REDEMPTION

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Communicanda II – 2003-2009

Communicanda 2

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June 4, 2006
Solemnity of Pentecost

Introduction

My dear Confreres:

    For with the LORD is kindness, with him is full redemption! (Ps. 130,7).

  1. It is a considerable challenge to share with you these reflections on the theme of redemption. I say this not simply because it is difficult and demanding. The task is daunting because to speak or write about redemption is to touch the very heart of our Christian faith and, clearly, the life-giving center of the Congregation itself. Over the past year, many confreres have shared their thinking on this subject and have offered me a wealth of notes and suggestions. The members of the General Council worked very hard and long in composing their own contribution, while asking me to write the final version. To all, my gratitude: to you belongs the credit for the depth and theological wisdom in this document. But, in the end, I assume the responsibility for putting it all together from the pastoral perspective of my office. This means also that I accept liability for any weakening of the original contributions and for any other shortcomings you may find in it.

Urgency experienced at XXIII General Chapter

  1. The mandate for this Communicanda was given at the XXIII General Chapter in October 2003. At that time, I was struck by the sense of urgency expressed by the capitulars as they considered the challenges Redemptorists face in living our charism across the globe. They underscored the need to reflect on vital dimensions of our missionary vocation in order to respond faithfully to these challenges. As you recall, they urged the Congregation to pay particular attention to the quality of our apostolic dedication to the Redeemer. Faith in Jesus our Redeemer is the key phrase that becomes the overriding reason for our choice [of the theme for the sexennium]. Their fundamental conviction was stated forcefully: We know from experience that if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus then, whatever the storms around us, we will not sink. [1] The theme of the sexennium,Giving our lives for plentiful Redemption, acquires from this perspective a serious significance, since the world situation demands from us greater dedication and conviction. The quality of our apostolic dedication to the Redeemer shapes how we will live the charism that has been entrusted to us.
  2. The Chapter members detected an urgent need for us to deepen our understanding of redemption in order to strengthen the very foundation of our religious commitment as well as the dynamic character of our missionary response to the world’s challenges. I think there was an awareness among the capitulars that Redemptorists may not be aware of how our understanding of redemption has changed. In fact, we may be so busy or otherwise distracted that we do not think deeply – or at all – about how God acts with the world. Without such reflection, the Gospel we preach risks becoming neither “good” nor “news”! So the capitulars requested that a Communicandabe written about redemption. This task becomes urgent given that new anthropological findings and new understandings of the world and of our faith demand clarification of the concept and its content. This Communicanda should offer to Redemptorists the necessary elements to discern its meaning and to revitalize the apostolic life. [2]
  3. The revitalization of our apostolic life as a goal of the reflection is a key element of the Chapter’s decision. The capitulars are calling to mind the fundamental understanding of Redemptorist life as vita apostolica, a technical term that has a precise meaning in our Constitutions: our life comprises at one at the same time a life specially dedicated to God and a life of missionary work (Const. 1). Far from any sort of dualism, the charism of our Congregation calls us to a fundamental unity in all we are and do. Spirituality, community life and pastoral work are not separate components of our vocation. Study and theological reflection as well form part of this dynamic whole. Each dimension of our life is intertwined harmoniously, representing together our unique mission in the Church. Clearly, any reflection on redemption is part of this process and should deepen and strengthen our entire lives.
  4. It is obvious that a systematic treatment of redemption is beyond the nature and purpose of a Communicanda. Hence, this document does not pretend to be a comprehensive presentation. It does not even claim to treat all crucial questions involved. Reflection on such a fundamental theme as redemption ought to be an ongoing process that is shared by the entire Congregation and include other members of the Redemptorist Family. It is a task that we should accept as part of our personal and community life. What is more, it seems to me that each unit and each region are called to contemplate the notion of redemption from its particular historical context and cultural expressions.

