Vitality and Essential Growth in Our “Apostolic Life”


Communicanda – 1991-1997

Communicanda 1

Rome, August 1, 1992
0000 0230/92

Dear confreres,

During the past few months, the members of the General Council have spent time together reflecting on certain subjects proposed in the Final Document of the General Chapter. As we send you the fruit of these reflections we take the opportunity of sending you also our good wishes, and expressing the hope that the Final Document and our Communicanda may provide subjects for reflection in your communities.

0.  Introduction

Every General Chapter is concerned about the growth of our apostolic life, the strengthening of the links which bind us together, and our adaptation to the life of the Church and the world of today (C. I07). The Exist General Chapter of 1991, held at Itaici, in Brazil, has sent us a clear message in this sense for the coming six years. This message is rooted in:

0.1.    the actual world in which Redemptorists live. We cannot escape the fact that we are affected by the problems of the world: the tension between nations and even within the same countries, the lack of true democracy, the ever growing gap between rich and poor, famines, forced migration, social injustice, the status of women, health problems, the specter of AIDS, xenophobia and the destruction of the environment. But we also share the hopes of the world when human rights are more respected, and when the weaker members, children, the aged, and the unemployed find their place in society. When liberty and democracy flourish, “when love and fidelity meet, justice and peace will embrace” (Ps. 85/11).

0.2.    the life of the Church to which we belong. The Church is indeed the universal sacrament of Redemption, on its pilgrim way to the Kingdom of God. While we participate in its mission at universal and local level, we also share, on the one hand, in its prophetic and inspiring witness, and on the other hand, in its weaknesses, and uncertainties. We are constantly challenged to find concrete forms which will contribute, in a specific way, to the life of the Church in difficult times, and in particular situations. However, we shall only enrich the life of the Church in so far as we remain faithful to the charism of Saint Alphonsus, and to the heritage of the whole Congregation. This will provide us with sources of creativity.

0.3.    life in the Congregation, in our communities, in our vice-provinces and provinces. Our lives are made up of light and shade. We go forward sometimes; we also fall back. Weariness and discouragement, as well as new ventures in hope, form part of our existence, as they do of the lives of men and women we know. We breathe the same air as our contemporaries. We are also affected by the general atmosphere which marks the end of this 20th. century. We are as well, in a sense, prisoners of our past, heirs to a tradition with all its richness and also its burdens. We have also the joy of sharing the challenges and hopes of this great missionary family of 6000 confreres, representing nearly 60 nations, and present in 68 countries of the world.

0.4.    In this context the General Council would like to offer some reflections to each confrere, to each community, and to each province. It takes as its starting point what seems to be the core of the Final Document of the General Chapter. It is only meant to be a cursory glance and not an analysis of all the points of the Document. First of all we want to stress again the theme chosen for this sexennium (1). Then we would like to clarify the desire and need we have of a greater interior spirit and unity in our “life like that of the apostles” (2). We want to show as well how our mission to the abandoned, especially the poor, gives this sense of unity to our life, incarnates it in concrete forms and enables us to live the reality of inculturation (3)

  1. The theme of the sexennium
     (consistency in the themes of the last three Chapters)

1.1.    This Exist. General Chapter is not in any way a halt on our forward march together. Indeed it particularly stressed the idea of continuity – “we have sensed the unifying spirit and apostolic direction that the last sexennium has given to the Congregation” (F.D., No.6). It has helped us to be more faithful to our vocation, and to make progress together. The evaluation which was carried out in our (v)provinces, and in our regions, enabled the Capitulars to discern how positive was our choice of pastoral priorities. The poor are the privileged ones to hear the Good News from us, and they also participate in our own conversion. The Chapter, however, also recognized that all was not well in our manner of living. The Final Document in No 8 calls attention to this quite clearly. We are therefore strongly exhorted to continue reflecting together, and to be faithful to the undertakings in which we have become involved during the last sexennium. More discernment and thinking in depth, will enable us to take another step forward in order to face the challenges of today.

