The General’s News XXV
Well over a hundred years ago, in his new world of industrialization and growing capitalism, an English poet expressed this warning: “The world is too much with us. Buying and spending, we lay waste our lives.” He was lamenting the human spirit’s sad loss of transcendence in the midst of the busyness and commercialism of modern life. How would he describe our world today, with it menacing terrorism and the tragic loss of its spiritual and moral compass? What would he think of the hectic pace of daily life today and the almost total disappearance of the quiet centeredness of thought, contemplation and prayer?
Yet, the world of today is our present moment. And it is to this troubled world that we Oblates are called to minister, doing so with the joyful optimism and quiet confidence in Province that so characterize the inviting spiritual teaching of St. Francis de Sales. We are to live and to preach the prophetic possibility of being a “gentle presence in a violent world.”
Today, more so than ever, we need for ourselves and for others the sentiments expressed so beautifully by St. Francis de Sales in his “Be at peace” prayer: “Do not worry about what might happen tomorrow: the same loving Father who takes care of you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.”
In less than a year, the capitulants to the 18th
General Chapter of the Congregation will convene in
The major work of the Preparatory Commission was twofold. First, each of the sixty-five proposals that were submitted by Oblates from around the world was seriously studied and discussed before a vote was taken to determine its placement on the agenda of the Chapter. Secondly, much thought was given to the planning and logistics of the Chapter itself.
The meeting of the Preparatory Commission was carefully prepared and wisely chaired by its President, Father Sebastian Leitner, who was ably assisted in this work by Father Thomas Mühlberger. Soon Father Leitner will send a book of proposals to the members of the Preparatory Commission. It will then be their responsibility to share the content of the Book of Proposals --along with their familiarity with the proceedings and discussions that took place during the meetings of the Preparatory Commission-- with the members of their provinces and regions. This process of prayerful reflection and discussion over the months ahead will help to inform the delegates to the General Chapter of the sentiments of their confrères regarding the important issues to be acted upon by the Chapter. Because of the ease of electronic mail and its availability to a majority of Oblates throughout the Congregation, Father Sebastian intends to make that information widely available.
In this letter, I would like to highlight several elements
that the members of the Preparatory Commission agreed upon in
Based on the sixty-five proposals submitted to the Preparatory Commission, several themes emerged: formation, the missions, charism and Oblate life, internationalization and restructuring, apostolates, Constitutions and General Statutes. Brief introductions to each of these themes will be included in the book of proposals that the Chapter delegates will receive.
On the final day of the Preparatory Commission, a
tentative calendar for the Chapter was announced. I include that calendar here with the
understanding that it is subject to change or modification. On Sunday, July 30, 2006 the capitulants will
arrive in Fockenfeld. The morning of
Monday, July 31, will be dedicated to personal introductions by the capitulants
and other business. That afternoon the
Superior General will give his presentation on the State of the Congregation as
prescribed by Constitution 256.
Following that presentation, each member of the General Council will
speak of his experience on the Council and of his understanding of the role of
a General Councilor. Beginning on the
evening of July 31 and going through Tuesday, August 1, there will be a Day of
Prayer and Recollection. The business of
the Chapter will then unfold in this fashion.
Each day will be dedicated to proposals that focus on a specific
theme. Thus, from Wednesday, August 2,
through Friday, August 4, proposals that relate to the charism, restructuring
and formation will be considered. The
election of the Superior General and three General Councilors will take place
on Saturday, August 5. The
Centenary Celebration of the
As you can see, the capitulants to the 2006 General Chapter will have much important work to accomplish. I ask you, therefore, to please include them in your prayers on behalf of the General Chapter in the months ahead. Thank you.
YOUNG OBLATES AND WORLD YOUTH DAY 2005
Shortly after it was learned that World Youth Day would
take place in
I am delighted that a number of young Oblates were able to
participate in this gathering along with other young people from several Oblate
Brother Markus Adelt, OSFS, is a member of the host community, Haus Overbach. He not only participated in this gathering; he also provided a lively account of what took place. I am happy to paraphrase his account of those special days here.
