GENERAL’S NEWS XXIII
The meeting of major superior in July was the last such meeting before the 18th General Chapter in 2006. (The Preparatory Commission for the General Chapter will meet in July 2005.) This was, therefore, the last opportunity for the members of this important body to discuss, as a group, areas that are likely to be the focus for proposals to that General Chapter. These areas include restructuring, the Oblate missions in the 21st century, the Chablais Spirit, and the Chablais Mission Fund. Understandably, these areas received considerable attention during the course of this meeting. Before we look at some of these areas in more detail below, I would like to say something about the Philippines.
In my opening remarks to the major superiors I announced my decision to ask the members of the General Council to approve the beginning of an Oblate foundation in the Philippines in January 2005. During the meeting of the General Council later in the week, the members of the General Council did in fact give their unanimous consent to this foundation.
Since this foundation is a major moment in the life of the Congregation, I would like to repeat here my remarks to the major superiors on this matter.
“During these opening remarks, I want to share with you a decision that I have taken regarding the Philippines and to give you my reasons for this decision. As you know, for a number of years now we have been contemplating a possible new foundation in the Philippines. The initial expectations of the General Council regarding the foundation in the Philippines were two: (1) the foundation would be made by the members of the Asian Mission as an expression of their missionary outreach; (2) the foundation would not entail any additional funding by the Congregation. Last July the General Council met in Germany at Haus Overbach. We were told at that meeting that the Indian confrères had decided to complete the foundation in India over the course of the next several years. They would, therefore, not be prepared at this time to play any substantive role in an Oblate foundation in the Philippines.
“It seemed that our discernment on the Philippines had reached an end. But several factors kept it alive. During this past year, for example, I have remained in frequent contact with the General Mission Coordinator on this issue. In May we had the opportunity to speak in person on this and other matters. The members of the General Council discussed the issue at considerable length at their January meeting in the United States. Throughout the year, I have received a number of letters in support of this project from Father Anthony Ceresko. As most of you know, Father Ceresko is an American Oblate who has been teaching Scripture in the Philippines for a number of years now. As a result of these and other exchanges, as well as much prayerful discernment, I have decided to make a formal proposal to the members of the General Council during the course of this week. I will propose to them that Father Josef Költringer be sent to the Philippines in January 2005 to undertake an Oblate foundation there. I have satisfied myself that his departure from India next January will not impact negatively upon our important work there. As I mentioned earlier, as part of the completion of our foundation there, they are already in the process of establishing indigenous Oblates in positions of formation and leadership. My hope and expectation remains that our Indian confrères will aid in the Philippine foundation as soon as they are prepared to exercise their missionary outreach outside of India.
“As to financing the Philippine foundation, I have asked assistance from the Netherlands Province and have obtained from them a generous promise that they will fund this foundation, at least until the General Chapter of 2006. At the 2006 General Chapter a detailed report will be given to the assembly on the progress of this foundation to date. In that way, the next General Administration will have the benefit of a year and a half of actual Oblate presence and experience in the Philippines to determine how to continue with this foundation in the future.
“During the course of these years of discernment, a number of Oblates have expressed an interest in helping out in the Philippines either in terms of financial support or in terms of personnel. At this time I say to those Oblates: Now, in months ahead, is the time to come forward.
“I believe that I have taken the steps one ought to take in a discernment process of this magnitude. Time and again, even when I thought the project was all but dead, it showed new and persistent signs of vigor and life. I have become convinced that we owe it to our future as a Congregation to at least give this foundation a fighting chance of success.
“I wish to thank Father Josef Költringer for his willingness to undertake this effort on behalf of the Congregation, and I wish to thank Father Kees Jongeneelen and all the confrères of the Netherlands Province for their generous financial backing. It is a gesture that is very much in keeping with their strong and sustained missionary spirit as a Province. I now ask all the members of the Congregation for their prayerful support. Along with all of you, I look forward with hopeful expectation to the report that will be made to the General Chapter of 2006 on the progress of this foundation.
“In the past I have spoken and written much about Oblate leadership. In making this proposal to the members of the General Council I believe that I am exercising such leadership in this matter. I pray to God for its success if success is according to the divine will.”