1.2.    It seems to us important to indicate clearly what is the central point of the Final Document, the beacon, as it were, which lights up the whole text. It was the wish of the Capitulars to stress particularly what is stated in Nos. 11 and 12. “We want to put the emphasis on the explicit, prophetic and liberating proclamation of the Gospel to the poor, allowing ourselves to be called by the poor (evangelizare pauperibus et a pauperibus evangelizari).” In order that this theme may become incarnate in our personal life, and in our community life, we call for a continual effort to “deepen” our understanding of it. We wish also to stress the consistency, the real bond and close link between the task of evangelization, community life, and the spirituality proper to the Congregation. This desire to give unity to our whole Redemptorist life must find expression in concrete forms which clearly show the option of the Congregation for the most abandoned and especially the poor.

1.3.    In this way the Chapter wished to make clear once again our place in the mission of the Church. This is our charism as it is succinctly defined in Constitution No. 5: “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. Indeed the Congregation’s mandate to evangelize the poor is directed to the liberation and salvation of the whole human person. The members have the duty of preaching the Gospel explicitly, and of showing solidarity with the poor by promoting their fundamental rights to justice and freedom. It is along these lines that the Chapter requests us to go forward. When we are asked by someone, a young person perhaps, “Who are you Redemptorists?”, we must be in a credible position to present this text as our identity card, and it must make us easily recognized. This is indeed our raison d’etre, the badge which identifies us. It is this which specially proclaims the message of Copiosa Redemptio, abundance of redemption….

1.4.    As Redemptorists and missionaries of the Gospel to the abandoned, especially the poor, the theme so often taken up by Pope John Paul II, in his discourses in all the continents, calls for our attention. It is this “new evangelization”. He continually stresses the need for a new type of evangelization which will meet the profound changes taking place in the world in which we live. Even St. Clement in his day, already spoke of “proclaiming the Gospel in a new way”. Our mission, today as yesterday, is therefore to respond to the needs of mankind. “In a spirit of brotherly concern they should try to understand people’s anxious questionings and try to discover in these how God is truly revealing himself and making his plan known” (Const. 19). Where do we find these “anxious questionings” today? Is it not often among the young, in the poor populations of great secularized cities, as well as among those living in rural areas? They are coming from all those who are abandoned, and have need to hear this proclamation of the Gospel which leads them to the living Jesus. “And how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed?” (Rom. 10.14). Let us then proclaim the Good News and give our contemporaries a real thirst for God.

1.5.    We live in an age of communication. Our world tends to become a global village where news instantly becomes known. At the same time, however, we are aware of the great gap between rich and poor. We rub shoulders with those who are lonely, and with those who try to forget their despair in a sort of artificial paradise. Our mission, therefore, is all the more urgent to be the apostles of the Good News, that which Jesus brought to all mankind, so that their desire of total fulfillment might be realized. Let us proclaim once again that the God of the Christians is a God who is close to his people. He has come among us and for our sake. He is a God of love who first loved us – “this is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven” (1Jn. 4.10). In season and out of season, let us proclaim again and again that the God of Jesus is a good and merciful God: “the merciful Father, the God from whom all help comes” (2.Cor. 1.3). He is a God who challenges each one of us to act responsibly in our allotted task: “Our love should not be just words and talk: it must be true love, which shows itself in action” (1 Jn. 3.18). The God of Jesus is the God of communication: Father, Son and Spirit. Each one can contact him in prayer, and in solidarity with others: “Let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 Jn. 4 7-8).

1.6.    This proclamation of the Good News to the poor is our following of Christ, which is shown by a life lived close to, and in solidarity with, the poor. It is a love shared with them, giving them a new found dignity which liberates them. We wish to be part of this life of the Church for “the Church all over the world wishes to be the Church of the poor… She wishes to draw out all the truth contained in the Beatitudes of Christ… The young Churches, which for the most part are to be found among peoples suffering from widespread poverty, often give voice to this concern as an integral part of their mission” (R.M., No. 60).

The Redemptorists, especially those who live in the Third World, are there to remind us unceasingly of this urgency, of the need for this fundamental consistency in our lives. They provide a stimulus for us, as do the words of Pope John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio: “In fidelity to the spirit of the Beatitudes, the Church is called to be on the side of those who are poor and oppressed in any way. I therefore exhort the disciples of Christ and all Christian communities – from families to dioceses, from parishes to religious institutes – to carry out a sincere review of their lives regarding their solidarity with the poor” (R.M., No. 60).

