Prot. N° 0000 0200/98
Rome, January 14, 1999
Feast of Blessed Peter Donders
My dear Confreres,
1. It gives me great pleasure to greet you in the name of all the members of General Council. This second Communicanda of the present sexennium is published on the feast of Blessed Peter Donders, Redemptorist missionary to Surinam, whose life was not distinguished by extraordinary talents but by limitless generosity. It is very appropriate to offer you this reflection, which concerns the nature of a missionary spirituality, on the day when we celebrate the life of a confrere who found holiness in a life dedicated to preaching the Gospel among the most abandoned poor.
2. The preparation of this communicanda has involved Redemptorists beyond the members of the General Council. During the first week of May 1998, letters were sent to thirty-two confreres across the world. Each recipient was asked to give his own understanding of a portion of the last General Chapter’s Final Message: “Spirituality is at once the source and fruit of Mission. Mission that is not undertaken as an expression of a deep commitment to Jesus is doomed to failure…” (n. 6).
3. Nearly three-quarters of those invited had answered by September. The depth of their reflection, as well as their evident love of the Congregation, have greatly encouraged the Council. If the content of this Communicanda is useful to the Congregation, then credit must be given to the wisdom of my brothers on the General Council and to the insight of these confreres who contributed their experience, strength and hope from distant lands.
4. On the other hand, I accept responsibility for the shortcomings of this letter, in which I wish to offer a few simple observations about “missionary spirituality”. My own limitations and the culture that has formed me leave a certain imprint on these words. Nevertheless, my hope is that they will contribute to a dialogue through which we will arrive at some common vision that will enable us to inspire each other, and give us the courage necessary to embrace our particular vocation in the Church and world of the twenty-first century.
Three preliminary observations
5. There are three observations that I would make at the beginning of this letter. First, it is evident to the General Council that the theme proposed by the last Chapter has struck a chord in the experience of most confreres. The visitations we have made, our participation in provincial assemblies and the correspondence we have received from the different units convince us that there is a lively interest in spirituality in most parts of the Congregation. Why is this so?
6. I will not attempt to repeat or amplify the arguments we proposed in the first communicanda, except to say that the appeal of spirituality may reflect our need to go beyond a paradigm of the consecrated life that is proposed only in theological, pastoral, moral or liturgical language, valid as these models may be. We also seek an ideal that is rooted in authentic and lived experience, both personal and communal.
7. Secondly, while taking note of the generally positive response to the proposals of the General Chapter, the members of the Council are also aware of the difficulties connected with a deeper reflection on spirituality. It is a constant challenge to discover some degree of precision in the language we use when we want to speak about the subject. For example, it seems helpful to distinguish between spirituality and ascetical practices. Of course, the two are not unrelated; the spirituality of an individual or a group seems to require some concrete expression, if it is not to remain simply a collection of ideas.
8. Thirdly, beyond a technique for prayer or a cherished devotion, spirituality is connected with basic and often unsettling questions: Who are we? Why are we? How are we to live? These are spiritual questions and, as such, touch upon the realities that define human existence. Humility and a listening heart are indispensable prerequisites for this reflection. When we attempt to define spirituality, we discover not its limitations, but our own.
Towards a Missionary spirituality
9. It is not advantageous, in my judgement, to speak about spirituality and Mission. The use of the conjunction is infelicitous, for it can suggest that there could be Mission without spirituality or that spirituality, at least as we understand it, could exist in some way divorced from Mission. In their responses, several confreres observed that spirituality touches on our self-understanding as Redemptorists: what Alphonsus sometimes calls the “spirit of our Institute”. Considered in this way, the spirituality of our Congregation ought to address fundamental questions, such as those suggested in the previous paragraph. More that a set of doctrinal principles or ascetical practices, our spirituality should serve as a sort of vital connective tissue that harmoniously joins all aspects of our life.
