Formation for Holiness

Christ said that there are two great commandments. Love God with your whole mind, heart and soul. And love your neighbor as yourself. So holiness is really all about love. God calls us to become great lovers of God and others. What does this challenge do to our concept of formation?

Formation cannot be understood in splendid isolation. It can only be understood in its relationship to holiness and our call to be contemplatives in action. Holiness is the goal; formation is only the means. If holiness is the process of our becoming great lovers of God and man, then formation is involved in that process. But is this your perception of the concept of formation? Or does it still mean study to you?

Let us look at a whole new way of perceiving formation. The inspiration for this new perception comes from Erich Fromm’s book, The Art of Loving, a classic on the subject. Fromm says that love is not a sensation, but a faculty, a power, a capacity. He says that “love is an art, just as living is an art; if we want to learn how to love we must proceed in the same way we have to proceed if we want to learn any other art, say music, painting or carpentry.” It requires knowledge and effort. He divides the learning process into two parts: “one, the mastery of the theory; and the other, the mastery of the practice.”

Thus, formation can be defined as the art of loving God and others. It means mastering the “theory” of the Good News and the wisdomof spiritual writers, and mastering the practice of the Cursillo virtues, until eventually the results of our theoretical knowledge and the results of our practice are blended into one, our total transformation into Christ, the greatest lover the world has ever seen.

Note: no one can teach us how to love; it is just too personal. However, Fromm shares with us approaches to the practice of love. The practice of any art, and by extension the art of loving God and others, has certain general requirements. First, it requires that the mastery of the art must be a matter of ultimate concern. There must be nothing else in the world more important than the art—for us, the art of loving God and others.

Second, the art of loving God and others requires discipline. We will never be good at anything, unless we do it in a disciplined way. Doing it when “I am in the mood” may be nice, but it won’t make us masters of the art of loving. Not only does it require us to practice a certain amount of time each day, but it requires discipline in our whole life—performing our spiritual exercises on a regular basis, not indulging in escapist activities, not overeating or overdrinking.

Third, the art of loving God and others requires concentration. Anyone who has ever attempted to learn an art knows this. Yet, our culture drives us to an unconcentrated and diffused mode of life. The most important step in learning concentration is to learn to be alone with ourselves—without reading or listening to the radio. For instance, practicing centering down and being aware of one’s breathing. Our power of concentration is also helped by learning to be concentrated on everything we do—in listening to music, in reading a book, in listening to a person, in contemplating a view.

Fourth, the art of loving God and others requires patience. If we are after quick results, we can never learn an art. Most arts require learning rudimentary skills before they are practiced. An apprentice in carpentry begins by learning how to plane wood. An apprentice in piano playing begins by practicing scales. For the art of loving God and others, we may have to learn: how to pray; how to be aware of our interior feelings, moods and desires; how to practice mindfulness.

Indeed, formation is the art of turning us into great lovers of God and others!