The preceding General Chapters have helped us to weave together the themes of identity, spirituality and mission. There is great profit to be found in returning to these proposals. You may also derive some benefit from another look at previous Communicandas that treated the themes of our spirituality, the witness of our community life, solidarity and the apostolate. These documents provide a background and context for this reflection on the theme of redemption. [3]

The essential role of metaphor

  1. Before entering into a reflection on redemption, we need to consider the type of language we will use. In the Word of God and throughout the history of the Church a number of metaphors are used to talk about redemption. This fact has important implications. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them. Metaphors are essentially symbols and serious confusion arises when metaphors are understood literally or independently. A metaphor cannot be taken as an exhaustive statement of a given truth. Furthermore, in discourse or reflection, metaphors can give expression to one or various dimensions of a reality and theological truth. However, a metaphor in itself cannot encompass the totality of that reality and truth. The use of many metaphors to talk about redemption illustrates how no single metaphor is totally adequate.
  2. What is more, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the way Scripture speaks about redemption is conditioned by different cultural, social and religious contexts. The various expressions used should not be considered in competition or opposition but as efforts to make comprehensible the truth of faith. For example, in St. Paul we find the use of the Hebrew categories of guilt and expiation. Luke and the pastoral letters, on the other hand, appeal to a Hellenistic way of thought. The original purpose of biblical texts was to proclaim the mystery of Jesus the Christ and the mystery of redemption in ways that were comprehensible to specific communities. A respectful approach to the revealed Word of God should encourage us to spare no effort in order to make the message of redemption understandable in the many cultural and historical contexts in which the Congregation evangelizes today.
  3. Some ways of speaking about redemption, which are heavily influenced by enthusiastic yet inadequate piety, may mislead or even block us from giving an adequate response to today’s problems. Our own pastoral practice and preaching makes us aware of the shortcomings of some interpretations and approaches. Much of our missionary service may be geared to correcting certain theological perspectives, which have misled or even enslaved the people of God.
  4. This Communicanda is not meant to be a theological commentary that will clarify all issues. At the beginning of our conversation, it is enough to remind ourselves that the history of theology as well as that of evangelization is marked by the search for language that will help us speak about redemption. The search has led missionaries to meditate constantly on the mystery of redemption while searching for metaphors that can serve the proclamation of such Good News. It would be wonderful for the Congregation to have a forum in which the members of the Redemptorist family might share this continuing reflection, thus providing for an opportunity to enrich each other with the insights from our diverse regions.

I.  Drinking from our own well

  1. Redemptorists have an instinctive and pastoral way of understanding and announcing redemption, despite the theological and cultural differences among us. This understanding comes to us from Saint Alphonsus and can be traced within our spiritual and pastoral tradition. We spare no effort in order to help people understand that redemption is always the initiative of God, who loves us in ways the human imagination can scarcely conceive and desires our love in return. In our ministry, redemption is proclaimed both as deliverance from sin and as God’s call to live in a relationship of love with him. Generally, we are known for being close to the people, particularly the most abandoned poor. Generous mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation are characteristic notes of our ministry. Just as Jesus invited people to change their minds and hearts, our preaching traditionally includes an insistent call to conversion. The apostolate of the confessional is appreciated by us because the celebration of this sacrament offers people a tangible experience of redemption. Most Redemptorists make an elemental connection between redemption and the demands for social justice, the respect of human rights and an appreciation for the integrity of creation.
  2. Redemptorists understand redemption in line with Jesus’ proclamation of the Good News. This proclamation offers salvation to all, with a preferential option for the poor. Among the magisterial pronouncements on redemption, perhaps Pope Paul VI, in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, summarizes the content of Jesus’ proclamation in a way that speaks to the hearts of Redemptorists precisely because of its pastoral perspective, especially its emphasis on the need for conversion:

Christ proclaims salvation, this great gift of God which is liberation from everything that oppresses man but which is above all liberation from sin and the Evil One, in the joy of knowing God and being known by Him, of seeing Him, and of being given over to Him. All of this is begun during the life of Christ and definitively accomplished by His death and resurrection. But it must be patiently carried on during the course of history, in order to be realized fully on the day of the final coming of Christ, whose date is known to no one except the Father.

This kingdom and this salvation, which are the key words of Jesus Christ’s evangelization, are available to every human being as grace and mercy, and yet at the same time each individual must gain them by force – they belong to the violent, says the Lord, through toil and suffering, through a life lived according to the Gospel, through abnegation and the cross, through the spirit of the beatitudes. But above all each individual gains them through a total interior renewal which the Gospel calls metanoia; it is a radical conversion, a profound change of mind and heart. [4]

  1. A Redemptorist way of understanding redemption begins with Saint Alphonsus. Not unlike our own era, the society in which God called Alphonsus de Liguori to proclaim plentiful redemption presented enormous challenges. He lived at a momentous change of epoch, the critical point of transition from medieval society into the brave new world of the Enlightenment. Alphonsus became aware of the most abandoned poor, who too often were forgotten in the political, economic and cultural priorities of his age. At the same time, he was conscious of his own need for conversion if he was to respond faithfully to God’s call.

