THE GENERALíS NEWS XII
Lewis S. Fiorelli, O.S.F.S., Superior General
CARRYING THE CHARISM INTO THE NEW MILLENNIUM
?The world is captivated by the arrival of the third millennium. A recent gathering of Visitation Sisters reflected on what they could do to insure the continuance of their charism into the next century and new millennium. Aware of being among todayís anawim, they asked this question: ìWhat can we do as anawim to carry the charism forward?î They invited me to assist them in responding to that question. I did so in a talk which, as modified here, I now present to you. It is important for us Oblates to ask and answer the same question, for many of us also find ourselves among todayís anawim.
?In the Bible, the anawim are the needy and poor who are acutely aware of their utter dependence on God. During the Exile, the anawim become the remnant of Godís chosen people. As such, they are entrusted with the sacred responsibility of preserving and passing on the history, faith and experience of being the People of God.
?I would like to begin my remarks with a few reflections on the words, anawim and sacred responsibility.
?Recognizing ourselves as anawim, we have a helpful comparison between our present status and that of Godís people during the difficult and discouraging period of their Exile. That comparison is a happy one, for it provides clarity regarding our identity now as well as our mission for the future. Let me explain what I mean.
?Biblical scholars remind us that the notion of remnant finds its deepest insight in the theology of creation. God made all that is ìout of nothing.î His will alone was sufficient to bring forth all that is: all the material universes and our own planet with its apogee, the human family; as well as all the beauty, good, truth and love which has ever been or will ever be.
?Belief in Godís power to create from nothing was a deep comfort to the Israelites in Exile. They believed --they knew--that God could do the same thing with them, however small, frail, insignificant and powerless they were at the time. He could and would bring from this ìnothingî something once again beautiful, good, and true. He could do that despite their past sin, infidelity and fragility. Imagine what he could do with them if their faith in him and their awareness of total dependence on him were joined to their free will and full cooperation!
?They trusted that they were not the absolute end of Godís people or the final chapter in sacred history. Their prophets reminded them that they were to be the ìcreative stuffî out of which God would soon make something altogether new. And that new something would, though changed, be in continuity with who and what they were as Godís special people. And God did do that! The remnant who returned in jubilant joy to Jerusalem walked on the spiritual shoulders of those who had left that city in defeat and sadness.
?The biblical notion of creation helps to clarify our identity as anawim. The appreciation of the divine will in our Salesian tradition can help to clarify our sacred responsibility as anawim.
?As we know, even though St. Francis de Sales distinguishes between Godís direct will and Godís permissive will, he nevertheless expects our response to be the same: ìYes, Lord, yes, always yes!î In our spiritual tradition, then, we are to embrace with enthusiasm and joy whatever God wills for us. Thus, if God has made us the anawim, then we are determined to be what we are and to be that well. We know that to be anawim means to be small and fragile. Still, we will embrace that status in faith and with complete confidence. For we are as certain as were the Israelites in Exile that God can and will do something beautiful with us.
?Thus, our response as anawim will be creative, generous and persevering. We will trust God in this, as in everything else. In this, we take as model Abraham. He went --as a very old man!-- into an unknown and mysterious land. He knew nothing of what God had planned for him there. He knew only that God was asking him to leave the familiar and the comfortable and to go into the unknown. Obedient and trusting, he went. And we know how blessed he was. God raised up for Abraham a spiritual progeny more numerous than all the stars of the heavens or all the sands of a thousand shores. Mary, too, pronounced her brave ìFiat!î knowing nothing of how Godís Word to her would actually be accomplished through her. Abraham is ìour father in faithî while Mary is our mother!
?The whole human family stands on the cusp of a new millennium. Itís like standing on the peak of a very high mountain from which a vast and wide vista stretches before us unto the farthest horizon. Standing there, no small thoughts are possible, only the larger view of things.
?The view before us is, of course, the future. And we are about to journey into it as the new anawim, a remnant who have been given the sacred responsibility of preserving and passing on our precious charism.
?The biblical anawim were stripped of all non-essentials; they had been pruned, as it were, of all superfluity and were, as such, ready to blossom and bloom with new abundance wherever God planted them. To modify the metaphor, they had been made sleek and lean and therefore ready to accomplish whatever lay before them. We must be just like them. Therefore, in the knapsack which we must prepare for our journey into the next millennium, we must pack only what is absolutely essential of our vision and mission. With them, we will carry with us the core of our charism with which to gift the future.
