The Order of Servants of Mary in the Era of Globalization

 

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Introduction

 

The events that have transpired in the last three decades have tremendously effected a radical change and influenced the flow of our human history. It is indeed a tapestry of evolving civilizations and conditions interwoven in unprecedented manner within the sphere of human experiences.

We are living in an era of globalization. It is a product of interaction and integration among the people, businesses, and governments of different nations, a process driven by international trade, free market and investment and aided by information technology. Many have been overtaken by surprise, fear and awe as this global phenomenon unfolds.

What are the impact and future implications of living in a globalized economic system? Why is there global inequality and is it getting worse? What is the role of the internet/communication/technology in globalization? How is globalization affecting the world? How is globalization affecting culture? What are the environmental impacts of globalization? Are we moving towards a more dehumanized society? Are there alternatives to Globalization? These are some of the frequently asked questions by the various sectors of society.

As Servants of Mary we echo the same concern and apprehension. We seek for illumination and ways of understanding this phenomenon. We search, reflect and study its implications on our life as consecrated persons and as lay members of the Servite family. This short article does not pretend to offer the whole picture of this evolving global process. Rather it aims to provide a source for further discussion and reflection in our communities and groups.

The World Arena

The forces of change brought about by globalization are unrelenting and continue to accelerate modern society toward an uncertain world where the latest marvels of human ingenuity will co-exist with previously unreached depths of depravity. It has ushered us into a more increasingly globalized humanity faced with climate change, dwindling resources, overpopulation, migration problem and technological upheaval.  It is important to understand this current phenomenon and eventually study its adverse effects in the lives of peoples and communities.

The first one is on food security. The obvious reason is that everybody needs food. But the complexity of delivering sufficient food to a national population and to the whole world’s population shows why food security is such a priority for all countries, whether developing or developed. In short, this is a global challenge because it’s not just about food and feeding people but also about practically all aspects of an economy and society.

Second is, Climate Change. We are already seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change with weather events such as droughts and storms becoming more frequent and intense, changing rainfall patterns, glaciers have shrunk, ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier, plant and animal ranges have shifted and trees are flowering sooner. In his remarks to the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, Pope Francis blamed environmental degradation on “a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity” that causes untold suffering for the poor who “are cast off by society.” He further stated that, “The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species.”

Third, the global financial crisis revealed significant weaknesses in the financial system and some of the vulnerabilities that can result from having such an interconnected global market. The Great Recession hit many developed economies in the wake of the financial crisis of 2007-2008. After a year the great recession was declared to come to its end, but many could still feel its ill-effects even up to this current time. In fact, several years after the crisis, the world economy is still struggling with slow growth, unconventional monetary policy in major economies, and constrained government budgets.

Fourth, there is massive forced migration. International migration has become a reality that touches almost every corner of the globe. The least expensive modern means of transport has made it easier and faster for people to move. A complex of factors such as civil conflicts, human rights abuse, extreme poverty, and misguided development schemes have produced in many countries around the world an unprecedented number of migrant workers and people looking for jobs beyond their national borders. Migration is changing the face of the world as the majority of the world’s population now lives in large conurbations that have created a pluralization of societies never before seen on such a scale. A collateral effect of migration is the proliferation of human trafficking. Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery—a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 20.9 million people around the world.
Fifth, the push for economic growth in recent decades has led to substantial increases in wealth for large numbers of people across the globe. But despite huge gains in global economic output, there is evidence that our current social, political and economic systems are exacerbating inequalities, rather than reducing them. The erratic patterns of global capitalism are increasing patterns of inequality in many parts of the world.

Sixth, the communication technologies are changing the way we live, work, produce and consume. Some sectors are saying that we are entering the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a technological transformation driven by a ubiquitous and mobile internet.

The Perspective of the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church is no stranger to globalization in a certain sense. The Church’s mission from the beginning has been to spread the Good News to every corner of the earth. In the course of pursuing that mission for 2,000 years, she has time and again confronted challenges posed by transformations of culture as well as by cultural differences. These great transformations in the history of the Church are seen as evolving phases rather than culminations.

Globalization seems to be spreading a thin transnational culture that is not only resistant to ethical perspectives, but inimical to respect for the dignity of all members of the human family. The Catholic social tradition is one in which the faithful are obliged to be active in working for justice, freedom, respect for the dignity of the person, the common good, and peace. Pope John Paul II has counseled and modeled a cautiously hopeful view of globalization. Provided that the principle of common humanity is recognized, he said in his World Day of Peace Message in 2000, “this recognition can give the world as it is today — marked by the process of globalization — a soul, a meaning and a direction. Globalization, for all its risks, also offers exceptional and promising opportunities, precisely with a view to enabling humanity to become a single family, built on the values of justice, equity and solidarity.”

Pope Francis in his recent address to the Roman Roundtable of Global Foundation on January 14, 2017 called for a more fraternal and cooperative globalization as opposed to the globalization of indifference.  This means that we need to take a second look, trying to understand the concepts of human dignity and human rights and our responsibility to one another, and to find solutions that are constructive going forward.

As the global community, developed and envisioned the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals, Pope Francis reiterated the importance of respecting human dignity – the lack of concern for persons is a sign of regression and dehumanization in any political or economic system. The Church reminds the world of the globality of human nature and of the need for a universal solidarity between all peoples. Christian solidarity consists in making ourselves responsible for the welfare of others. It is more than compassion or sentiments, as it calls for a full reciprocity in human relationships.

The Challenges of Globalization to the Consecrated Life

Undoubtedly, the current world arena greatly influences the faith-life and witnessing of Christian faith. Globalization affects our daily lives in all aspects. Seemingly, the dynamics involved could not be fully understood, because it is developing and evolving, a process whose outcome is still unclear.