For a full day and a half Father Séamus Finn, OMI, led us in a workshop on the topic of restructuring. In full sessions as well as in language groups the many aspects of this topic were explored, from the theoretical to the very practicable. In an initial power point presentation entitled, “Responding to the Present while Preparing for the Future,” Father Finn explored with us the following topics: (1) restructuring in the life of the Church; (2) restructuring in religious congregations, institutes and societies, and the principal reasons for restructuring; (3) major themes, issues and challenges associated with restructuring; (4) a history of restructuring within our own Congregation from 1995 to 2003; (5) a history of the deliberations by the General Council on restructuring up to the present; (7) responses to my February 2, 2004 letter on restructuring entitled, “Restructuring: Present Thinking and Discernment;” (8) further steps leading up to the 18th General Chapter in 2006.
The ultimate goal of restructuring is one of vision, that is, how can we best structure the various components and units of the Congregation to maximize its mission: the practice and dissemination of the Salesian charism under present circumstances and “signs of the times?” We are still searching for the best way to express that vision, one that will capture the imagination and engage the energies of the vast majority of the confrères. We are convinced that at every level transparency and communication must guide any restructuring efforts.
The document, “Restructuring: Present Thinking and Discernment,” lists five areas or topics for likely proposals for consideration by the 2006 General Chapter. These five areas, if acted upon, will promote structures that will lead to closer fraternal cooperation and more effective collaboration throughout the Congregation. During the discussion of these five areas, many helpful insights were offered. These five areas are: (1) A common period of formation and seminars on Oblate Leadership; (2) steps in the internationalization of the promotion of the charism; (3) steps in the internationalization of Oblate ministries; (4) proposals to transform the present ad hoc committee on Oblate Missions in the 21st Century and the Chablais Mission Fund Committee into standing committees; (5) a proposal regarding specific steps to be taken when the viability of any province or region becomes problematic. Some of these five areas met with greater enthusiasm than others. Individual Oblates and groups within the Congregation are encouraged to present additional proposals regarding restructuring –or any other topic--to the Preparatory Commission of the General Chapter.
This workshop on restructuring was an important step, but it is only the latest step on the road that is already almost a decade long. Decisions taken by the members of the forthcoming General Chapter will amount to a major fork in this road. At this point, only God knows where the road will ultimately lead the Congregation. Meanwhile, in good Salesian fashion, we continue to trust firmly in the guidance of Providence while determined to respond as generously as possible to each step along the way as God makes that step clear to us. As brothers, we make the journey down this road together, hand in hand.
During the course of the meeting, there were reports from the major superiors, as well as from the standing and ad hoc committees, the General Treasurer, Procurator General, General Mission Coordinator, Archivist, Secretary of the Preparatory Commission, and the pastor of St. Charles Parish in Monaco. Those reports often generated questions, observations and a free exchange of ideas. In the interest of space, I will speak only briefly on some of these reports here.
MISSION COMMITTEES: The chairpersons and other members of the two mission committees, the Committee on Oblate Missions in the 21st Century and the Chablais Mission Fund Committee, gave reports on the activities of their committees during the past year and responded to questions. They also discussed the progress of proposals that each committee will submit to the Preparatory Commission for consideration and action by the General Chapter. These proposals, the result of much hard work over several years, will merit serious consideration by the Chapter delegates.
The executive secretary for the Chablais Mission Fund Committee reported on his activities during the course of the year and the present status of the Chablais Mission Fund. In the course of the meeting of the General Council later that week, the name of the Fund was officially changed from “Chablais Mission Endowment Fund” to “Chablais Mission Fund” to reflect its dual purpose: (1) to raise an endowment to meet the long-term needs of Oblate Missions; (2) and to distribute funds annually to the missions for specific needs based on established and agreed-upon principles and priorities. The second goal was added because donors are often more ready to contribute to very specific and immediate needs in the missions than to a fund that is designed only to meet future needs.
The principal focus of the work of the Committee on Oblate Missions in the 21st Century has been the development of a comprehensive plan for Oblate missions that deals with several areas: (1) a protocol for funding existing congregational, provincial or regional sponsored mission sites; (2) a protocol for the establishment of new congregational, provincial or regional foundations; (3) helping to provide elements in formation programs that address and carry out the Chablais Spirit and that (4) include a period of immersion in pastoral experience (not study) in another culture. The members of this committee will develop these four areas into concrete proposals for action by the 2006 General Chapter.
