GENERAL’S NEWS XXIV
THE DEATH OF POPE JOHN PAUL II
When I began this 24th edition of the General’s News, there were reports of Pope John Paul II’s worsening health. Within days, the Holy Father was dead. As I prepare to end this letter, his funeral has not yet occurred. But by the time you read it there will be a new Pope. And so the cycle continues, a cycle that began with St. Peter and will end only with the final return of Jesus in glory.
By this time you will have heard, seen and read much about Pope John Paul II, the man and his legacy. I would like to honor his memory in this letter by reflecting on the theme that he has given to the Church this year, the theme of the Holy Eucharist. And since you are likely to read this letter during May, the month of Mary, I would like to share with you his own reflections on the Eucharist and Mary. [i]
MARY AND THE YEAR OF THE EUCHARIST
Pope John Paul was a great thinker. His mind was rich and subtle. But he was also a man of deep prayer. And it was his prayer that sustained and nourished him through the years of his long and eventful life. His example, his words and his many writings reveal that there were two principal pillars that supported this holy man’s spiritual life and sustained him in his many sufferings. Those two pillars were his priestly devotion to the Holy Eucharist and his filial dedication to Mary, the Mother of God. Just two years ago in April 2003, Pope John Paul II published an encyclical on the Eucharist entitled, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Church of the Eucharist. At the end of that encyclical he dedicates an entire chapter to the theme of Mary and the Eucharist that is entitled, “At the School of Mary, Woman of the Eucharist.” I would like to reflect with you on what he writes in that chapter. His rich imagination fills in where the words of Scripture are often silent on exactly what Mary thought or felt, especially regarding her experience of “the breaking of the bread” during the period between the Lord’s ascension and her own holy death. The Holy Father’s reflections take us into uncharted waters and provide us with often new and fresh insights into both Mary and the Eucharist.
For the Holy Father, Mary is first and foremost the Mother of the Church. Therefore, “if we wish to rediscover in all its richness the profound relationship between the Church and the Eucharist, we cannot neglect Mary.”
He readily admits that the Gospels are largely silent on this subject. Indeed, the accounts of the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper make no mention of Mary. Yet Mary must certainly have been present at the Eucharistic celebrations of the first generation of Christians, who as the Acts of the Apostles tell us were devoted to "the breaking of bread" (Acts 2:42). Therefore, she must surely have shared many times, along with the first Christians, in the Eucharistic banquet.
What must have been her thoughts when she heard Peter or John or James or any one of the other apostles recite the words that Jesus had spoken at the last supper: “This is my Body given for you; this is my blood poured out for you”? As his Mother, she had given Jesus his body. It was her blood that coursed through his veins. That body had been crucified on a cross for the world’s salvation and that blood had flowed out for the world’s redemption. Now, in partaking of the bread and drinking from the cup, Mary is receiving that same body and blood. If we stand in awe and wonder when we receive the Body and Blood of our crucified and risen Savior, what must Mary have experienced in partaking of her Eucharistic Son and Lord? Certainly, the respect and reverence of that holy Mother is a fitting model for those of us who receive that same Holy Bread and drink from that same saving Cup!
The Holy Father assures us that we can gain what he calls an indirect picture of Mary’s relationship with the Eucharist by studying her interior disposition. For he is convinced that Mary was a "woman of the Eucharist" throughout her entire life, long before it was instituted at the Last Supper. Let us look at the various elements of this indirect picture of Mary’s relationship with the Eucharist.
(1) The Eucharist is first and foremost a mysterium fidei, a mystery of faith! Only the eyes of faith can see beyond the Bread to the Body of Christ and beyond the wine to the Blood of Christ. We believe because Jesus has said “this is my body, this is my blood.” Mary is our model in such a belief in God’s word. As the Holy Father says, “If the Eucharist is a mystery of faith which so greatly transcends our understanding as to call for sheer abandonment to the word of God, then there can be no one like Mary to act as our support and guide in acquiring this disposition…With the same maternal concern which she showed at the wedding feast of Cana, Mary seems to say to us: "Do not waver; trust in the words of my Son. If he was able to change water into wine, he can also turn bread and wine into his body and blood, and through this mystery bestow on believers the living memorial of his passover, thus becoming the 'bread of life'."
