Roma, 17 September 2007
Prot. N° 0000 186/2007
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have received the grace of apostleship
The General Council would like to invite all the members of the Congregation to join in a year of intense reflection on the apostolic life of Redemptorists. Constitution 1 reminds us that this lifecomprises at one and the same time a life specially dedicated to God and a life of missionary work. Our invitation is that Redemptorists make a particular effort to consider the first element in this essential formula, that is, a life specially dedicated to God, one that begins with our religious profession, which is the definitive act of the whole missionary life of Redemptorists (Constitution 54).
We believe that it is very fitting to begin this year of reflection on 9 November 2007, the 275th anniversary of the founding of the Congregation. On that day we will thank God for the gift of our charism to the Church and world. We will also recall that Alphonsus recognized that the divine inspiration to announce the Gospel to the abandoned poor would be carried out by and through a community whose members are strengthened by the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as well as a vow and oath of perseverance. This year, the celebration of our founding will mark the beginning of a period of intense reflection on the special consecration of our apostolic life.
Why is the General Council making this proposal to the Congregation? The XXIII General Chapter called on all Redemptorists to “examine afresh the consequence of the ‘definitive act of our whole missionary life as Redemptorists’, that is, our religious profession” (Message, 4). The General Chapter also asked the Congregation “to recognize, in continuity with the XXII General Chapter, the need to ‘renew our living out of the evangelical counsels in the light of community and mission’, according to our Constitutions and Statutes” (Orientations, 9.1). It is clear that successive General Chapters have asked the Congregation to engage in a profound reflection on the meaning of our vows and the necessary witness of our lives.
What is more, a deeper awareness of our consecration is absolutely necessary in order that the restructuring of the Congregation be carried forward successfully. During the six regional meetings last year, the major superiors expressed broad acceptance of the principles proposed by the Commission forRestructuring to guide the process. As you know, the second of these principles is rather blunt in linking a renewed appreciation for our identity with the vital work of restructuring: “Restructuring for mission must prompt and stimulate an awakening of our identity, a conversion of our mentalities in line with our calling and a new availability – or it will all come to nothing” (Work in Progress , p. 5).
Finally, this year of reflection will join us to a broader movement within the Church, which seeks to understand how religious should live their consecration today. The Congregation for Institutes of the Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life has asked “What place will be reserved for the traditional forms of the consecrated life [in the third millennium]?” (CIVCSA, Starting Afresh from Christ: a Renewed Commitment to Consecrated Life in the Third Millennium [14 June 2002] 12). In an unprecedented moment of unity, the superiors general of institutes of men and women religious met in 2004 to consider the present and future reality of religious life as “Passion for Christ, Passion for Humanity”. The reflection that began in that congress continues today in most religious families across the world. The experience of the General Council in visiting the (vice-)provinces convinces us that our Congregation too should join this movement in an organized manner. Finally, this year of reflection should serve as a valuable preparation for the XXIV General Chapter in 2009 by helping us understand better who we are and what we must do in order to be faithful to our vocation. The General Council and Preparatory Commission will welcome concrete proposals from the (vice-) provinces that are fruit of this particular year.
During the course of this year, the General Government will offer the (vice-)provinces resources to assist in this reflection, including a communicanda as well as materials from the General Secretariat for Redemptorist Spirituality and the Office of Communications. By now, your unit should have received the third booklet of the Charism 2000 series: Charism 3: The Apostolic Community Dedicated to Christ the Redeemer, which can be used by a local community to carry out a methodological reflection on themes from the third chapter of our Constitutions and Statutes.
While the General Government is making this year a priority in its program of work, the success of the reflection will depend on planning and execution at the regional and (vice-) provincial level. We hope that the major superiors and their councils will accept this invitation and help the local communities examine the meaning of our religious profession today. Some suggested activities areinterprovincial or regional meetings on the meaning of Redemptorist consecrated life, including the vocation of Redemptorist Brothers, days of prayer with other religious, laity and young people, workshops on the meaning of our vows in a particular cultural context, provincial retreats and monthly days of recollection that progressively examine important aspects of our consecration, especially the theology of our Constitutions and Statutes and using the means of social communication to deepen the appreciation for consecrated life in the Church and world.
Will a focus on our religious profession be a dramatic departure from the theme of this sexennium, Giving our Lives for Abundant Redemption? Not at all, since the plentiful love of God that has been poured out in Jesus Christ is the necessary starting point for any consideration of our response. Together with Saint Paul, we strive to say, “I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave his life for me” (Gal 2,20). Only the awareness of being infinitely loved can help us overcome every personal and institutional difficulty. The abundant love of God urges us to strive to respond generously through the total gift of ourselves as expressed in the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
May this year assist the Congregation in living our vocation in creative fidelity.
Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.