Transactional Analysis Workshop

The Leaders and Formators have been blessed to find Karen Pratt to facilitate the workshop on how the concepts of Transactional Analysis can be incorporated into the lives and work of leaders and formators.  Karen is a teaching and supervising transactional analysis with a specialisation in the field of education.  She has worked with many NGOs and church groups as well as with care workers.  She brings a vast experience in the field.

She began the workshop by inviting the Brothers to identify their expectation for the four-day workshop.  Then, she outlined the roles and responsibilities of both presenter and Brothers.

Later, she stressed the various hungers that we all have – for stimulation, for recognition and for structure and show how each of these hungers impact on the way we act and on our priorities.

She went on to discuss the idea of script; what we believe about ourselves, others and the future, and how these scripts have huge influence on the way we live our lives.  This led to a lively discussion on formation, and how people entering into formation will already have scripts that may prevent them from benefiting from the training.  Hence, the need to identify people’s scripts and work to change scripts that are not helpful.

Contemporary Spiritual Practices

Today, the Brothers began the day with a check-in.  The practice of check-in is becoming an increasingly frequent feature of communities that are trying to live at a deeper level.  The check-in lasts about 60-90 minutes where Brothers reflect on their experience of the week and seek to make sense of the various thoughts and feelings that they have experienced.

Following the check-in, Donal and David introduced some other spiritual practices which could benefit individuals and communities in their spiritual growth. David explained the purpose and method of the examen of consciousness as a way of increasing awareness.  He also suggested creating spiritual book clubs within and among communities in order to encourage reading along spiritual lines.  Donal then went on to explain the process of journalling, pointing out the value of keeping track of our spiritual journey.  Then, he explained the process of Lectio Divina and how this practice can deepen people’s appreciation of the Word of God in their lives.

In the afternoon, the group spent some individual time reflecting on the learnings from the previous week’s workshop on a contemporary understanding of Jesus.  They then assembled as a large group to share insights that they had gained from the workshop.

Moving to the Peripheries


Philip concluded his workshop today by focusing on the idea of moving to the peripheries.  He began by quoting Pope Francis who urged religious to avoid becoming self-referential by this move to the margins where we can be in contact with the poor.

The struggle that many Brothers have with new ideas, Philip went on to say, is part of this difficulty of moving to the peripheries of our beliefs.  He took as an example the difficulty that many have with a new understanding of Eucharist that should not be conflated with Mass even though it includes Mass. We are a Eucharistic people, he said, and we need to discover ways to ritualize this creatively.

Many find it difficult to shed the need for security, comfort and freedom to answer the call to personal liberation.  Philip said that we need to risk the insecurity of questioning everything and move towards the edge of life.  Living at the edge means living at the edges of our belief systems.  This involves a grieving for the past certainties and a ‘letting go’ of what no longer nourishes.

Often our response to new ideas can be denial and anger, refusing to acknowledge that change is happening all around us.  We can be tempted to protect the old which means accepting clericalism, wealth, relics, indulgences, while refusing to ask what is being born.

Philip said that much of what is within – liturgically, theologically and spiritually, is irrelevant to the great journey of the earth and of humanity’s most pressing struggles.  So, he continued, we need to listen deeply within ourselves, listening to the divine in an encounter of presence.  We need to discover the burning bush experience in our lives.

All this requires replacing the “Me” at the centre of my life in order to allow God to move to the centre!



The Person of Jesus

Philip continued his workshop by focusing on the person of Jesus.  He identified various influences that have impacted on how we view Jesus today: consumerism, loss of ultimate meaning, disconnection between the human and natural world, reluctance to reframe the Jesus story within the universe story, fundamentalism, speed of change, diverse spiritualities, disparity between the rich and the poor, scholarship in biblical, theological and historical studies.  This list is by no means exhaustive.

Philip went on to show how the message of the gospels has somehow failed to deal with such issues as: homosexuality, women’s place in the Church, the just war theory and divorced Catholics and admission to the Eucharist.

He emphasized how Jesus preached a non-dualistic consciousness where there is no separation between God and us.  Jesus was a pioneer of this new consciousness as well as being a prophet.

Jesus was the fullest expression of the reality of God and his mission was to change the mind of humanity about God.  There is need for us to move away from a childish understanding of God towards an adult faith.  We need to recognize the divine within each of us, and begin to overcome the tribal barriers that exist between all religions.

