At some point during the summer months, we all start to wonder what our formation programs will look like in the fall. Whether we have a lot of ideas or just a few suggestions from others, the struggle is trying to select what ought to be done out of the range of possibilities. Thankfully we are not left alone in our discernment. As James assures us, “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” (James 1:5)
With this in mind, in planning a new faith formation year I begin by praying for freedom and openness to God’s will. More often than not the first questions on my mind are, “What do I want to do? What did I find challenging, difficult, or lacking last year?” Those questions are all about me. My initial prayer for freedom is an attempt to take myself out of the equation and re-focus on God’s will for the parish.
Next I will review the past year with Christ, prayerfully walking through the events as I might do during an Examen. I ask for help in judging what worked and what didn’t. This requires a deep trust that what comes to mind is indeed Christ’s answer.
At some point along this prayerful way, I will begin conversing with the Lord about my dreams and his. We look at all of the possibilities for the year to come, and I write down ideas. This is a chance to get creative and really dream.
There comes a point when the dreaming must end and the planning begins. My pages are filled with potential—what I need to do at this stage is narrow down the ideas to a few concrete changes or new initiatives.
This is a great time to ask God again what He would have me do. I pay attention to how I feel about these possible changes or new initiatives when I am with Christ in personal prayer at home, before the Blessed Sacrament, or at Mass. I want to pay attention to my feelings about possible changes. Am I excited about one initiative over another? Do I look forward to this change or that? Am I conflicted, disturbed, or lacking in peace and courage regarding implementing any of my ideas? My inclinations, prayerfully considered, are sure guides along the road of discernment.
Finally I make my decisions while continuing to evaluate how I feel about these new plans, especially at those times when I am closest to Christ. Am I still full of joy, peace, and confidence? If I do begin to feel doubt creep in, I do not assume that I’ve discerned wrongly, but I will back up and re-examine my freedom and spend more time evaluating the choices and the reasons they seemed so good before.
In taking advantage of the great spiritual tradition of prayerful discernment, planning the year to come becomes yet another means of deepening my own relationship with Christ.