Redemptorist Spirituality

by Juan Manuel Lasso de la Vega, C.Ss.R.
Presented during the Pilgrimage
to the Shrine of Blessed Francis X. Seelos
On October 1, 2002, in New Orleans, LA
  

Introduction

In our congregation the last few general chapters have always proposed a theme for reflection for the whole congregation, presenting it with an inspiring document of high quality: the selection of urgent pastoral needs, the option for the poor and the coherence between spirituality, community and evangelization.

The results of the reflection proposed by the general chapters, have been good but, I think partial and limited. To achieve a reflection capable of creating new, bold and dynamic initiatives for the renewal of the Congregation and for our personal renewal, partial strategies are not enough: we need total and global strategies. For this reason our last chapter proposed Redemptorist spirituality as the prism through which we focus all the dimensions of our life, mission, community, consecration, formation and government. The chapter believed that spirituality would help to better unify and give impetus to the reflections proposed in previous years, giving them a more adequate foundation and a means for accomplishment. Partial strategies that pertain to only one aspect of our lives are not sufficient to give a new spirit and to recreate our institutions and structures; we need global strategies that point us in a new direction. Communal spirituality, that is, sharing the life-giving presence of the Spirit who makes all things new (Rev. 21, 5) is the only means to attain more radical choices for refounding the Congregation.

Redemptorist life in the 21st century will be what we want it to be if we live the present with creative hope in the Spirit. The future does not arrive nor does one wait for it; it is created. Anyone who is content to wait for the future does not have a future. Our Congregation will have a future to the degree that we grow in our shared spirituality, listening each day to the new calls that the Spirit is offering us. On this depend our life and our death.

It is confirmed more and more that spirituality will be the dimension of the future, and that shared spirituality within community is at the heart of change. The present secularization of society is a new opportunity to deepen our common experience of God as something that gives flavor to our whole Redemptorist way of life.

The role of the laity, which is emerging in our Congregation, is a concrete proof of the ecclesial fruitfulness and solid foundation of the charism of St. Alphonsus. The absence of lay people would be a sign of the sterility of the Redemptorist charism. A congregation that doesn’t have the capacity to interest, to radiate, and to share responsibilities with the laity, runs the risk of being merely a mummified historical memory, incapable of new ecclesial initiative or of starting a “new evangelization.”

As Redemptorists we must give society productive models, especially in a world marked by consumerism and efficiency; useful models and working models. And this means we must clearly show the world what it means to be a disciple of Christ today, and show how Christ himself would act in the world today, which continually engenders more injustices and more poverty, greater inequality and new types of slavery.

During the last years we have heard many talks about Redemptorist spirituality. I want to speak only about the dimensions of our spirituality that are important for me.

  1. A living and passionate experience of God
  2. Following Christ, the missionary
  3. The harmony between consecration and mission
  4. That shared spirituality is the heart of change
  5. Spirituality shared with lay people as a source of new initiatives

1. A living and passionate experience of God

The one thing that is capable of creating an impact and a stimulus in the secularized world of today is our joyful and hopeful following of Christ. It is from this hopeful and passionate following of Christ, that our apostolic dynamism is born.

One of the voids in our communities since Vatican Council II has been the living experience of God. We have not been able to present this experience to people. Thus, we are now in a reactionary phase. Today we speak more of our contemplative dimension and of our charismatic life. That is our best hope while entering the twenty-first century.

Alphonsus was overcome by the Gospel story of God’s love. His writings are full of his discovery of God’s merciful love; a love that does not come because we have something to give God, but a love that God gives us simply because he made us in order to share all he has with us.

For Saint Alphonsus words such as “tenderness” and “affection” are not merely devotional. They express something that Alphonsus wants with all his being: to belong to someone with tenderness and intimate affection. In St. Alphonsus, as in every good Neapolitan, loving Jesus is a passion, and it springs from his need for expressing affection.

 Alphonsus always said in his books: God loves us. “God says: My son, I have loved you from all eternity. And for the love that I have had for you, I wanted to show my mercy by creating you from nothing. Therefore, beloved faithful one, among all those who love you, remember it was God who loved you first. Thus, God says to each one of us: ‘I have loved you from all eternity.’”

