Mary Shows The Way

The intention of the following text is to present in a succinct way a Function or Vocation in the Church that does not as yet exist as such: that of the Spiritual Formator. Some of the tasks involved in this function, like Spiritual Direction, Teaching Spiritual Theology… have been and are still realised by some persons in the Church. But never all the tasks of the Spiritual Formator. For instance, being a Master of Novices in a monastery or a formation house does not coincide exactly with being a Master in Spiritual Life. In fact, the Master of Novices is also in charge of the formation into religious life and he is not necessarily trained to become a Spiritual Formator. However, despite the existence of some of the tasks, performed by some members of the Church, there is no formal ad hoc preparation of Spiritual Formators.

Up to the present day we do not have a function or vocation that realises all the necessary tasks of a Spiritual Formator or Master in Spiritual Life. We do not have a specific training and formation for it.

The following text is meant to present the actual state of things and to outline the nature of this vocation and its function in the Church. It further suggests that what should follow would be to offer a journey of training for potential candidates for three to five years at least.

Being a Spiritual Formator in a way is a blend of an intellectually very well-formed person in philosophy, human sciences, theology, and spiritual theology, with a long and solid experience in Spiritual Life. For many years this person will have been a disciple to other experienced people, thereby allowing him or her to receive the needed discernment. This blend of intellect, experience and discernment, plus a Call from Jesus for such a ministry, constitutes this new vocation in the Church.

In addition, we can say that Vatican Council II reminded us that striving for Holiness is not the monopoly of the Consecrated life. As a consequence, there is a need to form and support all the persons who hear this call for Holiness but do not belong to any school of spirituality. Formation in Spiritual Life should be a specific ministry in the Church offered to all, with expertise and professionalism. There is a pressing need to prepare ministers for this function.

To reiterate, the need now for Masters in Spiritual Life, or Spiritual Formators, is more than ever necessary. In fact, this function has as its main task the formation of all the persons who receive Jesus’ Call to go deeper in their spiritual life, so that they become properly capable of handling their own growth and of responding properly to the call to Holiness and fullness of love.

Teaching the practical means to empower Christians, so that they can respond fruitfully to the Call to Holiness, however, cannot be done in an amateur way. It is a very sacred task to train Spiritual Formators and it requires all the effort from the Church to fill the void this absence leaves.

It goes without saying that such vocation and service in the Church goes alongside a much-needed renewal in Spiritual Theology and a concerted effort to produce a common Body of Teaching for the Prophetic Function of the Church, in charge of the spiritual journey from the Second Conversion, i.e. Jesus’ Call, till the end, namely, the fullness of love.

Here are twelve important points to understand and properly promote this vocation:

1- Spiritual Formator, as we define it, means a person capable of forming others in Spiritual Life. Formation is much wider than specific tasks or ministries. Essentially, a formator is a person capable of giving courses in Spiritual Life, following up a person for the implementation of the Spiritual Teaching, (Spiritual Tuition), and offering a more in-depth Spiritual Direction. It goes without saying that if properly trained other easier tasks will be performed at a higher and professional level: talks, short and long retreats. In sum, a formator will be capable of teaching, forming, understanding spiritual life, and will also be capable of a high-quality discernment in the different issues faced by spiritual persons, the obstacles and problems of spiritual life.

2- Many persons do perform some of the above missions in the Church but often they are offered in a fragmented and diluted form. Being a “Master in Spiritual Life” essentially combines three qualities well blended together: science, experience and discernment. A degree in Spiritual Theology doesn’t make the person a Spiritual Formator. Experience and discernment are needed and need to be led and formed.

3- The function (the job) itself of “Spiritual Master” doesn’t exist in the Church. If some missions in the Church like “Master of Novices” or “Retreat Guide” (eg: leading the Spiritual Exercises), or the Ancient Elder Monk, are quite close to it, they are not exactly the same and today no formal preparation in the Church for such a mission is offered.

4- “Spiritual Formation” is needed in the Church in all areas of the Prophetic Function: Monastic Life, Religious Life, Secular Institutes, New Movements in the Church, including individual lay persons striving toward a deeper spiritual life and holiness.

5- The weakness and fragmentation of the different spiritualities in the Church has led to a lukewarm consecrated life. The division into different schools of spiritualities has reached a point of fragmentation which prevents the Church from having a fundamental core pedestal for Spiritual Life and Spiritual Formation. A common Doctrine for a deep Spiritual Life is needed before finding ways for legitimate diversification in Spiritual Schools. Note: Spiritual Theology today is rather weak, diluted and fragmented. This has had negative repercussions on Spiritual Formation in the Church. For renewal to occur serious commitment is of the essence, people needing to dedicate their lives to it.

6- Having leaned essentially on fidelity to a Monastic Rule or to a Style of Life or a Horarium to become a saint, made many think that this is enough and that there is no need for a proper Spiritual Formation. Consequently, people have lost interest in Spiritual Theology and its role in Spiritual Formation. This has also led to a weakening of spiritual formation, its dilution and lack of development. Devotions, local habits and rites end up replacing robust spiritual life and giving the wrong impression that these are means of true sanctification.

7- The inner workings proper to spiritual life still constitute an invisible inner world often classified as difficult to describe and apophatic, leading to the conviction that there is no teaching and formation for spiritual matters, with the result that any common effort to develop spiritual formation is abandoned. This has led to allegedly relegating Spiritual Life to a private sphere -an inner forum- leading finally to ignorance, fragmentation and dilution of spiritual life. It is an error to think that Spiritual Life cannot be expressed. The thousands of written pages by St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross are here to show us the way.

8- The idea of focusing all our energy on the pursuit of God and Union with Christ and the fullness of His love becomes secondary or left to personal private effort. The reality of knowing how to maintain and ensure a steady spiritual growth is really non-existent. The need for a healthy spiritual emulation and support in spiritual growth has just not been met.

9- In order to realise this mission, the Church needs to form individuals in all walks of the Prophetic Function, to become professional Spiritual Formators, capable of facing such a difficult, complex, difficult mission.

10- Spiritual Formator, or Master in Spiritual Life, emerges and stands alone as a specific vocation in the Church that deserves all our attention and effort. Its influence on the Church, especially over the Prophetic Function will be immense. Progress in Spiritual Life will allow the lives of many persons engaged in the Spiritual Journey to reach completion and to bear amazing fruits for the Church and the World. It is very difficult to measure the fruits of the implementation of such a vocation.

11- In order to achieve this formation, one needs to offer a complete training in: knowledge/science/doctrine, in discernment, and in the practice of this vocation. The Church needs to offer a free space and time for each person to learn, practice and discern as it does with Religious and Seminarians in their first years of formation. This is why we call it a new “Vocation” in the Church, and also a new Function in the Church. But it is not necessarily binding as to formal consecration. One can go back to his or her diocese and serve or become part of the School of Mary. It is not a formal consecration as we know it today – one remains free.

12- Offering a residential possibility for this formation is a necessity. No other formal obligations or missions should be assigned to the person. Full freedom to be formed and trained should be given. Three years is a reasonable minimum time to have the basic formation. Further formation can be given leading to a Master’s Degree within two more years.

As a result of these twelve points, we need to concentrate all our efforts on training persons who have the call to serve their brothers and sisters as Spiritual Masters.

Jean Khoury

6th August 2021

Transfiguration of the Lord

See also:

Becoming a Spiritual Formator

Spiritual Formation and the School of Mary

More on Training Formators in Spiritual Life