On this feast of Pentecost, we have begun the remote preparation for the forthcoming XXVI General Chapter to be held next year in August-September. We have chosen this day with the desire to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit who is the source of our charism of our Congregation and our own missionary vocation.
A General chapter is an event of Pentecost in the life of the Congregation. The protagonist of the renewal and regeneration of the Congregation is the Spirit of Christ. We want to invite the Holy Spirit to dwell in us and guide and lead us towards our future.
Thinking of the forthcoming General Chapter, we were invited by the last General Chapter to explore new ways and means to organize and celebrate assemblies and Chapters in our Congregation. In the meeting with the Major Superiors in Talagante in Chile, we have shared among ourselves and decided that we need a synodal approach to our Chapter involving you, all the members. Because each of the members has things precious in their hearts, rich experiences so that the Congregation which is present in the peripheries begins our reflection from the peripheries to enrich the Chapter event. So we thought of a narrative appreciative approach through synodal meetings to be held in different parts of the Congregation.
So dear brothers, the first thing I ask you dear brothers is the openness to the Spirit and listening attentively to the voice of Spirit I who speaks in manifold ways: in your heart in the silence of prayer, to the word of God, to the voice of our brothers in community, our collaborators, the poor, people whom we serve and even those who criticize and confront us.
We have beautiful charism and this charism is beyond us. And if we reduce it to our own measure, we will be domesticating our charism and bottle it in such a way that we can manage it. That would be reducing it from the stature to which we are invited through our charism to dream with Jesus, with the church for what God has in store for humanity. Therefore, with our small measures, we shall not clip the force of our charism, bur rather opens up to its heights by our own inner openness to the surprises of the Holy Spirit.
I remember a small event when I was a formator of novices. Two of the novices found two baby parrots in the field, possibly the nest fell down and they were abandoned. They asked permission to take care of them. I agreed that they care for them and when they grow they could be let them fly off when they are ready. After two weeks on novice came to report that he was not able to take care of the parrot as it is now flying around. He could not catch and feed the bird. I said, it must be ready and hence let it fly off.
I enquired about the other parrot and the novice brought to me the parrot totally under control. He had clipped the wings of the parrot. I was shocked and asked him what happened? He told me that it was flying around and he could not manage it. So he caught it and clipped its wings and now he could manage it. And the parrot was just hopping around. So we were looking for an approach that would tap the talents and capacities and positives that are present in us. They are God-given assets and they are there because God wants us to create something better.
If we measure the charism to our own standards, we might be clipping its possibility and failing to see the horizon to which our charism invites us to dream with Jesus and participating in a future that is waiting to be born.
Sometimes people may ask that this may be utopian and beyond our reach, different from the reality we live. Think of a community where are tensions and conflicts that erode our apostolic vitality. One can feel discouraged and think that this is what we see in religious life. Just like some people define the church by the scandals of some of the clergy. But that is not the Church for. So also our congregation cannot be measured by our human failures. It should be measured by the possibilities, the gifts, and talents God has given us with which it is possible to create a better community. So our pains and struggles are not out of place. They are part of it precisely as a possibility beyond.
It is said that for someone who is closed in a prison, the prison can be a home unless he sees the freedom outside. In this chapter, I invite you to see the potential that our charism gives and march through the steps that the Holy Spirit wants us to take.
When the General Government tried to see what are the new ways of organizing chapters, the temptation was to form a commission of experts from our Institutes of Consecrated life to study the pros and cons of the existing practices and give a report with their suggestions. Then it occurd to us that we should be the change we want to happen. Therefore, we looked at our own functioning as General Government and assumed a synodal approach. We explored together the best practices in other congregations and invited some superior general to talk to us of their experience and trying it in our own circles. Some of us participated in workshops that were preparing people for news ways of handling meetings. We tried it in our continental assemblies. You have also seen that engaging people and asking contributions from each one and together constructing something is far better than General Government telling you what you should do. It also gives us the feeling that all of us together with the Holy Spirit are the subject of our journey forward.
So we thought of a new paradigm for our chapter. It is new because we are not used to, but is as old as Jesus time. Jesus engaged his disciples and his listeners through generative questions. Think of the questions Jesus asked, “What do you seek? It pierces deep into our hearts and invites us to explore deeper questions we do not ask: “What is the purpose of our life? Why are we here? What is behind many of our yearnings and searches.
He asks another question: who do you say I am? And invites his disciples to take a position and go beyond what others say To take a commitment towards him.
Another question, “Do you also want to leave?” (in John Chapter 6). Other questions, “why do you doubt?” Jesus engages others in conversations asks generative questions that allow an open person to bring out something beautiful from their treasures inside. Through appreciative and narrative method we thought of engaging our brothers in synodal meetings at different levels. Communities, zones, provincial level and the level of continents or conferences. To tap the wisdom lying in each of us and to make a collective search of what the Lord is asking of us in our time.
There is no exact prescription. It is not a technique or a method, it is more an approach, a way of following Jesus and making the path by walking. I invite you to that kind of a journey, of openness to the Spirit, openness to our brothers, and daring your treasures to the Congregation and listening attentively to our brothers.
In the beginning of my letter of the announcement, I asked a question, how valuable an experience do you plan for the 26th General chapter. It was ask you to take a stand towards the Chapter, and define your own responsibility for it. We can think that the Chapter is the responsibility of the General government, as it is a General Chapter and the provincials and delegates. One can take a stand of an observer watching what is going on. That will not make us a Congregation in which everybody has a responsibility for it. Everybody participates with his richness and resources. we need active participation because one assumes responsibility for the Congregation. Irresponsibility is abdicating one’s own capacity to respond from the gifts and thus dishonoring the gifts God has given and thereby dishonoring our own vocation. Every Claretian counts, everything God has given him counts. It is everything together that makes us a small, beautiful, and missionary Congregation in the Church.
So dear brothers, let us make this Chapter a journey in which we make the path by walking with the Spirit of Christ together with our brothers, listening, sharing our gifts. The very chapter preparation would be a way of renewing ourselves rather than the Chapter makes decisions and we will be better off after. We shall not look for that kind of a miracle to happen from above. It is the way we prepare the Chapter that renews us. So welcome to this beautiful journey which we shall together explore.