Twenty-five Oblates and a hundred and twenty young people
During their first evening together, the confrères and young people introduced themselves to one another. The largest group, about a hundred young people, came from the Diocese of Annecy. Among them were a number of students from St. Michel. This group introduced itself in a variety of creative ways by making use of plays, puzzles and songs.
morning Father Michel Tournade, Provincial of the
was dedicated to getting to know the country and people of the surrounding
areas. There were three separate
excursions that were both informative and relaxing. The highlight of Saturday evening was a
multi-media presentation, "Spectacle sur Saint François de
under the direction of Father Tournade.
It dealt, in a poignant and compelling manner, with the famous crisis
that the teenager Francis underwent while a student in
the entire group celebrated “Diocesan Day” in
morning the young confrères of the South American Region gave a most impressive
presentation of Oblate life and ministry in their Region. Then it was time to tidy up before leaving
This gathering of young Oblates and other young people in Overbach was truly a coming together in the spirit of the Saint Francis de Sales. All those present, inspired by his spirit, were deeply united with one another. The effects among the participants will be long lasting and far-reaching. The many positive results of this shared common experience flow, above all, from the participants’ celebration together of daily Mass and morning and evening prayers. The various groups prepared these liturgical events and enriched them with songs and customs from their cultures.
When we look around our world today, we find so much that
is violent, materialistic, and selfish, even among many young people. But this is not the whole picture. Recall the vibrant faith and simple pleasures
of the million young people who gathered for a few brief days in
Life is full of surprises.
When I visited Father Tom Hagan in
As I write this letter, I am preparing to leave for
The untimely death of Father Anthony R. Ceresko on August
13, 2005 was a very sad development for the nascent
Another edition of the General Directory and Necrology
will be published in the near future. We
would certainly like it to be as accurate as possible. That can only happen if we receive current
and timely information regarding changes in residences, addresses (including
e-mail addresses), phone and fax numbers, and so forth. The General Directory and Necrology is a cooperative
venture between the laity and Oblates.
Its workplace, in cyberspace, covers the
Prayer in preparation for the 2006 General Chapter
Constitution 16 quotes from Father Brisson’s January 15,
1896 spiritual Chapter (The
At the beginning of the spiritual chapter in question, Father Brisson reminds us of what he had said in an earlier chapter regarding the central importance of the Spiritual Directory both in shaping the personal spiritual lives of all Oblates as well as in providing the spiritual content for their sharing of the principles of Salesian spirituality with others, especially with the laity.
In this spiritual chapter, he begins by repeating that familiar theme: “the practice of the Directory is absolutely necessary for us.” But he will not deal extensively in this chapter with that central spiritual document. Rather, he intends to deal with something “perhaps even more important.” What could possibly be more important, more central, to us Oblates than the practice of the Spiritual Directory and the sharing of its key Salesian principles with others?
As a background to that something “perhaps even more important,” he speaks of the tendency among some early Oblates to isolate themselves from community and confrère. Apparently, some of them tended to be somewhat indifferent regarding the concerns and projects of the larger Congregation and its growth in the esteem of others. These were good men, he tells them, very dedicated priests and brothers. But they tended to see themselves and their ministry somewhat apart from the community and its larger mission. Some of them tended to act –as we might say today—as “independent agents.” He was the Founder and he did not like that tendency at all. His intention in this Chapter is to vigorously address that tendency and to strongly foster another manner of acting. Each Oblate, he repeats frequently, ought to continually remind himself that “I am an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales….[And] a good Oblate does not isolate himself or act individually,” that is, he does not act apart from the Congregation and its mission; nor does he isolate himself from the Community and its concerns.
After giving this background, Father Brisson tells them that “We need to be more closely attached to the community and to love it ever more deeply. We need to sustain and foster it and to promote its action and influence over souls. We need to accomplish this by sharing a common vision and by being united in life and action.” He repeats this sentiment frequently throughout this chapter: “We have a very serious obligation in conscience to be wholeheartedly attached to the Congregation, to promote it and to help it to prosper. We must work and sacrifice ourselves totally for [the Congregation].” Several paragraphs later he utters the words that have been chosen as the theme for the 2006 General Chapter: “May Oblates never isolate themselves. Rather, may they always be united, in heart and in action, with their entire Congregation!” For convenience sake, I will call this heartfelt prayer and directive from the Founder the principle of unity in heart and action.