?Over the last few years, I have attempted, on several occasions, to describe what I believe to be essential elements in our identity and mission as spiritual descendants of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal. These must be packed in our knapsack, for they must accompany us on our journey into the future.
?What are they? Our humanity; Jesus, gentle and humble of heart; and friendship with God and neighbor.
ìI AM AS HUMAN AS ANYONE COULD POSSIBLY BE.î
?At the time of his motherís death, Francis wept freely. In a letter to St. Jane he explained his tears in these words: ìI am as human as anyone could possibly be.î In the Salesian tradition, these words affirm a deeply held theological truth about us.
?For they speak directly to our status as creature. We have received existence from another. As the first lines of Genesis make clear, we are Godís own special handiwork. This truth keeps everything else about us and about our world in perspective. He is God; we are his. Therefore, his truth is our truth, his will our will. God has created us free, after his own image and likeness. He challenges us to direct all creation back to him, its origin and its destiny.
?Being created also means that we are related to God on every level: as creature and, under grace, as friend and spouse. We and God fit one another like hand in glove. We human beings are fully who we are meant to be when we are in God and when we live only for God, relating to everyone and everything else according to Godís will and purpose.
?An awareness of being created leads us to a posture of praise for the One who has blessed us with life and, through Christ, blessed us with grace and its promise of glory.
?Our tradition delights in drawing out the many implications of our being created by and related so intimately to God. To be human is, first of all, an invitation to love this good earth, to embrace this present life, and to cherish those with whom we travel God-ward. Itís an invitation to find the divine depth in the people, the circumstances, and the events of everyday life. For us, everything human falls within the parameters of providence.
?To be human is also an invitation to reverence the divine in the conception, birth and new life of every infant. It calls us to bless God for each new friend and every happy moment; and to welcome each new day, with its work, its play, even its pain, as the arena in which we practice virtue, reach out our hands to touch those we love, and extend our arms to embrace those who are hurting. Every smile and each tear invites a response which is both human and divine. In short, because God has taken on flesh in Christ, nothing human falls beyond the reach of the holy. Francis de Sales is a lasting champion of this truth and has made it a foundation of his spirit. It must be included in our knapsack and accompany us into the future!
ìLEARN FROM ME FOR I AM GENTLE AND HUMBLE OF HEART.î
?Francis de Sales used to like to remind people that Jesus rarely spoke of himself in the scriptures and certainly never promoted himself. He spoke rather of the Father, of Godís will, and of the heavenly kingdom. Thus, Francis treasures the one instance in which Jesus signals himself out for imitation. He does this in St. Matthewís gospel, chapter 11, verse 29: ìLearn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.î In this verse, Jesus invites us to imitate him. For this reason, Francis finds here the believerís life project. It teaches us how to live and act in our own age as Jesus lived and acted in his. In doing so, we live Jesus and permit him to live and walk once again among his people, this time in us!
HUMILITY AS HIDDENNESS
?Humility permitted Jesus to recognize a simple but profound human truth: we come from God and are destined to return to God. In the meantime of our earthly lives, however long or brief they may be, we are invited to the adoration and praise of our God and to a compassionate and loving service of one another.
?In the Salesian tradition, humility is linked to our hidden relationship with the Divine. For it speaks to the cultivation and enjoyment, especially through prayer, of an ever-deeper, ever more personal friendship with God. The real drama of our lives, humility makes clear to us, takes place within. In the quiet center of heart-to-heart prayer with God, the meaning and purpose of our daily lives unfold before us.
?In this, we imitate Jesus who spent whole nights in quiet prayer with God and discovered his deepest personal meaning in being related to the Father as Son. His whole life, with God and neighbor, was rooted in that relationship.
HUMILITY AND SIMPLICITY
?I believe that humility is also related to simplicity in our tradition. By simplicity I mean an unclutteredness of both heart and home, an unclutteredness which leaves one free to love and serve.
?Simplicity of heart speaks to the role of Mary, Marthaís sister, in our spiritual life. In acting on her desire to be near Jesus, simply to be with him, Mary had chosen what Jesus approvingly described as the ìbetter part,î ìthe one thing necessary.î Often pictured in rapt attention at the feet Jesus, Mary points to the truth that in Jesus we have all that we need or desire. Near him we are full and complete, and our lives are focused. With Jesus, we learn over time to empty our hearts of everything but him and his will for us.