1.7.    Our solidarity with the most abandoned, especially the poor, brings us close to the Jesus of the Beatitudes. It is then that we understand that the poor are not merely people to whom we announce the Gospel. They are the living sign of Christ Himself today. In Jesus, God appeared in the likeness of a poor man. He is, from the moment of his birth, among outcasts, among those who have no place in society. “Jesus, who rich as he was, made himself poor for your sake, in order to make you rich by means of his poverty” (2Cor. 8.9.). (Read the commentary of St. Alphonsus, in his Christmas Novena, Discourse VIII) The poor are those who are not loved, but whom we must love and evangelize. This call to evangelize must not be regarded as a glorification of misery, which we must always fight against. Neither is the poor man called to become rich, but he is called to become “other”, to be converted. The Gospel as such does not envisage a society of contentment, people who take complacency in their own self sufficiency. It does wish us to look forward in joyful hope and to be free to attain what is essential.

1.8.    Let us recall especially those three capital encounters in the life of St. Alphonsus, which completely changed him, and set him on the road to becoming an apostle. The first was at the age of 19 in the Hospital of the Incurables, then at 32 it was with the lazzaroni of the “evening chapels”, and finally at the age of 35 he came in contact with the shepherds of Scala.

Following in the steps of St. Alphonsus, our option for the poor, for those who are neglected and abandoned by the Church also implies encounters. It means being available, calling into question many of our too fixed ideas. It denotes solidarity, conversion, an exodus, a going forth on mission.

1.9.    We know of course that the poor are not perfect, especially if we are in close touch with them. Nevertheless we are often surprised to discover what Gospel values they have. We note their generosity, their readiness to share the little they possess, how joyful they can be in spite of the hard conditions of their life, how tenaciously they cling to hope when others would have long abandoned it, and how they can radiate confidence… We are evangelized by those values in their life, and in this way the poor invite us to change our attitude. This privileged link with them is thus capable of changing our viewpoint, our heart, our manner of speaking and living. For example, their life will force us to reflect on our over anxious search for security, our too close adherence to structures, and our fear of any risk… “Evangelizare pauperibus et a pauperibus evangelizari.” The poor bring us face to face with Christ in our own lives (Mat. 25.31).

This is true not only on the personal level, but on the level of community as well. “The community cannot be evangelizing if at the same time it does not allow itself to be evangelized – from outside itself: that is by those to whom we are sent, especially the poor” (F.D., No.24). With them we read the Word of God and together we are impelled to go forward in the footsteps of Jesus.

  1. Our “Apostolic Life”: unity and coherence

2.1.    Our Congregation “follows the example of Christ in the apostolic life, which comprises at one and the same time alife specially dedicated to God and a life of missionary work” (C. 1). In this way “all Redemptorists urged on by the apostolic spirit, and imbued with the zeal of their founder, continue the tradition developed by their confreres in the past, and are ever attentive to the signs of the times. Sent as helpers, companions and ministers of Jesus Christ, in the great work of redemption to preach the word of salvation to the poor, they build up an apostolic community, specially dedicated to the Lord” (C. 2).

These two Constitutions at the very beginning of our Rule support and enrich our theme for the sexennium. Their aim is to make us concentrate our efforts on developing a greater Interior spirit and unity in our apostolic life. The second part of No. 11 in the Final Document expresses this clearly: “We ask the Congregation to continue this theme by deepening our apostolic community life as a prophetic force for new ways of incarnated mission; to achieve this we see the need to emphasize the coherence between our inculturated evangelization, our community life and our spirituality”.

2.2.    Today much more than in the past we are conscious of the necessity of consistency between what we are and what we do between our life “dedicated to God” and our “missionary work”, between our own personal spiritual experience and the need to share it with others. In order that it may not appear as a fantasy of our imagination, it must become concrete by sharing it with the rest of the apostolic community. Even here it may be said that “no man is an island”. In fact the call to evangelize which each one of us has heard is first experienced and shared with companions in a community, with brothers whom we have not chosen, but who like ourselves have been chosen by God. And this life lived together, like that of the Apostles, is a force, Indeed a prophetic force, which is greater than the sum of the individuals concerned. It gives dynamism to a love which makes it reach out beyond the community in which one lives.