As missionaries to people, Redemptorists have been considered by others as men of prayer. The Congregation is characterized by a typical method of prayer, the Alphonsian method, a method that is eminently affective. We Redemptorists also have our own characteristic way of experiencing God: the God of plentiful redemption, the One sent to us to show the face of the Father, rich in mercy. Many people say that the future of the Congregation depends on our capacity of living in God’s love and witnessing a passionate experience of God’s love in all our activities.[1]

Spirituality is a style of life and a way of being which is both personal and communitarian. Sharing the presence of the Spirit in community is the only way to live spiritually. The Spirit does not grow in a person by isolating him or her from the community or the Church. The Spirit brings the person to community. The Church is community.

In itself, spirituality is a community fact. It is a way of being communitarian. Spirituality is what we have most in common. Profession integrates us juridically in our religious family; spirituality integrates us in the heart of its identity. A spirituality that is not shared is easily reduced to mere spiritualism.

Our community life and our work will have a prophetic force if they are inspired by the living and passionate experience of the Spirit, as was St. Alphonsus, and by the spirituality that this experience leaves with us. Today we believe that the future depends more on our docility to the Spirit than on our human qualities or on our evangelising techniques. Our docility to the Spirit will determine whether our personal and community initiatives will be able to produce other more daring initiatives.

In our society, more important than the message is the messenger. For Redemptorists, truly living as though “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, that he has anointed me, and that he has sent me” is key to living with integrity our ministry in the Church.

Some months before his death, Father Haring wrote an article about St. Alphonsus entitled “Alphonsus, Singing Minstrel of Divine Love.” Alphonsus, says Father Haring, composed his songs to evangelize the simple people of Naples, and he had a splendid voice to sing those songs during the missions he preached. In this article, Father Haring very aptly describes St. Alphonsus and, at the same time, himself:

“Unfortunately, I am not a singer like Alphonsus and I do not have his beautiful voice. But I can identify myself with him very much as the minstrel of divine love, the artist of joy. Nothing seems more important to me for today’s Church than to be joyful and to sing with joy. Above all, we need minstrels of divine love and testimonies of love for the littlest ones. Along with Alphonsus, and keeping our eyes on him, I cannot imagine any sad saint or any sad Christian.”

2. Following Christ, the missionary

The XXI General Chapter (1991) tried to make a statement on Alphonsian spirituality:

“The center of Redemptorist spirituality is Christ the Redeemer, as he reveals himself above all in the mysteries of his incarnation, passion and resurrection which we celebrate in the Eucharist. These lead Redemptorists to be his living memorial and to continue his mission in the world. This profoundly Christocentric spirituality impels us to rediscover the heritage of St. Alphonsus in his exodus towards the poor. The Redemptorist follows Christ the Redeemer and pursues his liberating action.”[2]

I don’t think it is important to draw up a list of all the elements that make our spirituality distinctive in the Church. Many of these are not particular to the Congregation. On the other hand, the spirituality of a congregation is always a blend of characteristics, attitudes, virtues, etc., that give it a “family air,” its own style of being and working, as well as its unique place in the Church. These attitudes and virtues are very difficult to describe.

The most important thing is to find the axis on which our essential missionary spirituality is built. I believe that the axis which gives unity to our being and acting, to our apostolate and our sanctification, is the “following of Christ, preaching the Gospel to the poor” as Constitution n. 1 proposes to us speaking about the purpose of the Congregation. We follow and we try to identify ourselves with Christ the missionary, walking around the villages, preaching the love and the mercy of his Father.

In this short phrase, “to follow Christ, preaching the good news to the poor,” we encounter two realities: following Christ and preaching the Gospel.

The call to follow Christ is always an invitation to enter into communion with him in his mystery of death and resurrection, the mystery of redemption. Following Christ is always a paschal experience and, consequently, an apostolic following, a following for mission. Christ calls us to follow him, uniting ourselves to his redemptive mission. Following Christ means association with him. There is no other way of following. We need a good theology of redemption to clarify our particular way of following Christ.

But what is special for the Redemptorist is the word “missionary.” We follow Christ the missionary, the preacher, the evangelizer.

