Holistic Formation

The definition of the word “holistic” is –“something that is characterized by comprehension of the parts of something that is intimately interconnected and explicable only by its whole.”
When one thinks of theological and spiritual formation, the words holistic formation need to be used interchangeably. These two words are almost redundant or at least should be saying the same thing. However, they still retain a bit of a nuance to each of the words and overall it really helps not just to define an expansive view of what is being called “catechesis.” Similar to RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults), catechesis should form one part (a key part) in the overall on-going formation of adults. The other parts should be about mind and body. Perhaps one of the problems with religious education today is that we don’t focus on the overall person in formation rather we are concerned about them learning facts of the faith. Children today are not so concerned with doctrine or dogmas of any type whether in science or history or any discipline; they are more concerned with how does it apply to our lives. The question we often hear from children today is how does this matter to me in my everyday life. I don’t think that question is specific today’s generation. I remember as a child I would ask my teachers and other classmates and myself how will fractions which we are learning in math class be beneficial to me in life. Making the connection to real world tasks is important to children today. Formation needs to make those connections otherwise children will disengage and they will fail to see the relevancy of the work of faith formation.
When we define holistic as something that is intimately interconnected and explicable only by its whole means that those connections have to be meaningful to people today. If it is not meaningful or add growth to peoples lives then they will see it as unnecessary. The word formation is a process which implies that time is not linear but rather circular or better yet a spiral. Formation is never ending and a continuous process of growing deeper as we better understand our faith. Formation is like a crucible–where various materials come together and with the heat develop a new thing. Another image to help us define formation is like a potter at the wheel. There are probably thousands of potters in our world with a wheel. They all have the same basic tools; a wheel, clay, their hands, and their creative talent. What each one develops from putting these elements together is very different for each potter. That is formation, we have the same basic elements but the end result should be different.
What are the elements of a holistic formation? In my estimation there are three; one is the heart/soul; the second is the intellect/thinking; the third is the corporal/body. Some people have called this mind, body, spirit. These three elements need to be addressed individually but we cannot forget that they are part of a holistic process that is they are intimately interconnected to the whole or whole body formation. This is a challenging notion of formation. It requires us to think of formation as not just a set of memorized lists rather a way of behaving, being and living that is far more encompassing that just memorizing a set of truths.
In order for us to be this type of formation facilitator we must not just change our approach we must change ourselves. It is not about looking at ourselves as transferring knowledge from our heads to those that come to religious education–it is out transforming ourselves to experience this formation. This is the radical change that Pope Francis speaks about so often. It is a paradigm shift and if you know about the Catholic church or just people in general change is not only difficult, it is almost impossible to visualize. Let us pray that the Spirit gives us the visionary grace to see beyond what we know today!

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