This living together enables us to live this experience of God (F.D., No. 13) not as a theoretical desire, but as a concrete reality of our daily life. Each member of the community is called to be evangelized by his own companions, and to be himself a stimulating influence. “The confreres are «evangelizers» of one another and are evangelized by one another” (F.D., No. 24).

2.3.    Let us never forget that this community life is centered on Christ, the Redeemer (F.D., No.8). In this way it will become an efficacious presence of the Reign of God in the midst of our contemporaries (F.D., No. 23). Our creative spirit will enable us to seek and find “suitable forms and structures for sharing our faith, our joys and our concerns in the activity of preaching the Gospel” (F.D., No. 24). In imitation of the Apostles and as disciples of St. Alphonsus, the apostle of prayer, we will pay greater attention to the urgent appeal of the Constitutions Nos. 26 to 33 on the community of prayer in order to combat this “vacuum” referred to in No.33 of the Final Document. In order to follow Christ, the Redeemer, and to pursue his liberating action, we are to meditate especially on the mysteries of his Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection which we celebrate in the Eucharist (F.D.,No.36). In this way “by being men of prayer, and also sharing our prayer with the Christian people by means of well directed popular piety” (F.D., No. 41a) we will go forward together on our pilgrim way of faith.

2.4.    This mutual conversion in the community, carried out in a thoughtful spirit of fraternal charity, is already, in itself, a form of preaching. It is a concrete expression of witness, and is evidence of a genuine consistency between what we really are at heart, and what we say, and how we treat others, especially the poor. The Final Document in No. 23 puts it this way. Community life should constitute “the first sign of us as preachers of the Gospel”. It is “the efficacious presence of the Reign of God in the midst of men and women, our brothers and sisters, who in their own way reveal for us the face of God”. This community life for the sake of the Gospel makes us sense “in our daily lives that it is God who calls us together and it is the Spirit of Christ who unites us and leads us to an ever deeper communion” (F.D.,No. 26). In its closeness to people each Redemptorist community desires to be a powerful “witness as a sign of the presence of the Kingdom” (F.D., No. 29)

2.5.    We are, of course, aware of the difficulties faced by certain countries in recent years. For example the local Church has not always invited our cooperation in setting up a proper mission community. This has led to the break up of some of our communities. Individuals have sometimes gone their own way to work in a diocese. Others have devoted themselves to projects for the poor, but without the support and collaboration of the local community. Others have adopted the values of the society in which they live, seeking personal fulfillment, and their apostolate is exercised according to this criterion, forgetting the “essential law of life” of which Const. 21 speaks. In other countries where there was no religious liberty, confreres, often at great personal risk, have ministered to people at the request of a bishop, who lacked sufficient personnel. Then finally, by degrees, one naturally develops another way of life, not necessarily closely linked to the local community. And as the years pass the idea of a shared common life begins to fade. Our special charism as Redemptorists, our spirit of prayer, of fraternal charity, our apostolic work, and the sharing of material resources have less meaning. In the end what remains are memories of past links with the community, which are not nourished by present contacts. In saying all this we are not passing judgment. We are simply stating a fact of life in the Congregation today. For this reason it would be a good thing for each province and vice-province to remind itself that “the Redemptorist community should constitute the first sign of us as preachers of the Gospel” (F.D., No 23).

2.6.    However in the past few years a great effort has been made nearly everywhere in the Congregation to appreciate the unity that must mark our life. Today as in the time of our founder, St. Alphonsus, we need to fight against the danger of dualism (cf. S. Alfonso, Avisi sulla vocazione religiosa, Consid. XIII). “There is a consistency to our lives to the extent that the apostolate grows out of our personal and communal living of our religious profession, on the other hand, the manner of living the evangelical counsels is realized in the very task of evangelization” (F.D., 35). Community life helps us, in a very real way, to avoid this dualism between the apostolate and spirituality.

