We have been journeying together for the last one week exploring in a context of prayer, reflection, and fraternal dialogue how to prepare for the forthcoming XXVI General Chapter to be held in 2021. We made use of the approach of appreciative inquiry and honest conversations in groups to reap the fruits of this encounter.
As we fix our gaze on the future, we began from where we stand in terms of our life and mission. We have named some of our individual and community ailments that sap our apostolic energy which afflicts us when we are not rooted in our charism and get distracted from what is essential and important for our common life and mission. We made a collective discernment of the call of God to us in the world today. We hear the cry of the people in the various peripheries of human life as well as our own inner cry for authenticity and coherence in missionary life. We dreamed together God’s dream of us Claretians in our times. There is no better dream for a Claretian than what Claret dreamed for us in the definition of a Claretian. We articulated it from the reality of our times.
After this preliminary exploration together, we focussed on what our Constitutions say about General Chapter and assumed our shared responsibility to set the whole congregation in a common journey of preparation for the next General Chapter to be held in August-September, 2021. We have charted out a realistic itinerary towards the General Chapter involving not only Claretians but the Claretian family and our associates. In the preparatory stage, it is important to listen also to the voices of people who can offer views on our missioning that help us to see things also from perspectives that we are not familiar with. All of us, General Government and Major Superiors, have serious homework to do back home with the fruits of our encounter. The first things on your part are the conscientization of your own council about this meeting with your creativity.
As a summary, I like to share a few points with you to take home with.
- The bottom-up approach: The Chapter is not something that takes place far away in Rome in 2021 in which you and/or other representatives will take part to elect General Government and come back with a chapter It is a Congregational event in which you want your whole Organism to feel part of and contribute creatively towards it. Thus, the Chapter would have the smell of the sheep, the touch of the real concerns related to our life and mission at the grassroots.
- An experiential and narrative approach. The need of our times is witnesses and saints than ideologists and idealists. Our way of preparing and celebrating the Chapter should be a testimony of our life and mission in the Church. This calls for a whole-person approach that engages all the faculties of the person of the Claretian rather than limiting mostly to concepts and thoughts. The narrative approach typical to the proclamation of the Gospel kerygma would be helpful to walk forth as a congregational community celebrating this Chapter.
- A Synodal event. The Chapter is an event of collective discernment in which all members participate responsibly in each phase according to their respective roles. The role of the local communities and different apostolic platforms is very crucial during the preparatory stage.
- Charism consciousness. Taking advantage of the different commemorations (150 years of Claretian presence in America, 150th anniversary of the Pascua of Claret), the preparation and celebration of the Chapter should be a collective growth in the consciousness of our charismatic heritage. Thus love for our charism will qualify our preparation and celebration of the Chapter which, in turn, would help us to love our life and mission all the more.
- Mission Consciousness: Our reason to be in the Church is the Missio Dei. There have been serious reflections on the mission of the Church in the recent past to promote an era of New Evangelization in the world. Our preparation of the Chapter should be an occasion to deepen our sense of purpose of the Congregation and to tune all our activities to the “why” of our existence in each context.
- Work of the Spirit. At every stage of the Chapter, we should keep in mind that we are collaborators and co-creators with the Holy Spirit who guides the Church and the Congregation in history. We shall never substitute the centrality and creativity of the Holy Spirit in the process of the Chapter by human maneuvers and technics. Our Founder knew this art very well. It is in prayer and adoration that we become attuned to the Spirit of Christ. We should be able to say about the Chapter process, “the Holy Spirit and we” have done it as St. Luke narrates the attitude of the early Church (Acts 15).
At the stage of the preparation for the General Chapter, an image that comes to me is the way a choreographer prepares his group by a two-fold movement. He himself acts as part of the group to synchronize the movements of the actors according to the music by being immersed in the group, and he occasionally moves out to have a distant view. We need to look at how we live and carry out the mission with awareness and occasionally move out to explore how our life and mission come across to others.
A fitting metaphor for our work is that of an orchestra in which the conductor and hundreds of artists bring together their best talents to present a symphony before the world. Guided by the Spirit of Christ, we shall pool all our talents and gifts, and play the music of our charism, a narrative of God’s love for the world, gifted to the Church through our Founder St. Anthony Mary Claret.
Finally, we shared some of the congregational matters related to the protection of minors and various initiatives to animate the process of transformation in the Congregation. The various issues that we face within our fold (in our relationships, management of resources, availability to the mission of the Congregation, etc.), in the Church and the world, challenge us to be credible witnesses and messengers of the Gospel today. We shall do everything possible to assure responsibility, accountability, and transparency in the way we handle issues at all levels in the congregation.
Let us, therefore, be rooted in Christ and be audacious to walk in the direction the Spirit guides our Congregation. I commend our preparation and celebration to the Heart of Our Blessed Mother who illumines and accompanies her sons with her wisdom and maternal love.
Fr. Mathew Vattamattam, CMF
Talagante, January 20, 2020