An important sector of the Church, the consecrated life has been affected positively and negatively  by this phenomenon, provoking  a critical situation that has been evident in the recent decades:   radical shifts in demographics, economic problems stemming from the global financial crisis, restructuring of presences, understanding the mission in the contemporary times, the weakening of fraternal and the spiritual life, issues of internationalization, the threats posed by relativism and a sense of isolation and social irrelevance, together with the preoccupation over an uncertain future among others. Are we living in a time of upheaval that will call forth new forms of consecrated life even as current institutes either radically reconstitute themselves or disappear altogether?

History would teach us that despite the challenges of the changing times, the religious institutes of men and women in the Catholic Church have often emerged at times of upheaval or profound social change. The eremitic and monastic movements of the fourth century began in Syria and Egypt in response to Christianity no longer a persecuted minority in the Roman Empire, but now the default religious position of the majority. Monasticism in the West both guarded a classical heritage and was the seedbed of a missionary movement that evangelized northern Europe and beyond. The rise of the mendicant orders in the thirteenth century was a response to the rebirth of the cities in medieval Europe and to new institutions such as the universities. The apostolic orders of the early modern period and then again at the time of the Industrial Revolution and the expansionist policies of imperial Europe in the nineteenth century, addressed social needs that had been exacerbated by urbanization, industrialization and colonialism.

 

From the many current studies and  researches  made on the consecrated life, one could conclude that the  present form—structures, organization, work methods, lifestyle—does not respond adequately to the needs and challenges of a society that is changed and is changing radically and is shaped by modern information and communication technologies. As consecrated men and women of our time, the change in an era is leading us to a new paradigm, shifting gears in order to seek for new way of being in the Church and in the world.

The Order of Servants of Mary:  A Paradigm Shift

In the last three decades, the Order developed and evolved in an unprecedented manner with new openings in Asia and Africa and at the same time attempts of re-foundation of the Order were made in the east European bloc. With the recent developments in the Order, the newer foundations are looking for expansions and collaboration with the older jurisdictions. The presence of multi-cultural communities is making itself more evident in these past years. Many vocations coming in from countries where we are not present, is a current phenomenon. Formation work is becoming more complex and demanding, from cross-cultural and inter-generational perspectives.

These new developments are challenging our common vocation as Servites in the aspects of evangelization, Servite spirituality, cross-cultural integration, community life, vocations, formation, witnessing and ministry in the present history. We have to discern and evaluate this new and emerging reality in order to respond to the needs of the times.

A Call to a Renewed Consecrated Life

Globalization demands of us new competencies that are able to face new complexities, but at the core, our mission is still the same: to proclaim Christ to the world and to reach out to those who find themselves at the margins and peripheries of life.

We have to go back at the core of our “sequela Christi”. We have to proclaim Jesus, the Incarnate Word especially in this crucial moment of our history. By His gratuitous act of love, our spiritual lives must bring us to be in touch intimately with our own humanity. We have to feel anew that love affair we had and still have with our Savior. As Christians and consecrated persons we must be passionate about Christ and transmit the same passion to everyone. The Gospel should not only be proclaimed to others, it should serve as our mirror as we continue to tread along the many and diverse crossroads in life.

Listening to His Word must lead us to respond to the plight of brothers and sisters. It is not enough to read it; it is not enough to meditate. Jesus asks us to implement it, to live his words. While globalization and technological developments have given us more and more control over the external world, they have given us little grasp of the inner world of the human person and the ultimate questions of human existence. It has somehow blinded us to see the suffering reality of our people.

We have to go back to the very core of our vocation and be able to read the signs of the times and creatively interpret our servite charism. The new call urges us to go to the existential peripheries of life where the marginalized, the hopeless, migrants, refugees, abandoned, sick and elderly, and desperate young people are waiting. Our life is above all a life of radical self-giving in service to others even in the midst of ingratitude, misunderstanding, and rejection and downright evil.

We may ask ourselves: am I anxious for God, anxious to proclaim him, to make him known? How passionate am I for Christ and for humanity? Do I have the same passion for our people; am I close to them to the point of sharing in their joys and sorrows, thus truly understanding their needs and helping to respond to them?

New Vocations

One important aspect of consecrated life is vocation. While there is abundance of vocations coming from the southern hemisphere of the world, the prospect of new vocations seems to be gloomy in the western jurisdictions of the Order. Despite this contrasting vocation reality, it is imperative that we continue to promote Servite vocation.  In order to develop effective vocation programs, every vocation director or directress, or every Servite in particular, must be familiar with the reality of the young people of today.

When we speak of the young people of today, we are dealing with the so-called Generation Y (the Millennial) and the Generation Z (also known as Post-Millennial, the iGeneration, Founders, Plurals, or the Homeland Generation).  The Generation Y is the generation of children born between 1982 and 2002, some 81 million children who have taken over K-12, have already entered college and the workforce. It is generally marked by an increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies. On the other hand, the Generation Z is the demographic cohort following the Millennial. Demographers and researchers typically use starting birth years that range from the mid-1990s to early 2000. A significant aspect of this generation is the widespread usage of the Internet from a young age. They are typically thought of as being comfortable with technology, and interacting on social media websites for a significant portion of their socializing.

Both generations live in two parallel worlds. Their lives are interwoven both in the real and virtual world. The knowledge of reality passes almost exclusively through the mediation of social media. For many young people the virtual world is a place where you feel the security and the freedom to express themselves without fear of being judged.

Vocations today, in addition to the initiative of God, arise as a result of a new cultural mediation deeply that let glimpse the youth of today. This digital world, also called the sixth continent that favors the new anthropologies and ways of thinking.

