It is always the same river, but the water is always new. It just flows and moves forward. We cannot and should not just repeat the past. Everything changes, and demands new responses from us. This is the main challenge.
The XXIV General Chapter (2009) challenged us asking for a new availability, a new solidarity, a new prophetic attitude and a renewed missionary spirit. As a Congregation, we are now called to discern and make concrete options. We must be open to follow the will of God, and we must do it as a community: listening attentively to the voice of the Holy Spirit, recognizing the signs of the times, seeking and accompanying the most abandoned, especially the poor.
The “abandoned” are the poor, those who are neglected by society; excluded from the benefits of society’s social and material goods; the oppressed and the suffering. “Abandoned” are also those individual persons, communities and social groups “neglected”, “put aside” or “left behind” by the Church; the spiritually abandoned as well as those who consider and feel themselves excluded from the Church.
To respond to this mission, we must recover the missionary spirit (“mística misionera”). This requires a high degree of personal and communitarian availability, creativity, apostolic charity and missionary dynamism.
We must see ourselves as active agents of a new vision of the Kingdom of God, sent to give witness to the unconditional love of Jesus Christ, to promote evangelization and inculturation; an incarnate spirituality; the value of human life and human dignity; a culture of freedom, justice and solidarity, with a very deep sense of co-responsibility.
None of this will be possible without a personal and community conversion. We all know that this is a very serious internal issue in the Congregation. We need to do a very honest review of life, acknowledge and assume our present reality (without trying to fool ourselves) and really make an effort to change for the better. We are called to renew our hearts, to recover our spiritual motivations, and strengthen our missionary spirit. Ongoing conversion is a fundamental dimension of our spirituality. It invites us to open ourselves to God, mercy, compassion and apostolic charity, solidarity, fraternal life in community; to open ourselves to the needs of those who suffer, the poor and abandoned. We must be open to the others and to a new mentality.
We are invited to seriously confront and, with the grace of God, fight our own selfishness; to stand up against an easily attained material, intellectual and spiritual “comfort” and “convenience”; against personal and pastoral laziness; against the attitude of “clericalism” that separates us from the people; against the classic attitudes that promote “bureaucratic behavior” and against the paralysis caused by futile discussions and confrontation.
We must reject the empty talk and “gossip” that destroys trust in our communities. We must fight the “politicking” and the lobby of petty interests that plague our communities and deeply affect our pastoral action. An unhealthy ambition, too many rivalries, jealousies and personal competition divide us, drive us to defamation and calumnies.
Some criteria that may strengthen our missionary commitment
- There is a need to respond with greater agility and flexibility to the present pastoral needs and the present urgencies of evangelization: in places, cultures and diverse social contexts. We need a reform, a “restructuring ” understood as a new mentality, a spiritual conversion, a change in our structures and forms of organization, while seeking greater closeness to the people . In fact, there is a need for more agility and flexibility in the pastoral decisions of the Leaders and Superiors than in the missionary attitudes of the confreres.
- A greater openness to the spirit of solidarity, association and partnership with other Redemptorist Units and related organizations to optimize our spiritual, material and especially our human resources (professed Redemptorists as well as Lay men and women). Redemptorist Provinces should not compete against each other.
- We have to increasingly open ourselves to grow in active and reciprocal cooperation with the Laity (men and women) who are our partners in mission, and share our spirituality and charism. That also holds true for our association with other religious who basically share the same spirit and charism. The professed Redemptorists, Priests and Brothers, cannot consider ourselves the “exclusive owners” of this charism. Promoting reciprocal collaboration, association for pastoral action, awakening the missionary spirit in the Church, give more vitality to the Redemptorist charism.
- We must allow ourselves to be conducted by the principle of “Mercy and Compassion.” The undeniable fact is that many individual people and social groups continue to suffer all kinds of poverty, scarcity and violence (emotional, gender, sexual, economic, cultural, social, religious, political, etc.). Many men and women are discriminated against and oppressed, many are victims of various types of abuse of power. There are so many poor people, unemployed, hopeless, abandoned, and excluded from society and the Church. Mercy is the appropriate response to the suffering world.
- Redemptorists are sent to bring hope and announce the plentiful redemption of Jesus Christ. Remember the parable of the “Good Samaritan”? The principle of “Mercy and Compassion” is what moves us to respond to the suffering of others. In fact, Mercy is the principle of God. It’s this principle of love that moves God to react and respond to human suffering. This is the movement that God makes through the Incarnation and Redemption. “Mercy” must always have a personal, community, pastoral and social expression. This has nothing to do with a purely sentimental, paternalistic or individualistic compassion. It is expressed through very concrete actions.
- We must move with active hope. Authentic hope is always an action. We must “do something”. Theoretical reflection and discourses are not enough. The poor teach us to live the experience of hope. When we have everything, and solutions are at hand, there seems no need for hope. But when we lack everything, when nothing seems to work and everything is going wrong: that’s when we need a lot of faith, hope and confidence.
- Indeed, hope is born out of outrage at injustice and of creative imagination. Hope can be indignant, outraged, critical and demanding. But it is also able to propose “something new and different as an alternative”. Hope makes things new. Hope requires some very important attitudes such as patience, dialogue, perseverance, resilience, flexibility and a great sense of humor.
- Our hope is well-grounded in the love of God, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the mystery of Redemption. We must live the experience of Hope in the reality of incarnation and with a strong fighting spirit. It is not about constant bemoaning, but about a positive and proactive action. It does not help to always blame others. It’s not a matter of repeating the past nostalgically. Neither is a question of useless or destructive criticism. Rather it has to do with attitudes of availability, openness, collaboration, solidarity, partnership with others and concrete action.
- We must have a realistic vision for the future. One may strive, struggle and fight, but there are no guarantees regarding the future. No fantasy or imagination can guarantee the future. It makes no sense at all to dream about recovering a supposedly “glorious past”, that no longer exists and will not come back. Those who say “we have no future” are confusing the future with the past. But the future does not forgive. It is always there, firm, before us. That future will be different, but it is there watching the passage of time. If we are in a hurry and try to force the future, demanding that it come earlier, you can be sure that it will resist. It waits for its proper time. It has more patience than us, but the river continues to flow. We have to change our attitude towards the future.
- So many things have to change. Life teaches us that every future is based on cycles of birth, death and new life, each arriving at the right moment in a constant process of change. To “choose”, “to opt for something” means “to leave something” in order to take on a “new project”: it is to die and be born again. Any authentic future is the result of our creative fidelity and that drives us beyond the present.
Let us ask in our prayers the gift of creative fidelity. May we be faithful to the Redemptorist mission and charism. That is our present and our best hope for the future. Saint Clement Hofbauer always reminds us of this and provokes our reflection. May the Holy Spirit help us to follow God’s will, preaching the Gospel “ever anew ” with renewed hope, renewed hearts and renewed structures.
P. Enrique Lopez, CSsR
March 15, 2014.
Feast of Saint Clement