Many of his contemporaries found themselves alienated from God because of the inadequate images of God they were offered and an oppressing legalism in spirituality and morality. Alphonsus combated these distortions of the Gospel with a robust pastoral practice that was imbued with a discerning spirit of prayer and contemplation. His preaching of redemption touched the hearts of people who had come to think of God at best as remote and indifferent; at worst, as a cruel tyrant.

  1. For Alphonsus the whole of the Christian life is centered in Jesus and his work of redemption. If we want to understand the spiritual insight of our Founder, then I believe the critical focus is not upon redemption as an abstract category but rather upon the person of the Redeemer. For Alphonsus, a Christological approach is indispensable, for it is the Redeemer who reveals redemption. The Redeemer represents the true character of God in all its fullness. Who is God? What does God think about human beings? Alphonsus joins his voice to Jesus in the Gospel of John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn. 3, 16-17).

The Redeemer is love itself, which desires to touch and transform every human being so that all may find true happiness and fulfillment. Jesus has come that all “might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn. 10, 10). However, not sparing any effort to love and be loved, the Redeemer “empties himself”, first in the incarnation and then in death, even “death on a cross”. The choice of the Redeemer for the way of absolute kenosis is aimed at dethroning all false images of God while cracking the wall of human pride and suspicion about God and God’s plan for us.

The mystery of redemption is not that we become worthy of God but rather that, in Christ Jesus, God makes us worthy of himself (Col. 1, 12-14; Eph. 1, 3-14). This understanding of God’s desire to transform human beings in love is an important element of the vision of Alphonsus. Redemption becomes the free surrender of a person in wonder and gratitude to the love of God that is given in Christ Jesus by means of the Spirit.

  1. An understanding of the Redeemer as the compassion of God that expresses itself in kenosis colors the promotion by Alphonsus of traditional devotions of his time. Crib, Cross, Eucharist and Mary are together expressions of the depths of the mystery of the Redeemer. The Incarnation demonstrates God’s compassionate commitment to humanity in love that is given freely and unconditionally. On the Cross we contemplate a love that knows no limits in self-giving or in its capacity to forgive. In the Eucharist, humanity receives the ultimate gift of love: the risen Lord who chooses to remain forever among his beloved as a source of transforming grace and the force for communion. Mary is cherished by Alphonsus as the channel through whom flows the river of the grace that is willed by the Father in the Redeemer.
  2. To appreciate his understanding of redemption, the perspective from which we must read Saint Alphonsus is that of the “abandoned”, those who are constrained by society or even by the Church to live on the margin. This is the standpoint that colors the pastoral strategies of Alphonsus and also conditions indelibly his theological reflection. His vision for the Congregation is as big as one could make it, since his point of reference is the entire mission of Jesus. Why did God become man in Jesus Christ? In the answer to this question Alphonsus also finds the raison d’être for his Institute. He discovers in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke a sort of “mission statement” of Jesus, a summary of the sense and significance of his whole life. Alphonsus’ theological perspective here is profoundly pastoral and missionary:

He who is called to the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer will never be a true follower of Jesus Christ nor will he ever become a saint if he does not tend towards the objective of his vocation and does not have the Spirit of the Institute, which consists in saving souls, the souls most destitute of spiritual assistance, such as the poor in the countryside. This was the very reason for the coming of the Redeemer, who said of himself: The Spirit of the Lord… has anointed me to bring the good news to the poor. [5]

Alphonsus establishes the clear link between the person of Jesus and the Congregation: it is found in the reason for the coming of the Redeemer.

The mission of Redemptorists is to bring people to the crucial point of Christian life: the love of God that is powerfully revealed in Jesus Christ. At the center of the life and ministry of the Congregation is the very mystery of redemption. We Redemptorists were born in the heart of an ardent disciple of Jesus, who burned with zeal for the redemption of all with a special preference for the abandoned poor.