10. I find a very succinct statement of our Missionary spirituality in the cry of Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians: I am ruined if I do not preach the Gospel! (1 Cor 9, 16). “Preach the Gospel” means more than giving a mission sermon, a retreat conference or a Sunday homily, more than denouncing injustice or teaching people to pray. In fact, the reality goes beyond any single form of pastoral activity. What does it mean and why is its meaning so fundamental to us that, if I am right, we are “ruined” if we do not “preach the Gospel”?
11. Do you recall which was the only one of our constitutions that found its way into the Final Message of the last General Chapter? The capitulars took pains to insert a goodly portion of Constitution 5 into their communication to the Congregation (cf. Final Message, n. 8). This constitution uses unequivocal language to demonstrate how important it is for Redemptorists to “preach the Gospel”: Preference for situations where there is pastoral need, that is, for 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.
12. I will argue that two clear and connected criteria in fact respond to the spiritual questions: Who are we? Why are we? How are we to live? These criteria are preference for evangelization in the strict sense together with the choice in favor of the poor. Here evangelization is understood to include not only the explicit proclamation of the Word, but also the witness of life by individual Redemptorists and communities. To the extent that we do not accept evangelization and the choice for the poor as elements constitutive of our identity and act in consonance with them, we become unfaithful or, at least, we become something other than that which we are called to be. Paraphrasing the words of St. Paul, we are “ruined” as Redemptorists
13. We must always keep in mind that our spirituality is intimately related to Mission, but not in the sense that the demands of spirituality prod us towards pastoral work or that we “become spiritual” because of our service to the People of God. The genius of Alphonsus, an intuition that has been recovered in our renewed Constitutions, is his belief that Mission gives unity to our whole life as Redemptorists. This unifying force is called the “vita apostolica”: our way of understanding what it means to be a Redemptorist, comprising “at one and the same time a life specially dedicated to God and a life of missionary work” (Constitution 1). Spirituality is vitally connected to our “preference for situations of pastoral need, that is, for evangelization in the strict sense, together with our choice for the poor”. Therefore, strictly speaking, the origin and source of our spirituality is found precisely in our Mission, defining it consequently as truly Missionary spirituality (cf. Ad Gentes, 23-27).
14. The principal aim of this letter is thus to consider with you what might be some attributes of our “Missionary spirituality”. My sincere hope is that what follows does not sound like simple moralizing. It is rather an effort to explore with you what I believe to be some important dimensions of the vita apostolica.
Mission as vocation
15. Our Mission is not solely a personal or communal option but, first and foremost, a vocation to which we have been called. The General Chapter underlined the hope our particular vocation should afford us: “Our confidence in the future is rooted in our vocation to continue the mystery of Christ. We believe that there is no limit to His abundant redemption and hence we are impelled to share our faith and hope with everyone” (Final Message, 12). This affirmation of the Chapter suggests that our vocation derives not only from the Lord’s mandate to preach, teach and baptize, but also from the profound demands of God’s life within us (cf. Redemptoris Missio, 11). That is, to the degree that we open ourselves to the abundant redemption given in Christ Jesus, to that extent are we compelled to “share our faith and hope with everyone”. Hence, we might ask ourselves: how is Mission an issue of faith, an accurate indicator of our belief that Jesus Christ has called us to be sent as His “helpers, companions and ministers in the great work of Redemption…[to preach] the Word of God to the poor” (Constitution 2)?
16. Evangelization will never be possible without the action of the Holy Spirit (Ad Gentes, 24; Evangelii Nuntiandi, 75). The same Spirit which descends upon Jesus at the moment of his baptism, rests upon Him, anoints Him and sends Him forth to “proclaim glad tidings to the poor” (Lk 4, 18). We Redemptorists are accustomed to repeating this text from the Gospel of Luke. We are well aware that Alphonsus makes frequent reference to this same passage, declaring that the Mission of Christ is also the Mission of the Congregation. Do we accept, however, the first consequence of our self-identification with the Mission of Christ: that we welcome a life of complete docility to the Spirit, which “conforms us to Christ, so that we learn to view all things as Christ does” (Constitution 25)? This docility makes it possible for us to receive the gifts of fortitude and discernment, which are “essential elements of missionary spirituality” (cf. Redemptoris Missio, 87).
