What future do we want for the Congregation?

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Introduction

We are living a beautiful moment in preparation for the XXVI General Chapter (2022). Confreres and laypeople from all over the world have offered their contributions so that it is possible to draw up a profile of the reality of the Congregation today. In the dramatic fabric of the wounded world amid a syndemic is our Institute with its 289 years, with its beating heart, with the blood that runs through your veins, with the desire to succeed and carry out the challenging task of evangelizing the poor [which] includes “the liberation and salvation of the whole human person” (Const. 5). This life is manifested in each confrere who dedicates his life for the Copiosa Apud Eum Redemptio. Looking back over these 289 years, even with our weaknesses, we can say that the Congregation has always sought to be faithful to Christ the Redeemer and has never abandoned the poorest. And when there was such a temptation, prophetic voices of confreres, communities and General Chapters echoed the voice of the Spirit to return to the sources of our charism. So, as we joyfully celebrate this anniversary of the Congregation, we must ask ourselves with burning hearts: what future do we want for the Congregation, and what Congregation do we want for the future? The gift we will give to the Congregation, as confreres, formandi, and committed lay people, is to make this time a profound experience of Pentecost.

I. Living Pentecost in our time with the challenges of our time

This time of preparation for the XXVI General Chapter, consultation with the Congregation, and carrying out the three phases constitutes a great Upper Room (cf. Jn 20:19-31; Acts 2:1-13). And we can live this experience intensely in our religious communities by sharing the events of history, fraternal life, the Scriptures, and the Eucharist. Looking at the situation of the first Christian communities, we can ask ourselves today: What are our fears? What are our doubts? Which doors of our communities/congregation are closed? What do we need to renew? And what new languages do we need to speak to communicate the Gospel in the present time?

1.      Doors closed by fear

The Gospel of John records the state of the first communities after the dramatic death of Jesus: saddened and with their doors closed by the Jewish authorities (cf. Jn 20:19). Bringing it to our present context, what fears surround the Congregation today make it close its doors? The metaphor of the door makes us reflect on many things.  The “closed doors” can mean a state of perplexity, of closedness, of closing off of oneself in his comfort zone, of “it has always been like this”, or lack of perspective for the future, of fear of the other, of the world, of not being disturbed, of not being seen, of self-preservation, of lack of self-criticism and a sense of one’s Consecration. It is a paralyzing fear that blocks any initiative. The fears of the restructuring process and its consequences (dec. 1, XXV General Chapter (2016), of the loss of our identity and mission, of our evangelizing role in today’s world and the current changes, can make us close our doors in some way. But in the context of closed doors, the Lord enters and makes himself present and works a new way of understanding reality.

2.      Peace and awareness of one’s faith and mission

Jesus’ passage through the obstacles and closed doors changes the scene. He presents to the community the greeting of peace, shalom, in its most profound sense. At the same time, he reminds his people of the reality: his hands and his wounded side. Despite his wounds and his fears, the community is happy to see him. He recognizes himself in his wounds but with his feet on the ground. After the joy, a new shalom, the sending in the name of the Father and the Holy Spirit and reconciliation (cf. Jn 20:19-22). In the resolved situation because “they had seen the Lord” appears the disturbing companion, Thomas, the one who looks at the community from the outside and poses, from his apparent unbelief, the fundamental question about belief in Jesus and the mission of the community. Thomas confronts his community about whether what they are seeing is a mirage, an “image of the Lord”, an idol, their narcissism to allay their fears, for the community remains with its doors closed. Twice John insists on the closed doors (vv.19,26). Thomas exposes the fears, the doubts, the deceptions of himself and his community. He lays it bare. He puts his faith at stake at risk of not having answers but with the desire to return to the core of believing itself.

Thomas is the hermeneut who raises the question of faith, of believing in Jesus. He materializes the community’s conscience that is hostage to its fears and closed doors because he sees the dramatic and compromising marks of the cross of Jesus Christ. The drama of the closed doors is resolved when Jesus goes through them, the community is all together and, through the figure of Thomas, touches his wounds, that is to say, participates in his redemptive mission. From then on, Thomas translates what the community did not dare to speak through its doubts and its closed doors. The peace that comes from Jesus, the recognition of his image, the sending of the community by the Father through the Spirit translates the free conscience of the community, which, believing in the Lord himself, is capable of opening doors and announcing. From this inspiration, what questions should we ask in our communities to get to the core of our faith in the Lord, in our Consecration, and our mission? What doors does the present moment of history invite us to open? How can we listen to our disturbing companion in mission who puts our faith, our image of God, our Consecration, and our mission in crisis? How can we learn from him and say together: “My Lord and my God, we believe”?

