TO CARRY OUT their missionary role, says "A Time for Building", Christians need to understand what they are called to do and the ability and confidence to carry it out. "The process whereby these needs are met we call adult Christian formation."
Christian formation is an ongoing process. It is not enough that we were at a Catholic school and attend occasional instructions in church. Our maturity as Christians must keep pace with our maturity in secular matters — and with the developments taking place in the Church and the world, mak'ing us able to respond as adult Christians,
We grow, we are formed in'a community, not alone. Hence the importance of working closely with others in small groups, sharing our insights, encouraging one another, increasing our community spirit, perhaps planning joint action.
The more diverse the membership of a small group, the better. In our parishes there are experts in secular disciplines who can be of immense help to the rest of us.
The ideal small group, too, includes priests and religious as well as laity — for richer sharing. The laity are no longer just receivers; they have much to give to one another — and to their clergy. We need one another, sharing what vfie have been given freely — natural gifts and experience.
Learning about one's Faith and its application to life, through Scripture, other books, newspapers, observing "the signs of the times" — all this is essential for growth in maturity. But even more fundamental is the need to know Christ, not just know about him. They are not the same thing. We all know a bit about President Carter, but few of us could claim to know him, because we have never met him. "Knowing about". is always second-hand; "knowing" is first-hand. through personal encounters, encounters °flow..
We get to know Christ, in love, • by meditating on the Scriptures and making them relevant to our lives, recognising in them and in life "the same Christ. yesterday, today, forever", still being born. growing up, doing good, suffering, dying. rising— in our world and ourselves. The small group can be invaluable here, too, as a chance to share the insights of our private meditation.
Putting it another way, with Vatican II's Constitution on the Church: "Only by the gift of faith and meditation on the Word of God can one always and everywhere recognise God, in Whom we live and move and have our being, seek His will in every even-t, see Christ in all Men, whether they be close to us or strangers, make correct judgments about the true meaning and value of temporal things."
That sentence seems to sum up' not only the basis of any Christian formation but also what that formation is aiming at: building up the likeness of Christ, so that we can recognise him in the other members of his family — and they may recognise him in us ...
And-that is most certainly an ongoing process ... a continual growth.
Ralph Eastwell, SJ