friars, the Dominicans, the Carmelites, women and monasticism, reformation of women’s monasteries; the decadence and decline of medieval monasticism, the monastic reform movements. The Catholic reformation, the Council of Trent, the Jesuits, the English Benedictine congregation, hostile attacks on the church (the American Revolution and the French revolution). Various reforms of the 19th century, finally, monasticism in Nigeria.
Sr M. Philippa Manweiler conducted the concluding phase and was able to relate all the topics of the past presenters together. She began with some historical events in Church history, and related this to the Benedictine Rule. She also delved into the conversion process in the monastic life, and the challenges of communion in the daily living. She opened the topic of the four evangelists of Citeaux: St. Bernard, William of St. Thierry, Guerric of Igny and Aelred of Rievaulx (his rule for the recluse life). She finally went into the theme for Advent, the Incarnation in the Cistercian Fathers.
Finally, a canonist from the Catholic Institute of West Africa, Sr. M. Jane Aririguzo, IHM, arrived to do the final session. Some of her topics included the Juridical Act of religious consecration according to Vatican II, the juridical effects of the consecrated life, the meaning of religious consecration, the relationship between baptismal consecration and the consecrated life, and lastly, the theological implications of our religious consecration.
Report of Br Cyril M. Osamade, OCSO
This year the formators’ seminar was quite exceptional; it was an eyeopener for me personally as a formator, also being the first time of my participation in this once in five years seminar of BECAN formators’ seminar. We had interesting topics on formation of candidates; it was a privilege to share with men and women who had lived the monastic / religious life for many years and who contributed immensely from the wealth of their lived experience. The following were the fruits gathered within this distinguished seminar for monastic formators:
On Formation: Various issues on contemporary formation of candidates were shared, the dominant theme for the session was What type of formation do we impact on our candidates today? The following were the hints put across for the right formation of candidates:
• That our formation should be Christ-centered.
• We should form with our lives, we should walk the whole way with those in formation, and endeavour to teach with our life, because ‘A good life is the best creed.’
• We must teach the right doctrine of the church.
• To follow the Gospel values.
• To give a correct notion of vocation.
• To help the candidates to grow in self-knowledge.
• To recognize the place of the candidate in formation, etc.
There was stress on formation being wholesome; and this should lead the candidates to a personal relationship with God. The whole person is the object of formation. Among the three types of formation i.e. compliance, identification and internalization, the last is the approach to be cultivated in the formation of candidates because it enables the candidates to absorb and internalize the values receive during formation and is fleshed out in their dealings with members of the community. Also, formators must be well informed in areas of human formation, because one cannot give what one doesn’t have: ‘Nemo dat quod non habet’.
On Experience: This was viewed as lived and shared experience, we were told to keep guard on visual reality which is based on what is seen, watched and mere ideologies of life. Visual reality is neither real nor true. We must discover the realities of life. The spirituality of conversion accordingly, is the key to monastic experience. Thomas Merton was right when he said: ‘When we stop and think, we come to touch the reality of life.’ We need to stop and think; in order to act correctly and sensibly. St. Benedict’s idea on Conversatio Morum speaks of daily life experiences, this is the centre of our monastic vows, and it is both the end and purpose of our monastic journey. Conversion brings us closer and closer to the person of Christ. We were rightly informed that: ‘The main job of monasticism is to hand on experience.’ We were informed that both Christian and monastic life is a ‘journey’ and it is dynamic not static. Conversion is a process, it is a leaving behind, metanoia – radical ongoing dedication, to God and what is good.
Monastic History: On this subject, a handful of topics were taught as an eye-opener to our noble tradition, but a fundamental question was asked: Why do we study monastic history? It is the communion of Saints, to know our roots, to deepen our knowledge, to know our patrimony / matrimony, to know our founders, look to the future by learning from the past. In summary; we learn in order to identify with our tradition. Tradition came from the Latin word traditio, which means handing on what we have learnt ourself. The presenter helped us by tracing monastic history from Egypt to Ozubulu being the hosting house of this year’s formators’ seminar. He spoke extensively on the ascetic life, that the idea of renunciation emerged from the ascetics. According to him, the first examples of Christian asceticism were women, widows and virgins cf. Acts 9.36-41. He affirmed that a wide range of Christians adopted the ascetic life as a way of following Christ more closely.