2.7.    Everywhere, we have to constantly re-examine our priorities, by analyzing the pastoral urgencies of the country or region in which we live. In order to do this we must choose the places best suited to our charism. We are invited especially to be creative in seeking “new models of community” (F.D.,No 28). And it is our community life itself which will enable us through reflection and prayer to discern the places and the particular groups of people to whom we should direct our ministry. However, there are two signposts to help us in this discernment – closeness to people, – and the power of the community witness itself (F.D., No. 29).

2.8.    This research together is always made with a view to “the liberating and prophetic proclamation of the Good News”, A missionary Institute within the local Church should always give impetus to a missionary dynamism; it should be something of a vanguard. Thus our joyful proclamation, truly incarnate and prayerful, will be a sign of hope for the young who long for a life of communion, and who search for another alternative to the philosophy of “having” and of “power” (F.D., No. 31).

  1. This unified apostolic life must be inculturated

3.1.    Redemptorists bear the stamp of the various cultures from which they come. But it is where they labor that they must live and announce the Good News of Christ. For this reason the General Chapter gives us this pressing and insistent exhortation that “in order to make our mission present (incarnate) in history we need to submit it continually to a process of inculturation, one of the components of the great mystery of the incarnation” (F.D., No. 13.).

3.2.    Inculturation is indeed rooted in the Incarnation of the Word of God. “Because it has been complete and real in flesh and blood the Incarnation of the Son of God has been a cultural incarnation” (John Paul II in 1982). We note that the first Gospel preaching was adapted to the cultures of the time. The evangelists are men clearly marked by the style of life of their respective communities. Even in the infant Church this problem cropped up… Every people, every language of the world, is called to confess and express in its own idiom (Acts 2.8) the Gospel of salvation. “As she carries out missionary activity among the nations, the Church encounters different cultures and becomes involved in the process of inculturation. The need for such involvement has marked the Church’s pilgrimage throughout her history, but today it is particularly urgent” (M.R., 52).

3.3.    This inculturation is a movement in depth which requires time and is not simple adaptation. It seems important to make a clear distinction between two complimentary realities, which may be expressed in two different terms – “Acculturation” and “Inculturation”. “Acculturation” may be explained as the acquisition of languages, knowledge of customs and adaptation to the way of life of a people. This is often very difficult for the missionary who has to go to another country and live in a milieu very different from his own. However, acculturation is indispensable in our time, with ever increasing contacts between different continents, and diverse cultures. Inculturation, however, is completely different.

3.4.    Inculturation is the incarnation of the Christian life and message in a concrete culture. While expressing itself by means of the elements of a culture, the Gospel transforms it and recreates it. This term includes the idea of mutual growth and enrichment of persons and groups, through the encounter of the Gospel with another social milieu. This inculturation, as we understand it, does not regard the culture of the past as something sacred. Rather it is a search for the seeds of the Word, germination, and the fertilization, in the present, of a people in all its dimensions, including political and social, with all its tensions, conflicts and confrontations. In other words the culture of a people is something living. Therefore our evangelization wishes to engage in this living process, which enables a people to recognize its past in a more open and dynamic modern form. Gospel and culture meet, confront each other, and test each other like gold and fire in the crucible of the furnace. Inculturation introduces Christ into the very heart of the life of a culture, and raises this life up to Christ. In this way from individual cultural traditions will spring forth new expressions of life, of celebration and of Christian thought. As a result the Church will emerge transformed and enriched.

3.5.    This encounter of the Gospel with a culture enriches the universal Church, for the Christian message finds another expression in new forms. And the central role in this process of inculturation does not devolve simply on the missionary, but engages the entire local Church. It is a question of the inculturation of the Church, and so the efforts of the entire community are necessary. This integration of the local Church with the culture of its people is a force which inspires and renews this culture, while enriching the universal Church at the same time. The biblical image underlying this process is not that of the graft, but that of the seed. The Christian message grows from the heart of a culture, signifying at the same time its death and resurrection. This process of inculturation is just as vital for older Churches, confronted in a special way with the modern world and secularization, as it is for younger Churches living in more “religious” surroundings.

3.6.    As Redemptorists, spread throughout the world, we live in cultures that have been influenced by religious traditions other than Christian, for example Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism… We must be tuned in, as it were, to those communities of believers in order to recognize “whatever is true and holy in the religious traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam as a reflection of that truth which enlightens all men” (M.R., 55). Christians living in countries, where these religions flourish, have to breathe an atmosphere very different and far removed from Christianity. We think it important to enter into dialogue with those of other faiths, especially about the meaning of life.