Am I ready to go out from my comfort zone to be with the young people of today? How prepared am I to meet this generation in the digital world they call their new “home.”

Collaborative Ministry

Faced with the challenge of providing services to people, the enormous task of maintaining huge structures and with fewer members, many religious institutes find themselves in this desperate situation. Many are abandoning their ministries, closing communities and selling their properties.  Pope Francis reminds that we should open ourselves to a new religious life style that is inclusive – ad-intra e ad-extra, a kind of “networking” where communion and the encounter between different communities, institutes, charisms and vocation becomes a journey of hope. No one builds the future by isolating themselves. The present situation of every religious institute calls for communion that is always open to encounter, dialogue, listening, and mutual aid. In this endeavor we must not forget the important role of our lay groups who, with consecrated persons, share the same ideal, spirit, and mission.

Collaborative ministry is not new in the Order. We have had experience of collaborative effort in various aspects among the various members of the Servite Family. Even in the present times cooperation inside the family is visible in some regions of world. We have to encourage and foster this significant value in order to foster and deepen our fraternal spirit.

Do you find this “time” an opportune occasion for us to step out more courageously from the confines of our respective Institutes and to work together, at the local and global levels, on projects involving formation, evangelization, and social action? As a family, which area are we willing to collaborate and promote a common endeavor? What does lay active participation and involvement means to me?

The Challenge of the Multicultural and Extraterritorial Communities

In the early eighties, Italian congregations began their work of recruitment of new vocations from Asia and Africa. Many young people came to have their initial formation in Italy and eventually some of them stayed to do their mission work in Italy and other countries. With the end of communism in the Eastern Europe, a new wave of vocations was coming from this bloc and as a result there have been efforts of re-foundations and new openings among some religious institutes. One thing that is happening now is the fact that we are living through such a time of contraction as has happened at different times in the past, as religious institutes merge their provinces, and smaller institutes merge together into new entities.

 

In the recent years with decreasing number of vocations in Europe, North America and opening of new mission territories, there seems to be a trend of calling confreres and sisters from other jurisdictions to help out in continuing the congregation’s mission. Religious communities, which have become more multicultural from the point of view of ethnicity and culture, demand that superiors and all the members of these communities become sensitive to this new reality. Nevertheless, while this constitutes a challenge to religious life, it is good to affirm the fact that we are not dealing with something that is impossible. Those in leadership are constantly faced with a challenge of animating communities towards a socio-cultural, relational, ecclesial integration among its members. Another reality that is in parallel is the so-called extraterritorial communities (communities (friars/sisters) of the same ethnic group operating in a foreign jurisdiction/territory). There is an urgent need to address the current situation by creating venues for an open dialogue, community sessions, reflections and discussions of the past and present experiences. A periodic evaluation has to be conducted in order to monitor the problems, processes and progress of mutual integration and eventually develop manuals and guidelines to facilitate the creation and implementation of similar projects in the future.

 

Are we open, sensitive and willing to understand the richness and the values of culture, as well as respect the cultural characteristics of the brothers and sisters who form part of our communities? Are we ready to dialogue, confront and exchange our present experiences?

 

 

Conclusion and Recommendations

We are called to engage in dialogue and to seek resolutions and solutions in order to respond the challenging issues of the times. We are called to analyze these new experiences and ways of thinking in order to arrive at new ways of living and acting. Every Servite, therefore, must be equipped with a capacity for dialogue, acquire the ability to speak the language of his contemporaries and assimilate the riches of diverse cultural and religious thought. (cf OSM Const 107)

In our ardent desire towards a paradigm shift, I would like to recommend the working method proposed by the Church. In Mater et Magistra Pope John XXIII affirms the process of See, Judge, Act as a way of reading and responding to the signs of the time:

Seeing, hearing, and experiencing the lived reality of individuals and communities. Naming what is happening that causes you concern and examining carefully and intentionally the primary data of the situation. What are the people in this situation doing, feeling, and saying? What is happening to them and how do you/they respond? What do you know about this issue or what did you observe? What specific facts can you cite about this issue or experience? What did you learn or observe? How do you feel in the face of this issue or experience? How does it touch you personally? Therefore, there is a need to be connected – to be personally connected with one’s reality around him.

To Judge is to analyze the situation and make an informed judgment about it. Judging involves Social Analysis and Theological reflection. Social analysis helps us to obtain a more complete picture of the social situation by exploring its historical and structural relationships. Why does this situation exist? What are the root causes? Theological Reflection explores the experience and its deeper analysis, in dialogue with the religious tradition. What Scripture passages can help us to interpret this experience? How do biblical values us to see this reality in a different way? What does Catholic social teaching say about this issue? What key principles from Catholic social teaching apply to this situation?

And lastly, what action needs to be taken to change the situation? To address root causes? How would you transform the structures and relationships that produce this situation? How can you act to empower those who are disadvantaged in this situation? How will you evaluate the effectiveness of your action?

We can live life as chronos by doing all the things we must do each day. Or we can live life as kairos, by looking for meaning among the circumstances of our day.

This is the time for innovation.

This is the favorable time to begin anew with zeal and enthusiasm.

This is the propitious time to make a leap of faith.

This is the right to time to decide for a better future.

This is the opportune time to act together.