(2) The Holy Father says that in a certain sense Mary lived her Eucharistic faith even before the institution of the Eucharist. How did she do that? By offering her virginal womb for the Incarnation of God's Word. He continues, “The Eucharist, while commemorating the passion and resurrection, is also in continuity with the incarnation. At the Annunciation Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of his body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord's body and blood.”
This is a powerful thought. Mary utters her “Fiat” and the Lord takes flesh in her womb. When we utter our “Amen” just before receiving communion, we welcome that same Lord into our heart. What happened to Mary in a physical sense at the moment of Incarnation happens to each of us sacramentally at every Eucharist. Therefore, her faith and trust in God’s word at the moment of the Incarnation must find an echo in our faith and trust in God’s word every time we receive Holy Communion. Mary, the Mother of the Church, is the model for every Christian, especially at the moment of our reception of the Eucharist.
(3) Right after the Annunciation, Mary goes into the hill country to help her cousin Elizabeth with a difficult pregnancy. She bears Jesus within her womb. The Holy Father sees a Eucharistic implication in the mystery of the Visitation. He says, “When, at the Visitation, she bore in her womb the Word made flesh, she became in some way a "tabernacle"--the first "tabernacle" in history--in which the Son of God, still invisible to our human gaze, allowed himself to be adored by Elizabeth, radiating his light as it were through the eyes and the voice of Mary.”
This is another powerful reflection by
Pope John Paul II. Mary hurries to help out her cousin in very tangible and
concrete ways. She made meals for her,
cleaned the house and no doubt helped during what must have been a difficult
delivery. She remained with
(4) This is what John Paul says about
Mary’s participation in the Lord’s sacrifice: “Throughout her life at Christ's
side and not only on
The implications for us are clear. If we are to imitate Mary’s Eucharistic attitude, then we have to find redemptive meaning in the pain, the sufferings, the diminishments and the setbacks that come to every life. In our reception of the Eucharist, we participate in the Lord’s sufferings and commit ourselves, as he did, to offer our sufferings for the world’s redemption. In imitation of both Jesus and Mary, then, every time we participate in the Eucharist we rededicate ourselves to a suffering love on behalf of others.
(5) Pope John Paul reminds us that from the Cross Jesus gave Mary as Mother to the Apostle John. Through John, he also gave Mary as Mother to the Church and to each one of us. To experience the memorial of Christ's death in every Eucharist is also to accept--like John—Mary who is given to us anew [at each Eucharist] as our Mother. We place ourselves “at the school of his Mother.” Like a child at his or her Mother’s side, we learn from her how to receive the Word made flesh as Bread of life; we learn how to nourish it in prayer and also how to bring it into our daily lives with one another. We learn, finally, how to unite whatever we suffer, as she did, with the sufferings of her Son for the good of our broken and hurting world.
(6) Finally, the Holy Father suggests that we re-read our Lady’s Magnificat in a Eucharistic key. In doing so we will see how it unlocks for us, as it did for the Holy Father, a deeper understanding of the Eucharist. We will find there, as he did, a prayer of praise and thanksgiving, one that recalls the wonders worked by God in salvation history and especially in the redemptive incarnation of Jesus. The Magnificat reflects what the Holy Father calls the eschatological tension of the Eucharist. For every time the Son of God comes again to us in the "poverty" of the sacramental signs of bread and wine, the seeds of that new history wherein the mighty are "put down from their thrones" and "those of low degree are exalted" (cf. Lk 1:52), take root in the world. Mary sings of the "new heavens" and the "new earth" which find in the Eucharist their anticipation and in some sense their program and plan [as well]. The Magnificat expresses Mary's spirituality, and there is nothing greater than this spirituality for helping us to experience the mystery of the Eucharist in our own lives. The Eucharist has been given to us so that our life, like that of Mary, may become completely a Magnificat, a daily prayer of praise unto the Lord!
