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    Spirituality and Our Missionary Commitments

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    Jean Gracia ETIENNEby Jean-Gracia ETIENNE, cicm 
    General Councilor  

     

    The title chosen for our reflection is in line with the preparation of our 16th General Chapter, which will be held in Rome in June 2023. “Witnessing to the Gospel in a Changing World” is the chosen theme for this Chapter. “Spirituality and Mission” was chosen as one of three themes to inspire our reflections in the following months at the extended General Government (GG) meeting in July 2021. As religious missionaries of the CICM, let us meditate on this theme together.


    Who are we? What is our Common Mission in Today’s World? What are the Demands that this Mission Places on Each of Us?

    According to the confreres who wrote the Commentary on Chapter I of the CICM Constitutions, this chapter describes the Congregation’s essential characteristics. In this chapter, the elements that define the identity of CICM are described: missionary and religious vocation, tasks, and spirituality. The data that identify the Congregation and situate it in the Church and the significant difficulties that its members encounter and seek to answer as CICM religious missionaries are provided in Articles 1 and 2 of our Constitutions that introduce this chapter. Finally, Article 2 of our Constitutions provides the choices that define the CICM Congregation and the essential attitudes that each member should embody throughout their lives. Thus this article is regarded as the Congregation’s missionary manifesto.1 Is this, however, clear to all members of the Institute? Do they all live it in the same way?

    Historical Tension between the two Dimensions of our Vocation: Missionary and Religious

    In the course of the Institute’s history, some members have perceived themselves to be more missionary than religious in carrying out their mission. Some have openly affirmed this. Others have demonstrated this through their daily lifestyle. General Chapters and Superiors General have made efforts to encourage all members of the Institute to obey the rules of our Constitutions. We can recall what the 13th General Chapter said regarding this topic recently. In fact, after observing some members of the Institute failure to practice their religious missionary life, the Chapter stated:

    We define ourselves as religious missionaries. Yet, for many of us, the missionary aspect of our life seems to prevail over its religious dimension. At best, there is a tension. If worst comes to worst, we tend to choose one over the other. Should we choose between the two? The Chapter states that it is not a matter of choice at all. We are missionaries and religious. Religious life with its obligations is our concrete way as CICM to collaborate in the Church’s mission. Missionary commitment and religious consecration are meant to enrich each other and not to oppose each other. Both should be integrated harmoniously on the level of the individual and the community.2

    Therefore, the Institute’s members were encouraged by the 13th General Chapter to improve their religious lives in order to deepen their missionary spirituality.

    Observation of the Extended GG Meeting as a Preparation for the 16th General Chapter of 2023

    The GG organized a meeting in Nemi, Italy, from July 19 to 24, 2021, as part of the preparations for the Institute’s 16th General Chapter. As consultants, four more confreres attended the meeting. Participants in small groups discussed the Institute’s recent past (15-20 years), current realities, and dreams for the next 15-20 years at the start of the meeting. In addition, participants considered Initial and Ongoing Formation, Leadership, and Finances in their reflections. The purpose of these exercises was to identify significant changes and transformations in the CICM mission and to discern the orientations to be given to the next General Chapter to respond more efficiently to the challenges of the present and the future.

    The participants identified some beneficial outcomes that the Congregation has been able to achieve in the last 20 years to better participate in Missio Dei, thanks to the orientations of the General Chapters, the publication of important documents, the restructuring, and the commitment of the Institute members in various fields of the mission among other things. The members of the Congregation generally do their best to accomplish their mission, either Ad extra or Ad intra. As a result, in their mission fields, concerns about members’ lack of missionary zeal are uncommon.  However, we must continue to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ with renewed vigor. For, as St. John Paul II emphasized: “Proclamation is the permanent priority of mission. The Church cannot elude Christ’s explicit mandate, nor deprive men and women of the ‘Good News’ about their being loved and saved by God.”3

