December 29, 2010

Surviving Formation

Today I'm considering something hard: the possibility of quitting this blog. I doubt I will, but here's what I'm thinking:

Over Christmas an old friend reminded me that this is a ministry. As I've thought about it anew, I've noticed that some of my best and most fruitful writing here has been in the form of direct answers to questions or indirect responses to conversations from younger religious or those considering a religious or priestly vocation.

So I'm wondering if my incidental writing energies might be better spent in a more sustained and directed--and perhaps more anonymous--project toward a spiritual book on how deal with, and benefit most fruitfully from religious or seminary formation.

It seems to me that such a spiritual book is badly needed to make up for two lacks.

First, the generational differences in religious life and the priesthood can be debilitating for a new religious or seminarian. Formation programs are generally operated and controlled by older religious, so-called 'liberals' for whom the liberation of dismantling a previous, more constricting style of religious life has become a controlling norm and interpretive key. Younger religious, many of whom are converts or reverts to the faith, often emerge from a very different place: they are children of the relativistic vertigo and moral chaos of our age, seeking refuge in something solid to stand on. Form and structure are things they are liberated to, whereas their parents in religion found their freedom in liberation from them. Such is the impasse at the most basic level of spiritual attitude and vocation.

These differences have been rehearsed many times, and by those better at it than me. Each side has its virtues and dangers. My point here is that this can be very difficult world to navigate without being driven to distraction or losing one's mind, much less survive with faith, charity, and sense of humor intact (and all of these are critical to religious life.) As someone who has survived it, and continues to do so as finally professed and ordained, though not without sins and near-catastrophic falls along the way, I think I might be in a good position to share some wisdom about how one might succeed in the funny and conflicted world of religious life.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, entering religious life and trying daily to consent to the grace to be formed in religion requires many ordinary and expected spiritual trials. They aren't the interior struggles you imagine for yourself (in vanity) before you enter. But they are normal and are documented in the spiritual tradition. The trouble is, I don't think many formation programs say much about the interior life, and still less the temptations and trials required to grow in it. In religious life there is just as much--if not more--opportunity to medicate oneself against or distract oneself from these salutary struggles and trials. Unless you have a really good spiritual director--or someone else to help God dig you out from under your defenses--it's possible to miss all of this, especially if your own temperament and that of your community tends to an activist mentality that concentrates on 'doing.' The more I think about it, I think this is a serious deficit and, at the risk of being grandiose, I wonder if I am being called to do something about it.

So, should I quit the blog and try to write this book?


J. Ambrose Little said...

Maybe you can organize your blog more and do both.

Anonymous said...

I agree with J. Ambrose Little on this. I would hate to see your blog go away but I do agree with what you are saying.

Anonymous said...

Please don't quit your blog!! I only recently discovered it and have been reading it daily. I've learned so much from it. Perhaps there is a way you could continue it, maybe even shifting its focus more toward what your book would cover, with a few words of guidance thrown in for us laypersons.
That being said, you must always follow God's will. If it is His will that you stop your blog, you will have to do so. Please just try to discern that that is what He really wants!

Sofia said...

Fr. Charles I'd certainly hate to not see your blog anymore! It's always a great read and I think your readers are coming from a lot of different backgrounds that perhaps with a book you wouldn't reach.

For example, take me, an 18-year old Hispanic senior in the Midwest. I'll be leaving to study in Mexico in just a few months and this blog would certainly keep me in touch with what religious life is and is lived out in the U.S. even while I am so far away! I think it would be an important part of discernment to have that information... at least I anticipate it.

Perhaps that is my own selfish reason but I am sure you aid a lot of others. Like you aid, it is indeed a sort of ministry. I had never commented/e-mailed before and yet I read your blog regularly!

Take good care!

Anonymous said...

BTW, as a "revert" to the Catholic faith, I hunger for structure and form as well. I want to know and cling to eternal truths. This is a subject you could mine to the great benefit of both religious and laypersons. Your insights on adapting to community living would also have relevance for anyone who finds himself in challenging circumstances not always under his control. Your blog is a ministry in itself with the opportunity to instruct others in any way you wish to go.
Well, nuff said. I just might start begging God to tell you to keep blogging, though!

Sara said...

I have no concept of what goes on in religious formation... but everything you say here is familiar to me, especially the second part. It can be lonely for me as a lay person, in a parish with people who emphasize 'doing' over all other aspects of Christian life; it must be even harder in a religious community.

However, I think your blog is a great witness to people who would probably never read that book, and other writings on the blog may bear fruit that you don't know about. So if you quit the blog to write the book, I ask you to please publish a second, little book about punk, St. Francis, and religious indifference/relativism. I will give copies of it to all the people I currently send to your blog.

just evelyn said...

I'd hate to see your blog go away, but the book idea is excellent, too! Maybe you could use the blog as a tool for refining your thoughts into the book?

Anonymous said...

Fr. Charles,

I just discovered you via Twitter which has lead me to your blog.

I found myself agreeing with your post. I'm a man in my twenties who came back to the Catholic faith to find solace.

Your book sounds like an awesome idea and I would definitely read it. Please include me in the pre-order list [lol!]. I echo the others:

Can't you blog and write your book?

God bless you always Father.

pennyante said...

As a left of moderate Catholic with a traditional streak, I have found your blog to be a wholesome one compared to many that put down people like me. I am so grateful to be able to learn from you...