  1. Through Jesus the redemptive love of the Father reaches each individual person. In Alphonsus’ perspective God’s love is not preached abstractly but through stories that illustrate the personal love of God towards each and invites from each a response of conversion. The transformation of the world is brought about by a personal change of heart and obedience to the plan of God as revealed in Jesus. As human beings we also have a basic need to belong, to be part of a larger project which takes us beyond our personal littleworlds. The redeeming love of God brings about a change in our relationships, uniting us as communities in the Church (Con. 12), which entrusts to us the mission of communicating to others the love we experience in the Redeemer.
  2. Alphonsus discerned as his own the vocation to continue the work of Jesus the Redeemer in preaching the Good News to the most abandoned poor. His mission was to remain in permanent solidarity with them. His own experience of God was intimately linked with this understanding. He wrote to the communities in Scifelli and Frosinone in 1774:

Assist souls, but specially the poor, the peasants and the most abandoned. Remember that God evangelizare pauperibus misit nos in these our days. Engrave this firmly on your hearts and look only for God among the abandoned poor if you wish to please Jesus Christ. [6]

  1. Alphonsus did not strive to bring the abandoned back to church. Instead, he brought the Church to those people it had forsaken. St. Alphonsus emphasized repeatedly that his Institute consciously chose to establish its houses in the midst of poor people. I presume that this choice was not simply to make it possible for poor people to avail themselves of our services. Alphonsus knew that being with the poor would change his companions, just as the goatherds and shepherds changed him forever.

II.  Grappling with the mystery today

  1. In the first part of this letter, I have tried to highlight some elements which I consider significant in a Redemptorist approach to redemption. These points can root us solidly in a tradition that continues to nurture our missionary vocation. But these roots must settle in new soil today. One could say that we find ourselves at the conclusion of the historical period that was just assuming concrete shape during Alphonsus’ life time. The end of one era and the beginning of another presents new problems, new concerns, new questions and new opportunities.
  2. If our reflection on redemption is not to finish as merely a theoretical exercise, it is essential to look at the world in which we live and work. Only if we are willing to maintain this attentive stance towards reality will we be able to discern people’s anxious questionings and discover in these how God is truly revealing himself and making his plan known (cf. Con. 19). That same Constitution, drawing on the audacious doctrine of the Second Vatican Council, commits Redemptorists to revealing the “all embracing nature of redemption”. [7] For a large part of the world, redemption is a meaningless category. Indeed, the many-faceted crisis of Christianity can – and probably should – be reduced to a common denominator of a soteriological nature, the loss of its salvific relevance. Christianity has weakened its potential to signify salvation. And the Church is no longer the Church, if it cannot communicate salvation. One could turn on its head the axiom of St. Cyprian: extra salutem nullus christianismus. [8]
  3. So, this reflection is a fundamental task – but never an easy one – because our world is constantly changing. Today there is a perception that cultural change is accelerated and profound, leading some to observe that we live in a change of era, not simply an era of changes. Time-honored categories of thought and interpretation are limited in their capacity to help us understand what is happening. People wonder whether there are in fact fixed points of reference or absolute values. While capitalism retains a powerful attraction, disillusion with present institutions, the collapse of ideologies and a lack of hope in the better future promised by modernity seem to be spreading. Humankind’s capacity to destroy increases, leading many to ask “What is the sense of it all? Who will save us from ourselves?”

Search for meaning and hunger for spirituality

  1. In some parts of the world today, people, while disavowing allegiance to any denomination, nevertheless use religious language to express a search for meaning in life. A contemporary sociologist describes the situation in Western Europe as “believing without belonging”. [9] You can detect a longing for something more in life, a quest for wisdom, an interest in new forms of spirituality, a passion for justice, an appreciation for beauty and the essential value of interpersonal relationships. Confreres who study assiduously contemporary trends in literature, cinema, art and music glimpse in these cultural expressions a persistent search for an experience of something like redemption. Different expressions of popular religiosity manifest a similar longing and search.
  2. A hunger for redemption is also expressed in muted cries and unspoken yearning. It is heard in the helplessness and frustration of the marginalized, excluded and the so-called “new poor”. A widespread perception of the fragmentation of modern living, where the various aspects of life seem so disconnected one from the other, also provokes a real malaise and a faltering hope for relief. Anxious, lonely and suffering people of all kinds have the vague sensation that “something is missing”; there ought to be a better way to live.
  3. The longings for “something more” can be anesthetized or even suffocated. Some manage to live with a comfortable sense of self-sufficiency, feeling no pressing need to change in any way. One has to wonder how long a sterile, isolated and apparently self-centered existence can satisfy the hungry human heart.
  4. While it is true that many people may hunger for some sort of redemption, this need does not necessary lead to the search for a redeemer. Often the answer is sought in a type of self-redemption, as evidenced by the variety of self-help programs that are unconnected to a redeemer. Relief from the anxieties of modern life is also sought through recourse to folklore, magic or superstition.