 

Fr. Rhett M. Sarabia, OSM

A MULTI-FACETED ECOLOGY, THE NEW IDEAL FOR RELIGIOUS ORDERS

The Rome bulletin Adista transcribed the principal parts of a talk delivered by the president of the Spanish Conference of Religious (Confer), Fr. Alejandro Fernandez Barrajon, a religious from the Order of Our Lady of Mercy (June 7, 2008, pp. 6-9). Confer is an organization that represents 64,000 religious in Spain and has an increasingly influential voice in national events. Barrajon’s speech – entitled “Consecrated Life and the Integrity of Creation” – was delivered at the Week of Religious Life Conference that took place in Bilbao.

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The talk is of interest because it summarizes and gives shape to a general tendency that is becoming prevalent in religious orders and congregations around the world, as well as in the secular clergy.

An anti-capitalist ecological approach

Early in his presentation, Fr. Fernandez Barrajon takes an anti-capitalist approach. Indeed, he says: “The ecological situation of the planet is reaching an irreversible deterioration caused by a devastating model of development … The solution implies, therefore, a change in the consumer lifestyle of developed society toward a reduction of consumer products and a greater respect for the environment.”

Why should religious orders and the Church enter the green arena to promote ecology? He answers: “In the face of the frightening organization of the prevailing system, Confer proposes an evangelical, compassionate and Samaritan spirituality that promotes a simple, welcoming and common life; a transforming and liberating social praxis that may interest a network of Church congregations and institutions as well as other social movements.”

Fr. Barrajon’s first aim, then, is to engage the religious orders in a liberating social movement in order to change the present day consumer mentality. Only secondarily does he refer to ecology properly speaking. “We must favor the awakening of an ecological consciousness that expresses itself through concrete, coherent options,” he says.

According to the president of Confer, global warming, droughts, flooding, forest destruction, desert growth around the world – along with other meteorological disasters – are caused directly or indirectly by the present-day economy. He warns: “The alarm is being sounded in many places of the world, but strong economic interests and the established power systems silence those voices in order to maintain their political weight and sustain these empires.” Further, he emphatically insists: “Today more than ever, we must stop the economic dynamics that are destroying everything.”

These few excerpts from the Spanish religious would already be enough to include him as a member of Liberation Theology, which has caused – and continues to produce – so much damage. Instead of taking up the banner to liberate the poor – as the Boffs, Bettos and Gutierrez did – he pretends to save the planet. But to do so he must destroy the same “enemy” that Liberation Theology aimed to demolish, that is, Capitalism. At the very least, one can say that Liberation Theology and Ecological Theology are friendly and helpful fellow travelers on the same road.

Ecology of man, nature and spirit

Fr. Barrajon further distinguishes three types of ecology: of man, of nature, and of the spirit.  His ecology of man makes the same cry against poverty that we have always heard from Communists, Socialists, Distributists and Progressivists. Here is his new ecological presentation of the same problem:
“The ecology of man gives first place to the shameful situation of radical poverty in which millions of human beings live. This is the most perverse attack on ecology. In the face of the misery of so many human beings without a future or hope, there can be no half-measures. … above all, at a time when there are abundant natural and economic resources to respond to this situation that cries out to Heaven.”

Now we have the Spanish religious demanding that this same “consumer economy” he wants to destroy should first voluntarily give everything to the poor. If he really wants to be just, why doesn’t Fr. Barrajon at least acknowledge that it is Capitalism that has produced the abundance of food and goods he wants to distribute? It would be the only decent position to take. He could, for example, say: ‘You are very efficient, but bad.’ But his hatred for the system is so deep-rooted that his only mention of its efficiency is to demand that the surplus of goods it produces must be given to the poor.

Here is another curious thing: Why doesn’t Barrajon make the same demand to the Communist systems? After all, taking advantage of Nixon’s detente policy, Carter’s economic protection, and artificial injections of capital from the Western bourgeoisie, China has become a strong economic power. It has such a surplus of money that it is practically “buying” many countries in Africa, that is to say, entering into controlling contracts that allow China direct exploitation of Africa’s natural riches.

Fr, Barrajon, who blames Europe for contaminating the waters and killing the fish of Lake Victoria in Africa, conveniently forgets to mention that China is economically dominating and exploiting entire countries in Africa (1). It is an omission that appears very biased: everything that is Capitalist is bad; everything that is Communist escapes his razor-sharp indignation. It seems to indicate his tendency to favor the latter system.

Just in passing: Barrajon includes all immigration issues around the world as part of the ecology of man. Then he goes on to explain the ecology of nature. Suddenly he becomes poetic and imagines an illusory nature: “Nature is God’s paradise for humankind,” he croons. Since he does not seem to believe in the real Paradise where our first parents resided, he applies the words of Genesis to nature as it exists now. Original sin and God’s punishment are also out of Barrajon’s picture. He says about today’s nature what the Bible says about all of creation: “And [God] saw that the ensemble was good.”

As a religious, Fr. Barrajon should know that after original sin, the ensemble of nature was chastised in different degrees. But he pretends there was no such punishment. So, for him, there would be no salmonella from eggs, no mad-cow disease from beef, no bird flu virus from poultry, no bubonic plague from rats, no malaria from mosquitoes; rather, everything is good and a part of “God’s paradise.” The only blame should be placed on the consumer system. In his talk, he returns to this indictment: “Hidden behind the disrespect for and destruction of nature is an oppressive system saturated with harmful interests.”

Now, let us go to his ecology of the spirit, which in principle should be his main point, since he is addressing the topic of religious life. Here, Fr. Fernandez Barrajon introduces and mixes two meanings of ecology of spirit.

His first meaning is to seek a better-quality life. He states: “Definitively, we should look for those areas where a greater and better-quality life is possible. Ours is indisputably a commitment to a quality life. The ecology of spirituality signifies a more complete vision of nature that is not just the material reality.”
His second meaning considers the earth itself as an object of faith… He says: “We need to make ideological and emotional changes to situate ourselves correctly into our context with a spiritual gaze that makes us value and love our earth as a privileged and necessary ambit for the faith.”