I hope you will continue to keep this blog but perhaps doing as evelyn suggests: "Maybe you could use the blog as a tool for refining your thoughts into the book?"

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on religious life with us. Many of the things you face also touch on our lives as lay people...

Anonymous said...

I definitely think the book is a great idea: one, I think it fills a need, which is an obvious consideration; two, I think it is a need which you are particularly suited to address, and would be a wonderful use of your talents and your gifts. It would definitely be a true service. So as for the book idea, my opinion is a strong and resounding yes.

As for the blog, a few thoughts: One, perhaps first you can see if you can dedicate yourself appropriately to the book project while still maintaining the blog, and not make any decisions about the blog until you've tested these waters. Two, you may find that the blog serves as a useful creative generative force for you, so that keeping the blog actually helps you with the book. Finally, perhaps you could simply step back from the blog significantly while working on the book, but still keeping it open and semi-active, since you do see this as a ministry, too.

Of course, in the end you may find that you do in fact need to shut the blog down while the book is being worked out. One thing that I seem to notice is that religious and priests have a really difficult time saying no to ministries, which leads to burnout. You definitely don't want that to happen, and if saying no to this ministry for a time is necessary in order to take on another ministry to which you feel presently called, then may Prudence always be your guide :)

Cole Matson said...

Fr C.,

As others have said, I'd rather not see your blog go away entirely. However, I think the book is an excellent idea. Would it be possible to devote 80% or so of the current energies that go toward your blog to the book, but still post at 20% the frequency? Say, a post a week, rather than several. Yours is one of the blogs I most look forward to. The need for guidance for those of us who are young and interested in religious life is great, both in blog and book form - and you're an excellent guide.

Lisa said...

Father Charles, you must, of course, follow where you feel the Lord leads you. I pray, though, that it is not away from this blog. It is a ministry, indeed. I am a Christian, though not a Catholic -- and I find myself fed spiritually and intellectually here.

Adoro said...

Father, I don't want to see your blog disappear! I've benefited from it and clearly others have as well. While I'd love to read the book you haven't written yet, why not continue the blog but use the continuing questions and topics that arise as fodder for your book? Why does the blog and book have to be mutually exclusive?

(I mean outside of practicality issues regarding time, etc).

I don't know if you're familiar with Fr. V

but he considered quitting the blog, then instead found a way to organize it in such a way that it works for him.

Anonymous said...

Father Charles, your blog has been a wonderful tool of evangelization and your faithful readers would be very sorry to see it end. But I also have to acknowledge that you present a valuable perspective about topics as the Church's liturgy, which in many places in this country is, sadly, in need of significant quality upgrade;the struggle each of us experiences with our sins and our striving for greater holiness; and the challenges of religious life. As a layperson, I cannot speak to the last point, but I have been fortunate to experience, through your blog and first hand in your parochial assignment, your gifts with regard to the first two.
I am sure that all of your followers have come to consider your presence in their lives, even in the textual context of a blog, to be a gift.
But in the final analysis, you should follow the path that you think best contributes to the life of the Church. I am sure that the Holy Spirit will guide you to the right choice.

Beth said...

Father, please don't end this blog! You have helped me so much in my spiritual journey. I have learned so much as a parishioner in your "cyber-parish." You are reaching so many people this way. Cut back if you must (the book sounds great) but don't leave us!

From George said...

If you must blog less,so be it, but please blog. Your questions and pondering are a breath of fresh air.

ben in denver said...

I have long enjoyed your blog. I believe I have been reading it since before you were ordained a deacon. Stopping by here is a realible bright spot in my workday.

Do whatever He tells you.

And be assured of my continued prayres, and know that if you stop the blog you may begin to get email from me.

Greg said...

Fr. Charles, I concur with the comments supporting a dual path.

Having written a book recently, I would stress...

Publishing is changing rapidly. Be aware of the electronic aspect of the market. (Kindle, i-pad, etc.) The new medium suggests and offers new formats.

The proposed topic of your book is superb. Much needed. However, I'm not sure that audience (alone) is sufficient in numbers.

It seems a prior but related step is increasing vocations. This step overlaps your blog and its broader audience.

The lay public are interested in formation. Demand for increased catechism is swelling. The demand will need to be met.

Parishes have offered fuzzy thinking, psychology-based motivational speakers for years — there is a growing backlash to that approach.

The blog can help you, a) build, b) fine-tune and, c) research your market.

A blog (that is becoming a "book") extends your voice for soliciting vocations, which come from the lay public.

In other words, you could write on formation in way that helps with lay formation at the same time it inspires, motivates, and guides new vocations that take the formation process to a new level.

This preliminary step may build your cred as the recognized authority on formation...thus prepping the eventual market.

In other words, you begin to build your own audience.

With the electronic format it is easier than in the past to add special features for niche audiences. One can electronically layer the message more easily than in the past.

In other words, one can market a version speaking to the novitiate or formation director in segments that are in addition to and on top of more general formation. (The electronic format avoids problems with additional printing costs, etc. for special additions or supplements.)

The formation dialogue with the public provides valuable insight to the new priest. In a sense it can serve as a virtual internship.

Many more ideas... perhaps it makes sense to devote some blog entries to fleshing out the concept.

I'm working on developing courses and materials in conjunction with people in the LA Archdiocese. There are opportunities of which I was not previously aware... we should talk at some point.