Opening Message and Meditation for the Third Phase of The XXVI General Chapter in Poland

2 Opening Message Bild
Missionaries of Hope in the footsteps of the Redeemer
Const. 21-75; GS 026-049; Lk 6,12-16
Dear Confreres and Lay Associates of our mission,
1. Today we begin the third phase of the General Chapter, the Redemptorist way of celebrating synodality in our Congregation. I would like to recall the purpose of this phase: “The Implementation Phase will take place at the Conference level no more than twelve months after the Canonical Phase of the general chapter. (DC, 809). The primary task will be to convey the message and direction set by the Canonical Phase of the general chapter as it relates to the mission of the Congregation in the Conference. Other suitable events, such as workshops, retreats, etc., may be organized to facilitate this implementation (DC, 810)”. Therefore, this is not the time to discuss the decisions or the reasons why they were made, but to study the best way to put them into practice according to our charism.
2. In this way, we are in Chapter, discerning together to find the best way to implement the decisions, which will lead us to animate our apostolic life in the Congregation. We have an important mission: to animate, encourage, give direction, and involve the confreres in the Chapter decisions. Chapters and Assemblies, both General and (vice)Provincial, are important bodies within the consecrated life. With all their limitations, they try to listen and discern as a single unit. Perhaps the decisions made by the Chapter were not what we expected, but that was the legacy of the canonical phase. Now, in a spirit of collegiality, we must use our best energies and creativity to put them into practice in the context of the Conference and leave here with a simple, bold and effective Strategic Plan.
3. At the beginning of this third phase, I would like to propose the text of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-14) for our reflection. What we are celebrating is a Pentecost for us. If we do not believe so, we will be following a mere canonical protocol that becomes empty with time and does not resonate in the hearts of the confreres and much less in the hearts of our laity. If we make this a time when the Spirit opens and speaks to our hearts and minds and provokes us to embrace the future with hope, we will be able to make all things new (cf. Rev 21:5). The Holy Spirit surprises us!
4. The text of the Acts of the Apostles says: “When the day of Pentecost was ended, they were all gathered together in one place”. To say “in one place” can mean different things, such as: community, communion, protection, enclosure, being static and a lack of dynamism. From the death of Jesus, we know the crises of the disciples and of the community: the crisis of unrealized projects, crisis in the reworking of the project of Jesus until reaching a deeper understanding of what his life, death and resurrection meant. The disciples as a community lived the crisis of liminality and went through the passage of time to elaborate its identity and from there to take steps towards the future. What are our personal crises? What are our provincial crises? What are our crises as a Congregation? What puts us in crisis? What scares us about the future? The crisis, however, is the possibility we have to rebuild ourselves. If we are here, it is because we have gone through the crisis of expulsion from our mother’s womb. If it is crisis that purifies us, it is stagnation that kills us, because it makes us neither cold nor warm (cf. Rev 3:15-16). Lukewarmness is the slow and degenerative attack on our creativity and our ability to think about the future. It hardens the heart and kills the soul. As a consequence, there comes pessimism and a superficial gaze backwards that returns us to the securities of the past that we can no longer touch.
5. The community of disciples gathers, faces its crises, purifies the image of itself and of Jesus. From there, it can see alternatives beyond the closed doors, the walls and permanence in the same place. What closed doors do we have in the Congregation, in the Conferences, in our (vice) provinces, in our communities? What walls must we remove? Walls give us a false sense of security and in time they remove us from reality because we lose contact with the concreteness of life. What walls does the previous General Chapters invite us to remove in this XXVI General Chapter? What windows does it invite us to open? What fears does it invite us to overcome?
6. The XXVI General Chapter left us five important keys to overcome walls and open new doors: identity, mission, consecrated life, formation and leadership, together with the motto of the sexennium: Missionaries of Hope in the footsteps of the Redeemer. What new language do these themes and the Chapter motto inspire us to use? What meaning do we give to the five keys in this Pentecost experience of the third phase and for the sexennium? Do we believe in it or is it mere rhetoric? How does this resonate in my Redemptorist heart, as a consecrated person and as a missionary animating the life of the confreres in a leadership role, and as a layperson associated with the Redemptorist mission?