    However, while reflecting on what needs to be changed and what has been lacking in the everyday lives of Institute members, it was noted that there was a lack of intense spiritual life, faithfulness to religious vows, and reconciliation among the members, among other things. Following this observation, the participants in the extended GG meeting felt compelled to return to the fundamentals of religious life: fidelity to vows, prayer, contemplation, reconciliation, and community life. This observation, among other challenges, inspired the theme for the next General Chapter:

    Witnessing to the Gospel in a Changing World. In this context, witness entails proclamation, lifestyle, and presence because, in many cases, this

    is the only way to be a missionary.4  It is also in this perspective that His Holiness Pope Paul VI declared: “It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus – the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world, in short, the witness of sanctity.”5

    Since we have chosen to talk about spirituality, it seems necessary to us to define it.

    What does Christian Spirituality Mean in the Catholic Context?

    We choose to believe that the proper feature of spirituality is its historical incarnation, which leads us to call or define it as a tangible and visible form that every Christian offers to the action that God in Christ performs in him through the Holy Spirit. Spirituality is thus more practical; it is concerned with the experience that the Christian expresses and embodies in the unique religious sociocultural context that defines a person’s daily home. Thus, spirituality can be defined as a historical way of understanding and living the Gospel message, according to the faith and life of the Church, or as a style of living the Gospel in a given situation.6

    More broadly, it might be regarded as a reformulation and rearrangement of key aspects of Christian life in light of “today,” concrete realities in which we must live, and concrete services we are called to provide.Furthermore, spirituality refers to the various ways of living specific to the stage of life or the religious family in which one is called to perform the Sequela Christi; it also asks us to speak of the spirituality of individual people, owing to the idea of uniqueness.8


    Some Elements of CICM Spirituality

    We limit ourselves to recalling the approach of the 14th General Chapter of the Institute on this question. In fact, in attempting to assess the quality of the personal and community religious life of the members of the Institute, the 14th General Chapter inquired: “Has our religious missionary life improved over the past few years?” The Chapter Capitulants contemplated the theme of CICM missionary spirituality in order to respond to this question. This spirituality was described as the “lifestyle of a person who is committed to live as authentically as possible all the consequences of discipleship of Jesus and membership in CICM every moment of his life and in all his relationships.”9

    Second, the Chapter explains that the CICM missionary spirituality includes five pillars, which are based on articles 1 and 2 of our Constitutions, namely

    1. dedicated to the Incarnate Word under the title and patronage of the Immaculate Heart of Mary…

     2. Sent to the nations to announce the Good News…

     3. Through the consecrated life…

     4. By being men of prayer and…

     5. In a Fraternal Communion.10

    Furthermore, the Chapter acknowledges and appreciates the efforts of each confrere to sustain an ongoing personal relationship with the Lord in their daily life. It also stressed the members of the Institute’s perception of their identity as religious missionaries and encouraged them to keep their vows.11 This is a whole life program that each of the Congregation’s members is called to integrate into their daily lives.

    Some New Elements that Were Added to these Five Pillars of CICM Missionary Spirituality by the 15th General Chapter

    The 15th General Chapter sought to examine, among other things, the charism of the Institute with a renewed vision while allowing itself to be inspired and strengthened by the missionary works of our Founder and his first companions. Thus, the Capitulants decided that “rootedness in the missionary tradition of the Church and in the original charism of our Founder, a renewed audacity and evangelical creativity, and a daring and optimistic vision of the future – will determine our missionary presence in the years to come.”12  However, this Chapter recognized that many obstacles hinder the process of the Institute’s members realizing their missionary goals. Furthermore, it acknowledged that one of these impediments is an exaggerated concern for the Institute’s members’ survival, work, and activities.13

    For this reason, the Chapter expressed its desire to foster a positive attitude among Institute members in the coming years, encouraging them to see themselves favorably and be proud and grateful to God for becoming CICM missionaries.


