To the Members of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer

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Roma, 16 October 2005
Prot. N° 0000 286/2005

re: the conclusion of the Jubilee of Saint Gerard Majella

My dear confreres,

1.Greetings in the name of the most holy and beloved God, who alone gives abundant Redemption.

This letter comes to all of you, Fathers, Brothers, Students, Novices and Postulants, at the conclusion of the Jubilee of Saint Gerard Majella, a year that has marked the happy coincidence of two anniversaries concerning one of the best known saints of our religious family: the centenary of his canonization (1 December 1904) and the 250th anniversary of his death (16 October 1755).

  1. Marking the beginning of this Jubilee, the Holy Father John Paul II wrote: “This year of Saint Gerard constitutes for the entire Redemptorist family an auspicious occasion to renew, as individuals and communities, the commitment to respond to the contemporary challenges of evangelization with the same willingness and creativity of Saint Gerard and Saint Alphonsus in their day”.

Gerard is, in fact, a “radiant example” of that spiritual outlook which evangelization demands today; hence the Pope continues “I urge you to follow his own spiritual journey and, like him, to remain faithful to your charism without fearing the inevitable difficulties that any authentic renewal demands”. [1]

  1. Beyond being a radiant example for the entire Congregation, Gerard is first and foremost an apostolic man who announced the Word of God with singleness of purpose, led many hearts to God, spent himself in charity for others and unfailingly defended the dignity of every person. The sort of spiritual and apostolic energy that drove Gerard provides us real motivation to respond creatively to the challenges of evangelization.

Returning to our roots certainly means recalling and reexamining how our own patrimony of holiness has taken flesh in those who have given their lives to proclaim redemption. The post-synodal exhortation Vita Consecrata reminds us that “Holy men and women have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult circumstances throughout the Church’s history” (n. 35).

  1. The last General Chapter (Roma 2003) in proposing as the theme for the sexennium “Giving our lives for plentiful redemption” wanted courageously to emphasize the need for personal and communal conversion in the service of an ever more faithful proclamation of the Gospel according to the original intuition of our charism, as John Paul II himself invited us in his message to the Chapter.

As Redemptorists, our particular task is to announce to all peopleCopiosa Redemptio; only by embodying that in our personal and communal lives will we be credible witnesses of the Kingdom ofHeaven. These points introduce our reflection on the spiritual treasure of Gerard and, above all, how his message is relevant for us today.

  1. The present Jubilee offers an occasion to give thanks to God for all the Redemptorist Brothers that he has given us over the course of the centuries; each, by following in the footsteps of Christ in his own way represents our heritage of holiness. Without the silent yet precious work of so many lay brothers our Congregation could not endure, since it would lack a “lung” for our common mission.

I.The Spirituality of Gerard

6.A study of the letters of Gerard, together with the words and deeds of his life, portray him as an unusual man. His “madness” for Jesus in the Eucharist, his charitable works, his silence in the face of slander, all testify to the image of an extraordinary person. Glimpsing the image of God in the face of his fellows, he sought to alleviate the physical and spiritual suffering of those he met on his journey. If we want to approach the spirituality of Gerard, it is absolutely necessary to begin with his intimate relationship with God, whom Gerard defines as his most holy and beloved God. [2]God is close to him, to be loved with all his strength and appreciated as a treasure and the real meaning of his life: a God who is loving presence, a friend with whom life is beautiful.

7.As we study the writing of Gerard, the image emerges of a spiritual path that is always more clearly marked by the merciful closeness of God, flowing from an intimate inner union that is at the heart of “copiosa redemptio”. As a result, his relationship with God becomes for Gerard a bond that produces fulfillment, joy, and security; a relationship in which one “indulges” oneself, according to an expression Gerard uses in a letter to Sister Maria di Gesù: “I had to restrain myself while in Naples in order to keep Father Margotta company but now more than ever I can indulge myself with my beloved God”. [3] Even though he lives in deep communion with his beloved God, Gerard knows that he needs specific moments of prayer, silence, and solitude and cannot ever imagine living without the Eucharist.

8.The hallmarks of the spirituality of Gerard are hope, freedom and the joy that God has opened for us because of his compassionate kenosis. The beloved God, with whom he lives in profound communion, is a loving presence that makes possible greater freedom and growth while enlarging his spirit. In his personal Regolamento, he notes the following words, so characteristic of him that they can be seen as his spiritual testament: “Some have the task to do this or that; my only task is doing the will of God”. [4]

9.Gerard is in love with Mary; his affection for the Mother of God is sincere, effortless and deeply rooted in the gestures and language of the popular devotion of his time. He entrusts himself completely to Mary and names her, together with the Holy Spirit, as his protector and consolation. The continuous reference to Our Lady in his writing does not betray simply a self-protective purpose but rather is a guarantee that his love and communion with his neighbor might be understood as a “Gospel of life”. [5]

II. The spirituality of Gerard for us today

10.Even today Gerard carries a spiritual message that is able to sustain and stimulate fidelity to the Gospel in a witness of charity that connects with the needs of the most abandoned. We should see Gerard from the perspective of a spirituality that is committed to respond to the contemporary needs of evangelization in order to highlight the power of the joy and hope that characterize his journey and lead inevitably to a mission of announcing redemption to the most abandoned.