We can ourselves be enriched by this dialogue, purified by it, and indeed it can call us to an interior conversion. It is in this sense that No. 41e of the Final Document invites us “to open ourselves to what is valid in non-Christian spiritual traditions”. This dialogue can help us to overcome real difficulties, misunderstandings and sometimes persecutions. All over the Congregation there is need for a great effort in this direction, because apart from some exceptions, little has been done in this field. A great task awaits us in Asia, in Africa and in other continents, because today there is such mobility of peoples and races.

3.7.    We must therefore search together, and with others, to find ways and means of bringing this inculturation concretely into our work of evangelizing, into our community life and into our spirituality, while expressing the option of the Congregation for the most abandoned, especially the poor. Our experience of sharing in small groups, and in basic popular communities, will certainly help us (M.R., No. 51). Our search at the level of the local Church should include lay people, priests and religious, for “we are even more aware of the demands for a new evangelization, which is a challenge for the whole Church” (F.D., No. 79). To achieve this inculturation in our evangelizing work, many interesting research projects exist in our respective Churches. We are earnestly invited to get to know them, to participate in them, and to join in this research according to our charism.

3.8.    As regards our community life the Chapter tells us that “it is necessary to continue to seek… structural models which are suited to an apostolic life in community” (F.D., No.30) in order “to find new forms… giving a religious community expression to our apostolic life” (F.D., No 34). Wherever we live, let us participate in this search with other missionary Institutes who are close to us. The Chapter gives us certain guide-lines when it makes clear that “the choice in favor of the abandoned, especially the poor, demands of us an incarnation or inculturation into geographical regions, social circumstances, cultural realms and church situations which are consistent with the special thrust of our call” (F.D., No. 27). It is an appeal to Provincial Chapters to establish choices and priorities while taking into account our particular charism.

3.9.    On the other hand religious apostolic life, in general, bears the clear mark of its origins, often European. This is true in our case. So if we wish to live our apostolic life together in a way which corresponds to different world cultures, it seems to us necessary to reflect deeply on the manner in which we are to live this consecrated life. Can we not, with other religious of our own country or continent, do some research together so as to find out the best way of expressing in our culture, the vows of chastity, obedience and poverty? Here again we are invited to be creative, to draw deeply from the “old and the new”, from the realities of the present, as well as from the living traditions of our people, and from the Gospel which is always a source of life.

  1. Conclusion

4.1.    This diversity in the Congregation between continents, which is even expressed by different rites, is good and even necessary. It is a sign that we are in communion with the peoples to whom we belong. It reflects the Catholicism of the Church present in diverse cultures. It is an appeal to each one to be open in heart and soul to the Spirit who is present in all the continents.

The Good News is welcomed on all the different pathways of the world: in Africa, in Asia, in Oceania, in the Americas, and in Europe. Sometimes on the same continent, in the same country, or even within the same province, there may be different approaches to it expressed. But what unites us is this Gospel of the Lord Jesus. It questions and purifies our different cultures. It invites us continually to brotherhood, to be open to those who differ from us, and to a dialogue which purifies, and is ever a source of enrichment.

4.2.    The broad outlines of the message of the XXIst General Chapter are an appeal for a more profound conversion on our part. We are invited to take another step forward during the coming six years, to be more “authentic” and more “daring” apostles. “We want to encourage the growth of these seeds of hope” which we find in all the continents. We are more and more convinced that our Alphonsian charism is a gift for the people of God (F.D., No. 6). We desire to share it in the Church. May we all together be filled with zeal for the spread of the Gospel, and following in the footsteps of Saint Alphonsus, may we proclaim this Good News to the most abandoned, especially the poor: “God loves you!”

As we end this reflection we pray also that Mary, the first disciple of the Redeemer, may lead you on the way, which identifies you with Christ, the Redeemer. She is “the most perfect icon of freedom and liberation” which we are called to bring to the world with abundant Redemption.

With fraternal greetings in the name of the General Council.

Juan M. Lasso de la Vega, C.Ss.R.
Superior General

Translated from the original French.