A formator is essentially a brother to whom the Order entrusts the task to accompany others in their vocational journey and to assist them in discerning the will of God and answering to the call with freedom and commitment. To accompany means “to create spaces that make responsibility, confidence and transparency possible in every domain” . Priority is given to helping the other to grow “in freedom, respecting the uniqueness of every brother” . Saint Joseph who loved Jesus “with a father’s heart” and accompanied him in his growth to maturity enlightens us in this service. In this year dedicated to the Patron of the Universal Church, "the spouse of Mary and the father of Jesus" , we too can rediscover him in the domain of formation.
Fanning the flames of an ancient tradition
Our Constitutions say that "At the same time, let us venerate piously, according to the ancient tradition, St Joseph, faithful spouse of the Virgin Mary, guardian of the Redeemer and humble worker" (no 52.7). Devotion to Saint Joseph is evident in the writings of the early Capuchins. Another historical evidence is the many provinces, churches and art dedicated to him. The characteristic devotions of the Capuchins were devotion to the seven sorrows of Saint Joseph - namely the 7 Pater noster and Ave Maria in his honour, the litany of Saint Joseph and the act of consecration to him. Famous preachers such as Giovanni Maria da Tusa, Saint Joseph of Leonessa and Saint Laurence of Brindisi have left works of great theological value on the person and mission of Saint Joseph. The friars spread this devotion through sermons or booklets. They invited everyone not only to ask his intercession but mostly to imitate his virtues.
House of Nazareth as an icon for formative a fraternity
Every formee comes in a fraternity "through the work of the Holy Spirit" (Matt:18), is received as Jesus in the house of Nazareth, where "he grew in wisdom, age, and grace before God and men" (Lk 2:52). The formee who is called to conform himself more and more to Jesus and has left behind a natural family, knows he is entering into a spiritual family where he hopes to find not only brothers, but first of all a mother and a father who will welcome him, defend him and teach him to do the will of the Father. In initial formation in a special way, it is up to the formator to fill the double role of mother and father for the formee, and this is crucial for their balanced insertion in fraternity and in the Order. It is not by chance that in the commentaries to the Rule which were the main formation tools for the early Capuchins, the model of obedience was Jesus' submission to Joseph and Mary . One can perceive that in the imagination of the early Friars, the model of the formator was Saint Joseph to whom Jesus was subjected as a son to a father.
The Formator, brother and father:
"Joseph is the man through whom God takes care of the beginnings of the history of redemption" . The initial formation is a very delicate and decisive stage for the entry of the friars in the Order. When this stage is entrusted to a mature brother who is convinced of the beauty of our form of life, those in formation find not only a brother companion of the journey but also a father like Saint Joseph, committed to raising up Jesus in them. To do this, "the formator must be mature both in the human and in the Christian dimensions" . In reality, through the Order, it is God himself who entrusts the children whom he calls to our form of life to a specific person in the formative fraternity. What the Pope says about Saint Joseph applies to every formator: "God trusts this man, just as Mary does, who in Joseph finds him who not only wants to save her life, but who will always provide for her and the Child" . Then, within the formative fraternity, the formator holds the formees by the hand and teaches them to walk in the ways of God and to gradually integrate into the fraternity.
"With a father’s heart: so Joseph loved Jesus" . All those in formation need this love from the father’s heart. The formator, like an older brother, is "called to exercise a true spiritual fatherhood" which is not easy. With the apostle, every formator could say, "My children, that I bear again in pain, until Christ be formed in you" (Gal 4:19). Loving with a father’s heart means first of all accepting the other as a gift, and then witnessing to the faith in God who gives us to each other as fellow travellers, and guardians of the others. Lastly, being the proof that it is possible to live in the Gospel. Moreover, as in relation to Jesus, Joseph is "the shadow on the earth of the Heavenly Father: guards him, protects him, never distances himself from following his footsteps" , so the formees should perceive in their formators something of the fatherhood of God.
In conclusion, today, the exits from religious and priestly life invite us all to reconsider the importance of fidelity and perseverance . A pillar for fidelity and perseverance is the virtue of discipline, a virtue that children naturally learn of the father figure. In a world marked by a great crisis of fathers, where "often children seem to be orphans of fathers" ,, tenderness, acceptance, creative courage, and attentive listening are needed; all of these values are necessary to be formators according to the heart of God. These, we can contemplate in Saint Joseph and ask his intercession to develop them in ourselves as well. "Fathers are not born, but made" ; the formator is not born, but made. May Saint Joseph help us.
Francis Bongajum Dor, OFMCap.
Delegato per l'ordine Francescano Secolare, Curia Generale, Rome