Finally, we were privileged to end with a Canonist from CIWA. She shared with us on: The Value of Religious Consecration according to Vatican II. She stressed at length that life consecrated to God involves the whole person and this act of consecration signals a profound change in the person. This change is an ontological change. And our life is a total dedication to God because it involves a total surrender of self to God. She cited Canon 573 of the new Code, which says that consecration actualized in the profession of the evangelical counsels, is identified with total dedication to God. By this new and special consecration, even though not sacramental, the consecrated make their own the way of life practiced by Christ, chaste, poor and obedient, in imitation of him. They form part of the holiness of the Church.
Report by Br Michael Asogwa, OSB
The task of formation (Fr Joseph M Nwosah)
It is difficult to speak clearly and precisely about journeying with a person in Vocation without a primary knowledge of human development. Fr Joseph M. Nwosah, the director of Nazareth Formation Centre, Isiagu, Awka diocese, opened this year’s BECAN seminar with discussions on human development, spiritual accompaniment, and vocation discernment. He holds the view that ‘it is the whole person that comes to be formed’. Formation, as transformation, must concern itself primarily with forming the heart, which is the seat of all human activity and non-activity. Primacy of place is given to the ‘Prayer of the Heart’, as a principal tool of formation. And the Holy Spirit is thereby allowed to be the Principal Formator. The human formator being only an indispensable agent is also necessary because of the economy of the Incarnation. Against this background, vocation discernment becomes a prayerful survey of the candidates’ continuing response to the Holy Spirit’s overtures.
‘A person is a unit in his/her complexity. There is therefore interrelationship between the different aspects of the human person. Integral formation is the only possible choice, that is, formation of every aspect of the human person - body, mind and feelings, fired by the Spirit of God dwelling in us.’ Fr Joseph encouraged the formators to target the growth of emotional maturity in the candidates. He held that a person who becomes what he is called to be is better than a person who only knows what he is called to be. The goal of a formator is the integral growth of the candidate. Encounters between the candidates and the formators are grace-filled encounters. Formators need to see themselves primarily as ‘growth facilitators’. He prefers this term to ‘spiritual director’.
On the relationship between the formator and community, Fr Nwosa said that it helps when formators give a progress report to the community based on the efforts, difficulties and what he/she has done about these difficulties. The relationship with superiors is based on communion, progress information, invitation and stimulus. Religious formation is based on the full and harmonious collaboration between the candidate, the formator and the Holy Spirit. The three must work harmoniously. He holds that responsibility cannot be delegated; the superior is the first representative of Christ. The candidate is the main protagonist in the formation process, while the formator is an indispensible protagonist. The protagonist par excellence is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is active in the formator and in the candidate. He noted that all formation is self-formation. He listed three elements of self-formation, namely, self-knowledge, self-conviction, and self-formation; hence the indispensable need for a guide. Formation as transformation involves the fact that formators are to encourage the candidates to form themselves. It is not good enough to in-form, if one does not have the form. The personal interest and responsibility is very important because as the African maxim says ‘you can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.’ Vocation is the individual’s personal response to God’s call; it is only God’s invitation and mission. Formation is part of the response to the call. Formation must have an objective goal and not be simply a matter of individual choice.