I would like to conclude with a few words from St. Francis de Sales that relate Mary and the Eucharist. “Picture to yourself the most holy Virgin Mary [at the Annuciation] when she conceived the Son of God…The soul of that beloved Mother was completely centered upon that beloved Child…In proportion as God’s grandeur was, as it were, restricted and constrained within her virginal womb, so did her soul further increase and magnify the praises of that infinite mercy. Her spirit leaped with joy, like St. John [the Baptist] within his mother’s womb, in the presence of her God whom she felt within her…Something similar takes place in many of the holy, devout faithful who receive the divine sacrament which contains the dew of all heavenly blessings…[The Eucharistic Lord] attracts them to himself by the gentle power whereby he...draws their hearts [to himself].”[ii]
Just as Mary centered prayerfully and lovingly on the babe within her at the moment of her conception, let us at the moment of receiving the Eucharist draw close the Lord. He, in turn, will draw our hearts into his heart by the “gentle power” of his great and tender love for us. Just as Mary belongs completely to her child within her, we belong totally to the Christ within us. At the moment of the reception of the Eucharist, let the Lord say to us and we to the him, tenui nec dimittam: I have you and I will never let you go! This is, par excellence, the Eucharistic attitude that the late Holy Father so desired that each of us might have during this year of the Eucharist. If we wish to honor his memory, let us imitate his great love for both Mary and the Eucharist. As they were for him and, before him, for St. Francis de Sales, let them be the two pillars of our spiritual life.
RESTRUCTURING: JOINT COMMITTEES ON MERGER
Within the Congregation one joint committee on merger already exists,
that between the Regions of Keimoes-Upinton and Keetmanshoop. Soon there will be a second one, this one
between the German and the
In my last Newsletter (September-October 2004) I mentioned that I would be making a canonical visitation of the Region of Keetmanshoop in September 2004. That visitation took place within the context of their annual joint retreat with the Oblates from the Region of Keimoes-Upington. During the course of the retreat and after a process of discussion, discernment and prayer, the members of both Regions, in separate and secret ballots, voted overwhelmingly to enter into a process that will lead to a union of the two Regions as early as September 2006. To achieve this goal, a joint committee on merger was established which consists of four Oblates, two from each Region. Its task will be to work out the details and the steps necessary to realize a union within the agreed upon timeframe. In addition to much hard work, good will and compromise on both sides, prayer is very much needed for the happy conclusion of this effort.
Recently, the Provincials and Councils of the German and the
The brave confrères of these Regions and Provinces have set off on a road whose end is largely hidden from view at present. Still, they are confident that God will show them each next step. With courage and hard work, they are determined to follow His lead every step of the way. I know that you will accompany them with your own prayers and best wishes.
Instead of a meeting of major superiors this year, the preparatory
commission for the 2006 General Chapter will meet in
In addition to drawing up an agenda of proposals that will then be circulated throughout the Congregation prior to the General Chapter, I have asked the Commission to give some serious consideration to the actual format of how the proposals will be considered and acted upon during the course of the General Chapter. It has been my experience that as the Chapter nears the end of its agenda, there is often an increasing pressure by the membership to hurry through the remainder of the agenda. This has sometimes led to decisions that are taken without providing adequate direction to the Superior General and the General Council for their implementation or without adequate consideration as to how the decisions that are taken are to be funded or staffed. My hope is that, with careful planning, we can structure the working sessions of the Chapter in such a manner as to allow adequate time for discussion and discernment that lead to decisions that provide helpful direction to the Superior General and the General Council and, when appropriate, to the Major Superiors, regarding implementation, funding and staffing.
