From Monday 19 November through Friday 30 November 2018 the International Formation Center (CIF) gathered about 70 Vincentian confreres, representing 90 countries from around the world, at the Motherhouse in Paris to share and learn how they might better create and promote a culture of vocations in the Congregation of the Mission worldwide.  All of the men who gathered were engaged at some level with vocation promotion.  Communication was in Spanish, French, and English.

Day 10: Wednesday 28 November 2018

MORNING SESSION: Fr. Jacek Piotrowski, C.M., discussed three areas: (1) Vocational Accompaniment: the psychology of vocational accompaniment; (2) vocation discernment; and (3) suitability and pathologies in candidates. Three dimensions of human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral are key.

  1. Using psychology as a tool for vocation work. Key documents are: Ratio Fundamentalis (2016), Instructions to Application of Psychological Sciences (2008) and Pastores Dabo Vobis which indicate that the priest needs to be “a bridge and not a hindrance in helping candidates to encounter Jesus Christ.” The formator needs to be well prepared in his job of forming the candidates.  Psychology and psychotherapy can be very helpful tools to help candidates. There are two extremes to using psychology (both are wrong): Distrust and rejection of psychology as a help and unreflective reception of psychology.  There is a Christian vision of human nature: Understanding the human “I” as a selfless gift of self; good is the ultimate goal of life and discover in God the meaning of life; human responsibility comes from human freedom; the believer must trust he will receive love from God. The vocation to the priesthood and brotherhood and its recognition as a special gift from God goes beyond the competence of psychology.  Key roles are played by the confessor, the grace of God and the sacraments.  The fact is that the candidates themselves will reflect the countries they come from and its specific problems (such as more relativism, sexual abuse, drug use, etc.)  Canon 1051: you can check the candidates general state of mind, piety, good morals, and aptitude as well as testimonial letters, public announcements, etc.  Psychological test are not binding but they can point out people who are disturbed or who have other problem areas in their lives.  

Psychological assessments can indicate both strong points and immature areas in the candidates life; they can provide us with information about their lives; they can help understand if they can relate interpersonally; they point out risk factors such as sexual and emotional impulses; they can help discover painful experiences and conflicts and their impact on the candidate.

  1. Discernment of a Vocation: We are about accompanying people in their vocation in life and not just doing a “headhunt,” separating the good from the bad.  St. Jerome distinguished four groups of people called by God: people called by God like Moses and Paul; people called by human mediation like spiritual directors, events of life, the community, etc.; people not called by God but convinced by someone else that they do have a vocation  (like grandma telling her nephew he is called to be a priest) when they do not have a vocation; and  people not called by God or another person but they convince themselves that they are called and they try to convince others they are called.  Our task is to help possible candidates whether or not they are called, to journey with them to discern the vocation in their lives.  Ask these Questions: Am I happy in my vocation, in my life as a priest or brother, as a Vincentian?  Are our hearts enkindled with God’s love?  When was the last time you said that you are happy in your life as a consecrated person?  Are we talking about our way of life, our choice as a priest or brother in our homilies?  If we aren’t happy we don’t influence others positively; the youth pick this up quickly.  If we don’t live a real relationship with God, it will show.  We must nourish personal time with God (confession, adoration, fasting, etc.).  The 5 virtues of Vincent de Paul are like 5 stones in the bag of David: (simplicity, humility, meekness, mortification, and zeal) are very important.  Community is important.  This is not just about numbers but discerning whether this person has a vocation, a call from God.  Accompaniment demands from us time, patience, and love for the young people God is sending to  us. Young people want to be close to us as friends, mentors, etc.  Pray for and with them as they discern in freedom. If I don’t have a good relationship with God, how can I help others? Ministry is primary about building a closer relationship with Jesus.

Stages: To long for, to cry, to pray: spend time with Jesus. To try, to toil, to fight as part of the interior journey, fighting with one’s temptations, for instance, or they will fight with others.  To Trust, to trust, to trust: God is the one who will lead us.  Patiently follow God’s will, die to oneself, denying oneself: what God’s purpose for me is central for my life. To fear for oneself, to be suspicious about oneself. The main responsibility for discerning one’s vocation is the candidate himself, create an atmosphere of trust.  Sincerity is very important.