3. Receiving the Holy Spirit: the power that moves us to proclaim the Gospel

To receive the Holy Spirit is to receive the very life of Jesus. If in Genesis (cf. Gen 2:7), God breathes into the nostrils to give life, this also happens within the community of disciples. In his breath, Jesus communicates his paschal mystery as the source and origin of the mission that will renew all things (cf. Rev 21:5). The gathered community forms a body that receives the gift of the Spirit communally and individually to open the doors and go outside its walls. The gift of the Spirit provokes the community to make its kenosis. And making kenosis requires opening doors… re-imagining the world outside the known space, outside one’s bubble where everything looks the same, seeing different landscapes, presenting oneself to the world, having the courage to venture out and give oneself as a sower of the gifts of the Spirit in mission as Jesus himself did.

It is the Spirit, present from all eternity, who guarantees our witness in the world. It is he, present at our baptism, the root of our Consecration, who says to us every day, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have set all my affection” (Mt 3,17). This certainty must provoke enthusiasm and remove the fear that discourages us and can hold back our creativity. The breath of the Spirit makes us recognize God’s time and the needs of the Church and the Congregation. And so, we place ourselves as pilgrims, carrying only what is essential so that we are free to recognize and renounce old structures and seek new ones with creativity to respond to the challenges of today’s world and joyfully proclaim the Gospel.

II. The Future Ahead: Re-imagining the Congregation today

There is no way to think about the future if we do not place ourselves in the Cenacle of this Redemptorist synodal journey: the XXVI General Chapter, its preparation, and its three phases. Even if we have fears and some closed doors, the Lord will enter through the cracks to be with us and breathe His Holy Spirit on each confrere, formandi, and laity. It is this Spirit who will give us the keys to read the signs of the times and interpret the world in its different languages (cf. Acts 2,1-113). It is an exciting road to travel with all our heart, with all our soul, with the charismatic blood that pulses in our Redemptorist veins. With this missionary ardor, we can venture, not as nomads but as pilgrims (cf. Contemplate (2015), n.11)[1], to re-imagine the Congregation, as alluded to in the Working Document, phase I, XXVI General Chapter:

When we speak of “re-imagining” the Redemptorist Vocation, we do not mean “re-inventing” or changing it. Instead, we encourage the use of imagination so that we may be faithful to the Spirit of Alphonsus and our charism in our day. Numerous responses from Units and Conferences invite us to use our imagination in identifying our missionary priorities and setting apostolic priorities, in terms and forms of apostolic community that respond to the real needs of the confreres, in terms of formation for the missionary and apostolic priorities of the Congregation, in terms of imagining the kind of leadership we want and need in a changing world and Church, and so forth. The invitation is not to dream or imagine for the sake of it, but rather, steeped in our tradition, to imagine new ways of evangelizing. Alphonsus could not have imagined online missionary preaching, yet this has become a reality for many of us by necessity. What other new ways can we imagine? [2]

The Working Document for the first phase of the 26th General Chapter invites us to re-imagine our Redemptorist identity in the world, as agents of mission and in the field of solidarity and through the lens of restructuring. And there is no way to re-imagine our identity if we do not have the gifts of the Spirit: Strength, Wisdom, Knowledge, Counsel, Understanding, Piety, and Fear of God. I believe that, along with them, there are seven other essential gifts for re-imagining our future as a Congregation that permeate our whole apostolic life. Without them, we will not get very far.