11.An immediate and generous solidarity with people in need is a fundamental mark of the spirituality of Gerard Majella and an invitation to reflect on our Redemptorist identity. For Gerard, solidarity with the poor is, first and foremost, faithfulness to the Redeemer and to his choice to share human reality. The words and deeds of true charity are always based in the needs of others. Gerard is faithful to the way Christ himself came to us: he is incarnated in the real circumstances of his brother’s need in order to help him effectively. In this way, charity is always full of sincere respect and becomes for others a proclamation of redemption.

12.Popular devotion names Gerard as the protector of expectant mothers, an identification that was established already during his lifetime. This appreciation became strongly rooted after his death, has continued uninterrupted even to our day and has been sanctioned to some degree by the Church. The birth of any child makes present the great event of Bethlehem and, in the hands of God, every mother has the opportunity to welcome this great mystery (cf. Evangelium vitae, n. 1). John Paul II reminds us in his letter for this Jubilee: “This typical mark of his charity encourages Redemptorists and the faithful always to love, defend and care for human life”. [6]

13.On the occasion of the Year of the Eucharist, we should not forget that the spirituality of Gerard, like any authentically Christian spirituality, is centered on the Eucharist. He invites us above all to wonder at the “madness” of a God who gives himself freely and unconditionally: he becomes bread not only to stay with us but to remain in us and transform us into himself. For this to happen, it is necessary to entrust ourselves to the Virgin Mary and allow ourselves to be guided by her, the “woman of the Eucharist”. [7]

III.  A consistent vocational refrain in the message of Gerard

  1. It happens in daily life, often even in our communities, that relationships are dominated by a logic of opposition and circumscribed by fear: we do not have the courage to take the first step; we wait for the other to stretch out his hand. We forget that only an advance of trust makes the other capable of trusting. Above all, it should be worrisome the way fear can lead us to view the poor and those who are different: no longer as the bearer of an ethical claim that should be welcomed but rather as an enemy against whom one must defend ourselves. Such an attitude makes us counter-witnesses to a “Gospel of life”. In this context, the invitation of Gerard is more relevant than ever: Joyfully! And with greatness of spirit! There is need to make room for hope in both our personal lives and in the life of our communities and apostolate. We can do it because God is writing with us a story of liberation and fulfillment.

It is essential for our apostolate that we always possess a “greatness of spirit” in God in order to become spokesmen of redemption and true witnesses of our vocation. Should the young people we meet “ask the reason for our hope” (1 Pt 3, 15), we should be able to show them that the reason is Christ in us.

It is essential to rediscover the role and dignity of every vocation, particularly that of Brothers. Throughout our history Brothers have been a bridge towards the world in which we live, allowing the Congregation really to take flesh in the fabric of society. With simplicity of language and by sharing daily in the joys and sorrows of people, Brothers have always known how to appreciate deeply the needs of the abandoned.

  1. The spiritual experience of Gerard centered in God, a loving presence that is able to “indulge” the human heart, is a source of encouragement and support. Over the last years we have felt a growing need for the ongoing formation of all Redemptorists in order to refocus our evangelizing mission; today, more than ever, we need to provide such formation to all the members of the Congregation, especially to lay brothers (Gen. Stat. 084) and to groups who are inspired by our charism, such as Redemptorist lay associates. In the context in which we live, work and witness, we are called to elaborate with the creativity of the Holy Spirit new paths that lead to true life.
  2. It is urgent that we design our apostolate to be a liberating message for the whole human person. True pastoral planning always has a vocational component. We are called to design an apostolate that has as a central point the promotion of vocation, for both Brothers and priests. The absence of vocation promotion betrays the fragility and weakness of our manner of living as an apostolic community. The contemporary shortage of vocations, caused by a number of factors, is also brought about by our lifestyle, which may be neither authentic nor attractive. We are called as communities and as individuals to be a presence that is appealing, provocative and unambiguous in its witness.

An effort should be made to strengthen those forms of the apostolate, such as  vocation promotion, Redemptorist lay missionaries and other lay associations, that in the past were a source of discernment and Christian formation for so many people we met along the way. Our heritage of holiness, with “vocation promoters” like Gerard, is a valuable stimulus and, with the help of God, a support for undertaking new paths of hope that find their true meaning in evangelical charity.

  1. The proclamation of “copiosa redemptio” will be credible only if it clearly displays the fullness of life that Christ came to give: “I have come that they might have life and have it in abundance” (Jn 10,10). In just 29 years, Gerard demonstrated that it is possible to live in fullness of life because God is a presence that attracts and satisfies, giving life and meaning to the whole of existence.

In the name of the General Council,

In Christ the Redeemer,

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

The original language of this letter is Italian.

[1] Message to the Most Rev. Joseph William Tobin on the occasion of the Jubilee of Saint Gerard Majella, n. 2, in L’Osservatore Romano, 8 September 2004, 5.

[2] G. Maiella, Scritti spirituali, Materdomini 2001, 117.

[3] Ivi, 135.

[4] Ivi, 146.

[5] Message to the Most Rev. Joseph William Tobin, op. cit., 5.

[6] Ibidem.

[7] Ecclesia de Eucaristia, n. 53.

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