To follow Christ the missionary has always defined us as Redemptorists; we have always been known as “preachers, missionaries of the Word.”

The Word which we proclaim springs necessarily from the warm welcome that we ourselves give to the Word, to Christ, the Word of the Father, in prayer and in dialogue. Prayer will always have a central place in the life of the Redemptorist. Without a personal encounter with Christ, he becomes merely a theme in our preaching, and ceases to be a real person. In this case, we would be proclaiming a doctrine, but we wouldn’t bring about an encounter with him for those who hear us. When preaching becomes a discourse about Christ, without the missionary being in relationship with him, then the discourse becomes uninteresting.

The Word that we preach has to be a mature word, assumed personally, a critical word which forms both ourselves and others as adult Christians. It is one thing to be like children, to be able to enter the Kingdom of God, and a very different thing to maintain a child-like living of the faith. We must be agents for the maturing of faith. We must collaborate with lay people so that they will have their own basis as missionaries, and will assume their own responsibilities in the life of the Church, rather than collaborating in a system which numbs and looks for submissive people.

The Word that we proclaim is a prophetic word and has to denounce all that contradicts God’s will. Prophetic work is full of risk. In the first place, it questions us about our way of living. It denounces our securities. The true prophet knows that what is at stake behind his word is his very life: “They did not cling to life even in the face of death.” (Rev. 12:11). The prophet proclaims the Word at the risk of his life. Risk always goes hand in hand with hope. If there isn’t much hope, the risks will always be small and well calculated.

The future neither comes nor waits: it is made. Prophets aren’t those who predict the future, but rather those who know how to read the present in the light of God’s will. Prophets seek to change both the future and the present. They show the power that a human decision can have. Coherence, courage and clarity make our words understood, and help us in the process of conversion. The same happens in life. Whoever wants to become holy according to the model of holiness of the Middle Ages, will become holy, but his witness will not be a visible sign for today.

The Word is compassionate and full of understanding, like the compassion of God manifested in Jesus. The most important thing for us is the suffering of people, rather than their culpability. God loves all people unconditionally. He doesn’t love them because they are good. He simply loves them.

All of that belongs to our following of Christ. Being missionaries of the Word implies a particular style of following Christ, reproducing the same courage, the same compassion, the same prophetic manner. That is how we follow him.

“To follow the example of our Savior Jesus Christ,” becomes concrete in “preaching the Word of God to the poor.” Mission is not foreign to the following, rather it concretizes it, giving it its own unique character. To follow Christ, which is the end of the Congregation, is identified with the apostolate to the most abandoned, particularly to the poor. Like Christ, Alphonsus started with the last. The situations of pastoral need and the proclamation of the Gospel to the poor are the reason for the existence of the Congregation (cf. Const. 5).

The last General Chapter wrote in its message to the Congregation that it is: “necessary that the effective relationship with the poor become a constitutive element of our spirituality.”[3]

The first question we should ask Alphonsus is not why he chose to do certain apostolic works. Rather, we should ask why he chose this particular lifestyle. Action does not explain the existence of an Institute. What is essential is shown by the fact that the founder opted to live the Gospel in particular way.

Do we have a future as Redemptorists?

Redemptorists of today have the responsibility to search for a future that will be a promise of life rather than mere survival. The Congregation will be what we want it to be. If we don’t risk the future, we will never reach it, and we will become conservatives. The conservative doesn’t see a future; he merely tries to conserve what he already has.

The Word we preach isn’t a mere source of information – like words we find in the newspaper. Our words, like the Word of the Father, which is Christ, have to produce life, be creative and transformative. There is no doubt that we have to be realistic. But being realistic is an invitation to creativity rather than to resignation and fatalism. When we dare to live the word and proclaim it, we take a risk, a risk that is steeped in hope. And this hope does not fail.

Because it is living and creative, the Word of God is full of future. If we follow this word and proclaim it, then we ourselves will have the same future as the Word.

The Word cannot die. There will always be a need for someone to proclaim it. However, certain apostolic works may no longer be necessary or useful. In any case, we are called to die in order to live again. Without a “for something,” the institution as “institution” doesn’t make any sense. The most important thing is the mission, not the institution. The institution is necessary in so far as it serves the mission. Structures do not have universal validity; they are changeable.

