Setting the Stage for Assembly 2012
Brother Lawrence Harvey, CFX
Part One – Mount Carmel and Mount Tabor
Good morning. I want to add my personal welcome to the one that Brother Dan gave earlier.
Although we celebrate today the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, I would like to begin by calling to mind another mountain, Mount Tabor; because, according to legend, it was to Mount Tabor that Jesus brought three of his disciples and where the event of the Transfiguration occurred. You will recall the Transfiguration as that time when Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain to pray, and where, as we hear in the Gospel of Luke, “As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.” (Luke 9: 28-26) Peter, you’ll recall, says, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” We know, too, that the key revelation, made known to the disciples at that time was a clear description of Jesus coming from the voice in the cloud: ““This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5) Notice that the description carries with it, I think, implications. The voice does not “define” Jesus, saying “This is Jesus, he is God, part of the Triune Mystery.” No, the voice describes the relationship of Father to Son.
Let me expand upon this image of Jesus and the disciples on Mount Tabor. Permit me, if you will, to take some liberties with the gospel story as we know it to make some points that I think can be relevant for us as we gather here in Bruges for this International Assembly.
I think that in asking to erect three tents, Peter was seeking to facilitate dialogue among Jesus and the towering figures of Hebrew scripture, Moses (the lawgiver) and Elijah (the prophet). While I do not want to suggest that we are “towering figures” as we gather here in Bruges (to do so would be to go against the “spirituality of the ordinary” that we will be speaking so much about during our time together), I do want to take some poetic license and suggest that perhaps we are figuratively erecting three tents here to facilitate dialogue among Brothers, Xaverian Associates and collaborators in Xaverian ministry.
The environment, if you will, on which we set up these tents is the realm of the Spirit, for our dialogue cannot be just among ourselves, but it should be imbued by a dialogue with the Spirit of God as that Spirit is revealed to us through “the common, ordinary, unspectacular” events of our days together. Just as the “voice from the cloud” in the gospel of the Transfiguration provides a description and perhaps even a confirmation of who Jesus is, so I hope and pray that during these days the Spirit may provide for us a description and a confirmation of the gift given to us in the Xaverian Charism.
Imagine for a few minutes, however, that you are in one of those “tents” that has figuratively been set up for us here in our “Mount Tabor” at this conference center, in this quiet corner of Bruges, away from the tourists and the “clip clop” of the horses down near the Market. The tent that has been created for you is one where your giftedness is on display. These are the gifts you bring with you and which you offer for the community, just as Moses offered the gift of his leadership and his relationship with Yahewh to the community on their journey out of Egypt, or just as the prophet Elijah, whose giftedness included not only the gift of prophecy – reminding us that God’s covenant is true even when we, like the Israelites of Elijah’s time, sometimes fail to keep up our end of the covenant – but he also the gift of mysticism and contemplation which he shares. It is for this reason that the prophet Elijah is actually understood to be both the spiritual father of the Carmelites, and the founder of the group of hermits who first took up the contemplative life on Mount Carmel. So, just as Moses and Elijah come to know their giftedness, and reluctantly develop it and share it with others, so what are the gifts you bring with you here? Take a moment to reflect on that and then write down what you believe those gifts to be. [Allow time for participants to respond]
Now, just turn to the person next to you and describe the gifts you bring to this Assembly, and then listen to your neighbor’s description of the gifts he or she brings.
[After time for conversation, ask … “What are the gifts you’ve heard are present in the room? Allow for some listing of gifts.]
Part of setting the stage for this Assembly is being aware of our giftedness – and aware of the giftedness of others. In fact, if you got far enough along in the Working Papers, you saw that key to Ryken’s sense of formation is the developing of one’s giftedness and the placing of that giftedness at the service of the community. Another part of setting the stage for these five days before us is “telling the story,” the story of the foundation of the Congregation, the story of the Congregation’s lived history, and the story of how our individual lives as vowed members, committed associates, or dedicated collaborators intersects with the foundational story and the lived history. This “telling the story” and hearing the story of the others will be one of the most important elements of our time together.
Part Two – How did we get here? The background and context for Assembly 2012
Let me turn now to provide you some of the background on how we got to come to our “Mount Tabor”, or maybe better said, the “upper room” here in Bruges.
The story actually goes back 5 years to this same room where the delegates for the 26th General Chapter of the Xaverian Brothers gathered to discern the direction for the Congregation for the next six years. In preparation for that Chapter we held a series of pre-chapter meetings and discussions as well as a similar Assembly in Bruges in 2006. All of that pre-Chapter reflection and discernment culminated in a Chapter statement addressed from the delegates to the entire Congregation. The Chapter also promulgated a set of 6 Directives we were to use in our planning for the future.
I would like to go back to that Chapter Statement promulgated unanimously in this room 5 years ago:
We assembled for our 26th General Chapter at a time when our distinctive vocation is meeting strong challenges. We gathered to reflect, dialogue and discern God’s will for our Congregation as it is found in our founding vision, in our lived history, in the imperatives of the Gospel, and in the needs of the global reality in which we live. As our Fundamental Principles exhort us,
… like Ryken, foster an attitude of openness to the needs of the Church and your world, and a willingness to follow Christ wherever He leads.”
