‘See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.’(Isaiah 43:19)
Dear Brothers, Associates and Colleagues,
As I come to the end of my term as General Superior, I want to share some thoughts and feelings about the past six years. In short they have been a time of grace for me personally. That our Xaverian Community also experienced God’s love is my deepest hope. Six years ago many of us left the General Chapter feeling that, ‘Something new is happening to us.’ I believe that feeling is true. However, it may take us some time to perceive it and to understand the new life to which God is calling us. That ‘something new’ is happening among us is very clear to me.
At the end of June, I made a directed retreat. This time of grace allowed me the space to pray and to reflect about my experiences as General Superior. I want to share a few reflections with you: what I feel happened to me as General Superior; my appreciation of our Founder; what I have experienced in you; and my hope for our shared future.
As I began my term, a close friend told me, ‘The most important thing you can do as General Superior is to love the Brothers.’ My friend’s advice proved to be very true. The road I have been on as General Superior has brought me great joy as well as challenges. One of my biggest challenges was getting to know the Brothers, not only in Belgium, Kenya and Congo, but even in the United States, having spent thirty-eight years in Kentucky. The grace I experienced was the feeling of really belonging to ‘the band of Brothers’ that our Founder envisioned over one hundred and eighty years ago. However, that grace also disturbed me. Our Fundamental Principles call me to examine how I relate to you as my Brothers.
As Brothers we are called to share our lives. We are reminded that this sharing will demand of you an opening and a giving of yourself to them at many levels, and a ready acceptance of each of them in all their sinful and graced humanity.
The Spirit of God was stirring something new within me. To share with you as your Brother, I had to see you with heart not just with my mind’s eye. Sunday’s Gospel about the Good Samaritan says it perfectly. As the Samaritan was not bogged down by title, position, religious prescriptions or cultural biases, but responded with authentic compassion to the man who was beaten and left to die, I have come to understand our mission to the world as one of ‘manifesting God’s compassion to all whom we meet in this journey of life.’ To live our mission, I need to start with you. This realization has been a focal point for my transformation work.
What prevents me from opening and giving of myself to my Brothers? What gets in my way of accepting them in their sinful and graced humanity? I realized at the time I can be judgmental of others, demanding on myself and therefore of others and sometimes jealous. My sinful humanity often gets in the way of ‘the sincere friendship and fraternal concern.’ My prayer is simple, ‘Jesus, help me to see my Brother as you see him and to love him as you love him.’ In order to do that, I also have to ask Jesus for the same grace. ‘Jesus, help me to see myself as You see me, to love myself as You love me.’ The transformation process has also helped me to know, accept and affirm Brothers especially those I did not know well. I can remember sending a note to one such Brother thanking him for his personal sharing at one of our meetings. At our next meeting he thanked me for the note and shared that he had never received such feedback before.
Something has given me a new and deeper relationship with our Founder. I ‘knew’ about our Founder, but I don’t feel I really knew him—his spirit. During my recent retreat, reflecting on his life and sharing my prayer with him, I came to a clearer understanding of his spiritual journey and to a real affection for him and what he means to us, his Brothers.
Unpretentious. Theodore James Ryken was a man of simple faith, humility and compassion. His life had painful moments: the loss of his father and beloved grandfather, the break-up of the family, religious oppression, the many trials and failures experienced in realizing his vision for us. The grace of humility opened our Founder’s heart to turn from sinfulness and to receive the warmth of God’s unconditional love. I believe our Founder was impelled by his experience of Jesus’ love for him to reach out and to take risks in order to manifest, as Jesus did, His Father’s compassion for all people but especially to those in need: the poor and marginalized. Our Founder realized that the continual conversion we need to be followers of Jesus requires that we ‘enter an intimate relationship with God through time spent each day in solitude and prayer.’
As we approach the Chapter, I believe that the heart of our personal and communal transformation lies in our prayer and contemplation of God’s unconditional love in our lives as Xaverian Brothers. Not only as individuals, but as ‘the band of Brothers.’ Our community. What is our love of Jesus impelling us to be and to do together for our Church and world? How are we being impelled by God’s love.
Pope Francis states the following, ‘Our mission is to witness that God is love.’ Today’s world desperately needs people committed to witness that God is love. Our Founder did so intensely. An American philosopher, Harold Whitman, offers an answer to the perennial question, ‘What does the world need from me? (of us)?’ He simply says don’t ask that question, but rather ask yourself what makes me come alive? And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.’ How does God’s unconditional love impel us to come alive? What would our world be like if we all come alive with the unconditional love of God?
“Let us ask ourselves today are we open to God’s surprises?”Pentecost Homily, Pope Francis
‘Am I open to God’s surprises?’ God’s surprises have been many especially during our transformation process. Let me name the one that stays with me. Gradually, I feel, we experienced trustful sharing and reverent listening. I participated in meetings in both Maryland and Kentucky. I was pleasantly surprised at the palpable feeling of unity our meetings generated. I was shocked that there was the expressed desire to keep gathering. Most of us are former teachers for whom ‘meetings’ were sheer penance! I was also surprised by the openness to the unknown of our future as well as the openness to listen to each other when there are different points of view.
My hope for both the Chapter and for us after the chapter is that we come to a place of greater ease in talking about experiences, both personal and communal, of God’s unconditional love and how as the Xaverian Community of Brothers, Associates and Colleagues we can witness that God is love to our world.
I ask that you pray for the Chapter delegates that we can empty ourselves individually to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, to be open to listening to the Holy Spirit in what each Brother shares and open to how the Holy Spirit moves us as community during the chapter. I ask also that you pray for all members of our Xaverian Community that we realize that the most important work of the Chapter will start on August 3, 2019, the day after the chapter concludes.
Lastly, I want to express my deepest gratitude to you, my Brothers, to our Associates, and Colleagues in XBSS. Your faith, compassion, and zeal for our mission give me a great sense of purpose and belonging.
I also want to express my deepest gratitude for the Administrative Staff at the Generalate who are responsible for the smooth operation of the Congregation. Thanks to Sharon Dawson, Executive Assistant, Rhonda Tully, Chief Financial Officer, Shawn Lynch, General Manager, Stephanie Stricker, Mission Advancement, Patrick Slattery, Executive Director of the Sponsored Schools, Benjamin Horgan, Director of Formation for the Sponsored Schools, Chris Irr, Communications Office, Brother Arthur Caliman, General Treasurer and Brother Larry Harvey, Chief Operating Officer.
And finally, to the members of the General Council who have shared the leadership and carried the responsibility for the mission and life of our Community: Brothers John Hamilton, Vicar, Patrick Fumbisha, Congo, Paul Murray, Pastoral Care, USA, Placide Ngoie, Congo, Daniel Skala, Finance and Ministry, USA, Raphael Wanjala, Kenya, Mission and Ministry Projects.
You will always be in my prayer. I pray that you grow in your experience of your own lovableness and that you become more and more mindful of the many ways God reveals to you in your daily life His unconditional love for you. And that you pass His love on to others.
In the Risen Lord,
Brother Edward Driscoll, CFX | General Superior