To understand what Barrajon wants to say in this last paragraph, a distinction must be made. The traditional Catholic teaching tells us that all of nature is a reflection of God’s wisdom and should be the object of our contemplation as well as an instrument to know, love and serve the Creator. However, Catholic teaching does not affirm that the contemplation of the earth as such is “necessary,” as Barrajon declares. I think that it is convenient, but in essence it is dispensable. A Catholic may very well know God through other means. This supposed necessity to love the earth that Barrajon advocates takes on a kind of Buddhist or Hindu connotation. It looks like he is affirming that people must in some way adore a pantheistic divine presence disseminated on the earth or some pagan deity such as Gaia, a mythological entity that supposedly is the goodness of the earth.

But Barrajon doesn’t linger long in the theoretical; he quickly returns to practical measures: no wasting water in showers, no unneeded lights turned on, no air-conditioners, no elevators in three or four-storied buildings. These comforts should be avoided; otherwise, “we are contributing to a scandalous inequality, to a structural injustice, to the arrogant abuse of the man who has and wants everything for himself.”

A new religious ideal

Fr. Fernandez Barrajon closes his talk with an invitation for religious to adopt a new ideal. The religious under his direction should strive for “an engaged, coherent spirituality that will lead us along the path of austerity, bring us close to the poor, and give us the disposition to share our lives and goods. The obsolete structures that give us an image of wealth should gradually be shut down, in some cases by necessity, in others by conviction.”Small ecological communities will sprout that will be strongly committed to a serene, peaceful living in nature, using solar energy, consuming natural products, proposing an open spirituality and ecological exercises as profound as the spiritual ones.”

Communism, Buddhism and Yoga mixing with Catholicism would seem to be on the horizon to mold these religious groups of the future and replace the traditional Catholic ideals of the religious life as it existed before Vatican II. Insofar as the views of Fr. Fernandez Barrajon will prevail, the future will give us a Liberation Theology with another name, composed of Base Christian Communities with a green touch.

What is the future of religious life in the vocation crisis?

Seán D. Sammon, F.M.S., is a scholar-in-residence at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

 

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Lack of imagination and fear of innovation on the part of the church as a whole are two elements obstructing the renewal of contemporary religious life, for every baptized Catholic has a role to play in the task of reimagining this way of living. In declaring 2015 a year dedicated to consecrated life and challenging men and women religious to “wake up the world,” Pope Francis was speaking to the church’s hierarchy and its lay men and women as well.

Faced with fewer vocations and an aging membership, many believers appear to have forgotten the history of consecrated life and the Holy Spirit’s role in the work of its renewal. Religious life has passed through far more difficult days than the present. During the years just after the French Revolution, for instance, not only was its future in question; so too was the church’s.

Just before the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church resembled a pyramid, with the clergy, men and women religious and the laity occupying the structure’s top, middle and bottom tiers respectively. The council’s unequivocal statement that all Christians, clergy and laity alike, are baptized into the one mission of proclaiming the kingdom of God and its imminence put an end to that view of the church.

This shift in understanding moved religious life from being within the hierarchical church to its rightful place within the charismatic church, helping to clarify its nature and purpose. Never intended to be an ecclesiastical workforce, sisters, religious priests and brothers are meant to be the church’s living memory of what it can be, longs to be and must be. Their job is to continually remind the larger body about its true nature.

Crises Past and Present

Tempted to wring our hands about the current state of religious life, it is helpful to remember that religious congregations experience crises at each stage in their development. During their early years most groups face three: in leadership, direction and legitimacy. As they swell in numbers and spread out geographically they confront another: maintaining unity in the midst of rapid growth.

By the time territorial expansion slows down, the congregation usually has moved into a stable phase. Success marks its undertakings; members are held in high esteem. Having accumulated considerable human and financial resources, the group as a whole often begins to forget the reasons for which it came into existence; members behave as if everything depended upon their efforts alone.

At the onset of the council, many religious congregations found themselves in just such a place. Boasting more members than at any other time in their history and applicants aplenty, the vast majority of men and women religious believed that renewal meant ever increasing numbers, bigger and better institutions, and greater respect and prestige.

Instead, a period of surprising change ensued. Membership began to decrease through departures and the lack of new recruits; familiar ways of living and interacting were put aside; long-standing institutional commitments were abandoned. The groups’ service to the church became haphazard.

As congregations grew smaller in size and older in age, with fewer candidates entering and their place and purpose in the church less clear, a number of groups began to wonder if their way of life was dying. It may come as a surprise to some to hear it said that this is exactly where religious life should be today in the process of renewal. Like it or not, breakdown and disintegration appear to be the means God uses to prepare congregations and their members for deep and thorough transformation.

As they began to renew their congregations, were men and women religious naïve about the cost of change? Probably. To begin with, many believed that if change were necessary and explained clearly, everything would proceed in an orderly manner. But planned change can be as disruptive as unplanned change. It unsettles our lives and often leaves us feeling disoriented. Also, many men and women religious failed to realize that change would take place on several levels: the level of consecrated life itself, the level of individual congregations and the level of the individual within each congregation.

So, we must ask: Is there reason to be optimistic today about the future of religious life? To answer that question, we must admit that it is foolhardy to believe that all the church’s various forms of consecrated life will renew themselves in the same manner or arrive at the same outcome. The members of its monastic, mendicant and apostolic expressions trace their origins back to specific times in history that were fraught with unique challenges. They also hold fast to different understandings about community life and mission.