Reality of sin and evil

  1. The experience of evil is very strong in human history. Our confreres in India Sri Lanka, Thailand, New Orleans and, most recently, Indonesiacan testify to the dramatic destruction that results from an impersonal evil that can be unleashed by forces of nature and before which humanity cringes helplessly. On the other hand, we are all too familiar with the malice of personal sin, which threatens to separate us from God and others and thus has serious repercussions in our communities and in society. Beyond the flawed choices of individuals, we also recognize the cruelty that is produced by social structures that generate injusticeand death, even when well-intentioned people lead them. The luxury of some nations demands in a very real way the impoverishment of others. War is waged with a new rationale, whether as an instrument of terrorism or as a pre-emptive strike in the name of peace.
  2. The consequences of globalization on all levels (economic, social, political, cultural and technological) are ambiguous. On the one hand, there is the promise of a new world with countless opportunities. But the cost is an increasing inequality among nations as well as new categories of poverty. Individuals, communities and entire nations are powerless in the face of global structures of injustice. I recall a Redemptorist bishop telling me that, left to itself, his country had little hope. With its natural resources exhausted by colonialism and mismanagement, the country presently has nothing to produce for the new global market and its very survival depends principally upon a more intense solidarity among nations.
  3. During his recent visit to the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Pope Benedict XVI struggled to speak coherently about the evil perpetrated at that place and the Holy Father himself wondered about the “silence of God.” [10] A thoughtful treatment of the problem of evil and sin certainly surpasses the purposes of thisCommunicanda. My point is that the mystery of evil must be faced in our reflection as well as in our preaching, if we are to be faithful to revelation and credible to the people. A clear-eyed analysis of ourselves and our world, when coupled with a grateful and faith-filled appreciation of God’s revelation in Jesus leads us to marvel with Saint Paul: “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more!” (Rm. 5, 20). Perhaps the most primordial proclamation of the Gospel is to announce convincingly that God is alive, even in a time like ours.

Signs and witnesses of the Kingdom

  1. This world, divided, broken and wounded, in which millions must endure horrific suffering, is still the world that God loves, the world to which and for which He sends His Son. Two millennia after the death and resurrection of Jesus we may ask: has his mission made a real difference? Faced with the mystery of sin and evil, yet conscious of God’s initiative, we are called to contemplation, an effort that seeks to see as God sees in order to act as God acts.
  2. The Instrumentum Laboris for the XXIII General Chapter presents a list of challenges, calling them signs of the presence of the Kingdom and signs of the absence of the Kingdom. The document emphasized specifically the challenges for evangelization that are posed by secularism, post-modernity and globalization. It captured well the situation the Congregation faces across the world and the need to discover the most effective means for becoming witnesses of plentiful redemption.c
  3. A contemplative look at our world leads us to glimpse the forces that militate against the Kingdom of God, such as a culture of death that prizes power, pleasure and possessions to the point of the dehumanization, enslavement and wholesale displacement of entire societies. The proclamation of abundant redemption is a call to see this broken world from a contemplative perspective that allows us to discover the ways of the Spirit. We learn to recognize the presence of signs of redemption that allow us to continue with hope and determination. If we have the audacity to ask whether the mission of Jesus makes a difference in our world, then we also need the courage to assume a contemplative stance and permit that the Spirit promised by Jesus will guide us to all truth (Jn. 16, 13).