The person of Christ at the center of our Missionary life
17. Constitution 23 notes a condition for realizing our particular vocation in the Church: “Since the members are called to continue the presence of Christ and his mission of redemption in the world, they choose the person of Christ as the center of their life, and strive day by day to enter ever more intimately into personal union with him”. The Chapter echoed this requirement, giving it universal significance as well as a certain urgency: “Whatever the context, we believe that all Redemptorists are being called at this time to focus on a central aspect of our spirituality, i.e., on how we nourish and express our relationship in faith with Jesus” (Final Message, 3). There can be no doubt that for Redemptorists, an essential characteristic of our Missionary spirituality is an intimate communion with Christ, the first Missionary.
18. My brothers, let us allow ourselves to be infected with the great passion of Alphonsus, for whom salvation was more than a theory or dogma but rather a Name, a Face. Our type of evangelization depends on how God’s People come to recognize Jesus in a way that they can respond to Him. Alphonsus employed all of his formidable gifts in the effort to help the poor come to know Jesus. We recall how he carried his portrait of the Crucified to the places where he would preach, how his music helped his people experience Christ’s saving love, how his words, written and spoken, pointed to the abundant redemption to be found in Christ. With Alphonsus, we must “emphasize in all our pastoral action the centrality of Christ as the mystery of the Father’s mercy” (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter for the Tercentenary of the Birth of Saint Alphonsus, 4).
19. Is it possible to make Christ the center of our pastoral activity, if He is not at the “center of our lives” and “at the heart of our community”? How can we judge whether in fact we make these choices? The same Constitution 23 gives us one criterion by which the question may be determined: “the closer their union with Christ, the stronger will become their union with each other”.
20. I would offer another standard that seems to be consonant with our practical experience. The more we choose Christ as the center of our lives and strive to enter more intimately into personal communion with him, the less absorbed we are with our own doubt, insecurity and self-obsession. We become more willing to empty ourselves, pick up our cross and follow the Redeemer. Our greatest concern becomes that Jesus is not loved as He should be.
We believe that the Congregation is being offered a great grace of conversion to the Redeemer (Final Message, 5)
21. Recent papal doctrine on missiology and our own Constitutions concur in that the proclamation of the Word of God has conversion as its end (compare Redemptoris Missio, 46 and Constitutions 11-12). The same sources agree that we cannot preach conversion unless we ourselves are converted every day (Redemptoris Missio, 47; Constitutions 40-42). We do not have to think too hard to discover why conversion is an essential element in a missionary spirituality. It springs from the very offer to enter into relationship with the Divine. Such an invitation first tells me: “There is a God and he is not you”. The Kingdom too is something other than me, something that must be discovered – sometimes at great sacrifice (Mt 13, 44-46); that there are choices to be made (Jn 6, 67); that one can always “turn away sad” (Mt 20, 16-22).
22. Proclamation of the Word of God has conversion as its end: the preaching of Jesus, that of His Church and, in a vivid way, the content and methods of evangelization peculiar to our Congregation, all attest to this truth. However, it is a distressing fact that more than one confrere and more than one community live in a way that proclaims “Conversion is meant for somebody else, perhaps everyone else. Don’t disturb me/us!” Could the General Chapter have been mistaken in its belief that “the Congregation is being offered a great grace of conversion to the Redeemer” (Final Message, 5)?
23. Many of the confreres who helped us prepare this Communicanda spoke of their ongoing transformation. Allow me to highlight three such responses. One confrere writes, “Redemptorist spirituality is by no means a ‘God-and-me’ business but rather a ‘Spirit-leading-me-to-the-poor’ enterprise”. Another, speaking of his intense experience of conversion, remarks “From that time on, I no longer speak simply because the Scriptures say so or theological or pastoral principles are in agreement; I also speak from the perspective of my own experience and thus proclaim before the people: ‘Jesus loved me and gave himself up for my sake'”. How important is conversion for our apostolic life? We will profit by considering this assertion by a confrere: “In its most basic sense, spirituality is a way of relating to God which transforms at the same time both the existence of missionaries and that of those to whom they are sent. It is the capacity of welcoming and then transmitting an experience of God (Jn 15, 4-5)”.