Religious congregations today face three possible outcomes as they labor to renew themselves: extinction, minimal survival and renewal. Some congregations have served their purpose in the church and will cease to exist. Others will continue but with a significantly reduced membership.

Still others will renew themselves. To do so, they must first be courageous in responding to the real challenges facing our world and church today; second, have a membership willing to allow itself the experience of personal and congregational conversion; and third, rediscover the spirit of their founding charism.

Signs of Renewal

In recent years, a number of lay men and women have claimed as their own the charism of one or another religious congregation. Neither pseudo-religious nor substitutes hired to cover a shortfall of vowed members in congregational ministries, they are sharers in the group’s charism and co-responsible for its ministry. As such, these lay partners have an essential role to play in redefining consecrated life for the 21st century.

Today many lay partners are bound to a particular congregation through the group’s works. Serving alongside men and women religious, they too struggle to identify those characteristic features that distinguish their efforts from those of other congregations. A parish or university founded in the Franciscan tradition should be able to distinguish itself from one established by Jesuits, Marists or Dominicans. Over time, lay partners, along with the members of the founding congregation, become a living endowment for the institutions in which they minister, ensuring that the institutional identity is clear and the founding values respected.

How can the members of a congregation judge that they have turned a corner in the process of renewal? When a significant portion of them admit that their present life and the group’s structures are neither personally satisfying nor appropriately responsive to the major needs of today’s church and world.

At the same time, there must also be willingness on the part of those involved to change their current ways of living and acting and to develop new and renewed means of service. The individualism that plagues a number of groups at the moment must be confronted. Members must also grow in interdependence and show willingness to alter personal plans for the sake of the common good.

Groups will also know that they have turned a corner when they are able to assess the congregation’s works honestly. Many of the ministries for which men and women religious continue to take responsibility no longer need their presence. They must be willing to put aside their concern with these institutions and ask themselves: To what absolute human needs would our founder respond were he or she to arrive in this country today? Where would we find him or her, what groups would he or she choose to serve, what means would he or she use to evangelize? Men and women religious were meant to be on the margins, in those places where the church is not.

Today congregations must take steps to ground themselves again in the biblical roots of religious life and to use this foundation to rebuild community life. This will require new models suitable for adults who have come together to share life around the Gospel. For genuine renewal to take place, transformation also must move beyond the personal. The networking of like-minded members is essential for any process of renewal to take root and flourish.

As they address these tasks, individual men and women religious and their congregations will develop a new sense of personal and corporate identity and purpose. For personal identity to be clear, a sister, brother or religious priest must be in love with Jesus Christ and have grown over time to resemble a living portrait of his or her founder.

Organizational identity, though similar to personal identity, has some distinct characteristics of its own. Groups with a strong organizational identity stand for something; they have a backbone. They claim a mission that is unique or, if similar to the mission of other groups, different from them in some unique way. Finally, these groups have a set of values that have stood the test of time.

Examples of congregations that are moving into a new phase of renewal are not easily labeled. Included among their number are groups that have developed a more profound understanding about their foundational spirituality and have spent time addressing important issues of community life. No longer defining the latter as a family, they have reaffirmed that life together is for the purpose of mission, centered around faith and spirituality and marked by the members’ genuine interest in one another, as well as a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Reclaiming Charisms

Our world and church today are facing challenges far more profound than the superficial problems often reported by the media. The church, in particular, needs to remain aware of them as it helps religious congregations re-evaluate their mission and chart their future.

For example, the Catholic Church has during the last century witnessed the single greatest demographic shift in its 2,000-year history. At the outset of the 20th century, almost 70 percent of its members were found in Europe and North America; today more than two thirds of Roman Catholics live in the Southern Hemisphere. That number is projected to continue to grow during the years just ahead. The church in the Northern Hemisphere also once focused its attention on the young; today it is dealing with the fastest growing aging population in human history.

The growing influence of Islam worldwide, the rise of Pentecostalism, our failure as a church to effectively evangelize emerging generations of young Catholics, a set of social teachings that were formed for a world dominated by the Industrial Revolution and the transforming influence of information technology are other important developments that need to be considered as well.

There are groups working to respond to the human and spiritual needs of today’s world. My own Marist institute, for example, in response to Pope John Paul II’s call for a greater Christian presence on the continent of Asia, decided to mission an additional 150 brothers to that region. Our initial appeal for volunteers brought numbers far in excess of what we had hoped for.

John C. Haughey, S.J., once remarked that attempting to define charism is a bit like trying to capture the wind in a bottle. For charism is a free gift of the Spirit given for the good of the church and the use of all.

Pope Paul VI, who defined the charism of religious life as the fruit of the Holy Spirit, who is always at work within the church, identified these signs of its presence: bold initiatives, constancy in the giving of oneself, humility in bearing with adversities, fidelity to the Lord, a courageous response to the pressing needs of the day and willingness to be part of the church.

What, then, does reclaiming charism mean for the members of religious congregations and their lay partners today? Something quite simple: believing that the Spirit of God who was so active and alive in their founder longs to live and breathe in each of them today. Reclaiming charism means letting the Spirit lead, taking a chance that God’s ideas might, on occasion, be better than our own and asking those questions that are on everyone’s mind and in everyone’s heart, but on the lips of only a few. This approach translates into daring, even unexpected action, ministries that respond to today’s absolute human needs, centeredness in Jesus Christ and his Gospel.

We are falling short in the work of renewal because our designs for the future are not daring enough; fear and routine cause us to bicker over accidentals rather than embrace what is essential to this way of life; our resistance to change makes us reluctant to become involved with the Holy Spirit.