3. Harmony between Consecration and Mission

On the day of our religious profession we were “consecrated for mission.” Consecration and mission are not two different moments of our life to be placed side-by-side or one after the other. Each truly and deeply implies the other. Consecration and mission are two realities that ought not to become confused, but harmonized and unified in a life-giving synthesis. Our consecration claims to be apostolic, claims mission as its purpose and goal. Our mission is born from our consecration and will always be shot through with our consecration to Christ. Mission is not simply an activity of the Congregation any more than it is an activity of the Church. It is its very being. All members of the Church share this mission. Religious who live out their baptismal consecration in a radical way have a still more radical share in this mission according to their particular charism. Mission is like a seal that configures our whole being. We follow Christ in mission and participate in his mission as collaborators in his paschal mystery.

I am conscious that our religious life doesn’t consist so much in the observance of norms, as in the capacity to offer answers to challenges that the world and the Church put before us. And it seems to me that Redemptorists must go from “being in Christ” to “walking in pilgrimage with Christ,” transcending comfortable and quiet conformity, in favor of an uncomfortable and disturbing prophetic activity.

But living religious life means being on mission not simply through activities, but principally through consecration. Consecration is in itself mission and ought to be perceived by the world as a proclamation of the Gospel and as a prophetic gesture to the world. What the Church and society are asking from religious is to be religious. The most important mission of religious life is to be religious life.

In order to bring together this harmony between consecration and mission, we must dedicate our efforts to transforming ourselves into message. Our life has to become the message we preach. The good news we preach is the good news we live. Christ, the Word of the Father, is, first of all, the prophetic Word we live. We must offer the world an alternative way of being in the world so that others can be intrigued and ask: “What is the source of the strength and boldness of these companions of Jesus, these brothers of the Most Holy Redeemer?”

Sometimes we are tempted to live consecration and mission, spirituality and action as two different realities. We used to find the focus of our whole life in mission. However, it must be a focus that gives unity to the whole, not one which either suppresses a part of the whole or puts it on a secondary level of importance.

Life and work have to be lived as consecration and mission. Our communities evangelize by living and proclaiming the mystery of Christ. “Community in mission and mission in community” could be a good motto for our renewal.

Harmony between consecration and mission must also be visible in the harmony between prayer and action. It seems to me that we should not fall into the illusion, frequently repeated in our times that “everything is prayer.” It will be if we act and move in a climate of God that leads us to commitment, in a permanent contact with the Spirit that lives in us. On the one hand, we must organize both our prayer life and our community life, taking into account our apostolic activity. On the other hand, I think it is also important that we organize our activities, taking into account our personal and community life and prayer. I believe that we must strike a more healthy balance, which, until now, we have not attained, giving only priority to activity.

It seems to me that this unity and harmony between consecration to Christ and mission will be an essential key by which the Congregation will be more prophetic in the future.

We should not consider the return to spirituality as an alternative to mission or as getting away from mission to put our own house in order, but as an integral part of mission. Our whole life is spiritual to the extent that it is inspired and energized by the Spirit.

4. Shared spirituality is the heart of change

Some congregations have made apostolic spirituality the heart of refoundation. Spirituality is the soul of the institute. The re-creation of our institute will be done either under the influence of and guided by the Spirit, or it will be done in a mediocre way. A mediocre community is one that advances in its spirituality but not sufficiently. It opens itself to the mission but does not go to the end.

Institutions arose as needed for developing the charism within the historical context of each foundation. It was not the institutions that created the charism. The charism was produced by the Spirit working in our founder. And it was the charism that created its own institutions to strengthen itself and grow. A community charism cannot exist without institutions, but the charism always has priority. Today also, it is the charism that ought to create whatever institutions are necessary to preserve its original intent. We must allow our Redemptorist charism to produce the structures it needs to be effective in our times.

