Go forth and set the world on fire.
Dear Brothers, Associates and Collaborators:
Did you ever get hit by a cannonball? Probably not! Or has something so humiliating ever happened to you that you didn’t want anyone to know about it? I know I have had plenty of those experiences! As I write this letter, it is the feast of Saint Ignatius. Jesuits talk reverently yet humorously about the cannonball moment in Ignatius’ life. The crushed leg and long convalescence were actually moments of grace. They brought Ignatius to the profound experience of God’s unconditional love for him. The cannonball moment moved him to change his plans–from being a soldier to being a saint! We all have cannonball moments that help us find our innermost self, the place of awareness that frees us to be ourselves in the presence God. These moments of conversion invite us to move toward God and let go of things that keep us from an intimate relationship with God.
As a Congregation we are blessed to have a Founder whose conversion was a deeply personal experience of God’s unconditional love for him. Who we are today as Xaverians is the result of Ryken’s openness to God’s love even if God wants to use a sinner. Ryken’s humility, I believe, is the foundation of the spirituality we share. It calls us to an intimate union with God that inspires a life of continual conversion. As I celebrate the Feast of Saint Ignatius, I also thank God for Founder’s cannonball moment and the spiritual legacy he leaves us. Ryken was moved from being shoemaker to being our spiritual father.
A year ago in Rome, twenty-seven of us celebrated the Feast of Saint Ignatius at the Chapter. It was a cannonball moment for me being called to leadership. I have found out quickly the personal meaning of these words from our Fundament Principles:
Stand ready to answer God when He asks you if you are available for Him
To become more present in your life and through you to the world.
I don’t know how ready I truly was that day. Since then I have come to realize that I have to stand ready every day. I also realize that this call asks me to be more aware of who I am, to turn more and more to God and to admit that I, like Ryken, am a sinner who needs above all to practice humility if I am to love God and love and serve you as my Brothers. That’s my daily challenge.
A year ago, I was filled with great joy when I listened to the delegates as they called six of our Brothers, one by one, to leadership: John, Paul, Dan, Raphael, Patrick and Placide. Today we are completing our first year as the General Council. I want you to know how in all our discernments, each of these Brothers has your interest at heart. They are faith-filled and wonderful to work with as a Council.
I invite you to some questions for your own reflection. What are the cannonball moments of your life? What has drawn you closer to God? What has helped you understand and accept yourself with the humility of our Founder? What event(s) draw you closer to your Brothers?
Go forth and set the world on fire. These eight words have stayed with me. I find them filled with both conviction and passion. Ignatius spoke them with deep emotion to his best friend, Francis Xavier, as he sent Francis to carry the Jesuit mission to the East. Ignatius realized he would never see his best friend again. Ignatius’ words inspired Francis to go forward filled with zeal ad majored Dei Gloria (for the greater glory of God.) Can you remember your first mission? Who sent you forward to set the world on fire? What has stayed with you from that experience? How are you responding today to this command, Go forth and set the world on fire?
Upon reflection, the Chapter itself was a cannonball moment. No crushed legs or long convalescence that I am aware of! We had, however, plenty of time to reflect on what is important to us as Brothers. We spent a lot of time with what you expressed in the pre-Chapter preparation. We committed ourselves to renew what is already very familiar to us: our shared responsibility for our brotherhood and way of life; our responsibility, personal and communal, for our spiritual growth; our fidelity for living the charism; and our need to communicate with General leadership. What have we done since the Chapter?
A year has passed. What do we sense, if anything, is happening in the life of the Congregation? I want to explore with you a question that both Ignatius and Ryken had to answer as a result of their conversion experiences. It is certainly a question the Chapter tried to answer.
What are we as a Congregation, being called to as a result of the Chapter?
What have we done? From October, 2013 to April, 2014 John, Paul and I at the direction of the General Council went forth and tried to set the world, our CFX world, on fire! We spent the first seven months visiting nine regions of the Congregation: six in the USA, Belgium, Kenya and Congo. We shared the spirit of the Chapter. In the context of prayer, we explained the Chapter Directives. Our most immediate task, however, was to establish the regional structure envisioned by the Chapter in order to give greater voice to all Brothers in the life and direction of the Congregation. The new regions are to animate brotherhood among us and to encourage us to share our way of life with others, for example, our Associates. The new structure calls each of us to be responsible for the way of life we share as Brothers.
As you are aware, all regions have held initial meetings. The early reaction to the structure has generally been positive. Most meetings have included prayer and time to talk to each other about what is important to us as Brothers. As one Brother shared with me, it was just good to be together. Most of the regional coordinators have also been a pastoral presence to their Brothers. Some Brothers have expressed they have a renewed a sense of belonging. I am also aware of a “let’s wait and see” attitude. That is also a somewhat normal reaction. We know there is a lot more to be done. We know we have to go forth together.
What do we do next? The new structure is clearly about relationships. It is about our relationship to each other, our relationship both personal and communal to God and our relationship to our world as a religious congregation. The focus of the regional structure is clearly on what is the heart of our life together. I put emphasis on together. For the new structure to bear fruit, we need each other. We need to listen to each other.
What do we need to let go of? The first thing I feel we have to let go of is the pall of doom about the future of religious life that some of us have lived under since the 1970’s. That type attitude can demoralize a community. We have little or no control of external factors such as shifting family values or social trends. We do have control over how I/we react to them and how we choose to live our vocation. The meaning of our lives as Xaverian Brothers lies in vibrancy with which we live the charism as expressed in our Fundamental Principles. Our charism is a gift to be given. Are we faithful to our charism and live it with joy?
What do we need to embrace? Simply put, we need to continue to embrace more intentionally the life we share. The question becomes not why I am a Xaverian Brother, but how am I a Xaverian Brother? As we go forward in our regions we need to find ways to deliberately enter into a true mutual sharing. We have to encourage a ready acceptance of each other as we are. We need to find ways by which we show honest fraternal concern and love for each other that let the world know we are sons of Ryken and followers of Jesus (Fundamental Principles). The new structure depends on everyone’s willingness to share what is important to us.
Every Chapter calls the Congregation to self- assessment and renewal. Our renewal as individual Brothers and as a Congregation is an everyday matter. During the past year, General Council has been working on the questions of community, mission, spiritual renewal and the common life. Our new regional structure will allow us to explore the essential questions related to these and other aspects of our lives and to arrive at answers together.
May I ask you to bring to your prayer and reflection this one question? What are we being called to today?
I wish everyone an enjoyable summer. It is a good time for personal renewal. On behalf of the Congregation I want to congratulate the five Brothers who will have professed their perpetual vows this summer. As I read Ignatius’ quote, “Go forth and set the world on fire,” I pray that these young Brothers experience the same love of God and passion for His service as our Founder, Saint Ignatius, Saint Francis Xavier and so many of our Brothers have experienced and continue to experience. It is the joy of living the Gospel. In the name of the Congregation I congratulate:
Marc Kabwita Mufuka
Serge Lumbala Kachunga
René Mambwe Kijiba Silvestre
Daniel Ongeso Ohola
Moses Wafula Barasa
Ad multos annos!
I want to close this letter with another quote from Saint Peter Claver. It is my prayer for the Xaverian family.
“Seek God in all things and we shall find God by our side.”