Philip stressed the need to move beyond the barriers of human prejudice and embrace a freedom that is characterized by the fullness of life, boundary-breaking love, and a groundedness of Being. Jesus showed us how to do this by making people feel more human, feel more loved by God and feel more comfortable in their skin.

The Spirituality of Exile

Today Philip led us through a wonderful reflection on the experience of exile as endured by the people of Israel at the hands of the Babylonians. With the destruction of Jerusalem and especially the Temple the Israelites were left facing a reality that was unknown to them at any time in the past. All their certainties were gone.

These Jews had once believed that God fought at their side against their enemies. They could believe that no longer. They once believed that God might punish them for their waywardness but that God would not destroy them. They could believe that no longer. They once believed that they were a specially chosen people. They could believe that no longer.

They once believed that God had instructed them on where to live and how to worship. They could believe that no longer. They once believed that God dwelled in Jerusalem and ruled over Judah. They could believe that no longer. They once believed that God could hear their prayers. They could believe that no longer. They once believed that they had a destiny and a future. They could believe that no longer. They once believed that God could and would care for them. They could believe that no longer.

They needed to find meaning again. How would they find a way forward? The usual places where God was to be found no longer existed. They had to look for a God within. To be in exile means to be on a journey into awareness of God. Exile brought a new experience of God. Elijah could not find God in the thunder nor in the earthquake but in the sound of silence…the silence that is to be found within ….in the deeper self. This was a whole new experience. The Temple and its related roles and structures are not needed to access God.

The chaos of those times is with us today in our Church. What is the way forward when so many of our old beliefs and certainties are no longer valid? On many occasions Jesus distanced himself from organized religion. Organized religion can be a defense against having the religious experience. The temptation can be to stop the search and be satisfied where I am like returning to an old comfortable pair of shoes because the new ones begin to pinch a little.

The story of the wedding feast of Cana where Jesus transforms six large jars of water (used for keeping the law….for ritual purification) into wine. Jesus is sending out a clear message…the time for keeping rules and laws is over. The old religion no longer nourishes the people…’they have no wine’. Jesus ensures that people will be nourished by love.

We also watched a very powerful 20 minute Ted Talk by Tom Honey where he shared how he is trying to come to an understanding of God which led to a very rich conversation.

Finally Philip shared some thoughts on the kingdom of God. Nothing can separate us from God. We have to be followers of Jesus not mere admirers.

The Church Today`


Philip Pinto continued his workshop by focusing on the Church today.  He said that often the gospels stays hidden behind the practices of the Church.  The confusion in the world today is also mirrored in the confusion of the Church.  The scandals that are rampant in the Church have robbed the Church of much of its credibility.  Still people are being fed on superstition and devotion, instead of encouraging them to ask questions and arrive at an adult faith.

Philip said that Jesus did not establish a church.  His simple message to the people of his time was that we are not separate from the love of God. Jesus preached very relevant messages to the ordinary people,  messages that spoke to their reality.  Jesus was not interested in doctrines but gave a message in a non-violent way.  He had a wider perspective than that of the Scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus was giving the people hope and a sense of inclusion.

Philip then traced the history of the early Church when it was made the official Church of the Holy Roman Empire around 380 AD.  In fact, the Church became a separate religion only towards the beginning of the second century (110 AD).  He went on to describe the early paradigm of the Church and the emerging paradigm that we face today.  The Church tends to be a closed system, he said, and needs to become a much more open system; this requires a change in attitude that no longer depends on blind obedience.

Pope Francis is attempting to bring the Church into the 21st Century and is being blocked by the more conservative elements in the hierarchy and in the political right wing.  Pope Francis sees the need to move:

  • from clericalism to ministry
  • from passive membership of the laity to the idea of the People of God
  • from exclusivity to inclusivity
  • from subordination of women to their empowerment
  • from religion to collaboration with science.

Religious Life and a Contemporary Understanding of Jesus

Today began a five-day workshop on Religious Life and a Contemporary Understanding of Jesus, given by Brother Philip Pinto, former Congregation Leader of the Christian Brothers.  Philip was unable to travel from India to eMsemi Retreat centre in Benoni, South Africa, and so the workshop is being conducted via Skype (thank God for Skype!).

