What is Lifelong Formation?
Lifelong formation is the process through which we come to follow Jesus more closely throughout the course of our lives. Grounded in the Gospel, instruction in the faith and accompaniment in this journey of spiritual growth, lifelong formation equips us to respond to the events of our lives in light of the Gospel. These experiences, guided by the Holy Spirit and in communion with God and one another through the Church, help us answer our baptismal call to live as missionary disciples through the seasons of our lives.
Lifelong formation leads to deeper engagement in the life of the Church and in one’s community, including social transformation in light of the Gospel. In this way, lifelong formation plays a pivotal role in answering the call of Renew My Church to make disciples, build community and inspire witness.
At the center of lifelong formation is encounter with Christ. As the Directory for Catechesis teaches, faith formation “is oriented toward forming persons who get to know Jesus Christ and his Gospel of liberating salvation even better; who live a profound encounter with him and choose his own way of life and his very sentiments, striving to realize, in the historical situations in which they live, the mission of Christ which is the proclamation of the kingdom of God” (DC 75).
Faith formation proclaims and reaffirms God’s saving love in Jesus Christ, and also “makes the initial conversion ripen and helps Christians give a complete meaning to their existence, educating them in a mentality of faith in keeping with the Gospel, to the point of gradually coming to feel, think and act like Christ” (DC 77).
“Formation,” the Directory for Catechesis tells us, “is an ongoing process that, under the guidance of the Spirit and in the living womb of the Christian community, helps the baptized person take shape,” unveiling our deepest identity as children of God in profound communion with others. (DC 131)
Faith formation is intended for people at all stages of life. “Every one of the baptized, called to the maturity of faith, has the right to adequate catechesis. … For one thing, faith is not a linear process and it participates in the development of the person, and this in turn influences the journey of faith. It cannot be forgotten that every phase of life is exposed to specific challenges and must confront the ever-new dynamics of the Christian vocation” (DC 224).
What Does It Look Like?
Faith formation includes every action, experience, and relationship that nurtures a deep and abiding relationship with God, which shapes the way we interact with God’s creation. This includes:
- Sharing of the Gospel in word and deed
- Learning about the faith in a way that brings spiritual growth
- Meaningful relationships and faith dialogue with fellow disciples of Jesus
- Individual and communal prayer
- Scriptural reflection and study
- Discerning personal gifts and the call to share them in witnessing to the Gospel
Participation in the lifelong formation can strengthen the relationship between the community of believers and Jesus, helping make the Kingdom of God present in our world. This can include:
- Participating in the liturgical, spiritual and social life of the parish community
- Celebrating the sacraments
- Discussing and practicing faith in private, family and social life
- Participating in works of justice and mercy within and beyond the parish
Community and Belonging
Faith formation occurs most effectively in the context of a supportive community in which people are invited, welcomed and feel they belong.
As the Directory for Catechesis teaches, “The faith is professed, celebrated, expressed, and lived above all in community” (DC 88). Because the deepening of trust in God is fundamental to lifelong formation, the individual participating in faith formation must also be able to trust the community, mentors and instructors accompanying their spiritual growth. This means that they must feel welcomed and accepted, able to express doubts and confusion as they grow in faith. To accompany people on a journey of lifelong formation we must invite and welcome them into a community of faith, where they can experience the love of God more fully over time. This includes meeting them with continued patience and love, respecting each person’s unique gifts, pace, and calling during their journey with Christ.