THE GENERAL TREASURER: According to the prescriptions of Constitution 288 and General Statutes 20-27, the new General Treasurer gave a detailed report on the current financial state of the Congregation as well as a brief history of its assets. The Congregation has been blessed over the years with gifted and competent confrères who have exercised wise and prudent stewardship over its material goods both on the local level and the Congregation-level. Our resources, though limited, have been well managed with care and skill.
THE PROCURATOR GENERAL reported on the implementation of the Charter and Essential Norms, especially as they apply to religious men. He noted that a number of conferences of bishops have asked the Holy See to extend the Charter and its Essential Norms to other parts of the world. He discussed the many subtle changes that are taking place in the several tiers of Roman bureaucracy at the end of a pontificate and the need to adjust strategies accordingly. Finally, he addressed questions, a number of which pertained to the canonical status of recent liturgical norms.
THE ARCHIVIST: The brief written report from the Archivist dealt with his many efforts this year to have the Causa of the Good Mother reactivated. To achieve that goal, a document must be produced that deals with the reasons given for the 1921 suspension of the Causa. A necessary first step to producing that document was to gain access to the Chappuis files in the Vatican Archives. Father Balducelli was able to do that and is now working on a scholarly paper, based on a critical edition of the works of the Good Mother, that will chronicle the circumstances and events leading up to the suspension of the Causa. With the hopeful completion of this document within several few months, it will be presented to the Promoter of the Faith. If favorably acted upon, the Causa will then be reactivated. This important work is close to the heart of every Oblate. I ask you, therefore, to pray for its success.
THE GENERAL MISSION COORDINATOR reported on his visits to the missions this year and on the current situation of the young Haitian men who have expressed an interest in the Congregation. During a meeting with the members of the General Council, Father Koeltringer was officially appointed to the Philippines beginning in January 2005. He was asked to continue in his position as General Mission Coordinator through the 18th General Chapter. During the course of the meeting of major superiors, the Regional Superiors of Keimoes-Upington and Keetmanshoop asked him to modify his theme for their joint September retreat so as to begin a serious and prayerful reflection with the confrères of both regions on restructuring. I too will be present for that retreat. Together with our confrères, we will discern God’s will regarding restructuring and “the next steps” to be taken.
THE INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION ON SALESIAN STUDIES: Father Herbert Winklehner’s presentation included a brief presentation of the grant proposals for the year 2004-05 as well as a complete listing of the projected articles for inclusion in a book of essays entitled, “Human Encounter in the Salesian Tradition.” This book of essays will commemorate the 4th Centenary of the providential encounter between St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal. That encounter led to one of the most celebrated spiritual friendships in the annals of the Church and produced a spirituality that continues to enrich countless people from every walk of life in the Church today. By this time I am sure that all of you have enjoyed the latest issue of the ICSS Newsletter (July 2004). Be sure to visit the very helpful website as well (www.franz-von-sales.de/). The fine work of the ICSS continues to be an increasingly effective means for the promotion and dissemination of the Congregation’s special charism.
PREPARATORY COMMISSION: Soon all members of the Congregation will receive information regarding the submission of proposals to the 18th General Chapter. Father Sebastian Leitner will chair the meeting of the Preparatory Commission from July 31, 2005 (arrival) to August 5, 2005 (departure) that will “draw up an agenda of concrete proposals” (General Statute # 9) for consideration by the General Chapter of 2006 and will deal with all other matters pertaining to the Chapter such as time, place and format.
WORLD YOUTH DAY 2005: World Youth Day will take place in Cologne, Germany, August 16-21, 2005. Cologne is not far from the Haus Overbach Oblate Community. Prior to World Youth Day Oblates from the German and the Austria-South German Provinces will host an international meeting of young Oblates at Haus Overbach (from August 11-15, 2005) for a “celebration of encounter, faith and joy.” Beginning on August 16th they will join other youth from around the world for the various activities of World Youth Day in Cologne.
I encourage as many Oblates as possible, especially formators and those in formation, to participate in this special gathering. It is always a good thing for brothers to come together for prayer and fellowship. In an age when the world is shrinking, it is very good for Oblates to get to know their confrères from other parts of the world so as to deepen our fraternal union as members of an international Congregation. Information and application forms are available via the internet at: (www.osfs.at/wjt2005)
NEW MOTHER GENERAL: During the meeting of major superiors we prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide our Oblate Sisters in their election of a new Mother General and General Councilors. We congratulate Mother Françoise-Bernadette Beuzenil, O.S.F.S. and the members of her council upon their election and wish them every success in the months and years ahead. We promise them our friendship and prayerful support. It is our prayer that our two Congregations, sharing a common Founder, will have between us only one heart and one spirit. Hand in hand may we “work for the happiness of others” by sharing with our world the joyful optimism of St. Francis de Sales!