7. The Chapter calls us to be Missionaries of Hope in the footsteps of the Redeemer. It reminds us of our essence. We are missionaries. We are apostolic men. We live in common union, we constitute one missionary body by our religious profession, we are collaborators, companions and ministers of Jesus Christ in the work of Redemption. We are strong in faith, joyful in hope, fervent in charity, inflamed with zeal, humble and always given to prayer. We are authentic disciples of St. Alphonsus, we joyfully follow Christ the Redeemer, we participate in his ministry, we proclaim with simplicity of life and language and with constant availability to the most difficult things in order to bring to men and women abundant redemption (cf. Const. 2 and 20). These two Constitutions tell us who we are! Certainly, the availability for the hardest and most difficult things is a constant call to us. We must never forget this as Redemptorist missionaries.
8. The word mission comes from mittere, to send, missus. To send or be sent to exercise an office, to carry out a specific task, almost always of a certain importance. To send (mandare) is to entrust, to give a hand. The one who is sent receives a mandate, receives the confidence of someone or of the community. He does not go on his own. The mission is carried out in the name of Jesus, who was sent by the Father and carried out his mission in his name to the end. Not in the name of himself (cf. Jn 3:16-18). The scene of the temptation was the moment when Jesus was confronted with announcing himself and not the Father (cf. Mt 4:3-11). In this sense, our missionary mandate comes from Christ the Redeemer in that we are called by Him to share the mission of the Father and of the Congregation as an ecclesial reality that shares a charism received from the Spirit and places it at the service of the mission together with the People of God. In this sense, a Redemptorist missionary is not sent to a place himself alone, to self-identify, he is sent in community and in mission because he has been sent in the name of Christ. He does not have a solo career. And his presence there is missionary.
9. The hope we proclaim is not the naive hope that everything will be magically resolved and have a happy ending. Jesus did not end up like that. The Gospels themselves take us beyond, to the perspective that there is always something new beyond failure, beyond the empty tomb, beyond fear, beyond the desire to give up, that makes everything start again, that heals us, that projects us towards the future, towards a horizon of transcendence. The popular saying “hope is the last thing to die” makes us think! Therefore, the mandate we have received as a Congregation for this six-year period is to be Missionaries of Hope, following in the footsteps of the Redeemer. This is the mandate and the path we have been given to follow.
10. What hope do we proclaim? As I meditated and prayed on this theme, four dimensions of hope came to mind, which should be part of our reflection, in the context of the beautiful, wounded and changing world in which we live. They are theological hope, anthropological hope, hope in the world and hope in the Congregation.
* Theological hope. Christ Jesus, the Redeemer, is our hope (cf. 1 Tim 1:1). This aspect of hope is the reason why we have decided to choose the person of Christ as the centre of our life. We identify with him and follow him. We profess our faith in Him and our missionary action is centred on His person. This gives meaning to our baptismal consecration and to our being religious. Spe salvi, n. 1, said: “in hope we were saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us (Rom 8:24). According to the Christian faith, ‘redemption’ – salvation – is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey”.
* Anthropological hope. It is the capacity to believe in ourselves, and especially in others who are different from me, to accept, respect, love and care for them. It is about believing in the human being, even with their limits and contradictions, but who is always capable of conversion and new beginnings. In this sense, anthropological hope puts us in tune with our evangelical duty to be close to the poorest and most abandoned and to help them to have the necessary strength to go on with life.
* Hope in the world: Since we began the consultations for this Chapter, the perception of the confreres about the world and its changes, as well as the insecurities, challenges and values it holds was very clear. This is the world we live in. This is the history we have to build now. It is our time. It is in this world and in this story that we are saved. It is worth remembering the great theologian Edward Schillebeeckx: “The world and the history of men, in which God wants to bring about salvation, are the basis of all salvific reality: in them salvation is primarily realized… or it is rejected or non-salvation takes place. In this sense, we can say ‘extra mundum nulla salus’, ‘outside the human world there is no salvation’”[1]. From this perspective we are called, as missionaries of hope, to embrace with hope this world as a reality created by God and the place where we are fulfilled as creatures loved by Him.