CHABLAIS MISSION FUND, GIFT FROM THE
With the recent generous donation of over two hundred thousand euros
Efforts are now underway by the Executive Director of the Chablais Mission Committee to solicit funds from different ecclesial and charitable organizations, including the laity, for the Chablais Mission Fund. This is a long-term effort, one that requires much hard work and the careful and sustained cultivation of potential donors. It also requires transparency and accountability on our part regarding the solicitation and use of funds for specific efforts on behalf of our missionaries and their needs.
During the January meeting of the General Council in India, the members of the General Council, joined by the General Mission Coordinator, worked very hard over several days to formulate concrete proposals and policies for consideration by the Preparatory Commission and, later, by the members of the General Chapter, regarding the future structures and responsibilities of the present Chablais Mission Committee. The members of the Chablais Mission Committee have subsequently also formulated proposals that cover similar areas. It is hoped that during the course of the months ahead and perhaps during the meeting of the preparatory commission itself, agreement will be reached on the particulars of these proposals for submission to the General Chapter.
Recently, at my request, the Regional Superior of the South American
Region, accompanied by one of his councilors, visited Father Tom Hagan, OSFS in
By every standard, this is a very generous act on the part of the Oblates of the South American Region. I was very impressed, as I am certain you will be as well, with the principle reason that Father Aldino Keisel, Regional Superior, gave for accepting these young men: “Part of the rationale behind this decision lies, first of all, in the fact that if today we exist as a Region, we exist because, in the past, Provinces of the Congregation have sent confrères to us, and they have given (and continue to give us) financial support. Having received so much help, why should we not serve the Congregation now by doing what is possible for us to do?”
Recently, a young Ukrainian seminarian began a three-month period of
discernment with the Eichstätt Community. He is the first tentative fruition of
the ministry of Father William Gore in
For several years now the South American Region has welcomed a young
man from the Yucatan to live in an Oblate formation community while pursuing
philosophical studies and discerning a vocation to the Oblates. It is likely that a second young man from the
As you can see, vocations are coming to us Oblates from places and circumstances far different from what we have been accustomed to. In addition to being receptive and welcoming of the Spirit’s movements, may we also be proactive in the pursuit of vocations in new places and under different circumstances.
A GENERAL COUNCIL MEETING IN
For the most part, the agenda for the January 2005 meeting of the
General Council concerned the routine business of the Congregation. The setting, however, was anything but routine. For the first time ever the General Council
For some time now the Oblates in
Before leaving the subject of
During the canonical visitation of the Keetmanshoop Region last
September, Father Fransiskus Xavier Swartbooi was chosen as Regional
Superior. Following the recent canonical
visitation, Father Konrad Haußner was appointed to a third term of the
Five Oblate confrères have died since the last General’s News. In the spirit of General Statute 6, I commend to your fraternal prayers Fathers Otto Heißig, John Gavin, Giuseppe Chiminello, Paul G. Gillespie and Deacon Eric Laudeman.
On a happy note, there have been eight first professions, six final professions and two priestly ordinations, with another priestly ordination to take place on May 28, 2005, that of Luciano Marcos Demarco Rossetto of the South American Region.
From July 31 (day of arrival) to August 5, 2005 (with departures on
August 6, 2005), the Preparatory Commission will meet in
By the time that you receive this letter in translation the Church will no doubt have a new Pontiff. Even now I can see the newspaper reports and hear the commentaries reflecting on the political considerations that led to his election. We believers trust that, through all such considerations and often despite them, the choice is really that of the Holy Spirit. It is for that reason that we commit ourselves in faith and wholeheartedly to this present successor of St. Peter. And in doing so, we follow the lead of both our Patron and our Founder. May God grant the new Holy Father health, holiness and wisdom! Above all, may He give him the heart of a pastor!
Yours very fraternally in our saintly Patron and holy Founders,
Lewis S. Fiorelli, OSFS