CHANGES IN THE STATISTICS OF THE CONGREGATION: At every meeting of major superiors we review the statistical changes in the Congregation. It is encouraging that at the time of our meeting there were 57 scholastics and 23 novices throughout the Congregation. Between October 1, 2003 and July 15, 2004, there were 14 first professions, 5 perpetual professions, 6 priestly ordinations and 5 deaths. Although the total number of Oblates has decreased annually from 1998 to 2003, that number has increased by 10 members during the last 6 months. My hope, yours as well I am sure, is to see our numbers begin to increase as we move forward over the years ahead. Next to God’s grace, that growth will depend on prayer, fidelity to our Oblate vocation, and hard work in vocational recruitment and formation. The Congregation needs to grow because, increasingly, our world today hungers for the joyful optimism and good balance of Salesian spirituality!
Since I began this Newsletter on the August 18th feast of St. Jane de Chantal I would like to speak about a spiritual teaching, common to her and St. Francis de Sales, that is central to Salesian spirituality, “Ask for nothing, refuse nothing.” [St. Jane’s feast day is celebrated on August 18th only in the Western hemisphere. Elsewhere in the Church it is celebrated on December 12th.]
Right from the start I want to emphasize that the principle involved in this teaching, even though it is negatively expressed, is a very positive, pro-active spiritual sentiment and disposition. It is rooted in the deeply held conviction that God is both good and provident. He loves and cares for us, each of us, even by name. Like a loving parent or spouse, he wants only what is best for us. We believe that truth and trust ourselves to it in all things. Therefore, whatever God wants or desires for us, no matter how large or small, no matter how pleasant or challenging, that is what we want for ourselves, in each succeeding present moment of life. Ours is a union of hearts, wills and life with God. Those of us in the Salesian tradition believe that is how Jesus lived his life and so we choose to imitate Jesus in that same way in our own lives.
Having lived her entire life, every moment of it, trusting totally in divine providence, it was only natural that St. Jane would tell the priest who was ministering to her as she lay dying that "God had given her a feeling of repose, of simplicity and confidence in his mercy so that she willed nothing but his good pleasure. She asked for nothing and refused nothing...."
“She asked for nothing and refused nothing.” This was the spiritual disposition of St. Jane de Chantal. Her attitude throughout life was always that of Mary’s “Fiat!” and of Jesus’ “Not my will, but yours be done!” A core teaching of Francis to the first Sisters of the Visitation, it was also a major spiritual principle of his Treatise on the Love and God. It has become their joint spiritual legacy to the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary and to all who embrace Salesian spirituality.
Over time this disposition began to characterize the prayer of St. Jane as well. Indeed, she acknowledged "...that the almost universal attraction of the daughters of the Visitation is to a very simple practice of the presence of God effected by a total abandonment of themselves to Holy Providence...and it seems as though God avails Himself of this one means to cause us to achieve our end, and the perfect union of our soul with Him." This prayer of simple remise en Dieu or "simple waiting before God" renders one totally receptive to “Holy Providence” and is the prayerful equivalent of the maxim, "ask for nothing, refuse nothing."
What does it mean to "ask for nothing, desire nothing" but a disposition that allows ourselves to be shaped and molded according to the designs of Providence. Like Mary in her fiat, we are content to be there before God, always at hand, ready to embrace whatever the Beloved will ask of us or allow to befall us, wholly indifferent, at least at the high point of our spirit, to everything else so long as his will is accomplished in and through us.
"Ask for nothing" can be said to be the summary of Books 6 and 7 of the Treatise on the Love of God where we are taught that our affective union of hearts with God in prayer leads to a pure capacity for the accomplishment of his will in our lives. "Refuse nothing" is the resulting openness to whatever the Beloved asks of us through both his signified will (Book 8 of the Treatise) and the will of his good pleasure (Book 9 of the Treatise). God’s signified will is manifested through commandments, counsels and inspirations, while the will of the divine good pleasure is disclosed through the unfolding events, often painful, which befall us throughout life and which reach their zenith for us at the moment of death.