III.  “Helpers, companions and ministers
          of Jesus Christ in the great work…”

  1. Let me attempt to summarize the reflection to this point. Our discussion began with the assertion that Redemptorists have a particular way of understanding the saving action of God in Jesus Christ. This vision is based on the experience of God that informed the pastoral practice of Alphonsus Liguori. We have not attempted to treat the traditional ways that dogmatic theology has presented redemption, not because that debate is unimportant, but rather because the General Chapter hoped that the present communication might serve as an instrument of discernment and contribute to revitalizing the apostolic life of the Congregation. [12] To this end, I have tried to anchor the reflection in the experience of our Founder, which gave energy and urgency to his own preaching, writing and even the decision to found the Congregation. Alphonsus understood the Redeemer as the revelation of God’s limitless compassion for humanity. This compassionate love leads God to kenosis, God’s own self-emptying for the life of the world, with a special preference for the poor. The logic of Alphonsus is the same logic as that of the Letter to the Philippians: God spares no effort to win our hearts (Phil. 2, 5-11).

We bring the spiritual insight of Alphonsus to our mission of proclaiming abundant redemption in the world today. This mission demands of us a contemplative gaze as we try to glimpse the forces that militate against the Kingdom of God and discern the signs of redemption that allow us to continue our mission with hope and determination, which includes the struggle against all that would enslave men and women.

Like Alphonsus, we are called to conversion that allows us to participate in the dynamism of the compassion and kenosis of God. To “give our lives for abundant redemption” is to enter intimately and permanently into the mission of Jesus Christ, which is the “great work of redemption” in order to preach the Word of salvation to the poor (cf. Con. 2). In this final section of the Communicanda, I would like to suggest some consequences for the Congregation today.

Centrality of Jesus Christ:
with him there is abundant redemption

  1. In order to give witness to abundant redemption within the charismatic inspiration of Alphonsus Liguori, we have no choice but to strengthen our life with the Redeemer. Since our Founder united our own raison d’être fundamentally to the mission of Jesus Christ, the mission of Jesus is the standard by which we judge our own. We must be convinced that to believe in Jesus Christ is to hope as he hoped; that to follow Jesus Christ is to continue and prolong in history his mission, loving as he did to the point of giving up our lives; that to follow him is to allow ourselves to be grasped by him and by the cause of his life. [13] Alphonsus invites us to rediscover the God of Jesus Christ, a God who is passionately in love with humanity; a God who hears the cry of the poor and who does not remain unmoved by injustice. God has revealed himself as Good News for the impoverished, deigning that human beings are filled with the fullness of God (Eph 3, 19) because of Christ’s emptying himself in solidarity (Phil 2, 5-11).
  2. Thus, the proclamation of abundant redemption in the Redemptorist tradition is not, first and foremost, the presenta-tion of creedal formulae or moral codes; it is an invitation to a personal relationship with a passionate God, a God of love who needs to be loved in return. For Alphonsus, the stakes are high. A prayer of his laments that the world is “full of preachers who preach themselves [and not Jesus Christ], while hell is full of souls.” [14] Yet, with an insistence that calls into question our former reputation as preachers of fire and brimstone, Alphonsus contends that conversions based on fear of divine punishment do not endure. Hence, during the missions the principle task of each and every preacher is to leave his listeners on fire with holy love. [15] While we no longer use sulfury language to capture the attention of our audience, we still might ask ourselves whether our preaching has become vapid or superficial in content. Do we use all the creativity and passion at our disposal in order to preach Jesus Christ the Redeemer in a language that people, especially the abandoned poor, are able to understand today?

35    The mission of the Congregation is not something that we have given ourselves. Nor can it be explained and justified internally, sociologically, psychologically or anthropologically, for its origins lie outside itself. God is the very origin and source of mission and its power. That is its most internal mystery, from which the Congregation draws its life, strength and vision. As soon as mission begins to justify its raison d’être differently, i.e.: socio-politically or culturally, it loses its authenticity. If our mission loses its centre in Jesus Christ, its light will be extinguished and it will become insipid; it will be like salt that is good for nothing and has to be thrown out.

  1. I believe that recognizing the mission of the Congregation in the mystery of Jesus Christ holds important consequences for us. This identification should provoke a real wonder and respect for our vocation as “helpers, companions and ministers of Jesus Christ in the great work of redemption” (Con. 2), for we share in an impulse which finds its origin in the mystery of the blessed Trinity. Pastoral planning, which must pay attention to goals, objectives, action plans and evaluation, should also be the fruit of contemplative prayer, meditation and lectio divina, for we are dealing with holy things, not simply employing principles of management.
  2. As we seek to make more evident through the gift of our lives the divine impulse towards all humanity, we can never cease to search and question. There is no room for bourgeois self-satisfaction or complacency in our vocation. Do you remember the story Alphonsus tells about a certain hermit who one day met a prince in the forest? The prince asked him what he was doing there. The hermit replied by asking him, “Sir what are you doing in this lonely place?” When the prince answered that he was hunting wild animals, the hermit rejoined, “And I am hunting for God,” and went on his way. [16] If it is true that many of our contemporaries are searching for the divine or, at least, for some ultimate meaning in their lives, imagine the powerful witness of our pastoral work and community life as places where men are hunting for God!