?But we do not stay Mary for long. We soon become Martha as well. For Jesus sends us from his presence to accomplish his will by serving others. That was the very pattern of his own life. He went from quiet nights of prayer before the Father to days which were full of energy and the compassionate service of others. Simplicity of heart knows the true linkage between the being of Mary and the doing of Martha. What we do is rooted in who we are as the Belovedís beloved. In our own experience of being with Jesus in prayer, then, we verify that Books 8 & 9 of the Treatise (on doing and accepting Godís will) are rooted in and flow from Books 6 & 7 of that spiritual masterpiece (on prayer).
?A principle in sacramental theology helps to explain how simplicity of home is related to simplicity of heart. In the sacraments, the external elements serve as signs of an invisible reality. The pouring of water in baptism, for example, is the external sign of what is taking place within, the cleansing from sin and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. All our external environments must reflect the simplicity, unclutteredness, and the one-thing-necessary disposition of our hearts. This must be true not only of our community spaces but of our personal environments and possessions as well. A simple, uncluttered Oblate community, far from distracting us from God, will lead us frequently to prayer with him. And that experience will, in turn, bring about a union of hearts and wills which will send us forth into daily life in compassionate love and virtuous behavior towards others.
?Simplicity, in this sense, is an expression of the deeper spiritual poverty of which our vow of material poverty is the external expression.
GENTLENESS OF HEART
?What is Jesusís gentleness of heart but the special call he makes to each of us to leave behind the darkness of sin and selfishness and to run with joyful confidence into the brightness of Godís gracious light? For it is in that light that we learn the art of welcoming and accepting others as God does us and to serve others as whole-heartedly as we have been served by him.
?Lest that task seem too daunting to us, he leaves with us his own special Spirit, a Spirit who teaches us how to interact with one another with gentle reverence and deep respect, and empowers us to celebrate the uniqueness of each human person while defending their God-given right to freedom, dignity and life.
?We learn to reverence and respect each person in this manner from scripture which speaks of human creation according to the divine image and likeness and then proceeds to describe all of sacred history as Godís long pursuit of the human heart. That pursuit culminates in the great work of God on our behalf which is the saving deed of Jesus and the indescribably sweet anointing of his Holy Spirit.?
?But the best way to learn what Jesus means by gentleness of heart is to look at his example in scripture while speaking with him in prayer. We will learn there what we noted above, that is, that prayer and life are inseparable. From the example of Martha and Mary we learn that interactive life with others must be rooted in and flow from prayerful union with the divine. Through prayer, we are transformed more and more into Jesus and thus become more and more his instruments of betterment within our communities as well as instruments of his saving action on behalf of our world. We become those instruments by living virtuous lives of concrete, tangible, foot-washing love of our neighbor, especially our neighbor with whom we live and share community. Prayer, then, fosters the life of the gentle Christ in us. It refashions us into other Christs. We then live and serve others just as he did, thereby prolonging his gentle, welcoming ministry of compassionate love throughout human history.
?This gentleness with others begins with what is described as ìinterior gentlenessî in the Treatise (Bk 7, ch 7). St. Francis de Sales does not expand on its meaning there. This permits us a certain latitude, within the context of his spirituality, to understand what he means by this expression. With that in mind, interior gentleness can be described as a peaceful centeredness deep within our being or, in the words of our tradition, at the high point of our spirit. I believe that this peaceful centeredness is similar, in the mind of Francis, to what Mary experienced after the conception of Jesus. In Francisís own words, ìthe soul of that beloved Mother was then completely centered upon that beloved Child. Because the divine loved one was there within her sacred womb, all the faculties of her soul drew back within her like holy bees into the hive where there honey isî (Treatise, Bk 6, ch 7). Her inner peace was quietly, securely anchored in a loving God who dwelt at her very center. We know that Mary did not remain there for long. Rather, she went ìin hasteî to meet anotherís need. Yes, thus centered, she hurried to assist her cousin Elizabeth in a difficult pregnancy. In this way, her interior gentleness came to external expression in the compassionate service of another in need. So must ours.?
