December 17, 2008

The Challenges

Yesterday we received an encyclical letter from the Minister General of our Order, Br. Mauro Jöhri. In it he says some tough things, but after reading it with another young friar last night, we were really happy about it. It points out some of the problems that we ourselves have noticed and talked about. The Minister General notes especially some of the issues and challenges that we face in the formation and initiation of new members. Most seriously, he points out a sort of evaporation of our the missionary spirit that is supposed to be constitutive of Christianity itself, not just consecrated religious life:

One of the first facts is a declining readiness to be sent on a mission of first evangelisation, or generally to places marked by economic, social or political difficulties. The pastors of the local churches repeatedly invite our Order to take responsibility for places needing first evangelisation, or to consolidate what was begun only a few decades previously. But I must say I find considerable reluctance to accept such requests, even in the case of jurisdictions with a fair number of vocations. The biggest difficulties are due to the fact that this type of commitment requires great sacrifices, including the need to settle in places that are often without the kind of communications we are becoming accustomed to more or less everywhere (internet access, etc.). What concerns me is that many brothers concentrate primarily on what they might lack for themselves, while easily forgetting people who do not yet know the Gospel or who need to be accompanied in their journey of integration of Christian values.

In how we live at "home," Br. Mauro also sees systemic issues:

One finds here and there signs of a clear refusal of manual and domestic work. We have so many employees that we are accustomed to being served in everything, right from the first years of formation. With some friars this happens so that they can devote themselves full-time to pastoral work, others because they are busy with study. In such cases fraternal life is the biggest loser, because we limit ourselves to praying and eating meals together, but everything else is delegated to someone else.

The spirit of "I came to be served, not to serve" can easily infect brothers from the developing world:

I notice in candidates of young jurisdictions a very strong desire to be able, one day, to find their way to northern shores and to settle there for some time. Some believe that having “become Capuchins” gives them the right to pursue specialised university studies later. It is evident that we cannot support such a view; otherwise we simply become an agency for social advancement.

But this isn't to say that we in the affluent and privileged cultures and classes are free from a selfish spirit. In fact, our desire to do something counter-cultural and to reject privilege often does not go deep enough into our own selves:

In jurisdictions where vocations are few and candidates often come to us in adult life, I notice a strong tendency to consider the choice of our life in terms of self-fulfilment before anything else. The danger is that each person comes with his own personal project to fulfil, while disregarding that of the fraternity. And so it happens that the personal aspect is exaggerated and stressed in a completely individualistic, narcissistic way.

This is challenging stuff, but it's stuff we need to hear if religious life is going to keep its savor and be good for something besides being thrown out and trampled underfoot.


GrandmaK said...

All of us need to be challenged...not gently but assertively and with love. "Sitting on our laurals" is all to often the case. Thank you for sharing this! Cathy

4narnia said...

thanks for sharing this, Fr. C!
tara t