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Catholic Human Formation Is a Lifelong Pilgrimage

Apr 5, 2023

Dear ­­­Souls and Hearts Members,

Last week, we began a new series with the weekly reflection titled Catholic Understandings of Human Formation. In this reflection, we will explore the “when” of human formation.

We have all heard that our “formative years” are so important in our development as human beings. But what are the formative years? UNICEF, among many other organizations interested in human development, categorizes the critical formative years as ranging from infancy to age 8 (see this downloadable PDF). And that makes sense. Starting with Freud, developmental psychologists have identified how important the first 7 or 8 years of life are, how much those years form us.

But to assume that our human formation occurs solely or primarily in childhood is a mistake. It often happens that way, but it does not have to.

The “formative years” actually occur from conception to natural death. Catholic author Cameron Thompson in his Handbook of Human Formation understands this when he writes, “This work of ever-perfecting the natural human qualities of a person is a life-long undertaking, begun even while in the womb, and continuing on to death; informed and brought to completion by, but essentially distinct from, the Divine Life of Grace.” [p. 2, emphasis in original]. Thompson’s emphasis on human formation beginning at conception goes further that most secular sources, which describe it starting at birth.

And Fr. Gerald Coleman in his book Catholic Priesthood: Formation and Human Development writes, “Human formation is a progressive achievement, a lifelong pilgrimage.” [p. 86]. The description of human formation as “lifelong pilgrimage” is particularly apt, as it encompasses the effort one must make on a journey that covers the lifespan.

Pope St. John Paul II in his apostolic exhortation titled Pastores Dabo Vobes instructs the Church that: Certainly there are also purely human reasons which call for the priest to engage in ongoing formation. This formation is demanded by his own continuing personal growth. Every life is a constant path toward maturity, a maturity which cannot be attained except by constant formation. [p. 70]. He understood that our formation and growth is an ongoing process.

And the 2001 document The Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests from the U.S. Bishops sought to implement Pastores Dabo Vobis. The bishops write that:

Following the footsteps of Vatican II’s Presbyterorum Ordinis and John Paul II’s Pastores Dabo Vobis, we can define ongoing formation in this way: It is the continuing integration of priestly identity and functions or service for the sake of mission and communion with Christ and the Church. Each element of this definition bears careful examination.

To say that ongoing formation is “continuing” simply identifies it as a life-long task or process. That is why documents often speak of “permanent” formation. It truly is co-extensive with life itself. We never stop growing or being transformed. [section C].

These documents refer specifically to the formation of seminarian and priests, but human formation firmly grounded in the Catholic understanding of the human person throughout the lifespan is critically important for all of us in the Church – no exceptions.

I have accompanied many senior citizens who, late in life, committed themselves to working on their human formation with great results, with surprising effects. Many people erroneously assume that there is no way forward for them. There is no human formation deficit or obstacle that cannot be effectively addressed, even late in life, by using the proper means.

God knew before time began every difficulty and deficit, every trauma and every wound you would receive, every obstacle, every problem. And in His benevolence and beneficence, He had a plan for making greater good come from it all, if you love Him. Romans 8:28 still holds: We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose, even for everything that has happened to you. God has a plan for your re-formation as a human person, even when the opportunities to heal and grow present themselves in middle age or beyond.

What Souls and Hearts offers…

And that is what we offer at Souls and Hearts. We at Souls and Hearts are working to become the foremost lay Catholic authorities on human formation, grounded firmly in the perennial teachings of our Church and bringing in the best of secular findings.

We do this through our weekly reflections, the Interior Integration for Catholics podcast, our online courses and especially our communities. The Resilient Catholic Community includes dozens of companies made up of hundreds pilgrims on their journey to better human formation, spanning in age from the 20s to the 70s.

Interior Integration for Catholics special podcasts

Episode 109: Jesus’ Psychological Agony in the Garden. In this 60-minute episode, we explore the inner experience of Jesus and the psychological, emotional, relational, and bodily anguish He suffered in His humanity in the Garden of Gethsemane as the drama of salvation history unfolded. I bring in the best of traumatology, psychology, neurophysiology, and medicine to inform us on the psychological anguish Jesus experienced. We also explore the intense internal reactions of the apostles Peter, James, and John to the experience of Jesus’ agony. For many, this may be a great way to understand and appreciate our Lord much more deeply.

Episode 110: Being with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane In this 33- minute episode, I offer you an experiential exercise; I invite you and your parts to approach Jesus in the psychological, emotional, relational, and bodily anguish He suffered in His humanity in the Garden of Gethsemane. Which parts of you might avoid Jesus, turn away from Him in His suffering — and why? Here is an opportunity to gently learn more about how our parts react to Jesus and to gently connect with them in understanding and compassion. This may make a great meditation for Holy Thursday for you.

Great listening from the IIC podcast, especially recommended for Holy Week

On “Spy Wednesday,” Judas’ betrayal of Jesus is commemorated. In episode 46, titled Shame and Tragedy: Judas Iscariot and You, I walk you through a deep psychological profile of Judas’ Iscariot, getting far beyond the shallow caricatures, endeavoring to understand him in multiple dimensions. We explore Judas’ parts and how he defended against his deep shame through narcissism. I also offer you an experiential exercise to help you focus more on God’s love for you rather than be blinded or distracted by your sins, failings, and weaknesses.

In episode 47 of the IIC podcast, titled Shame and Redemption: St. Peter and You, I illuminate the role of shame in St. Peter’s life and decisions, highlighting his internal structure and mapping his parts. We explore how St. Peter switched among parts, the times he was carried away by his parts, and typical patterns in how his parts functioned. And we discuss how, unlike Judas, St. Peter overcame his shame by the grace of God and was reunited with Jesus.

Finally, in episode 48, titled Shame and Repentance: St. Dismas, I share how St. Dismas, “the Good Thief,” through word and deed shows us an amazing example of how to work through shame and turn a horrible, shaming experience to our advantage. Join us for a deep dive into Dismas’ heart, mind and body and understand his crucifixion in an entirely new way.

On the radio…

The good folks at Spoke Street Media invited me to do a 2-minute episode titled What Was Happening Inside Elijah? on the Daily Refill, which was played on the Redeemer Radio Network on Monday of Holy Week. Check out how the great noises that Elijah experiences are real, but also symbols for the interior noises and distractions that seek to keep us from reflection and integration. He encourages us to quiet those inner tempests and care for the outcast parts of us who long for stillness and peace.

Be With the Word

On Good Friday, join Dr. Gerry and me as we discuss the unique opportunities that suffering offers us. Recorded during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, this Good Friday episode titled A Unique Opportunity for Redemptive Suffering seeks to draw good from the suffering. Listen to us read the Good Friday readings here.

For Easter Sunday, we discuss how God’s Ways Are not Our Ways, how God can shock and surprise us as the apostles were amazed on the Resurrections. Check out us sharing out loud all nine of the readings here.

Please pray for us.

Please keep all of us in your prayers this Holy Week and Easter Week, as well as all those involved in Souls and Hearts. Our whole outreach is fueled by prayer – your prayer. Know that we are praying for you. Thank you.

Warm regards in Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter

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