GENTLENESS, THE FLOWERING OF HUMILITY
?Gentleness is to humility as the ripened fruit is to its blossom. Humility is the hidden interiority of our lives. There we interact with God in prayer and are refashioned by that transforming experience into other Christs. The flowering of that blossom is the fruit of our interactive lives with one another and with our world. Humility is the affective love of Books 6 & 7 of the Treatise, while gentleness is the effective love of Books 8 & 9. The quiet and hidden humility of a prayerful heart gives birth to a gentle presence in a violent world, a presence which overcomes violence of every kind through persuasive, attractive, inviting love, never force. Prayer transforms hearts; and transformed hearts refashion lives, systems and structures. Thus, prayer is the crucible in which both heart and world are reshaped by a humble and gentle Jesus who is its Alpha and Omega.
?Certainly, as we approach the new millennium, we cannot leave behind us the example of Jesus whose heart is gentle and humble. Neither the ever-present and increasingly indispensable computer nor any of tomorrowís sophisticated technology will ever replace the human heart which stands humbly before its God and lives gently among its neighbors. Those virtues will ensure that the future, however high-tech it may become, with also always be tempered with a tender kindness as well as with an inviting love.
FRIENDSHIP WITH GOD AND NEIGHBOR
?We know that the spiritual crisis of Francis as a teenager resolved itself with the realization that love alone adequately explains Godís design for creation and each human person: from the creative act itself, through the redemptive deed of Jesus, the sanctifying out-pouring of the Holy Spirit as love upon creation and into each human heart, and the invitation to each person to friendship with the divine. The study of the Song of Song at about the same time as the resolution of his crisis gave him the principal prism through which he would forever after appreciate the many facets of the human-divine relationship (cf. Generalís News VII).
?We frequently remind people of their many responsibilities as believers. They learn from us to be loving spouses, caring parents and responsible citizens. They also learn of their obligations in the moral, social and ecclesial spheres. We urge them to be sensitive stewards of creation as well as advocates for peace and justice, and teach them to see Jesus in the face of the poor and the oppressed and to serve him there.
?But do we remind them sufficiently enough of their most fundamental call: to know and love their God and to develop an ever-deeper loving relationship with the divine? As Oblates, we are particularly gifted with a spirituality that makes this invitation to friendship with God both attractive and possible. We know from experience that once people truly appreciate that they are loved, even by name, by God who is Love, they become a new creation! They value themselves as God does and reach out to others and to their world with the divine view of things. They come to realize that to fall in love with God is to attain human fulfillment. It also empowers them with the grace to change the world because it makes them aware that they are channels of Godís transforming love.
?Perhaps our people often resist our ìDoísî and ìDonítísî because they see them as being imposed on them from without. We must teach them that they are passionately loved by God (Treatise, Bk 2, ch. 8) and that they are invited to know and love him through prayer, sacraments, and the practice of virtue. In time, they will become ìunited, clasped, and fastened to Godî (Treatise, Bk 7, ch 3) in both love and will. In this manner, the ìDoísî and ìDonítísî of our Catholic faith and moral tradition will be gradually internalize as personal values for them. As such, they will become the operative principles for their external behavior. Love will change not only the Christian but, through their behavior with others, the world as well.
?In Generalís News IV, I spoke of love of neighbor in terms of Christian friendship. I will not repeat what is written there. But I would like to add one point in light of what has just been said.
?Our Patron reminds us in the Treatise that our love for God ìproduces love of neighbor.î He writes that ìjust as we are Godís image, so our sacred love for one another is the true image of our heavenly love for Godî (Bk 10, ch. 11). The sequence is essential to his thought. Love for God precedes, directs and colors our love of neighbor. We must be careful not to reverse this sequence. Our love of God permits our love of neighbor to flow into action from inner conviction. And this makes that love just as genuine, spontaneous and compassionate as that of Jesus.
?Our humanness, our call to live Jesus, and our special friendships with God and neighbor -- let us take these Salesian gifts with us as we journey into the next millennium. With them, our knapsack will be full, for we will have with us the best of our Salesian Saints as well the essentials elements of our beautiful charism. With these we will bless our future!