24. How can we deepen a spirit of conversion in each of us? What value does the Sacrament of Penance and spiritual direction now hold in our lives? Are we willing and able to give conversion some sort of expression in our communities?
The first means of evangelization is witness
Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41)
25. Over the last years and in many parts of the Congregation there has been a growing awareness that even before activity, Mission means witness and a way of life that shines out to others. The members of the 1991 General Chapter captured this conviction very well: “The Redemptorist community must constitute the first sign of our being preachers of the Gospel. It is not only the place from which we are sent but it is also, and above all, an effective presence of the Reign of God in the midst of men and women, our brothers and sisters…” (Final Document, 5.2). The Redemptorist community is a statement of faith: “we stay together in community not because we have chosen one another, but because we have been chosen by the Lord” (Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor, 41).
26. Do you believe that our missionary spirituality calls for a particular type of witness? One confrere observes that prayer and poverty are the two outstanding features of radical spirituality in world religions. The testimony of our life of prayer should give to our proclamation the same force as the opening verse of the First Letter of John: “This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and our hands have touched-we speak of the word of life”.
27. Witness of a poor or, at the very least, a simple lifestyle is never an easy question for us to face. But the point is that people notice the way we live. This is the one area where we cannot help but give some kind of witness. I suspect that as we allow our “needs” to multiply, we become less mobile, more reluctant to take risks and finally, more distant from the abandoned poor. Is it too pious too observe that, if our hands are busy grasping or already full, they can never be filled by God nor reach out towards others in disinterested love?
“Carthusians at home and Apostles abroad”?
28. I confess to having had problems with the traditional formula that calls for us to be “Carthusians at home and apostles abroad”. I would say that we should be Redemptorists in both places and in between, as well. There is no doubt that our communities should be places where we can pray, together as well as individually, where we are able to study and reflect. But those aspects of our life are part of the vita apostolica that should be characteristic of our Congregation. Our home is not simply a place to “charge our batteries” in order to discharge them in pastoral activity, much less a place to hide from others or from our responsibilities. Our community life itself is Mission and witness. It should also be the place where we encourage each other as brothers called to continue the presence and Mission of Christ in the world. Our vita apostolica, lived both in the community and in our pastoral activity, is where we are missionaries and where we will become saints.
29. While we know that evangelization demands that we are skilled in both sacred and profane sciences, we must also admit that academic and pastoral renewal is not enough. “A missionary is really such only if he commits himself to the way of holiness” (Redemptoris Missio, 90). But we do not become holy and then become missionaries. Nor does our weakness disqualify us. Most of us, I suspect, have echoed the desperate words of Peter, “Leave me, Lord! I am a sinful man”. Let us also hear the invitation to Mission: “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching men”. (Luke 5, 8-10). What we should claim is progress in the Missionary life, not perfection. Commenting on the dramatic meeting between Jesus and Peter along the shores of the Sea of Tiberias (Jn 21, 15-17), Alphonsus allies himself with the exegesis of John Chrysostom, calling attention to the fact that Jesus does not ask penance or prayers of the repentant apostle but rather pastoral service: “Feed my lambs”.
We asked ourselves in what practical ways our commitment to the poor is an expression of our spirituality, and in what ways it helps us to develop a more authentic spirituality (Final Message, 8).
30. When I think of how essential is our choice for the poor in order to develop a more authentic spirituality, the great formula proposed by the General Chapter of 1985 comes to mind: Evangelizare pauperibus et a pauperibus evangelizari. I recall that while the theme was not easily understood in all Regions of the Congregation, it was certainly discussed! Some confreres found particular difficulty in comprehending the second half of the formula: a pauperibus evangelizari. Missionaries were traditionally those who conferred spiritual goods. The process of evangelization was a one-way street. What could we expect to receive, especially if these gifts were to come from the poor? Any Redemptorist missionary who has proclaimed the Good News to the poor should be able to make an ample reply to the question.