Consequently, those of us in our church with an interest in renewing religious congregations for today’s world must develop a disposition of will by which we separate ourselves from everything and everyone that might hinder our ability to hear the Word of God. As a result of grace and through ascetical practice, what God wants for us will become eventually what we want; God’s will becomes our will.

Such a spirituality does not come cheaply. It demands a habit of prayer that helps us come to know who Jesus is and how he acts and decides. So, too, contemplation of Jesus in the Gospels is the essential discipline that makes this type of decision-making possible. For contemplation of this nature schools our hearts and guides us to decisions that bring us closer to God.

Making a spirituality of decision-making our own will allow us to rise above the culture wars that have plagued our church for too many years now. It will allow us to work together to envision a religious life, in all its different forms, that is suitable for the 21st century and worth the price asked of those called to consecrated life: the gift of their life, a religious life that will, once again, truly “wake up our world.”

This article also appeared in print, under the headline “Religious Life Reimagined,” in the September 14, 2015 issue

 

ST. IGNATIUS PARISH, EL PASO, TEXAS, USA: Servants of Mary at the service of the Immigrants

At the beginning of this year President Trump signed three executive orders stating that  that he will order the construction of a Mexican border wall, the first in a series of actions to crack down on immigrants, which will include slashing the number of refugees who can resettle in the United States, and blocking Syrians and others from what are called “terror-prone nations” from entering, at least temporarily.

 

Everyone has been talking about it, both inside the US and at the wider global sphere. Fear overshadows the whole community atmosphere. There are reports that families are keeping children out of school and workers are staying off the job out of fear that enforcement teams could swoop in at any minute. Pope Francis expressed that these measures, which mean the rejection of the stranger, the rejection of the person in need, the rejection of those who suffer, are manifestly un-Christian and utterly contrary to the Gospel. He said, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the Gospel.”

Houses of worship have historically provided refuge to those facing deportation. The climate created by the Trump administration’s rhetoric is forcing churches to do more. They are now providing sanctuary of all kinds to hundreds of people: spiritual, moral, legal, financial, and physical support as the need arises.  Different churches have been  working together to organize rapid response teams, connected by email and phone chains, or even encrypted messaging. Their goal: to respond to raids, offer assistance and even organize protests.

The Catholic parishes around the country, play a vital role in the global refugee crisis by welcoming newcomers.  The number of churches that are actively offering sanctuary — and where immigrants are taking them up on it — is unclear. But since Trump was elected in November last year, the number of churches in the United States expressing willingness to offer sanctuary has increased in numbers. Offering sanctuary at a church can involve providing food and shelter for an immigrant, as well as staffing volunteers to stay with that person around the clock. It offered a concrete way for people to respond and show support and solidarity with undocumented people. Undocumented immigrants fearing imminent deportation feel somewhat safer there.

One of the many church-run facilities in the US such as the St. Ignatius parish run by the Order of Servants of Mary of the Mexican Province  serve as a sanctuary for undocumented  immigrants. Fr. Tobias Macias, OSM has been the parish priest for four years now. He has assisted undocumented immigrants who would arrive by bus travelling for months without food, water and use of  hygienic facilities. He said that when these displaced persons arrive they are ushered to a reception room finding a welcoming and homely atmosphere. The rooms of  second floor of the former school have been converted to bedrooms, reception hall or a storage room for personal items such as hygienic products, clothes, shoes, etc. The center serves as a half-way facility while the persons await for preparation of necessary documents and money to be sent by their relatives for transport fare in view of family reunification. Fr. Tobias said the “Stewardship and co-responsibility is doing what you have to do by serving those who are  most in need. When the love of God touches your heart, you are able help those who are most in need.”

Marian Exhibit

Evento 1 D Quater (1)

‘The Word is a gift. Other persons are a gift’ Pope’s Message for Lent 2017

papa formatori

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts” (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us. Even when we sin, he patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, he shows us his readiness to forgive (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).

Lent is a favorable season for deepening our spiritual life through the means of sanctification offered us by the Church: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. At the basis of everything is the word of God, which during this season we are invited to hear and ponder more deeply. I would now like to consider the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (cf. Lk 16:19-31). Let us find inspiration in this meaningful story, for it provides a key to understanding what we need to do in order to attain true happiness and eternal life. It exhorts us to sincere conversion.

1. The other person is a gift

The parable begins by presenting its two main characters. The poor man is described in greater detail: he is wretched and lacks the strength even to stand. Lying before the door of the rich man, he fed on the crumbs falling from his table. His body is full of sores and dogs come to lick his wounds (cf. vv. 20-21). The picture is one of great misery; it portrays a man disgraced and pitiful.

The scene is even more dramatic if we consider that the poor man is called Lazarus: a name full of promise, which literally means “God helps”. This character is not anonymous. His features are clearly delineated and he appears as an individual with his own story. While practically invisible to the rich man, we see and know him as someone familiar. He becomes a face, and as such, a gift, a priceless treasure, a human being whom God loves and cares for, despite his concrete condition as an outcast (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).

Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift. A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value. Even the poor person at the door of the rich is not a nuisance, but a summons to conversion and to change. The parable first invites us to open the doors of our heart to others because each person is a gift, whether it be our neighbor or an anonymous pauper. Lent is a favorable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ. Each of us meets people like this every day. Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect and love. The word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life, especially when it is weak and vulnerable. But in order to do this, we have to take seriously what the Gospel tells us about the rich man.