Philip began his presentation by quoting Karl Rahner’s famous phrase about the christian of the future who will be a mystic or nothing at all!  Philip went on to stress that the Christian needs to move beyond belief about God to an experience of God.  He pointed out how scientific discoveries of the universe has a profound impact on our understanding of God, and how our understanding of God is also heavily influenced by the culture of the time.

Philip stressed the need to let go of the mythic views of the Bible and remember that the anthropocentrism of today’s religion needs to give way to a non-theistic view of the divine. As Thomas Aquinas pointed out, the first revelation of God is not the Bible but nature!

This discussion led the group to ask about the identity of Jesus, and Philip painted the picture of a man who was full of God, the fullest expression of the Godhead in a human person.

Philip then discussed the various images of God that have been handed down to us and explained that often the images are the result of our needs, our wounds and/or our deep hope (according to Breuggeman).  He invited us to live our lives boldly and honestly and as fully human as we can be.  He stressed the message of the Good News that we are not separate from God, and that as we live more humanly, we participate in the divinity of God.

Harvesting the Fruits

Saturday was devoted to harvesting the fruits of Michael McGuire’s workshop on Formation.

The day began with a check-in where the Brothers shared their experiences of the first week of the Leaders and Formators Programme.  This was followed by what we call ‘harvesting’.  This process involves reflecting back on the workshop and gathering the learnings that each Brother has harvested.  The outline of the process was based on the 4Rs of the harvesting approach:

Resonance:What did I hear or experience this week that echoed what I already knew and confirmed my beliefs or knowledge? And, equally important is the question:   Which elements of the week’s inputs excited me?

Resistance:  What did I find difficult to accept and struggled to agree with some concepts or ideas? Or what did I hear that I did not want to accept?

Re-alignment:  Which elements of the week’s input invites me to modify my ideas or behaviours.  What calls me to take this new knowledge that I heard for the first time and incorporate it into my fund of knowledge? And what ways am I being invited to reflect on some unhelpful behaviours or practices?

Resolution:What specifically am I being invited to change in the way I think or deal with formation?  Maybe the SMART concept is useful here:  Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound to identify specific changes you want to make

The Joy of Formation

Michael concluded his workshop today by focusing on two topics: Formation and Leadership.  In the sessions on formation, he stressed the aspect of refreshing recharging and renewal as a process to lead the novices into a process of growth.  He said that the concept of mentor was preferable to the idea of formator in that it explained the process of formation as one of advice and guidance given by a knowledgeable person.  He saw the mentor as a skilled helper along the lines of GerardEgan.  He went to explain how formation needs to inculcate the cardinal virtues of courage, justice, temperance and wisdom as well as those of humanity and transcendence.  He also stressed the value of the professional values of conscientiousness, trustworthiness, compassion and competence. Some of the signs of growth in the novice, he identified as a) decreased defensiveness, b) increased ability to express themselves, c) improved relationships with others and d) increased self esteem.  In all of this, Michael saw the ability of the novice to be able to make decisions that direct their own lives as a sine qua non for a healthy formation process.

He used the mnenomic of MENTOR to outline the qualities that a formator needed to undertake his role:  Mindfulness, Empathy, Naturalness, Time, Openness and Respect & Responsiveness.

In the afternoon, Michael, offered a vision of leadership based on the work of Steven Covey (based on his book First Things First).  In this he stressed that growth is a slow process that requires time and patience.

Communal Effervescence

Michael Maguire began the day with the idea of energy being moved by our intention and attention; by having a clear intention to be or achieve something, combined with close attention to achieving what we intend. He then went on to introduce us to the concept of collective effervescence which Brene Brown borrowed from Emile Durkheim.

Collective effervescence refers to the idea of a collective celebration of either joy or pain.  Michael explained how important it is for communities to mark moments of joy and sorrow, as signs of the life of the community.  As opposed to the idea of collective effervescence, he showed how the phenomenon of ‘parallel play’ can exist in community where, life two-year olds, Brothers in community can lead individualistic lives, separated one from the other.

The second session took up the ideas of Sandra Schneiders who identified four major challenges for religious to face in the light of changing times.  He explained each one in detail, while here we just list them:

  • Facing the Challenges in changing situations
  • Stability: fidelity to internalized values
  • Frustration Tolerance and Resilience
  • The call to move beyond the smaller Self to the Higher Self

He concluded with the invitation for us to be flexible while taking the risks to create something new, and warned against focusing on the negative or toxic instead of putting our attention and intention on the way forward.