Every mission has the Holy Spirit as its prime force. The Spirit directs our mission, sanctifies it and makes it fruitful. The Spirit is the dynamism of God that inspires, unites, ordains and impels us to do things that appear beyond our possibilities. For us, the first question should not be, “What can we accomplish with our present capabilities?” but rather, “What does the Spirit ask us to do despite our present limitations?” The Spirit is the fountain of bold initiatives:

“In realizing its mission the Congregation tries to act with bold initiatives and heightened dynamism.” (Const. 14)

How well we welcome the Holy Spirit into our community will determine what new personal and communal initiatives we will discover that are more daring and more dynamic. The religious community is a mystery that must be contemplated and received in a pure dimension of faith.[4] Conversion is born of the Spirit, and it is the Spirit who converts us. The apostolic exhortation “Consecrated Life” says:

“There must be a permanent conviction that the guarantee of all renewal which intends to be faithful to the original inspiration is the search for an ever deeper conformity with the Lord.” (VC. n. 37)

Reading this text I remember the importance given by Saint Alphonsus to conformity with the will of God. He prefers the word “uniformity.” For him uniformity was better than conformity:

“Conformity signifies that we adapt our will to God’s will. But uniformity means more. It signifies making God’s will and ours one single entity, so that we do not want anything but what God wants, and that only God’s will be ours.”

Alphonsus sees the summit of perfection in the perfect fulfillment of God’s will. “To give pleasure to the beloved” is one of Alphonsus’ favorite expressions. From it comes one of his formulas that is the clearest expression of his ideal of perfection:

“Our entire perfection consists in love. But all of love’s perfection consists in fulfilling God’s will.”[5]

In creating new institutions that will be effective, one must question the motivation that has inspired such change. Change for change’s sake cannot be justified and defeats its own purpose. Institutions rarely change by themselves; rather they remain as they are and improve only with difficulty. The sole motivation for change must be born in the search for and openness to the Spirit who continues creating our religious charism just as he continues creating the Church. The Spirit opens our heart to fulfill God’s will, as he did in Saint Alphonsus’ life. Father Tannoia writes:

“Convinced that it was God’s will, Alphonsus summoned his courage and, making a total sacrifice of the city of Naples to Jesus Christ, decided to commit himself to live the rest of his days among the huts and poor villages, and to die among the villagers and shepherds.”

In the past we called a person or community that conformed in some small way to established norms “stable.” Today a stable person or community is one that listens to the prompting of the Spirit revealing itself to those who seek it. That Spirit helps move us from individual spiritualism to shared spirituality.

The Spirit builds the religious community as it built the first apostolic communities. The Spirit forms and nurtures communities as well as persons. When we speak of the Spirit we add very often: the life-giving presence of the Spirit.

“It is the Spirit that guides the communities of consecrated life to fulfill their mission of service to the Church and all humanity in accord with their own inspiration.” (VC n. 42)

Spirituality is a communitarian style of life. Sharing the presence of the Spirit is the only way to live spiritually.

Apostolic and communal dynamism and apostolic effectiveness of our institutions are the sure criteria for measuring how authentically we have welcomed the Spirit. Spirituality is not a part of life; spirituality is the total game plan. A spiritual community is prepared for the new, and positions itself in the newness of the Spirit as in its own house. Communal spirituality helps us live our religious identity with greater integrity.

In his Apostolic Exhortation on Religious Life Pope John Paul II said to religious:

“You possess not only a glorious past to remember and recount, but also a great history to create. Set your eyes on the future towards which the Spirit impels you and does great things with you.” (VC. n. 110)

It is not necessary to define the mission. Our Constitutions have done that. The mission exists in the measure that it is realized with adequate institutions. Otherwise our specific mission does not exist. Only from a life well organized for the mission can one talk of our specifically Redemptorist mission. Boldness and courage are more necessary today than before when we lived in a more static culture. When we ask someone who they are, normally we expect to hear what a person does and how he does it, where he works and in what ecclesial and social context he moves. This is a fact of our culture, which evaluates people by their effectiveness. This culture can also help us seek coherence between our charism, our spirituality and our activities. Through our activities people should come to know our charism and our Redemptorist spirituality. Even though we now place more emphasis on being, what real significance does our being have if it is not fulfilled in action? Identity is not a purely interior reality. It needs institutions to be realized and recognized.

Our spirituality is essentially linked to the charism itself, which is common to all. In itself, spirituality is a community fact. It is a way of being communitarian. Spirituality is what we have most in common.