  1. A Candidates Suitability and possible Disorders: The church has the right to decide the suitability of a candidate. Physical Health: if they have diseases they need to be examined.  Are they overweight?  Are they diabetic?  Mental Health: the Ratio (191) indicates the need to avoid certain pathologies such as paranoia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, some sexual preferences, etc.  Personality Disorders: this is something integrated in the person. Disorders are serious and appear in late childhood; they are permanent. They very likely won’t be able to build a priesthood or brotherhood identity.  For instance Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD) when they can’t make decisions on their own; Passive Aggressive Personality won’t say what they disagree with but will talk about people behind their back. Narcissistic Personality likes to show off and destroy everyone in their world and those who disagree with them. Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD); Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) need to have their needs satisfied; Obsessive-compulsive people will never be free; Paranoid Personality Disorder (PPD) thinks that everyone is against him and finds conspiracy everywhere. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are unsure about their personality and avoid loneliness and are impulsive about money, sex, etc.  It is important to notice these in seminarians in order to help them discern.  Homosexual Tendencies: When these are deeply rooted we need prudence to discern.  Special care needs to be given to candidates who have: Problems in a candidate’s family life such as alcoholism; Adult children from divorced families, it is more and more a problem because they are afraid to lose someone and can’t trust superiors; Families that neglect its members where these parents just can’t care for their kids or kids who are spoiled and don’t feel a parent’s love; Neurosis of various kinds; Depression consists of many problems and the person can’t be happy about anything, they are constantly irritated.  Sexual Problems: Pathological Masturbation, Addiction to Pornography, Candidates who were sexually abused: they have struggles with sexual identity and they need help from experts; Proselytes who have separated themselves from Christ and now want to rediscover Christ; give them time to re-establish themselves.  Shiftless (lazy or lack of ambition); A feeling of loneliness and look for a group to fill this void in their lives. Discern with God’s help if this person can be a mature member of the Congregation.  Help men to discern; they must be free and on fire with the love of grace of Christ which acts and builds on nature. 

AFTERNOON SESSION: Fr. Rolando Gutiérrez, C.M. discussed the Challenges of the Vincentian Culture of Vocations: the triple dimensions of mentality, sensitivity and pedagogy built from Vincentian readings to better understand, perceive, feel and enhance the culture of vocations. 

4 Parts: Context, the Criteria we use, the Elements, and the Tools to form these parts. (1) Context: consists of external and internal elements.  One problem is stability. (2) Criteria, the sacred scriptures, our origin and tradition, and the Ratio Formationis; (3) Elements to form a vocation culture; (4) Tools we use in vocation assessment.  All of these make a Vincentian model for vocation promotion. 

5 Models from the Past: (1) Perfection to develop the holiness of a person, to make your life perfect or holiness, it calls us to a disciplined life; (2) Common Observation; (3) Self-Realization, focuses on the values of the person; (4) Self-Acceptance, where the person accepts himself for who he is; and (5) Unique Model, we form a unique model for ourselves individually.  These models don’t seem to work well.

Another Model: Integration of Vincentian Formation Model which is to base our lives at the foot of the cross, to follow Christ; all formation focuses on this; this is a synthesis model.  We help our candidates to overcome difficulties so they can follow Christ; this is a mission model and a Vincentian Model. Our formation model must be in line with the Ratio. It can incorporate the 5 virtues of Vincent. Formation covers all of our lives and this starts with vocations, developing a sensibility according to Vincent. Three practices or models of Sensibility, Mentality, and Praxis.  Formation has the 3 elements of head, heart, and hand: learn, feel, and do.  Spirituality dimension: the proper spiritual practices of the person which helps for Community life dimension. Mission dimension: caring for the poor. We focus on the poor.  One problem with this model is what to do when there is competition/conflict between responding directly to the needs of the poor and the responsibility of a parish priest who needs to respond to the sacramental needs of the parish (confessions, Mass, anointing, appointments, marriages, quinceaños celebrations, etc.); how does one integrate or respond to conflicting needs, both of which may come at the same time.  What is the suitability of the agents?  Do the superiors understand the support this model? 

How to put this into practice? Two structures: encouragement in vocations and a process of accompaniment and discernment. What are the strategies that are possible? 10 Points: closeness that creates confidence; intuition to discover expectations; to be a witness, active; make yourself available; respect to be manifested before God and we want free response; clarity without doubts; patience to understand in time during struggles; go out and search, meeting those in need; pray to reach the same.  It implies a radical experience of the youth to accompany them to the missions. What can we do?  Who can do this? What are the projects in your provinces?  Can we really be missionary in our parishes? How much outreach can a parish do? Some areas of the world seem to find this model to be helpful.

Jim Osendorf, C.M.

Vincentian Vocation Director

Congregation of the Mission, Western Province, USA