“SEND FORTH YOUR SPIRIT, O LORD”
One of the characteristics of the times in which we live is that we are called on to attend seemingly endless meetings. Whatever the nature of our ministry – and even in retirement – there are so many issues that call for our participation in group discussion and community discernment whether at level of the diocese, the particular institution or organization we serve, the Congregation, the circumscription, or the local community. Often these meetings compete with each other for our limited time, interfere with our already busy schedules, and appear to be an unwarranted waste of time and energy. We wonder whether, in fact, such meetings are effectively changing anything and if life would be any different – other than more relaxed and pleasant – should all these meetings cease and we simply gave ourselves wholeheartedly to the work with which we have been entrusted. When we are tempted to grow tired, discouraged and cynical about the various meetings we are asked to attend, however, it is important to remind ourselves that Pentecost, one of the central events that shaped Christian history and indeed history in general, happened not to an individual praying alone but to a group gathered together in a common room: “
Pentecost happened at a meeting and it happened to a community, to a church congregation assembled for prayer, to a family of faith gathered to wait for God’s guidance…
In Christian and Jewish spirituality there are two non-negotiable places where we meet God, alone and in the family. These are not in opposition but complementary …We need to spend time together waiting for God, waiting for a new outflow of heavenly fire that will give us the courage, language, and power we need to make happen in the world what our faith and love envision.” [Fr. Ron Rolheiser OMI, Pentecost Happened at a Meeting]
From June 19 to July 2, 2016 a meeting vital to the life and mission of the Congregation – the Enlarged General Council – will take place at the Passionist Retreat House in Rome. This gathering will bring together the General Council with 23 representatives and 2 Lay Spiritan Associates from the different Unions and circumscriptions that comprise the Spiritan world for essentially a threefold purpose: To evaluate the implementation of the Bagamoyo General Chapter, to look at new means of strengthening and bringing about the Congregation’s objectives and to reinforce collaboration between the circumscriptions, the Unions and the General Council.
Interestingly, the meeting will take place in the context of the 50th anniversary of the transfer of the General Administration from rue des Pyrénées, Paris to Clivo di Cinna, Rome in 1966. Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre, the Superior General at the time, saw this geographical transfer as symbolic of the need for an increasingly international Congregation to reposition itself in the contemporary world, a perennial challenge if we are to be true to our charism and to respond creatively to the needs of evangelization of our times. The event will be marked by a special liturgy on Sunday, June 26 attended by the members of the EGC, several of the members of former General Councils, 31 of whom are still alive, including three Superior Generals, and present and former lay personnel. We will also be united in spirit and in prayer with the other 45 surviving confreres who served in various capacities at the Generalate during the past 50 years and in so doing made an invaluable contribution to the life and mission of the Congregation.
Inter alia, four important documents requested by the Bagamoyo Chapter will be presented for discussion at the Enlarged General Council: a Guide for Spiritan Education, a Guide for Lay Spiritan Associates, a Guide for Financial Management and a revised Directory for the Organization of the Congregation. In many ways these documents encapsulate our collective efforts to ‘reposition ourselves in the contemporary world,’ to respond creatively in the light of our charism to the evolving reality of the Congregation throughout the world and the changing circumstances in which we exercise our ministry at the service of the contemporary poor. We will also revisit the vital issues of safeguarding policies for children and vulnerable adults, the coordination of second cycle formation throughout the Congregation, funding for contemporary mission, and the strengths, weaknesses and challenges of Unions of Circumscriptions.
However, at the heart of all our discussions and deliberations will be an evaluation of our progress in regard to the two central challenges of the Bagamoyo General Chapter: a greater authenticity in our Spiritan life and mission in fidelity to the charism of our Founders and a more inclusive Spiritan family marked by a true sense of belonging and a collective ownership of our missionary commitments and our common future. Conscious of the perceptible gap between the vision expressed in our documents and our lived reality, the Bagamoyo Chapter requested the General Council to initiate an eight-year animation plan to address this deficiency and to build and strengthen our Spiritan identity. A focal point of our EGC reflections will be an assessment of the impact of this animation plan to date and the identification of possible ways in which its effectiveness can be improved between now and the next General Chapter.
At this point in our mandate, the abiding question with which we grapple as a Council is how change can truly be effected in an institution. There has been an increasing call at recent General Chapters for a more centralized authority at the level of the General Council. Libermann was opposed to excessive centralization in the Church; he saw it as a dangerous tendency, contrary to the spirit of the Gospel and an obstacle to the action of the Holy Spirit [Letter to Schwindenhammer, N.D. XI, pp 97-98]. Genuine and lasting change cannot be imposed from outside; it begins in the heart of each individual member. “Transformation begins in our hearts, in our attitudes,” wrote Richard Holloway. “My belief in the Resurrection means that I must commit myself to the possibility of transformation and, however I feel, take the first faltering step towards personal change. Resurrection is refusing to be gripped forever by the fingers of winter, whatever our winter may be. If we say we believe in the Resurrection, the claim only has meaning if we believe in the possibility of transformed lives, transformed attitudes and transformed societies…(if we see) stones rolled away and new possibilities rising from old attitudes.”
Perhaps the problem with adults is that, unlike children, we let go of our hopes and our dreams; our experience of the harsh reality of life erodes our capacity to believe in a better future. Louis Evely, the well-known American writer, saw the refusal to believe in the possibility of change as the fundamental sin against the Holy Spirit: “Sinning against the Holy Spirit means no longer believing He can change the world because we no longer believe He can change us. The genuine atheist isn’t the person who declares, “God doesn’t exist,” but the one who maintains that God can’t remold him or her and denies the Spirit’s infinite power to create, transform, and raise him from the dead. This is the type of person who, whether sixty years old or just fifteen, goes around announcing, “At my age, I can’t change any more: I’m too old, too weak, too far gone. I’ve tried everything, and it hasn’t worked. No, there’s nothing to be done for me!”
As we approach the feast of Pentecost let us make our own the words of the Psalmist for our forthcoming Enlarged General Council and for our Congregation:
“Send us Your Spirit and we shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth!”
[Ps. 104, 30]
John Fogarty, C.S.Sp.