Roma, February 2, 2004
My dear Confreres,
Greetings from your brothers on the General Council who, like you, have been set apart to proclaim the Gospel of God concerning his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (cf. Rm 1, 1-4). The Congregation has embarked on a new sexen-nium as we begin to live the consequences of the XXIII General Chapter. As news of the Chapter spread throughout the Congregation during the last months, like Peter’s audience on Pentecost, many Redemptorists have asked, Brothers, what should we do? (Acts 2, 37). In this letter I hope to bring you up to date regarding the first steps being taken by the General Council in re-sponse to the Chapter and invite you to join in the discernment of God’s will for us at the beginning of this new six-year period.
Since the newly elected consultors had important commitments to complete after the Chapter, the full General Council could finally begin its work only in mid-December and we used most of the time before the Christmas holidays to get to know each other, pray together and begin to plan our service to the Congregation over the next six years. We resumed these meetings on January 7 and continued for another ten days. Given that five of the seven members of the Council are just beginning this service, we felt the need to give time to our personal relationships and to the centre of gravity among us, our relationship with Christ, the Redeemer. I believe we have made a good start in forming our team and deepening the sort of Gospel friendship that should link the members of every Redemptorist community.
What have we been thinking about during our first month of work? Certainly we are making a great effort to understand the General Chapter, its analysis of the Congregation and its vision for the next six years. We have begun to glimpse some of the consequences that the theme Givingour lives for plentiful redemption holds for us.
Why did the Chapter propose this theme for the sexennium? In my opinion, the decision was not determined absolutely by the recommendation of the Instru-mentum laboris. In fact, the Chapter felt free to consider a number of possible themes and the vote to select this particular text was actually quite close. While I need to continue to pray and meditate about this choice and discuss it with my confreres, I believe that the Congregation senses the need to consider at depth the charism that breathes life into our Redemptorist vocation. In this sense, the words of the theme do not represent a superficial slogan but rather the discern-ment of God’s will for all Redemptorists here and now – and such discernment is always a summons to change. For individual confreres, communities, (vice-) provinces and, indeed, the entire CongregationGiving our lives for plentiful redemption is our theme and ought to make a difference in our lives.
For me, the gateway to entering into the theme are the words “plentiful re-demption”. I believe that the XXIII General Chapter teaches us that only if we are captivated by the call of God and give ourselves unreservedly to His plan for us will we find happiness, joy and peace. But before making any plans about how to respond, I think we need to allow ourselves to be seduced again and again by the utter bounty of God’s saving love that is given in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer. The abundance of God’s saving love so enthralled Alphonsus that it led to his conversion to Jesus Christ, to the abandoned poor and to the community. Jesus, whose incarnation, paschal mystery and Eucharistic pre-sence together express the radical solidarity of God with human beings, be-comes the centre of his life and the reason for his self-giving to others. And the conversion of Alphonsus leads him to embrace the preference of Jesus and live the reality of God’s love in situations of social marginalization or ecclesial estrangement. What is more, Alphonsus understands that this conversion to Jesus Christ must be realized in community, so he invites others who feel the same captivation to live together in a way that will ensure an ongoing connec-tion with this abundant love and the preference of Jesus Christ for the poor.
The theme, Giving our lives for plentiful redemption, is a call to conversion, a summons for each of us to change our minds about God and our lives while, at the same time, considering how the structures of our Congregation need to be transformed in order that Redemptorists might be more faithful, creative and audacious in carrying out the mission that has been entrusted to us. The Chap-ter has proposed two forms that this conversion will take. First, the capitulars “call on all confreres and all communities to examine afresh the consequence of the ‘definitive act of our whole missionary life as Redemptorists’, that is, our religious profession” (Message, 4). It was also clear to the Capitulars that “the Congregation should take up the challenge of restructuring for the sake of our mission” (Message, 11). Can you see how these two challenges, a re-exami-nation of our religious profession as well as the proposed restructuring of the Congregation, are both consequences of our theme for this sexennium?