A SALESIAN THOUGHT FOR LENT
?Even though I am writing this edition of the Generalís News well before the beginning of Lent, I imagine that many of you will receive it about that time. Therefore, I would like to suggest that as a Congregation we reflect on these few words of our Patron during this holy season which he so perceptively describes here as ìthe autumn of the spiritual life.î
?ìLent is the autumn of the spiritual life during which we gather fruit to keep us going for the rest of the year. Enrich yourselves with these treasures, which nobody can take away from you and which cannot be destroyed. I am accustomed to say that we will not spend Lent well unless we are determined to make the most of it. Let us, therefore, spend this Lent as if it were our last, and we will make it well. Listen to the sermons, because holy words are pearls; they are ships of infinite mercy --the true ocean of the Eastî (Letters 329, Oeuvres XIII, p. 144).
THE CHABLAIS FUND?
?I have frequently spoken of The Chablais Fund. The Congregation, like the Church, is growing in the third world. The principles of good stewardship and Salesian foresight encourage us to set aside monies over the years ahead to provide for the anticipated future needs of Oblates in our missions, especially in terms of formation, education and ongoing support for new vocations. I urge provinces, mission procurators, and individual Oblates throughout the Congregation not only to pray for the success of The Chablais Fund but to do whatever you can to insure its success. Nearing completion in the Congregationís three official languages is a simple brochure which describes the purpose, inspiration and hope of the Fund. This brochure is available from Father Richard Morse of the Toledo-Detroit Province, the chair of the Committee on Oblate Missions.
?In your name, I extend a special thank you to the Mission Procurator of the American Provinces, Father John Hurley, and to the community of the Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, VA, USA, for their recent contributions to this Fund. During the meeting of Major Superiors last July, I urged our Provincials to consider setting aside a small percentage of their annual budgets for this purpose. May that suggestion fall on fertile soil!
VOCATIONS: AN ENCOURAGEMENT?
?In the latest edition of the General Directory (October, 1998) the novices of the Congregation are listed separately. There are twenty-nine names on those pages. Please pray for their perseverence and for others to follow them! In September I was honored to receive the first vows of three confrËres in BÈnin and on the 31st of January, 1999, I will have a similar honor in receiving the first vows of six confrËres of the South America Region, two of whom are from our new foundation in Ecuador. I already know of several ordinations scheduled for 1999.
?Let us thank God Lord for these encouraging developments and bright signs for our future!
?Scholastics from the Regions of Keimoes (South Africa) and Keetmanshoop (Namibia) have been living and studying together in Pretoria for several years now. Soon our scholastics from BÈnin will join them. So, in effect, we have a new international scholasticate in that lovely South African city. I hope that this joint effort will be an impetus for other cooperative ventures throughout the Congregation.
OBLATE TO THE UKRAINE
?As I write this letter Father William Gore of the Wilmington-Philadelphia Province is preparing to return to the Ukraine for a three year assignment. During his stay, he will study the language and culture and exercise priestly ministry. His assignment is exploratory in nature. May the Lord make clear to us any designs that he may have for the Congregation in that land which is so rich in promise!
?In early January, the General Council will meet in Monaco to choose a Provincial for the French Province to succeed Father Jean Gayet. In your name, I wish to thank Father Gayet for his dedicated and inspired ministry not only to the confrËres of his Province but to the entire Congregation as well. Oblates of his talent and generosity are a gift to the Church and to the Congregation. They are also a source of pride for all of us.
?During our meeting, we will develop a time-table in which to search for Oblate personnel to minister in our parish, St. Charles. I sincerely hope that there are Oblates available for this ministry. In that way, we will be able to continue our long tradition of outstanding service there into the new millennium and thereby honor our commitment to the Holy See which entrusted the parish to our Congregation in perpetuity.
?From January 3-6, 1999, there will be a meeting of the General Council in Monaco. Later in January, there will be a meeting of the Committee on Oblate Missions at the Generalate (which I will not be able to attend but for which I ask your prayers). From January 27 through mid-February I will be in the South American Region for the annual retreat, the first profession of six young Oblates, and the first part of the visitation. The month of May and perhaps into June will find me conducting a visitation of the Toledo-Detroit Province. At the end of July the members of the Preparatory Commission will meet in Allentown. During July or August I will return to the South America Region for the conclusion of the visitation, this time in the North, in Sade. From September through November or December I will be conducting the visitation of the Wilmington-Philadelphia Province.?
?I know that I can count on your prayers during the months ahead. And I do so! Please count on mine for you as well.
Fraternally yours in our saintly Patron and holy Founders,
Lewis S. Fiorelli, OSFS