The preparation for the XXVI General Chapter:
the call, the instruction, the sending, the challenges, the dreams, and the hopes
We have begun the preparation for the XXVI General Chapter. We have received the responses of the (V) Provinces to our first “provocations.” I purposely use the word provocation because of its intense meaning: from the Latin: pro = forward, outward; vocare = to call. In the ancient world, this word meant a call to fight, to challenge. In this sense, the new time that is beginning is a call to all confreres to step forward, provoke and be provoked, be challenged, go out and fight, and be awaken from the depths of our Redemptorist being with the consequences that this entails for our consecration. Our vocation, our call to action, is a provocation from the Lord who has called us, has moved us forward, has presented us, and challenged us to the mission. So the question: what does it mean to celebrate a General Chapter in the context of so many changes and after the pandemic experience is also provocative to our vocation and mission?
With this in mind, I will try to make a paschal and baptismal reading of the Chapter experience that we have begun to live and that will have its development in the three phases. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Easter experience is marked by the realities of the desert, liberation, death, and resurrection. If Easter means new life, baptism is the liberation from the old man and the passage to the new man. For us, this includes trying to proclaim the Gospel in an ever-new way (St. Clement), with renewed hope, renewed hearts, and renewed structures (XXIV General Chapter). Therefore, to celebrate the General Chapter in the present context is to make a paschal reading of history with its exodus, flight, death, liberation, and resurrection. It is to place ourselves in the experience of the exodus, of the cross, of the empty tomb, to walk the road to Emmaus and from the house of Emmaus to listen to his teachings and to return to Galilee (cf. Mk 16,6-7). In other words, it is a call to leave behind the shadows, the walls, the fears, and the security of Jerusalem and to return to the mission. For this, it is important to keep to the foundational core of Jesus’ baptism: the call, the instruction, and the sending.
1. Sending and mission emerge from baptism
At the baptism of Jesus, the figure of the Spirit appears to confirm him: “This is my beloved son” (Mk 1:11). Is the Spirit not there today to remind all the confreres in the Congregation that they are beloved sons? Does he not ask us, on this basis, to recall our memories of redemption and to share them with the poorest and most abandoned? If this is true, then we are not abandoned even in these dark times in which we live.
Luke presents him as a man who is confronted with the drama of history woven by humanity, with its sacred contexts and human relationships. In Luke, we see the double genealogy of Jesus. After his baptism, his humanity, his temptations, and his mission program are reaffirmed (cf. Lk 1:5-2:1-17;3:21-38;41-13).
Thus, all the evangelists relate the baptism of Jesus, the beginning of his mission, the call to his disciples, the instruction and the sending out into the world for the mission. From his baptism comes the mission.
2. The Chapter as a place of paschal memory
Looking at the context of human history today, we can say that we are at the crossroads of Emmaus, in the situation of that community after the death of Jesus, marked by a spirit of disappointment and frustration. We have made many plans, and everything has been deconstructed in one way or another. Perhaps we find ourselves at this point, as sad disciples, because of the pandemic that has totally changed our lives. But, it is not true that it has improved our relationships with each other, transformed the way we relate to the world. Perhaps we are missing an incredible opportunity for personal and societal conversion.
To celebrate a Chapter after such a dramatic experience of pandemic today means to return to the fundamental question of our belief. Suppose by baptism, we have made a profession of faith in the Church’s truths, and we commit ourselves to put them into practice. In that case, it is also the moment in our history to rekindle our profession of faith as Redemptorists to renew our apostolic life, to promote adaptations of the Congregation’s institutions, the norms of life, and the need of the Church for the men and women of today (cf. Const. 107). It is a matter of understanding that the Congregation is a living body nourished by the paschal faith, which, at the same time, is the reason for its existence and its proclamation (kerygma). And as a living body, it needs to let specific cells die to renew itself. In the light of all that we are living, what do we need to renew? Is it not time to take our personal and consecrated stories and renew our vocation, the call to action of our being through the provocation of the Lord of History?
After the temptations in the desert, Jesus goes to Galilee’s synagogue and sets out his plan (cf. Lk 4:14-21). He reaffirms the Law and the Prophets’ continuity by quoting Isaiah and invokes the Spirit who anoints him and sends him to announce the good news to the most abandoned of his time. The Spirit present at baptism anoints, sends, broadens the paths opened by John the Baptist, accompanies him on the cross, and resurrects him. In this sense, each General Chapter is an experience of the synagogue of Galilee in the elaboration of a program for the six-year period. How can we ensure that the Chapter’s decisions not only touch the hearts of the confreres but that they resonate with the abundant redemption in the lives of our partners?
Each confrere should exercise his baptismal vocation by participating enthusiastically in the preparatory meetings in the local communities of each Conference. The more intense and profound the preparation and discussions, the better will be the fruits of the phases to come. With his richness, each confrere, his experience, and his enthusiasm constitute the living, fruitful and dynamic body that is the Congregation. To exclude oneself from this opportunity to participate is to abandon oneself to indifference and not feel part of a missionary body founded on a charism of profound theological and spiritual density that seeks to redeem the human being in his totality (Cf. Const. 6). It is to close oneself to the Spirit who provokes us to read the signs of the times and to respond to them creatively.
3. Calling, instructing and proclaiming: being a sign of hope
The Lord of History’s call makes to us today is not to deny history itself and this historical moment (post-modernity, globalization, technological progress, conflicts, fundamentalism, pandemics, growing poverty, etc.). His provocation is that we take everything in our hands, the lights, the shadows, and work in the crisis with hope, with a burning heart, and without fear. Our baptism’s Easter experience encourages us to walk the roads to Emmaus, even with a troubled heart, with our visions clouded and without knowing the stranger who walks with us. Even without recognizing him, he is there, and he does not abandon us on the road and in the darkness of our lack of vision.
In this sexennium, we have touched the world’s wounds concretely through the pandemic and all the effects it has caused and will cause, especially in the lives of the poor. So the whole preparation for the Chapter takes up the theme of the 25th General Chapter: Witnesses of the Redeemer, in solidarity for mission to a wounded world. What does it mean to a wounded world to be witnesses of the Redeemer and in solidarity for mission? How does this affect our community dedicated to Christ the Redeemer and to people, our initial and ongoing formation, our governance structures, and the process of restructuring for mission in response to the signs of the times?