31. The theme of the 1985 General Chapter did have some practical consequences. More than one province re-examined its apostolic priorities in the light of the theme and then made some painful decisions. In some instances, provinces turned over to the care of the local Church their most attractive parishes in order to accept new commitments among the abandoned poor. Other provinces accepted new missions ad gentes, even though this decision exacted a heavy cost. These examples should encourage the whole Congregation, since they demonstrate that it is possible for provinces to change direction, when the change means greater fidelity to “the very reason why the Congregation exists in the Church” (Constitution 5).
32. From the first encounters of Redemptorists with the poor of the Kingdom of Naples, the history of our Congregation has been marked by the valor of so many of its members. My hope is that the example of our commitment to the poor in the past and in the present will give the Congregation courage to face the future. Will the Congregation have the courage to expand its proclamation of the Gospel among the abandoned poor in the teeming slums of the mega-cities of the South, places like Mexico City, Bogotá, Lagos, São Paulo, Manila, Johannesburg, Calcutta, Lima, etc.? Can Redemptorists be more present among the new poor of Europe: the migrants, refugees and asylum seekers? What sort of witness does the Congregation offer in the rapidly changing landscape of Eastern Europe? What does it mean to proclaim the Gospel in the affluent West, where spirituality increasingly is judged to be incompatible with religion and where the poor find themselves ever more on the margin of society and Church? Can Redemptorists continue to be ambassadors for Christ and proclaim a credible message of reconciliation in regions of Africa that are torn by civil conflict? What is the future for our evangelization in Asia, where the Christian message confronts the other great world religions? What does the Congregation have to say in the face of a global culture that pays less and less attention to the saving love of God and, consequently, is less interested in solidarity among God’s daughters and sons?
33. The common denominator among these situations is that they all demand of Redemptorists a courageous faith. Often, this courageous faith is the willingness to leave what is known: my culture, my language, and my accustomed lifestyle in order to meet situations of real pastoral urgency. At times the Spirit may be calling a province to hand over to others its most successful and attractive pastoral commitments in order to go where the Church cannot go. My point is that this courage is not only the source for future missionary initiatives, it is also the fruit offered to us by the “cloud of witnesses” that surrounds the Congregation: all the Redemptorists of the past and present who have “emptied themselves”, as well as those provinces who have made heroic sacrifices for the sake of the Person and Mission of Christ.
34. A source for and fruit of our evangelizing activity is the spirit of contemplation. “Unless the missionary is a contemplative, he cannot proclaim Christ in a credible way” (Redemptoris Missio, 91). How do we Redemptorists understand the spirit of contemplation? It is a spiritual disposition that makes it possible for us to love as Jesus does “so as to share truly in the love of the Son for his Father and for all people” (Constitution 24).
35. Trying to evangelize without a contemplative spirit is like trying to read this letter with the paper pressed against the end of your nose. It may be that your eyesight requires you to hold the paper close but, for most people, such exaggerated proximity blurs the words and makes it difficult, even painful to read the message. It is necessary to put some distance between the paper and us in order to read it. In contemplation we step back from the immediacy of our world, our life and our activity. We look for God in the people and in the events of everyday life. We try to “see God’s plan of salvation in its true light and be able to distinguish between what is real and what is illusory”. These words of Constitution 24 could provide substance for yet another Communicanda! But, can you see how a spirit of contemplation is more necessary today than ever, especially when we recognize such phenomena as the rapidity of social change, the daily and deep incursions of a global culture and the ephemeral nature of many popular movements?