    Putting Christian, Religious, and Congregational Spirituality into Practice

    We would like to emphasize the need to daily put Christian spirituality at the service of the charism of our Institute and our mission by quoting canon 673 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law: “The apostolate of all religious consists primarily in the witness of their consecrated life, which they are bound to foster through prayer and penance.” We take note of the Supreme Legislator’s link between our apostolic actions and living witness. As previously stated, we must continue to seek out and help our brothers and sisters. Meanwhile, we engage in the Church’s apostolates, focusing on the witness of our lives, which are nourished by prayer and penance. The image of a journey of building illustrates the dynamic of growth in each of our spiritual lives as we work toward full self-realization. Growth takes on the meaning of work, fatigue, and constant exercise as a journey and a building, accomplished by each in radical devotion to his being a new creation in Christ.14

    For greater effectiveness and sustainability of this ongoing struggle, we must help each other in this process because canon 602 of the 1983 Code tells us that the fraternal life proper to each Institute unites all the members into, as it were, a special family in Christ. It is to be so defined that for all it proves of mutual assistance to fulfill their vocation. The fraternal union of the members, rooted and based in charity, is to be an example of universal reconciliation in Christ.

    Therefore, each of the community’s members will challenge the model of a society that does not provide justice to all of its members and prevents openness to God in the name of his or her religious and community vision. In this context, our religious superiors have a vital role in their communities to foster a conducive environment for each member’s religious, human, and social development.

    Furthermore, without wishing to enumerate and examine the various qualities required for the exercise of leadership in this specific context, we believe it is important to recall the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life’s luminous words in its Instruction on the service of authority and obedience:

    Persons called to exercise authority must know that they will be able to do so only if they first undertake the pilgrimage that leads to seeking the will of God with intensity and righteousness [...] Persons in authority must act in such a way that the brothers or the sisters can perceive that when they give a command, they are doing so only to obey God.15

    In the end, the only way to develop trustworthy relationships within our religious communities under the guidance of a Superior who sincerely aspires to serve humbly is to be open to God, others, and the future.

    Finally, we must allow the Holy Spirit to guide us at all times so that we can boldly and bravely carry out our vocation and mission in the Church and in the world, which is full of challenges. In other words, regardless of our calling or mission, we can accomplish nothing without Christ. As with the vine and the branches, we must always remain connected to Him.

    Let us put our complete trust in the Holy Trinity at all times and in all places. We should not be discouraged by the problems we shall face along the journey. Instead, we must renew our commitment to the Church of Christ’s spiritual and apostolic gifts. On the road to a more prosperous and brighter future!  

    ___________________

    1 Cf. CICM Constitutions. Commentary, Chapter I: Our Institute, second edition, Rome, 2007, p. 5

    2 Acts of the 13th CICM General Chapter, Rome 2005, p. 14.

    3 Encyclical letter Redemptoris Missio, #44

    4 Cf. Stephen B. Bevans & Roger P. Schroeder, Constants in context. A Theology of Mission for Today, p. 353. Orbis Books, Maryknoll, 2004.

    5 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, #41.

    6 Cf. Carlo Laudazi, L’uomo chiamato all’unione con Dio in Cristo. Temi fondamentali di teologia spirituale, Teresianum OCD, Roma, 2013, p. 9.

    7 Cf.C. Garcia, Corrientes actuales de espiritualidad, p. 7. Cité par Carlo Laudazi, L’uomo chiamato all’unione con Dio in Cristo. Temi fondamentali di teologia spirituale, p. 9.

    8 Cf. Carlo Laudazi, Op. cit. p. 9.

    9 William Wyndaele, quoted in the Acts of the 14th CICM General Chapter, Rome 2011, p. 8.

    10 Acts of the 14th CICM General Chapter, p. 8.

    11 Cf. Ibid., pp. 9–10.

    12 CICM, Acts of the 15th General Chapter, Rome 2017, p. 13.

    13 Ibid., pp. 11 and13.

    14 Cf. Carlo Laudazi, Op. cit., p. 17.

    15 Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, “The Service of Authority and Obedience. Faciem tuam, Domine, requiram. Instruction” in https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccscrlife/documents/rc_con_ccscrlife_doc_20080511_autorita-obbedienza_en.html, (october 4, 2021)


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