Our discernment in Chapter has led us to delve deeper into the mystery of our mission as evangelizers, as men who are formed by God for mission “through the common, ordinary, unspectacular flow of everyday life.”
We understand that our mission is shared by committed men and women who find in Ryken’s charism a spirituality that resonates with the way God calls them to service.
We are invited to ask how God may be revealing to us a new spirit of collaboration, a deeper understanding of community and of the demands of accountability and mutuality that true fraternity places on us, a true mutual sharing that will demand of us an opening and a giving of ourselves at many levels, and a ready acceptance of each other in all our sinful and graced humanity.
Brothers, as a Congregation of lay religious in the Church, we have been living a new congregational reality since our 24th General Chapter when we re-emphasized our identity as “an international missionary congregation” and eliminated provincial and regional juridical structures to facilitate our response to the Chapter calls
“to a contemplative stance in the world and to mission among the poor and the marginalized.”
We strive to live as a truly international community composed of many cultures yet seeking a common language. By increasingly promoting justice for all God’s people, especially the poor and marginalized, we are seeking to enter more deeply the human heart of our global community.
We realize also that the present moment requires us, with all who share a commitment to our founder’s vision, to reflect, dialogue and discern the Spirit’s will and to discover the authentic voice of our community.
We must attend to the realities that call us to develop new ways of pastoral presence to each other, and new means of animation and formation that will help us to enter into the contemplative dimension of our vocation to make ourselves available for mission.
We know, too, that our mission among the poor and marginalized invites us to recognize our own poverty and marginalization, and to understand and appreciate our own dependence upon God, so that we may be witnesses by what we say and do to God’s unconditional love for the world as disciples of Jesus
who allow ourselves to be given away, together with our sisters and brothers, as nourishment for others, as bread that is broken.
Brothers, as Theodore Ryken’s spiritual heirs, with respect and appreciation for the giftedness of our Brothers who have walked this path before us, those who sought the inspiration and intercession of Francis Xavier and prayed that, like Mary, they could willingly respond, we commit ourselves to our vocation and pray that God may continue the good work God has begun in us.
Furthermore, the first Directive from the Chapter was on Mission Formation. It speaks to the essence of why we began our Charism Project:
As a Congregation in mission, we need to reflect on the unfolding Xaverian mission and how we respond to it. Therefore, we urge Brothers to gather in community, intentional groups and regions to reflect, pray and discern our communal mission and our response to it.
We ask that an international commission be established to continue to promote the study and explication of our Founding Vision and Charism and its on-going implications for the life and mission of the Congregation. A goal of this commission would be to provide a compelling articulation of Ryken’s vision, his choice of Francis Xavier as patron, and our congregational identity for our use in programs in initial and on-going formation. Furthermore, this articulation will inform the ministry of the Brothers and their collaborators as we respond to the needs of the Church and the world today.
We are also asked to reflect continually on the witness we give in living out our mission in community.
In addressing this Directive we engaged Brother Regj Cruz to pick up the study of our Founder, especially in light of the study and research he had been doing on the history of religious life. If you did have a chance to read through the working papers, you read all about the 10 Coordinates, the 3 Dimensions and the Trajectory of Religious Life.
Now, do not let the language of Coordinates and Sub-groups, Dimensions and Trajectories be too much in the forefront of your mind – think of them like you think of the systems of your body. They are organic, interconnected, working harmoniously together in a healthy body; but just as you may not give too much thought each day to your skeletal system, nervous system or muscular system, so know that these coordinates are integral to the work we’ll do this week, but they are not something we need to have in the forefront of our minds.
More in the front and center of our consciousness, however, needs to be hearing again the story of Theodore Ryken in light of the research we have been doing these past five years, and in light of what we are beginning to understand about his own conversion, his spirituality, his desires for the Congregation. The themes that we will use as the context for the next three days are themes developed from Ryken’s own words, either those found in his short autobiographical work – especially the story of his own conversion – or themes from his letters and foundational plans.
Recall for a moment the alternate translation of Ryken’s conversion that Brother Regj discusses in the Working Paper on Xaverian Spirituality:
at the age of nineteen, after powerfully being put in my place, I turned toward God, fell in love, and put myself in His service. (Xaverian Spirituality, p.23)
It is in light of this new translation that we come to see the influence on Ryken of a whole tradition of spirituality that actually originated from Ryken’s own homeland, the North Brabant region of Holland, namely, the spirituality of the middle-Dutch mystics, one of the most significant being Jan van Ruusbroec.
We need, too, to hear the stories of the lived history of the Congregation – some of those are captured as anecdotes in the Working Papers, or found, for example, in that beautiful interview with Brother Victor that is in your folders, or in the reflections that Brother Art gave at the Assembly in 2006. In hearing those stories we can discover how traces of Ryken’s spirituality are embedded in our lived history.
Finally, we need to tell our own story and listen to the stories of those on the journey with us this week.
Part Three – Hopes for the Assembly: “What are we becoming together by the grace of God?”