* Hope in the Congregation. Finally, hope in the Congregation. If as professed we no longer have hope in the Congregation, if we have lost our vocational and missionary ardor, if we do not find hope in the restructuring process, if we do not see hope for the Church and for Consecrated Life, then we are heading towards emptiness and the slow and agonizing death of our future, because we are losing our capacity to communicate the charism and to enthuse the new generations and our laity. The Congregation is not only a human work, intuited by St. Alphonsus, continued by others and that has come down to us and now we transmit it as an inheritance received. It is the work of the Spirit who relies on the human to carry out the mission in human reality. If we have lost hope in the Congregation as a missionary work, the sense of belonging and the realization of our baptismal vocation and service to others, what is the point of being here? It is this hope in the Congregation that brings us here together, as a missionary body, with our fears, uncertainties, with our joys, dreams, visions of the future to give the best of ourselves and to be able to communicate the charism, not as an inheritance, but as a mandate received from the Spirit to be shared with the confreres, the laity associated with our mission and with all the People of God.
11. The Chapter clarified for us the road we walk; it is that of the Redeemer. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6). We follow in his footsteps, we try to follow, with our strengths and weaknesses, the paths that he indicates to us, leading us towards his mission. The mission we carry out is not our own. We are “Disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ, so that in Him our people may have life”, the V CELAM reminds us (Aparecida, 2017).
12. I would like to conclude by exhorting you: We are missionaries of Hope in the footsteps of the Redeemer. With this hope, celebrating this Pentecost, we will put into practice the decisions of the XXVI General Chapter. Let us not be afraid. Let us have a serene heart, open to dialogue, seeking together the good of the evangelizing reality of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, preparing ourselves for the 300 years of its history. Much of the success of our story and history lies in the decisions we make here. So, I repeat, let us not be afraid to make the decisions that need to be made, even to cutting away what is unnecessary. The Spirit is with us enlightening us and giving us new ways of speaking so that the Congregation remains faithful to its charism along the way to its ultimate end when God calls us to himself having concluded our mission on this earth.
13. I would like to end this section with this thought from Moltmann: “The vital force of hope directs our senses toward the life that is fulfilled. We wait in suspense for hitherto unknown experiences of life. We open our senses to what is coming toward us. Thanks to hope, we do not abandon ourselves in the face of the powers of death, of disappointment, or of humiliation. Hope of the fullness of life awakens our senses every morning”.[2]
14. May Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help, give us the courage to persevere, especially in times of despair, and may our saints, blessed, martyrs and venerables inspire us with missionary daring. Amen!
Rogério Gomes, C.Ss.R
Superior General.
[1] SCHILLEBEECKX, Edward. História humana revelação de Deus. São Paulo: Paulus, 1994, p. 29-30.
[2] MOLTMANN, Jürgen.Hope in these troubled times, p. 118.
For Personal Meditation:
Readings: Acts 2: 1-14; Mk 2:22; Rev 21:5; Hb 10:23-24; Const. 10,20,43. The XXVI General Chapter left us five important keys to overcome walls and open new doors: identity, mission, consecrated life, formation and leadership, together with the motto of the sexennium: Missionaries of Hope in the footsteps of the Redeemer. What new language do these themes and the Chapter motto inspire us to use? What meaning do we give to the five keys in this Pentecost experience of the third phase and for the sexennium? Do we believe in it or is it mere rhetoric? How does this resonate in my Redemptorist heart, as a consecrated person and as a missionary animating the life of the confreres in a leadership role, and as a layperson associated with the Redemptorist mission? 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. 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.[3]
[3] Message to Redemptorist Consecrated Life. Online meeting. The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Rome, 2nd February 2023, n. 8-9.13.

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