A serious renewal of our religious profession and the ongoing restructuring of the Congregation will pull us away from certain securities in life that inhibit a more unreserved response to God’s abundant love. After all, is it possible to make a more unconditional response than to give our lives for someone? Yet that is what we propose to do by our profession, which is both “a response to the Lord, who first loved us” as well as a commitment to “spare no effort to arrive at a total gift of ourselves” (Con. 56). At the General Chapter, I spoke about our religious profession because I believe that any hope for the ongoing renewal of our Institute, even its re-founding, must address seriously a number of questions which touch on our identity as the expression of the Redemptorist charism. What does it mean to be communities of vowed men today? What does it mean to profess poverty, chastity and obedience in the charismatic life of Redemptorist missionaries? How do these religious bonds, “by which the members dedicate themselves to God, necessarily involve commitment to the apostolate and strengthen that commitment” (Con. 54)? I am convinced that a thorough and honest appraisal of these and related questions will inevitably lead us to the challenge of continuing conversion that will move us from a sedate and secure way of life, by which we have diluted the radical response of our pro-fession, towards a total dedication to the mission of Christ, which we live in self-renunciation, freedom and zeal (Con. 51).
At the General Chapter a great deal of time was spent considering the idea of restructuring in the Congregation; in order to clarify our own thinking about this important question the General Council has begun work on a document, which we hope to publish to the Congregation around Easter. At that time we should be ready to announce a process aimed at putting into practice the orientations of the General Chapter. We already see the absolute necessity of linking re-structuring to the theme of the sexennium,Giving our lives for plentiful redemption and its summons to conversion to God, to the abandoned poor and to the Redemptorist community. Otherwise any change in the organization of the Congregation risks becoming simply a question of management rather than an expression of the continuing conversion of Redemptorists.
In our first months together the General Government has dealt with a number of specific tasks. The message, orientations and decisions of the General Chapter have been put into a standard format and translated into many of the languages of the Congregation. Booklets containing these texts as well as the message of Pope John Paul II to the General Chapter are now being printed in seven lan-guages. These documents are already available in the members’ area of the website of the General Government (www.cssr.com).
Before approving the calendar of activities for the year 2004, the General Council spoke at length about how we should be present to the Congregation, both at the time of visitation as well as at other important moments of our mis-sionary life. We have approved a working document that contains our own understanding of the general visitation together with possible models of how to carry it out. This document will be sent to the (vice-) provincial superior and his council well in advance of a visitation to help the visitors and the (vice-) pro-vince discover the best way of realizing the ideal of our corresponsability for the Redemptorist mission. We have also decided to try to visit neighboring (vice-) provinces at the same time in order to focus our energy on a particular Region or sub-region. We believe this will give us a more complete under-standing of the reality of the Congregation, while helping us promote greater solidarity and effective cooperation among Redemptorists. The process we have developed also provides strategies that are aimed at maintaining the dialogue between the General Council and the units after the visitation.
Finally, we have been able to discuss the question of what sort of consultative bodies, such as secretariats and commissions, we will need in this sexennium. We agreed to establish eight general secretariats to deal with these areas of our life: evangelization, formation, Redemptorist spirituality, partnership with laity, Redemptorist Brothers, youth and vocation ministry, finances and concerns of our Redemptoristine nuns. Responsibility for convoking these secretariats was assigned to one or more consultors, who will spend the next months contacting possible members and outlining the objectives of each working group. There was not sufficient time for us to address the question of commissions or the expediency of one or more institutes to serve the Congregation in this sexen-nium. These matters will form part of the agenda of the next extraordinary meeting, 31 March – 7 April 2004.
I hope that this information lets you know that the new General Council is learning to work together and is taking seriously its responsibility to carry out the program that has been outlined by the Chapter. It must be said, of course, that this program is not easily reduced to goals and objectives, especially when a central element of the program is aimed at our own conversion. But these first reflections on the theme of this sexennium leave little doubt that we are being invited to change. And, while it is possible to change without growing, it is impossible to grow without changing.
Mary, as portrayed in the gospel of Luke, gives us a way to enter into the theme of this sexennium. The third gospel speaks of Mary “treasuring” things, then “reflecting on them in her heart” (e.g. Lk. 2, 19). The purpose of God in the events of her life is not immediately clear to Mary. But she does not discard what happens to her but rather carries the experience into the sanctuary of her heart, trusting that God will eventually make his intentions clear. As we begin this sexennium, I ask you to carry the message of the General Chapter, especi-ally the theme proposed for this sexennium, into the refuge of your heart and seek to understand what God is asking of us today. Pray that the whole Con-gregation accepts the gift that is being offered to us: the grace of conversion to Jesus Christ, to the abandoned poor and to our community.
Your brother in Alphonsus,
Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.