Father Emmanuel d’Alzon and discernment
Our founder was attentive to the human qualities of young people who approached him. It was a question of emphasizing the attitudes of transparency, sincerity, honesty, but also the ability to work, simplicity, and the absence of too great an idiosyncrasy. As a good educator Emmanuel d’Alzon also knew that other qualities could be acquitted thanks to formation. One had to exercise patience and good pedagogy. With respect to this matter one should reread the « The First Constitutions of the Augustinians of the Assumption. 1855-1865 », especially everything that has to do with « dispositions one must have for entering the Order ».
« Those in charge of receiving postulants must examine them to discover whether they have a frank, open, generous, flexible character, are not too eccentric, are endowed with sufficient intelligence for studies, good health, able to meditate without too much trouble. Would community life be too great a burden for them? Would they tire others by their unreasonable demands or their whims? Would they seek to introduce their own mentality? »
There are also conditions required for receiving vocations and developing them. I have a particular concern for a certain overstaffing. Emmanuel d’Alzon offered some interesting directives.
- A family spirit
« Influence must not be imposed but inspired: something which is difficult to do when there are great numbers. That is why we limit the number of alumnists. In order to shape them, one needs a family life and try to find me a family life when you have 200, 100, or even 50 students. When you have more than 30, it is almost impossible not to have recourse to punishment. And, in the formation of souls that we desire to provide, punishment is excluded. (...) What we wish to communicate above all is life, divine life. ‘I came that they might have life,’ Our Lord said, ‘and have it to the fullest’. »
I am concerned about a certain overstaffing in our houses of formation and discernment. But what is to be done when the religious available for formation work are so few in number? I am not advocating a « vocational Malthusianism » but a responsible paternity. We must be good directors who accompany young people well in order to foster greater freedom and responsibility. This demands time and sacrifices.
We know the appeal of St. Paul (II Cor 9:7): « Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. » Our founder reminds us that joy is a sign of a vocation. « So let us rejoice with exceeding great joy. We are going home to our true homeland, toward our Father, to God.»
But our Founder was also concerned about preparing religious for discernment. He gave some relevant practical advice. Here is some of what he said: « We should make every effort to understand just how zealous and prudent we ought to be in seeking out, preparing and finally accepting religious vocations. We find them outside the novitiate; we prepare them during the novitiate (…) We must strive to make the right choices. In this regard, we cannot be too careful, too prudent or too motivated by a spirit of faith. »
Letter of the Superior General father Benoit GRIERE n° 8
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