36. There is another reason for us to cultivate a spirit of contemplation. It has to do with a particular claim of Christianity, first pronounced by the Second Vatican Council and echoed in our Constitutions: that in the encounter with Christ, human beings discover the meaning of the mystery of their own life (Gaudium et Spes, 22; Constitution 19). The assertion was reiterated most recently in the papal bull that announced the Great Jubilee of the year 2000: “…God’s friendship and grace, the supernatural life which alone can bring fulfillment to the deepest aspirations of the human heart” (Incarnationis Mysterium, 2). A counterclaim is made by the global phenomenon of consumerism, namely, that what we have or consume will make us happy and fulfilled. This declaration is radically opposed to the claims of the Gospel, yet the message is very successful. There is a temptation to denounce the different “ism’s” of our day – secularism, materialism, individualism, consumerism, etc. – without understanding the reasons for their popularity. Contemplation should cultivate in us a “spirit of brotherly concern” that would have us listen to men and women as we attempt to “understand people’s anxious questionings and try to discover in these how God is truly revealing himself and making his plan known” (Constitution 19).
37. At the same time as the final preparation of this Communicanda, I was also a member of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Oceania. One of the more memorable interventions during those three weeks of meetings was made by a bishop from Mauritius, a special delegate to the Synod. He referred to the scene in the Gospel when the disciples were admiring the grandeur of the Temple and its precious ornaments (Lk 21, 5ss). You remember that Jesus prophesized how quickly and completely the great building would be destroyed. The bishop asked the Synod to think of problems faced by the Church in many regions of the world; we might think of our Congregation. He observed if things come tumbling down around me, maybe the Temple was not as strongly built as it looked. Perhaps we should examine our conscience about the way we build community (cf. 1 Cor 3, 10-15).
38. While building a structure is one biblical image for the work of evangelization, perhaps a more eloquent one for our times is that of the sower and the seed. The seed sown is the Word of God. It is prior to doctrine, moral teaching, law and discipline. It is prior because the “Word of God is so great that it remains the support and the energy of the Church” (Dei Verbum, 21). The image of the sower and the seed seems to be particularly compelling in an age that values instant success. The Word which we carry counsels us to be patient, even if we do not see immediate results (Jam 5:7). It is God who gives the growth (1 Cor 3, 6; Ad Gentes, 24-25).
Missionary optimism: the promotion of vocations.
39. Yet another way in which our spirituality is transformed by Mission is the desire to invite others to share completely our way of life. Can we all agree with the assertion of Constitution 79, that “the vitality with which the Congregation pursues its apostolic mission depends on the number and quality of the candidates who seek admission to the Redemptorist community”? If we agree, then we should also accept that each of us bears a responsibility in promoting vocations, especially through our own apostolic zeal, the example of our life and constant prayer (Constitution 80).
40. I maintain that whether or not we promote vocations is a spiritual question, for it touches on the depth of our belief in God’s purpose for the Congregation and its place in the Church. There are confreres of good will who have concluded that the consecrated life, including the Congregation, is rapidly becoming extinct. An analysis of why the Congregation fails to attract candidates in some parts of the world is complex and is certainly beyond the scope of this letter. What is more, the Congregation will not retreat from our growing collaboration with the laity. However, since the Chapter was so insistent on our focusing on a “central aspect of our spirituality, i.e., on how we nourish and express our relationship in faith with Jesus” (Final Message, n. 3), there may be benefit in meditating on how the apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata presents the challenge of vocation promotion: “Following the example of founders and foundresses, this [vocation promotion] aims at presenting the attraction of the person of the Lord Jesus and the beauty of the total gift of self for the sake of the Gospel” (n. 64).
All are Missionaries
41. The Congregation is facing a reality heretofore unknown in its history. I refer to the great number of senior confreres of the so-called “third age”. Any reflection on our Missionary spirituality must include this group. While it is my intention to dedicate a future letter solely to the question of the spiritual demands particular to the “third age”, we can begin now by recalling the teaching of Constitution 55: that by our profession we all are missionaries. This character, which is based on our share in the Mission of Christ, continues throughout our life, whether we are able to participate in pastoral activity or not. And, as that particular Constitution reminds us, we do not reach the fullness of our Missionary identity until that time when we “are suffering and dying for the salvation of the world”.