The choice of these words as theme for the prayerful
preparation of the General Chapter has prompted me to reflect upon the
importance of unity in heart and action among Oblates today. When Father Brisson first spoke these words
in January 1896, the “great dispersion” was still several years in the
future. Thus, Oblates were still largely
clustered around the Founder in
Almost a hundred and ten years have passed since the Founder first spoke those words and uttered that principle. In the meantime, provinces and regions have sprung up around the world. The Institute, which began as a small and tightly knit group that was physically clustered around its strong and charismatic Founder, has developed into an international Congregation. And after the “great dispersion” and the death of its Founder, its structure of governance developed into a form of federalism. In time, each Province became self-sufficient in terms of personnel and resources and the Founder’s successors exercised, in practice, a governance of moral suasion. As Constitution 264 expresses it, the Superior General is to be “the heart and soul of the Congregation.” He is to animate, exhort, and encourage; he is to set an example of charity and zeal. His role, in other words, is envisioned principally as one of gentle persuasion.
Great changes have taken place in the structure and governance of the Congregation since the 1896 spiritual chapter in which the Founder urged upon us the principle of unity in heart and action. How is that principle to be understood and concretely realized today and going forward? What role will it play, for example, in the proceedings of the General Chapter that will consider such topics as restructuring, joint efforts in apostolates and formation, internationalization, and the missions? In short, how will that principle, first formulated in a small and intimate circle, be applied in issues that transcend individual provinces and regions and embrace the Congregation as a whole?
In contrast to an individual, how does the Congregation as a whole resist any tendency among its several provinces and regions towards isolation or indifference? More positively, how do individual provinces and regions become fully engaged in the overall mission of the Congregation? How do they “work and sacrifice [themselves] entirely for the Congregation,” and actively foster and promote its well being and esteem among others? Given the smaller numbers and aging membership of some of our provinces and regions today, where do we obtain the courage to look beyond our immediate and real concerns to the larger interests and concerns of the Congregation? In short, how do we translate the spirit of the Founder’s principle of unity in heart and action into the present moment of today’s Congregation?
Perhaps we can look to our latest Salesian saint, St. Léonie Aviat, for guidance. As a religious, she had but one desire: “to forget myself entirely.” In the spirit of humility, forgetfulness of herself was the spiritual agenda of her entire life. She had meditated upon the Lord’s teaching concerning those who lose themselves for his sake. She came to realize that they are the ones who truly find themselves. Indeed, those who die to themselves and to their own preferences and projects for the sake of others are the very ones who become fully actualized human beings. They are the ones who become saints.
But she also knew that “forgetfulness of self” had to have a corporate dimension for religious. This is why she urged her sisters “to work for the happiness of others.” The needs, concerns and aspirations of others were to become the needs, concerns and aspirations of the Congregation of the Oblate Sisters as well.
St. Léonie Aviat knew how to translate one’s personal agenda for holiness –“to forget myself entirely”—into the mission and ministry of an entire Congregation: “Let us work for the happiness of others.”
Father Brisson has given us Oblates the principle of unity in heart and action. May we learn from St. Léonie Aviat how to translate that principle from the spiritual project of individual Oblates to the mission of the entire Congregation. As provinces and regions, may we learn how to forget ourselves entirely and work for the happiness and well being of the Congregation as a whole. Let us keep in mind what Jesus promised. The one who loses himself is the very one who finds himself. If that is true for an individual, it can be true for a Congregation as well. The issues of the 2006 General Chapter will be a test as to how successful we are in translating the Founder’s principle of unity in heart and action from a spiritual principle for individual holiness to a principle that guides the mission and ministry of an entire Congregation.
No matter what issues arise at the General Chapter along these lines, we will not be without the Founder’s guidance. His principle of unity in heart and action will, if heeded, provide us with the wisdom and courage to address new situations and to find solutions for those situations that are in keeping with our charism. When difficult choices confront us and stretch us, we will pray for “the courage to overcome any tendency among us towards harmful individualism and the corresponding grace to foster, ever more deeply, a warm and fraternal union throughout the Congregation.” May the decisions of the General Chapter translate these beautiful words into concrete actions and directions, and may the grace of God guide us so that, in the spirit of our Patron and Founder, we will fulfill the divine will “in each present moment of life and in all things, large and small!”
As noted above, in September I will be in the
Yours very fraternally in our saintly Patron and holy Founders,
Lewis S. Fiorelli, OSFS