Sunday, May 6, 2012

Program Evaluation

We've done the peer evaluations. We've done the self-evaluations. We've received the ministry evaluations and the staff evaluations. We've been put in the balance, and we measured up.

Now we are doing one more exercise, an evaluation of the postulancy program. After dinner this evening we will sit down with the formation directors to examine the following:

Classes and special events
Mid-year and final evaluation process

We have been asked to evaluate the program in terms of our understanding of what it means to be a Capuchin. We are also asked to consider how well the program has prepared us to enter the integration period of interprovincial postulancy and the novitiate. Finally, we are asked to describe what was most helpful about postulancy; what was not helpful; and what elements of the program were helpful, but could be improved.

For those of you interested in a recap of our classes, here is our 2011-12 curriculum, with approximate number of classroom hours devoted to each subject:

Life of Francis of Assisi (30 hours)
Catechism (30 hours)
Methods of prayer; meditation; contemplation (8 hours)
Liturgy of the Hours (8 hours)
Liturgy and ritual (4 hours)
Sacraments of initiation (8 hours)
Eucharist (12 hours)
Understanding the Psalms (6 hours)
Gospel spirituality (4 hours)
Catholic social teaching (16 hours)
Jesus of history (8 hours)
Early Capuchin history (6 hours)
Early history of the Franciscan order (6 hours)
Saint Clare of Assisi (4 hours)
Franciscan prayer (4 hours)
Sex and celibacy (6 hours)
Charisms of the Capuchin order (2 hours)
Ecclesiology (2 hours)
Liturgical music practicum (4 hours)
Spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous (4 hours)

There were two subjects we did not get to during the year: social analysis (8 hours), and models of conversion (4 hours). Of the above subjects, we surpassed the allotted hours for sex and celibacy. (Through the year, we must have devoted 18 hours to the subject.) We also had a few one-off classes, including presentations on the Secular Franciscan/Third Order movement, gerontology and the Capuchins' ministry to its senior friars, and the ministry of permanent deacon.

We have postponed twice a group conversation on the postulancy program, owing to schedule changes. You would expect that by now I have prepared many observations to share, but I've been remiss to reflect on the program. It's not like me to avoid reflection! Perhaps it has to do with being focused on ending well, making a good goodbye to the program.

It also has to do with the truth, which is that I have always been very comfortable with the structure of the program, and not once have I ever second-guessed the schedule or the process. From the beginning I have had complete trust in both the formation philosophy and my formators. I came wanting to be formed; I believed I was formable and reformable in this program; and in practice, I was changed, willingly and for the better. Whatever misgivings may have been, they were internal and never related to the program itself.

Intellectually, I found myself always stimulated by the classes, if not challenged academically. Most of the content I encountered was for me a repetition of what I already acquired on my own and in my formal theological education. What was new was the perspective and the learning circle: seeing what we know and understand through the eyes of Francis of Assisi, and studying these subjects with his followers. This made for new experiences with the form and substance of our faith and practice every day. I was made aware constantly of my methodological biases, my theological leanings, and my ideological slants. In some subjects, I was head and shoulders ahead of my younger postulant brothers, but in others, like the life of Francis of Assisi, we were all beginning on the ground level. Overall, I appreciated the breadth of our curriculum and the variety of assigned readings. To my delight, we had the occasional field trip, too (for a little art history, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters, and a few Jesuit churches in Manhattan). I am impressed by and grateful for the collective knowledge and wisdom of our Capuchin brothers, who came in to give guest lectures and workshops throughout the year.

Some people dread having their life ordered week by week, down to the hour every day. It is a difficult adjustment for many men and women entering religious life to submit to a schedule of formation not of their own choosing. They say it is more difficult for older adults who have lived independently for several years to surrender their time. This never seriously troubled me, despite living on my own with a flexible schedule all of my own making for the last three years prior to postulancy. The schedule worked for me because it safeguarded time for solitude within what has been a thoroughly communitarian itinerary. There has always been enough time for our various lives -- in worship, fraternity, ministry, and society. Ours has been the schedule I would have drafted for myself had I the experience and wisdom to plan it and follow it. Lacking such discernment, of course, this is why I joined a religious community!

As it concerns my readiness to enter the integration period and novitiate, our postulancy program is an unqualified success. I can conceive of being in Kansas and California. I have the imagination for living the life of a Capuchin Franciscan in those places. The prospect of leaving home and living thousands of miles away from everyone and everything I have ever known; with two dozen men who are casting all their cares on the God of Jesus Christ; for the purpose of renouncing wealth, power, and sex in order to live completely in the hope of salvation, like Francis of Assisi, through the risen Christ: this does not freak me out. I am thrilled by the prospect: an experiment with the way, the truth, and the life. A great adventure awaits. God awaits. I want to begin the journey now.

As it concerns helpful, unhelpful, and perfectible aspects of the postulancy program, those are perhaps best addressed in the internal forum of our conversation with the formators.

There are more thoughts arising, suitable for the external forum of the public diary, but I will save them for the conversation with the formators this evening. Time to prepare for evening prayer. Let the thoughts season; when they have matured, I will post some more. The question of our formation program and what it means to me now to be a Capuchin is a good one.

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