Conversion to compassion
that manifests itself in kenosis

  1. Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga invites us to think also with our feet. That is, eventually our reflection should translate into action that is consistent with our deepest values. If we want to grasp how Alphonsus understands the Redeemer and hissaving work, we must always include the people, especially the abandoned poor. As we have seen, our Founder identifies his Congregation with the mission of Jesus, who comes to announce good news to the poor. Constitution 5 reproduces this rapport, noting that “evangelization in the strict sense together with the choice in favor of the poor is the very reason why the Congregation exists in the Church, and is the badge of its fidelity to the vocation it has received”.
  2. Alphonsus did not have simply a theoretical appreciation of the special link between the Redeemer and the abandoned. His first biographer captures in dramatic terms how our Founder “thought with his feet” – even when he was actually riding a mule! In a poignant description of his exodus from Naples in 1732, Alphonsus is depicted as making to Jesus a complete sacrifice of that city and its glory in order to live and die in the countryside, surrounded by unlettered peasants and shepherds. [17] Commenting on this event, Théodule Rey-Mermet argues that the beginning of our Congregation was first and foremost the death and rebirth of one man: “the distinguished Neapolitan gentleman no longer existed and a poor man among the poor took his place”. [18] The paschal language used to interpret the exodus of Alphonsus is instructive, especially when we recall the meeting that provoked the decision of Alphonsus: when, in the early summer of 1730, the sight of the abandoned poor on the heights above Scala changed him forever. Moved by compassion, Alphonsus assumed the same “mind” as Christ Jesus and “emptied himself” (cf. Phil 2, 5b). Alphonsus recognized hisown vocation in the compassion and kenosis of the Son of God. The story of Jesus becomes the story of Alphonsus.
  3. Since 1732, thousands of Redemptorists have entered that same dynamic, allowing that the story of Jesus become theirs as well. Confreres like Blessed Nicholas Mykolay Charnetskyi and Blessed Dominick Methodius Trčka have lived kenosis in its ultimate sense, “accepting even death” for the sake of the mission. Although less dramatic, no less precious are the countless stories of disinterested love that have marked the history of our Congregation: missionaries who, through their religious profession, have spared no effort to arrive at a total gift of themselves (Con. 56).
  4. I believe that the Congregation is called today to express the charismatic inspiration of Alphonsus in a dynamic process of solidarity. Solidarity is compassion, for it commits us to the historical struggle of the poor and weak of this world and links us with those who are abandoned and without hope. Solidarity calls us to give “special attention to the poor, the deprived and the oppressed”, since “the evangelization of these is a sign of messianic activity” (Con. 4). Not only does Jesus choose to identify himself in a special way with the marginalized (Mt. 25, 40) but, in his incarnation and paschal mystery, God expresses radical and irrevocable solidarity with human beings.
  5. The evangelical solidarity, which commits the Congregation to the poor, deprived and oppressed, finds concrete expression in our community. The last General Chapters have emphasized that the Redemptorist community is itself a proclamation of the Good News. It is the tent which God pitches among the abandoned poor in order to communicate his compassion. But our common life also demandskenosis. For “community life does not truly exist when members merely live together; it requires as well genuine sharing on the human and spiritual level” (Con. 21).
  6. The invitation of the last General Chapter to think about the restructuring of the Congregation is a call to conversion to plentiful redemption. [19] It is not hard to see restructuring as a sort of self-emptying. The reflection on this question is a refusal to cling stubbornly to the glory of the past or to accept complacently the limitations of the present. Instead, we are searching for new forms of solidarity in order to express the compassion of God for the abandoned poor. This journey seems precarious and demands the sort of faith and courage that moved Alphonsus to leave behindNaples and set out towards an unknown future, armed only with the confidence that God was leading him.
  7. Let us continue this journey in hope, a hope that does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us (Rom 5, 5). Many expect from us a sign of hope, as Pope John Paul II reminded the XXIII General Chapter: “If you proclaim plentiful redemption with joy and integrity, you will bring about or strengthen evangelical hope in the hearts of many people, especially those most in need of it, because they have been wounded by sin and its harmful consequences”. [20]
  8. We cannot lose sight of the fact that we are pilgrims who share a promise and a dream. The solidarity, which God has established in the Redeemer, is already acting in a sort of eschatological struggle, so our vision is not restricted by the limits of the present moment and we reject cynicism as well as wishful thinking. God is making all things new and we are called to work together while keeping our eyes fixed on a new heaven and a new earth that is promised through Christ.