2. Sin blinds us

The parable is unsparing in its description of the contradictions associated with the rich man (cf. v. 19). Unlike poor Lazarus, he does not have a name; he is simply called “a rich man”. His opulence was seen in his extravagant and expensive robes. Purple cloth was even more precious than silver and gold, and was thus reserved to divinities (cf. Jer 10:9) and kings (cf. Jg 8:26), while fine linen gave one an almost sacred character. The man was clearly ostentatious about his wealth, and in the habit of displaying it daily: “He feasted sumptuously every day” (v. 19). In him we can catch a dramatic glimpse of the corruption of sin, which progresses in three successive stages: love of money, vanity and pride (cf. Homily, 20 September 2013).

The Apostle Paul tells us that “the love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Tim 6:10). It is the main cause of corruption and a source of envy, strife and suspicion. Money can come to dominate us, even to the point of becoming a tyrannical idol (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 55). Instead of being an instrument at our service for doing good and showing solidarity towards others, money can chain us and the entire world to a selfish logic that leaves no room for love and hinders peace.

The parable then shows that the rich man’s greed makes him vain. His personality finds expression in appearances, in showing others what he can do. But his appearance masks an interior emptiness. His life is a prisoner to outward appearances, to the most superficial and fleeting aspects of existence (cf. ibid., 62).

The lowest rung of this moral degradation is pride. The rich man dresses like a king and acts like a god, forgetting that he is merely mortal. For those corrupted by love of riches, nothing exists beyond their own ego. Those around them do not come into their line of sight. The result of attachment to money is a sort of blindness. The rich man does not see the poor man who is starving, hurting, lying at his door.

Looking at this character, we can understand why the Gospel so bluntly condemns the love of money: “No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or be attached to the first and despise the second. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money” (Mt 6:24).

3. The Word is a gift

The Gospel of the rich man and Lazarus helps us to make a good preparation for the approach of Easter. The liturgy of Ash Wednesday invites us to an experience quite similar to that of the rich man. When the priest imposes the ashes on our heads, he repeats the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. As it turned out, the rich man and the poor man both died, and the greater part of the parable takes place in the afterlife. The two characters suddenly discover that “we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Tim 6:7).

We too see what happens in the afterlife. There the rich man speaks at length with Abraham, whom he calls “father” (Lk 16:24.27), as a sign that he belongs to God’s people. This detail makes his life appear all the more contradictory, for until this moment there had been no mention of his relation to God. In fact, there was no place for God in his life. His only god was himself.

The rich man recognizes Lazarus only amid the torments of the afterlife. He wants the poor man to alleviate his suffering with a drop of water. What he asks of Lazarus is similar to what he could have done but never did. Abraham tells him: “During your life you had your fill of good things, just as Lazarus had his fill of bad. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony” (v. 25). In the afterlife, a kind of fairness is restored and life’s evils are balanced by good.

The parable goes on to offer a message for all Christians. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, who are still alive. But Abraham answers: “They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them” (v. 29). Countering the rich man’s objections, he adds: “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead” (v. 31).

The rich man’s real problem thus comes to the fore. At the root of all his ills was the failure to heed God’s word. As a result, he no longer loved God and grew to despise his neighbor. The word of God is alive and powerful, capable of converting hearts and leading them back to God. When we close our heart to the gift of God’s word, we end up closing our heart to the gift of our brothers and sisters.

Dear friends, Lent is the favorable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbor. The Lord, who overcame the deceptions of the Tempter during the forty days in the desert, shows us the path we must take. May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need. I encourage all the faithful to express this spiritual renewal also by sharing in the Lenten Campaigns promoted by many Church organizations in different parts of the world, and thus to favor the culture of encounter in our one human family. Let us pray for one another so that, by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and poor. Then we will be able to experience and share to the full the joy of Easter.

From the Vatican, 18 October 2016,
Feast of Saint Luke the Evangelist

FRANCIS

Original text: English]

© Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

FESTA DELLA PRESENTAZIONE DEL SIGNORE XXI GIORNATA MONDIALE DELLA VITA CONSACRATA

papa formatori

OMELIA DEL SANTO PADRE FRANCESCO

Basilica Vaticana
Giovedì, 2 febbraio 2017

Quando i genitori di Gesù portarono il Bambino per adempiere le prescrizioni della legge, Simeone, «mosso dallo Spirito» (Lc 2,27), prende in braccio il Bambino e comincia un canto di benedizione e di lode: «Perché i miei occhi hanno visto la tua salvezza, preparata da te davanti a tutti i popoli: luce per rivelarti alle genti e gloria del tuo popolo, Israele» (Lc 2,30-32). Simeone non solo ha potuto vedere, ma ha avuto anche il privilegio di abbracciare la speranza sospirata, e questo lo fa esultare di gioia. Il suo cuore gioisce perché Dio abita in mezzo al suo popolo; lo sente carne della sua carne.

La liturgia di oggi ci dice che con quel rito, quaranta giorni dopo la nascita, «il Signore si assoggettava alle prescrizioni della legge antica, ma in realtà veniva incontro al suo popolo che l’attendeva nella fede» (Messale Romano, 2 febbraio, Monizione alla processione di ingresso). L’incontro di Dio col suo popolo suscita la gioia e rinnova la speranza.

Il canto di Simeone è il canto dell’uomo credente che, alla fine dei suoi giorni, può affermare: è vero, la speranza in Dio non delude mai (cfr Rm 5,5), Egli non inganna. Simeone e Anna, nella vecchiaia, sono capaci di una nuova fecondità, e lo testimoniano cantando: la vita merita di essere vissuta con speranza perché il Signore mantiene la sua promessa; e in seguito sarà lo stesso Gesù a spiegare questa promessa nella sinagoga di Nazaret: i malati, i carcerati, quelli che sono soli, i poveri, gli anziani, i peccatori sono anch’essi invitati a intonare lo stesso canto di speranza. Gesù è con loro, è con noi (cfr Lc 4,18-19).

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