  1. Experience of GodThere is no consecrated life and mission without the experience of God. Therefore, this re-imagining passes, first of all, through intimacy with God. Jesus was always faithful to his Father, and at the crucial moments of his mission, he always withdrew to pray (cf. Jn 10:30; Mk 1:35; Lk 5:16; 9:18; Lk 9:28; Jo 17:1-26). The same is seen in our Redemptorist Saints, Blessed and Martyrs. Experiencing God meant for them a profound conversion of heart and mind to understand the signs of the times, their vocation, and the mission entrusted to them.
  2. Revitalizing ConsecrationA consecrated life that does not express the vitality of the Spirit is incapable of re-imagining itself and of carrying out processes of renewal and restructuring. Those who re-imagine are concrete persons, men, and women who consecrate themselves to the Lord, starting from a charism that is alive, in an institution. Therefore, to revitalize Consecration is to return to the sources of Scripture, the foundation, the Constitutions, give new meaning, and renew the modus operandis and vivendi so that it may be eloquent, witnessing and finding meaning in what it does. If our consecrated life is discouraged, the doors will always be closed to the newness of the Spirit.
  3. Mission awareness. There is no mission without the primacy of God – the experience of God – through a vibrant consecrated life and concrete recipients. In this sense, awareness of the importance of the Redemptorist mission in today’s wounded world is fundamental. Being aware that we will not heal all wounds, we can be an eloquent sign, witnesses to the Redeemer, in dialogue with the world, without closed doors. The different languages existing in today’s world demand a new missionary Pentecost that gives coherence to our being, animates our doing, and inspires us to discover new methods and languages adapted to the present time. Finally, that mission is not done by personal will but by the Lord who sends through the missionary body.
  4. The process of restructuringAs a living institution made up of people, the Congregation has restructured itself throughout its history. It is up to us today to carry this process forward by asking the questions of the restless companion, who touches the wounds in the hands and the side of the Congregation, who asks: what future do we want for the Congregation and what Congregation do we want for the future, and at the end affirms: “My Lord and my God!”  My Lord and my God, I believe in my Consecration! My Lord and my God, I believe in this process, and I am responsible for it! My Lord and my God, I believe in the Congregation and that the Spirit walks with it! My Lord and my God, I believe, and I place myself, with all my energies, at the service of the poorest and most abandoned!
  5. Interculturality. The future of consecrated life, including Redemptorist life, will be more and more intercultural because of the ease of movement between countries, the mixing of cultures, the phenomenon of immigration, displacement, etc. It is a complex phenomenon, with its tensions, but full of richness and must be incorporated into our debates and formation processes. Rafael López Villaseñor and Joachim Andrade define interculturality as “the set of relationships and interactions that occur intentionally between different cultures to promote dialogue, mutual respect, and awareness of the preservation of the cultural identity of each individual, as well as his or her own unique cultural identity and richness in a multicultural universe” (QA 31). [3] Metaphorically, we can compare interculturality to a mosaic. There is patient and careful work to ensure that each fragment contributes to the whole to bring out its beauty. These fragments are people with different histories, personalities, worldviews, cultural, ecclesial, theological, and faith, which passes through the sieve of respect for differences without imposition or uniformity. Therefore, it is a complex task, not impossible, but of great richness, since it implies always learning from the other and walking together in the differences.
  6. To occupy new “areopagi” and “cenacles” (new means). The novelty of Pentecost was to open the doors and connect with the world through the new languages (cf. Acts 2:6-12). Today, this Pentecost can happen by occupying the new cenacles and areopagi through the different means of communication and their unique languages. In the Congregation, each Unit uses some form of media resource, from the simplest to the most complex. How can we enhance these resources we already have by making them new cenacles and areopagi to communicate the message of the Copiosa Apud Eum Redemptio? How can we form a pool or network of units favoring a joint project, concentrating qualified financial and human resources in this area? How can we involve the Redemptorist laity in this? And how can we improve our language to make it more attractive, without losing the kerygma? As we can see, there are many horizons that we can open up.
  7. To be men of science to form conscience. Finally, the present times call for much wisdom and discernment. And there is none if it does not pass through openness to the Spirit and through initial, ongoing, and specialized formation. Specializations are very important and must be done within a missionary and congregational project. Ongoing formation is for the whole of Redemptorist life. It is done every day. If we are not men of science, how can we form consciences? How can we try to give new answers to new problems today? Or do we prefer to give the same old answers? St. Alphonsus devoted his whole life to this search and left us a legacy. The present context raises more questions than we can answer. Still, it is already a very important step if we can constantly update our interest in Mission, Pastoral Care, Moral Theology, Bioethics, and Spirituality. And in this regard, we have many resources available to us, from our personal and community libraries to the various journals and websites specializing in different subjects. In a context of syndemia, social inequalities, etc., trivialization of life, and dehumanization, we have a very important role from the Redemptorist science and pastoral benignity to form a conscience that knows how to do so to discern the values that promote human life.

Conclusion

If this is the time to re-imagine the Redemptorist vocation, then there is a great opportunity to do so, starting from the experience of discipleship with Jesus, his Pentecost, and being sent to the mission. This is a call to all Redemptorists “whether they are engaged in the many and varied services for the Congregation and the confreres, whether they are elderly, sick or incapacitated for external works; or especially whether they are victims of suffering and dying for the salvation of the world” (Const. 55). To participate wholeheartedly in this historical moment is to offer a great gift to the Congregation in its 289th year! The Congregation has come this far because the confreres and so many men and women who love the Congregation have spent their days in favor of Abundant Redemption. What future do we want for the Congregation, and what Congregation do we want for the future? This obliges us to reflect and re-imagine.  On this will depend to a large extent on the practice of our co-responsibility?

Fr. Rogério Gomes, C.Ss.R.

http://lattes.cnpq.br/3342824164751325


[1] Cf. CONGREGATION FOR INSTITUTES OF CONSECRATED LIFE AND SOCIETIES OF APOSTOLIC LIFE. Behold. Letter to Consecrated Men and Women in the Footsteps of Beauty. Available at: http://www.congregazionevitaconsacrata.va/content/dam/vitaconsacrata/LibriPPDF/Spagnolo/Contemplad.pdf. Accessed on: 31.10.2021.

[2] CONGREGATIO SANCTISSIMI REDEMPTORIS. Working Document, phase I XXVI General Chapter 2022, n. 74).

[3] LÓPEZ VILLASEÑOR, Rafael; ANDRADE, Joachim. Fratelli Tutti: los caminos de la interculturalidad en la Vida Religiosa. CLAR Magazine, n. 2 (2021), p. 125. Available at: https://dg.saveriani.org/images/comunicazioni/editoriale/2021/Interculturalidad_CLAR_-_Lopez_-_Andrade.pdf. Accessed on: 13.10.2021.

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