Companions on our journey

  1. Mary, the mother of the Redeemer and our Mother of Perpetual Help, walks with us and strengthens our hope. She is a model of compassion and disinterested love. She joined in the anxious prayer of the apostles at the birth of the Church. I think we should depend on her presence today at the heart of our Congregation as we seek to understand and announce the redeeming work of her Son.
  2. May the example of St. Paul and the apostles and the dedication of Alphonsus and all our Redemptorist saints and beati enkindle our zeal. We pray that the extraordinary faithfulness of the confreres who have gone before us may strengthen our courage as we too struggle to give our lives for plentiful redemption.
  3. In the name of the General Council, I reiterate our most cordial and fraternal greetings to all. We have a very special place in our hearts for the Redemptoristine nuns as well as for all religious and lay persons who share our mission, remembering particularly the young people across the world who are ready and willing to follow Jesus in announcing the good news to the poor.

In the most holy Redeemer,

Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.
Superior General


The original language is English.

[1] XXIII General Chapter of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer,Message, Orientations, Decisions, Message of Pope John Paul II, Rome: General Curia, 2003; cf. Message, 1-6.

[2] Orientations, 7.3.

[3] Thanks to the hard work of the General Secretariat and the Office for Communications, all Communicanda of the General Government since 1985 can now be found in seven languages at www.cssr.com.

[4] Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 9-10.

[5] Considerazione XII: Del zelo della salute delle anime che debbono avere i religiosi”, in Considerazioni per coloro che son chiamati allo stato religioso.

[6] Tannoia IV, 44: Aiutate le anime, ma specialmente i poverelli, i rozzi, ed i più abbandonati. Ricordatevi che Dio evangelizzare pauperibus misit nos in questi tempi. Imprimetevi bene questa massima; e cercate solo Iddio ne’ poveri abbandonati, se volete dar gusto a Gesù-Cristo.

[7] Gaudium et Spes, nn. 11, 22, 41.

[8] Javier Vitoria Cormenzana, “Heartened by the Sounds of a Delicate Silence”, in Concilium (2005/3), p. 125.

[9] Grace Davie, Religion in Modern Europe: A Memory Mutates pp. 3, 12, etc.

[10] Benedict XVI, Address at the Auschwitz Camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, 28 May 2006.

[11] Cf. XXIII General Chapter, Instrumentum Laboris, (Rome, 2003), nn. 5-8.

[12] Cf. XXIII General Chapter, Orientations, 7.3.

[13] Cf. Domingo Moraleda, CMF, Symbolic and Messianic Role of Consecrated Life, in SEDOS vol. 37, no. 11/12 (Rome: November-December 2005), 2005/178.

[14] Selva di materie predicabili ed istruttive, 242.

[15] Foglietto di cinque punti…nelle Missioni, n. 1.

[16] Pratica dell’Amore di Gesù Cristo, II, 8.

[17] A. M. Tannoia, Della vita ed Istituto del Ven. S. di D. Alfonso M. de Liguori, (Napoli 1798), vol. I, p. 66: “Accertato Alfonso della volontà di Dio, si animò, e prese coraggio; e facendo a Gesù Cristo un sacrificio totale della Città di Napoli, si offerse menar i suoi giorni dentro proquoi, e tugurj, e morire in quelli attorneato da’ Villani, e da’ Pastori”.

[18] St. Alphonsus Liguori: Tireless Worker for the Most Abandoned, (New York: New City Press, 1989), p.259.

[19] Communicanda 1: Called to Give Our Lives for Plentiful Redemption(Roma: 2004), 43.

[20] Message of Pope John Paul II to the XXIII General Chapter, 6.

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