For shared spirituality to have its effect on our organization and to be the source of re-creating institutions, some conditions seem to me to be necessary:

1.     That the community live in continual conversation. The superior’s job is to keep the province or the community conversing. This is a spiritual institution. The Spirit communicates itself progressively. The spirituality of consecrated life should be characterised by an attitude of exodus, remembering the exodus of the people of Israel as a people guided by prophetic leaders who help overcome fears, rebellions and doubts during the journey. Our exodus comes about by conversing and mutually helping one another to overcome fears and doubts. This demands an attitude of supreme hope, which is also the fruit of the Spirit. The community, which feels itself guided by the Spirit, does not long for the past or lament the present bitterly, but looks at it with hope and serenity. Hope creates bonds and obligations; otherwise it is simply desire.

2.     But an informative conversation is not enough. To converse is more than narrating an intellectual message. Conversation must become an encounter in the Spirit who makes all things new; it cannot be abstract or rigidly measured. Encounter is the place of communication with the Spirit who causes us to share what is vital for the effectiveness of our mission in the Church. In the New Testament the Spirit is called “the power of God” (2 Cor 13:4) and “the power of the Almighty” (Luke 1:35). And St. Paul assures us that we will live in Christ by the power of God (2 Cor 13:4), which is his Spirit. The encounter should be made in the light and under the inspiration of the Spirit.

3.     “Communicate so as to grow together” is the way to live our spirituality and to re-create our institutions. This is also the title of a paragraph of the document from the Congregation for Consecrated Life: “Fraternal life in community.”[6] The fruit of communal spirituality has to be the complete identification with the charism of one’s own religious family. The Spirit communicates itself to each one for the good of the whole family.

“Communicate so as to grow together” is also the best way to know and accomplish God’s will, as Saint Alphonsus proposed in his ascetical books. Uniformity with God’s will requires a progressive purification from everything that can hinder the growth of love. We must live “detached” from whatever can alienate us from love. Some people say that the word “distacco” and its accompanying nuances are original to St. Alphonsus. What is certain is that this word constantly appeared in his writings. It is a well-established word.

In the gift of oneself, detachment and renunciation are only a secondary part. What is essential is availability. It is here that the gift of self really consists. Alphonsus says that Christ gave himself to us “by losing his life on the Cross.” The words “by losing his life” do not mean that the loss of his life was Christ’s perfect gift but rather that by renouncing his life he placed it at our disposal, so that we can receive the benefit of his sacrifice, offering our life to him, too.

St. Alphonsus clearly affirmed this in a sentence from one of his most beautiful prayers:

“O Lover of my soul, I offer myself and I abandon myself completely to you, satisfying the desire you have of uniting yourself entirely to me, with the purpose of uniting me totally to you, my God and my all. Come, Jesus, and possess my entire being; attract all my thoughts and all my affections to you.”[7]

4.     Another condition is that shared spirituality, the spirituality of communion, must precede operative decisions and concrete initiatives in the re-creation of institutions. Concrete decisions about our future must be made in a climate of spiritual communion and discernment in the Spirit. This process is slower and should not be compromised. It is more certain and helps us progress along the way in making decisions.

The Pope proposed for this new millennium to make the Church the house and school of communion. He wrote:

“To make the Church the house and the school of communion is the big challenge that faces us in the millenmum that is now beginning if we wish to be faithful to God’s designs and answer the profound hopes of the world.” (New Millennium, n. 43)

If we want the Congregation to grow in the future, we have the same challenge: to make our communities and gatherings houses and schools of communion, i.e. of shared spirituality. In considering the spirituality of communion we should talk more about spheres and instruments of communion than about institutions. These should be cultivated spontaneously day after day and are a priority for the renewal of our institutions.

Spirituality has a place in the reality of each day and each individual and should not be separated from ordinary life. Rather, spirituality is a sign of integration between faith and life, between religion and culture, between reflection and action. Communication of faith and communication made out of faith is the fountain of fraternity and communion. (Fraternal life in community, n. 32) Shared spirituality and missionary dynamism will nourish each other and flourish together, or they will disappear together.

