Message to Redemptorist Consecrated Life
Dear Confreres and Formandi,
- It is with joy that we gather here online for this brief Redemptorist meeting. Now then, why this meeting? On this day when the Church celebrates the feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, we too gather to pray together and give thanks to God for our Redemptorist consecrated life, at the same time to thank each of you who spend your lives for the copious apud eum redemptio, to encourage you in your mission and to remember those who have gone before us and were persevering in their ministry to the end.
- The General Government is the first animator of the confreres. “It should be the inspirer and animator of the continuous renewal in the (vice) provinces with its efficient, periodic and directive presence” (Const. 113). We know the difficulties that consecrated life is going through in the midst of the complexity of today’s world. Therefore, this simple meeting has the purpose of remembering the face of each confrere in his different apostolic works, accompanied by joys, sorrows and challenges. Redemptorist consecrated life has a heart that beats, has a face, has a body! We all form one missionary body (cf. Const. 2), we walk together as Church and Congregation, this beautiful synodality, where each one is in the heart of the Redeemer.
- At present we are 4616 confreres: 56 bishops, 3492 priests, 09 permanent deacons, 71 temporary deacons, 661 non-ordained clerics: 100 in perpetual profession and 561 in temporary profession; 327 brothers: 278 in perpetual profession and 49 in temporary profession. The average age of the Congregation is 54.02 years. We are spread in more than 80 countries. We are a significant evangelizing presence. There are many confreres who spend their lives for abundant redemption in frontier realities such as war, terrorism, religious fundamentalism, dealing with persecution and death experiences. They are witnesses of the Lord who encourage us. There is a plurality of works that we carry out in shrines, parishes, popular missions, retreats, formation, teaching, schools, communications and many others. We strive to respond to the needs of our times, to express with our lives the apostolic zeal of the Founder and to feel with the Church as the valid criterion of our mission (cf. Const. 33). The Congregation is alive, but we need more missionary zeal. The Redemptorist always has the restless heart of one who proclaims the Gospel.
- On the day when we celebrate the presentation of Jesus in the temple, the fundamental question for us Redemptorists is: what do we present in the temple of the Lord on this day? Like Simeon and Anna, do we recognize the Redeemer with the eyes of our faith, with simplicity of life, prayer and adherence to the will of the Father? Which is the Redemptorist consecrated life that presents itself in the temple of the Lord: the one that carries doves and turtledoves and recognizes the Lord in the most abandoned or the one of ritual sacrifices of appearances, that keeps the heart empty and does not cultivate its memories of redemption?
- If we are here, it is because someone was called by the Father, adhered deeply to his plan and gave his life for the poorest and most abandoned. We give thanks to the Redeemer! Thus, the root of consecrated life is in the paschal mystery of Christ with all that it implies: becoming flesh, experiencing the passion, suffering, death and resurrection, believing in the Word of the Father and in the energizing power of the Spirit. We have not seen the Lord, like Simeon and Anna, but we have believed in his faithful word, the same word that has brought us here. They saw and believed. We have touched him through the faith experience of our ancestors and our personal encounter with the Redeemer. Together with Simeon, Anna, Mary, Joseph and our Saints, Blessed and Martyrs we can say that our eyes see salvation and because we believe in it, we proclaim it to be light for all peoples. Our consecration has in its history paschal memories and memories of redemption.
- We can compare Simeon and Anna to our consecrated life (cf. Lk 2:25-38). Simeon represents justice, piety, openness to the Holy Spirit, wisdom and perseverance in faith. He is the servant of the temple who welcomes everyone without distinction, as he did Mary and Joseph. He is the one who welcomes the offerings of the poor and does not exploit or exclude them on the basis of the laws of purity. Anna, the pagan, the heretic, represents the minority, excluded by the temple, who awaits liberation and recognizes the Lord in the image of the abandoned, something that the religious of the temple were incapable of doing. Anne is the representation of the consecrated life as a minority in the world, but who has found the Lord, serves him tirelessly day and night and praises him sincerely.
- In these almost 300 years of the Congregation’s existence, before the Lord we have united ourselves through our memories of redemption to those who believed and experienced salvation and with burning hearts communicated what they experienced. Today, what unites us in this meeting are our Easter memories and the redemption that made us persevere and come this far. Today we stand before the Lord, before each confrere, before the world. A consecrated life that does not experience the daily presentation of itself in the temple of the Lord has no authority to say that it has seen salvation and to present itself as a light to the nations. How is our presentation to the Lord as consecrated Redemptorists in the temple of the world in which we live? How are our memories of redemption and daily conversion? If the Congregation is like Simeon and Anna, long-lived in age, pious, faithful to the divine promises, persevering, sensitive to the Holy Spirit, recognizing the Redeemer in the most abandoned, as an eschatological reality it can sing the song of Simeon: Now your servant may go in peace, for according to his word his eyes have seen salvation prepared for all peoples, a light for all nations. Otherwise, we will sing a song of lamentation and sadness.
- What Redemptorist consecrated life do we want for ourselves and for the Church? The one that flees from the world? The one that hides in its castles, in its beautiful temples, sacristies and in its vestments? The one that is fragmented by personal projects or by internal struggles in search of power? The one that is in comfort zones? Or the one that recognizes the world, perceives its beauties and ambivalences, that runs the risk of walking with the Redeemer and wounding and making his feet bleed? What Redemptorist consecrated life do we want for ourselves and for the Church? A Redemptorist consecrated life that recognizes the Redeemer with its eyes, identifies with Him, is a missionary body and values each confrere and the laity? Or a fragmented one that listens to the voice of idols, is dazzled and then abandoned along the way? The Lord is faithful. Idols enchant us, make us fall in love and then abandon us. What kind of Redemptorist consecrated life do we want for ourselves and for the Church? Not the pure consecrated life, untouchable, without sin, distant from reality, but the human consecrated life, with its contradictions, with its wounds, without fears, but which every day gives the best of itself, is converted and renewed, is in the world like a dancing light, resisting the wind and is consumed with a simple heart, faithful to the Lord and to the most abandoned.