The desired outcome for the work we’ll do this week is the beginnings of a new description of the Xaverian Charism, one that fulfills the goal expressed in the Directive on Mission Formation I quoted earlier: “a compelling articulation that will inform the ministry of our Brothers, our collaborators (and now we can add ‘our Associates’), as we respond to the needs of the Church and the world today.”
I am so grateful for your presence here this week and for your willingness to enter into the process designed for us. As we already heard from the sharing of our gifts earlier, we bring a wealth of experience, good will, commitment, and especially a lot of heart to this gathering. I am grateful for those who have made this possible – our benefactors, the schools who contributed to help underwrite the event, the Brothers here in Bruges who have helped with practical elements and are hosting some of us, and those who have assisted in a variety of ways with the planning of the week: Brothers Dan Skala, Paul Murray, John Hamilton, Regj Cruz, Art Caliman, as well as Cornie Hubbuch and Richard Mazza who agreed to serve as our facilitators. I am most grateful as well to the individuals who have so willingly agreed to share with us their own story of their relationship to the Xaverian charism: Bro. Joe Pawlika, Dr. Ed Hardiman, and Bro. Placide Ngoie.
I wish we could have invited so many more Brothers, Associates or Collaborators in ministry to this Assembly. I’m hoping that some will be able to participate via some daily blog postings that we plan to post during the week. A challenge for all of us to consider is how we engage others in this process when we return home.
Let me go back to the image of Mount Tabor that I used at the beginning. Although Peter, James and John would have liked to stay on the mountain with their new found understanding of who Jesus was, they had to come down the mountain, continue to journey with Jesus through some pretty tough days, and then tell the story of Jesus, not by describing what happened on the mountain, but by describing the Spirit they encountered in him, the way of life he lived and the values that radiated from that life. They had to describe the way he related to temple authorities and prostitutes, the way he related with Pharisees and Sadducees. They had to describe how he had compassion on the poor and the marginalized, how he healed the lame and the crippled, how he welcomed children and longed to gather those who had gone astray as a “hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”
So we need to pay attention this week in order that we can describe (1) the Spirit that is at work here; (2) the way of life and the practices we need to incorporate into our respective lives in order be faithful to the Spirit; (3) the way we will relate to each other, to the wider Church, to the world; and, (4) how we will engage in mission, what frontiers we will cross and what vision of mission will inform how we become engaged in the future. If we can do this we will be describing the Xaverian Charism for today through the lens of Spirituality, Life Form, Ecclesiality and Mission.
I believe with an ever deepening conviction that the Xaverian Charism as it is incarnated in vowed members, committed Associates and collaborators who dedicate much of their professional lives to joining us in mission, is a gift our Church and our world need today. I hope and pray that we will succeed in sparking the ashes of Ryken’s Charism and the Xaverian charism that may be found as we journey together this week, in our prayer, our reflection, our sharing, our walking the streets of Bruges.
One of the lines Brother Regj uses in the Introduction to the Working Papers is:
What distinguishes founders is not that they established a religious congregation but, rather, that they found the fire of the Spirit’s (passion and compassion) in the midst of sufferings and apathy while their contemporaries could not. (Introduction to Working Papers, p. 9)
Although we are not founders (or re-founders), may we find the Sacred Fire of the Spirit’s (com)passion to be so captivating this week that (and now I am paraphrasing Regj’s paper)
Incarnating the Spirit’s (com)passion becomes our life passion, the dance that captures our whole being …
May our ‘joining in the Sacred Dance’ entice and captivate others to enrich the Charism of Theodore James Ryken and the Xaverian Brothers so that the dance continues and the fire burns in those areas of our Church and our world that need Ryken’s particular version of the Sacred Dance as it is performed by Brothers, Associates and Collaborators.
Let me end by playing a song we have used at various times during our Charism prayer services “As a Fire Is Meant for Burning.” Although the lyrics may not convey the totality of what our joining in the Sacred Dance can mean for us, they do capture the essence of how the Spirit’s passion and compassion for all creation can consume us and send us forth in mission.
Question For Reflection:
The preliminary material about this Assembly contained the quote “What are we becoming together, by the grace of God?” As you come to Bruges and we begin this Assembly, what thoughts, feelings, inspirations do you have about God’s call for you at this time and how God’s Spirit may be calling us to deepen and enhance the Xaverian Charism?
Le matériel préliminaire pour la présente Assemblée contenait la citation : “Que devenons-nous ensemble, par la grâce de Dieu ?” En venant à Bruges et au début de la présente Assemblée, quelles sont les pensées, les sentiments, les inspirations que vous avez en ce moment au sujet de l’appel de Dieu ? Comment l’Esprit de Dieu peut-il nous appeler à approfondir et à renforcer le Charisme xavérien ?
In het materiaal ter voorbereiding van deze Bijeenkomst stond het citaat : “Wat worden wij samen, bij de Gratie God’s ?” Wat denkt en voelt u en wat is uw inspiratie op dit ogenblik met betrekking tot de roep van God nu u in Brugge bent en wij deze Bijeenkomst starten ? Hoe kan God’s Geest ons roepen tot het verdiepen en versterken van het Xaveriaans charisma ?