We must value fraternal communion and allow it to influence us. It is not possible to communicate the Spirit without being in tune with our brothers. The Spirit creates communion and unity, not dispersion. It creates liberty and not a slavery we must endure. The Spirit helps us to remain “available for all that is arduous in order to bring the copious redemption of Christ to all.” This last phrase appears in Constitution 20, and gives the best definition of the Redemptorist way of being in the Church. The institutions of the past were good for the past—we should not criticize them—but perhaps they are no longer so to day.

Shared spirituality helps us seek coherence between the head and the heart, between rationality and affectivity. Affectivity exercises too important a role in the re-creation of our institutions. The coherence between reason illuminated by faith, and affectivity oriented towards the good of the family, is the basis of all re-creation of institutions.

Perhaps in the future we will be judged not so much for our activities within big institutions but for our capacity to build cells of Christian life in the world, cells where spirituality is shared within the framework of true fraternity. If we believe this is so, it is urgent that we prepare ourselves.

5. Spirituality shared with lay people as a source of new initiatives

A current sign of the times is the presence of lay people in our charisma. Sharing the charism with them means more than melding our religious and lay vocations for the sake of pastoral effectiveness. The laity want to participate by full right in our spirituality and mission. They feel part of the charism and equally responsible for it.

This is a new experience of the charism that demands its own institutions to ensure that it will endure and spread. The charism must create adequate institutions otherwise lay participation will disappear. This new development in the charism needs to be institutionalized to survive. Perhaps the first step consists in adjusting our old institutions to this new presence of lay participation. Perhaps also at this time we must be content with temporary and imperfect solutions opening up our own institutions. But the participation of the laity demands some institutionalization to secure its growth in the same way that our religious charism needed and needs adequate institutions to become securely founded and transmitted to others.

We could also ask, will this presence of lay people bring us to more profound transformations in the institutions of consecrated life? Will we be capable of creating common institutions to ensure the growth of religious and lay vocations at the same time? Will it be like a new wind of Pentecost capable of changing our religious life from within?

The lay people who have a good knowledge of the spirituality and mission of the Congregation will help us reinterpret our charism in a new perspective. From their position in the world they contribute a more realistic vision. They present a more secular vision that will help us situate ourselves better as evangelizers. The Apostolic Exhortation of Consecrated Life tells us:

“It is not a rare thing that the participation of the laity leads to the discovery of unexpected and fruitful implications of certain aspects of the charism, giving rise to a more spiritual interpretation and impelling us to find valid indications for new apostolic dynamisms.” (VC. n. 55)

Our relationship with the laity is not realized only on the basis of pastoral co-responsibility but also on that of faith and shared spirituality. That is an integral part of the heritage of the Congregation. Only by sharing spirituality with them will we be able to create and re-create new common institutions to guarantee the future of this new gust from the Spirit. We do not know now where this adventure will lead us, but it is certain that it will bring many new surprises. The document on consecrated life does not doubt “that a new chapter has begun, rich in hope, in the history of the relations between consecrated people and the laity.” (VC, n. 54) For this, people are needed who are open to the Spirit “who makes all things new,” and people, both lay and religious, who are secure in their own identity.

In one of his pastoral letters of 1996, Bishop Peter Casaldaliga, the defender of the Indians of Amazonas, alerted his diocesan priests to the danger of three temptations: renouncing memory, renouncing the Cross and renouncing utopia and hope. The cross, utopia and hope have to be present in our process of renewing the Congregation.

 

 


[1] The members of the General Chapter 1997 were convinced that the time had come to focus explicitly on the roots of our vocation: “We believe that all Redemptorists are being called at this time to focus on a central aspect of our spirituality, i. e. on how we nourish and express our relationship in faith with Jesus” (XXI General Chapter, 1991, FD n. 36).

 

[2] Cf. XXI General Chapter, Final Document, n. 36

[3] XXII General Chapter, Message, n. 8

[4] Fraternal life in the community, n. 12

[5]  Uniformity with God’s will: Opere Ascetiche, 1, p. 284. This short work of St. Alphonsus, one of those that had the most success, appeared in 1755.

[6] Fraternal life in community, PPC, p.37

[7]  Practice of Love, Opere Ascetiche 1, p. 142.

 

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