A brief summary of this core teaching of the Treatise on the Love of God is provided by St. Jane when she speaks of prayer in this manner: "Go to prayer by faith, remain there in hope and go out only by charity which requires simply that one act and suffer."
We are to leave prayer only by charity. Charity is certainly the chief characteristic of the Salesian spirit. Love is both the desired end, union with God, as well as its privileged means, loving service of the neighbor.
“THAT ONE ACT”
"That one act" speaks to a readiness to leave prayer, the experience of loving union with God, in order to respond to the demands of charity. For Francis and Jane, this is simply a willingness to leave one form of loving union with God for another, a willingness to go from affective love in order to carry out some form of effective love. Effective love is manifested in one of two ways, either by doing what God asks of us or by accepting what he permits to befall us in “life and operation."  In effective love, we set aside our own agenda and interests in order to address the needs of our neighbor in a concrete, foot-washing love. We leave an experience of the love’s First Commandment in order to carry out the exigencies of the Second. In either instance, we are prompted solely by the divine will for us as it is made known through the circumstances of the moment at hand.
“THAT ONE SUFFER”
"That one suffer": only someone totally unfamiliar with the great sufferings of this remarkable woman would be surprised to find such a poignant expression associated with her teaching on prayer. In prayer she found meaning, often only in the high point of her spirit, for her great sufferings, those tragedies, losses, spiritual trials, and dark nights that formed so large and long a part of her eventful life. She taught from what she herself experienced: love splits no hairs and has but one desire, to be one with God, wholly indifferent to what he wills, even when what he wills or permits are the spiritual, relational, physical and psychological challenges of life. Heroic love confides with serene confidence in the provident goodness of God.
As the earlier quotation suggests, St. Jane de Chantal died as she had lived, in a posture of "simple waiting before God." It does not surprise us, then, that when the chaplain told her that Jesus was near and asked whether she wanted to go out to meet him who was coming for her, her response was simply, "Yes, Father, I'm going. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!" Her life had always been a pure capacity for the divine will, asking for nothing, refusing nothing; she had always remained in prayerful union with her Beloved, leaving that presence only when he called her to act on behalf of the neighbor or to suffer what befell her, being indifferent to all else. When, at last, he called her one final time, she ran to him who had eternally said of her and she of Him: tenui nec dimittam, "I have laid hold of the one whom I love and I will never let go!" (Song of Songs, 3:4)
It is an encouragement to us to see such heroic generosity of spirit rewarded as described in a vision that St. Vincent de Paul experienced at the death of his special spiritual friend, St. Jane de Chantal:
"There appeared to him a small globe of fire which rose from the earth to the upper regions of the air to be united with another globe which was larger and more luminous, then these two became one, mounting even higher, entering and being incorporated into yet another globe which was infinitely greater and more resplendent than the others..."
In death, Jane’s spirit rises up to meet that of her special friend, Francis. United now in death as they once were in life, they rise up together to meet their Beloved and, with him, to live happily forever!
From September 10 – 22, I will be in Namibia for the canonical visitation of that Region. I will also participate in the joint retreat of the two southern African regions that will be conducted by the General Mission Coordination, Father Josef Koeltringer. From January 8-15, 2005, I will be in Rome with the General Treasurer. From January 15-26, 2005, the General Council will meet in India. From February 28 - March 14, 2005, accompanied by Father Mealey, I will conduct the canonical visitation of the Austria-South German Province. The meeting of the Preparatory Commission will take place from July 31, 2005 (arrival) to August 5, 2005 at a location still to be decided. In early September 2005, the canonical visitation of the Italian province will take place, probably within the context of their chapter of elections.
Please join me in praying for the success of these upcoming visits and events!
Yours very fraternally in our saintly Patron and holy Founders,
Lewis S. Fiorelli, O.S.F.S.
 Spiritual Conference XXI, "On the Subject of Asking for Nothing and Refusing Nothing," pp. 399-406, of the Gasquet and Mackey edition (Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1962); for a recent translation of this same conference, see Volume II of the Spiritual Conferences of St. Francis de Sales (Newly translated by Fr. Ivo Carneiro, MSFS (Bangalore: SFS Publications, 1998), “The Last Conference,” pp. 161-177.
 Conseils de direction, 337, as quoted in Wright and Power, Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction (Trans. by Sister Péronne Marie Thibert, V.H.M.) (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), p. 52.