- These questions help us to discern personally and communally what style of consecrated life we want for the future. The challenges we face are numerous and diverse. However, we should not be discouraged. We are missionaries of hope who walk in the footsteps of the Redeemer. If this is true, we cannot decree our premature death. We must keep our eyes open to reality and make our institutional and personal self-criticism, but we cannot give up in the face of what frightens us, the problems derived from our infidelities and the challenges of today’s world. Part of the Church is living a complex moment with so many internal disputes, loss of credibility and distancing from the Gospel. Throughout history, in the controversial moments of ecclesial life, consecrated life has always been a sign. Thus, in a context of so many divisions, we are called to be a sign of unity and to proclaim redemption with courage and enthusiasm. Our charism is alive and strengthens us in the mission and, for this reason, we are called to be a light for the nations.
- A charism is born of a profound experience of God, of the centrality of Christ, and is materialized in human history in favor of the community and the needy. It is a source of clean and life-giving water. It is always based on the Spirit who gives it and invigorates it by the experience of the Gospel, by listening to the signs of the times and the time of signs and by the dialogical closeness with the People of God. Without these elements a charism does not survive, cannot be discerned and reinterpreted in the course of history, and becomes water that is not drinkable and tends to dry up. For the Redemptorist, the charism is translated into the dynamism of the proclamation of the Gospel and the joy of having the person of Christ at the center of his life and of continuing his presence and mission of redemption in the world (cf. Const. 23). The charism, as a fruit of the Spirit, is dynamic and extends throughout history and is renewed to the extent that its professed members are able to dialogue with the Lord, who always asks them to drink (cf. Jo 4:7). The death of a charism begins when individualism infiltrates the bloodstream of the missionary body. Little by little it eats away the vital organs of our apostolic life and we lose the sense of our own consecration and mission. Individualism is the door to our agonizing death.
- We are alive and we want to continue to be a living memory of the Redeemer in this world, light wherever we are. And how can we be light if our inner flame is dying out? Perhaps our interior is like embers covered with ashes. The breath of the Spirit is necessary to reawaken that flame within us as he did to the disciples on the road to Emmaus (cf. Lk. 24:32). Perhaps this darkening of our inner flame explains so many departures in the Congregation. Why do so many confreres leave for the dioceses? Why do some leave us in the first years of their profession and priesthood? Does our formation help young men to incorporate the Redemptorist charism in their lives and to see in it a value for their missionary life for life? Does our community life offer confreres quality in their affective, spiritual and missionary life? These questions are not to blame anyone, since this is a phenomenon in the field of consecrated life, but they serve to help us to be self-critical in every way: in community, spiritual and missionary life. This is one of the great challenges of our time. Let us not be afraid to face this reality in the light of the Spirit and of personal and community discernment. The Redeemer walks with us. It is important to recover our first love (cf. Rev 2:4).
- The XXVI General Chapter addressed five important themes: identity, mission, consecrated life, formation and leadership. They permeate our entire consecration and apostolic life. To help us in our daily reflection, each year, beginning on the feast of St. Clement, the General Government will deepen one theme according to the chapters of our Constitutions: community, formation, mission, spirituality, leadership and review of life. In this way, during the six-year period, we will go through all the fundamental nuclei of our apostolic life, taking into account the decisions of our Constitutions and Statutes, General Chapters and other documents of the Congregation. May each year inspire us to rekindle the flame of our vocation and our missionary zeal (cf. Const. 20,33,37,80).
- Finally, a few words about restructuring. During these 30 years, there have been different approaches to enlighten us: theological, spiritual and structural. All have been very important and have helped us to reach this point. It is fundamental to remember the kenosis of Jesus, the Alphonsian distacco to help us reflect on it. We cannot forget the inspiration that comes from the most abandoned. They have to restructure themselves every day in order to survive. The experience of migrants who leave their homeland only with the certainty of their dreams and the poor who have to reinvent themselves every day, make us think. The precariousness of the abandoned makes us reflect on our availability. Wherever we go, the Congregation supports us in the more than 80 countries where we are present. We have a structure that protects us. With restructuring, no one will be left unprotected. If, in these 30 years, we continue to have difficulties, it is perhaps because we have not learned from the most abandoned, and perhaps we are too far removed from their lives. The call for us: “new wine in new wineskins” (cf. Mk 2:22). Restructuring is a call of the Holy Spirit to the whole Congregation to remain faithful to the charism and to respond to the signs of the times with a new missionary zeal and renewal of our apostolic life.
- Lord of the Harvest and Shepherd of the Flock. Help us to be faithful to our mission and never forget the abandoned. Inspire us always to be good Samaritans, encourage us to put into practice your words in the synagogue of Galilee (cf. Lk 4:18-19). May Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help, our Mother General, together with the Saints, Martyrs, Blessed and Venerables, help us to walk in the paths of the Redeemer as Missionaries of Hope wherever we are. Help us to persevere, especially in moments of the cross. Amen.
- With the protection of the Mother of Perpetual Help and of all our Saints, Martyrs, Blessed and Venerables the blessing of the all merciful God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit Amen! Many thanks to all who participated. You are important for the Congregation, go ahead and do not be afraid! The Spirit of the Lord is with us!
P. Rogério Gomes, C.Ss.R.
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
Rome, February 02, 2023