Fr Nwosa listed seven processes of vocation discernment. This he explained using St. Teresa of Avila’s theory of the mansions. Faith is the basis of religious life and the condition of its continuance and growth. Faith calls for a personal commitment to Christ lived out in action. It is a faith revitalizing the whole person and producing an inner change expressed in trust in God, and leading to an interpersonal relationship with God. Formators should be aware that they cannot give what they do not have; they are challenged by their religious consecration to live those expressions of faith which have meaning for our time. Formators should avoid compromise, should expect from the candidates the acceptance of the deeper demands of prayer, integration of life to which religious life calls. He holds that integration is primarily God’s gift, but the formator has a part to play in the candidates’ response to it. Docility and sincerity are the core presuppositions in the candidates to be received into the novitiate. Assimilation and appropriation of values are necessary in the process of internalization. He ended by stressing the fact that values are not taught in the classroom, but that they are caught.
A Week with Fr. Mark Butlin, OSB: On Conversion
The formators were divided into eight groups of five and six persons. Each group was asked to share some thoughts on our experiences of:
• What Conversion means to us in Christian Life.
• A conversion experience in your life as a Christian and in the monastic life.
When the groups came back to share there was a variety of reactions and reflections during the sharing which had been such a rich one to all the participants. It was expressed in the general assembly that monastic journey is an experience of conversion. This journey is towards God. It is a process which involves letting go and dying to one’s old self, allowing the new self to grow in Christ. Conversion is the removal of blockages to growth in Christ. It is living Christ-centred life, a total union and commitment to God. Conversion is radical and on-going, it does not stop. Conversion is becoming a new person, a new creation that involves goodness. Conversion is daily transformation of life, living our daily life, which involves listening to the Holy Spirit. It is the readiness to yield to the direction of the Holy Spirit. It is a transformation tied up with our baptismal vows. Conversion involves awareness and choice, a turning point that involves faith and reason.
After the general assembly sharing their experiences of conversion, Fr. Mark unpacked it by saying that the starting point of conversion is what leads us to eternal life. The starting point of conversion is self-awareness. It starts with love for God and he who abides in love abides in God. Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received. Conversion is dynamic, it is never complete; we are always beginners (RB 72). It is a journey that is never completely finished in this life. Conversion is at the heart of the Christian message; Christians are those who come to believe in God’s love. And the monastic life is a Love life, it is actively participating in God’s Love.
On the experience of conversion, from the sharing in the group that was relayed to the general assembly by the secretary of each group, we discovered that conversion involves an inner struggle to surrender. This struggle involves a challenge which leads to strong will, determination and perseverance. Sometimes we are shocked into conversion; we need a shock jotter to get moving in our life. This leads to the acceptance of humiliation, which does not rub people’s noses in the dirt. Conversion is a radical transformation which leads to whole lot of changes in the person’s life.
A Week with Br. Colman Ó Clabaigh, OSB
Towards the end of his seminar Colman asked each community to say something about the foundation of his/her monastery. It was by no means clear from the outset what this history of our different monastic foundations would lead to. Each participant spent about fifteen minutes trying to find the best way to present the human and spiritual values of each of our different monastic to the rest members of the group. The story of St Benedict’s Monastery, Ewu, acted as a catalyst; and from then on an atmosphere of trust and understanding developed in the group and enabled others to share something of their own inner life. We
learned to give without fear and to draw out the best from each other; it was also the fruit of mutual sympathy and affection, even though each account was personal to each community. None of us would have been able to give account of this sort had we not been encouraged by the others, through support, laughter, criticism and insight.
This was more than a job on group therapy, we came to the awareness that Bishop Okoye and Cardinal Arinze played a major role in the foundation of (each) monastic life in Nigeria. Also the honest sharing of some of our failures and weaknesses gave each of us in our different ways a new confidence to face them and to believe that they can be part of the way God is bringing us to wholeness. In fact it strengthened our faith on this monastic journey that God is real at all. Many of the participants were guided to see themselves as part of the tradition of monastic life which came down from Egypt, hence the title ‘from Egypt to Ozubulu’. We all came to the awareness that there are human elements in monastic foundations. Also the issues of the different manifestations of monastic life in history made a great impression on us. Each person was given the chance to say one or two things he/she had learnt new, Colman then reminded the group that each one of us is charged with handing on the tradition. After the session there was a great zeal to tell others the story of our monastic foundations.