Question of restructuring
42. An understanding and acceptance of “the very reason why the Congregation exists in the Church” will provoke other questions. Some of these will touch on our decisions to remain in a place or move on. When do Redemptorists say, “there are other towns and villages” (Mk 1, 38)? At what point do we “shake the dust from our feet” (Lk 9, 5)? When does “new wine” demand “new wineskins” (Lk 5, 38)? The last question touches not only our missionary methods but also the way we structure ourselves. We must continue to ensure that our structures of government and administration are always at the service of the Mission. Where this is no longer the case, the structure must change in order that the Mission continue.
A “barren bush”… a “noisy gong”
Mission that is not undertaken as an expression of a deep commitment to Jesus is doomed to failure (Final Message, 7)
43. A Redemptorist for whom the Mission is not undertaken as an expression of a deep commitment to Jesus – what would he look like? What would he sound like? He might resemble a “barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth” (Jer 17, 5-6). As one confrere writes to us: “burnout is not due to overwork alone, but more to an emptiness or a lack of conviction in one’s life, a lack of the spiritual”. Could “burn-out” be essentially a spiritual problem? Might not its painful symptoms mask a thirst for “living waters” (Jn 7, 37-38)?
44. If we dare to speak about Him whom we do not know, we will eventually sound vacant and superficial: a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13, 1). Being “missionary” does not simply mean being close to the people or opting for the poor; we ought to have an experience to share with them: “What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and our hands have touched-we speak of the word of life” (1 Jn 1, 1).
Questions with no answer or “hearts that burn”?
45. Disconnected from the Lord, we face many questions with little hope of an answer. “How could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place to satisfy such a crowd?” (Mt 15, 33). “Here we have put aside everything to follow you: what can we expect from it?” (Mt 19, 27). “Truth! What does that mean?” (Jn 18, 38).
46. It should be obvious that our choice of the person of Christ as the center of our lives and at the heart of communities does not insulate us from doubt or anxiety. But, after we pour out our hearts to each other and to Him, we listen. Then our hearts may begin to burn and we have to carry the message to others: how He met us along the road and how we recognized Him.
47. Let me try to summarize the essential points of this letter. Spirituality is directed towards basic and often troubling questions about our identity and purpose in life. For Redemptorists, spirituality must be intimately connected with Mission: the “very reason why the Congregation exists in the Church”. This intimate connection means that we choose Christ as the center of everything, that witnessing is critical and contemplation is a sine qua non for the missionary life. It means that we strive to be courageous, patient and hopeful to the point of inviting others to share fully in our life. In the final analysis, our spirituality cannot remain a theory: we must live it. It must have some practical consequences in our life.
The Congregation and the Great Jubilee
48. It is practically a cliché to say that we are standing on the threshold of a new millennium. As tiresome as this countdown to the new century may be, I do not believe we should dismiss the extraordinary “sign of the times” that is the Great Jubilee. Have you noticed the different themes proposed by the Holy Father for this celebration? They have a familiar ring: conversion, transformation, penance, reconciliation, redemption, the paschal mystery. These same themes are at the very heart of our Mission.
49. Is it reasonable to expect that all the provinces and vice-provinces undertake a special missionary project as part of the celebration of the Great Jubilee? I am aware that some projects have already been planned, like urban missions or special pilgrimages. It is also true that the members of some units – especially those in leadership – are tired, discouraged and doubtful of the cooperation of their confreres. But I would ask each unit to inaugurate the third Christian millennium with a special project that is consonant with “the very reason why the Congregation exists in the Church, and the badge of its fidelity to the vocation it has received” (Constitution 5).
50. May the Immaculate Virgin Mary who, after Jesus Christ, is the principle protector of our holy Institute because, in a special way, it was born under her patronage, help us to love her Son and make Him to be loved.
On behalf of the General Council,
Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.
(The original text is English.)