“The ‘Magna Carta’ for those who want to introduce into the world a new civilization”
(Homily for the opening of the GC21 of the FMA)
Rome – FMA GC21
18 September 2002
Today marks a historic event for the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians:the beginning of the 21st General Chapter, which has as its theme In the renewed Covenant our commitment to an active citizenship.According to Art.135 of your Constitutions it is the “representative assembly of the whole Institute, both a means and an expression of unity, an exceptionally important time for reflection, assessment and guidance in a common search for God’s will”.You have leftly decided that the best way to begin and then continue to live it is through the Eucharist, where there come together the mystery of the new Covenant, sealed by the blood shed by Christ, the communion brought to its highest degree in enabling us to eat at God’s table, and the mission of introducing into the world the civilization of love.In this way your assembly becomes enlightened and completely oriented to making your Institute firmly rooted in the experience of God (covenant), which gives rise to communion as a style of life (community), and so becomes an educative and pastoral program (mission);and all this with a typically salesian slant, i.e. “the commitment to educate ourselves to assume with renewed responsibility in history the educational mission, together with the educating communities and the Salesian Family” (Working Document, 65).
From the outset you have wanted to begin from the Word and find in it the criteria for discerning the community and apostolic reality, and at the same time the energy and knowledge for “acting as Jesus did in every situation and in every encounter, rendering the person capable of a contemplative glance” (WD, 10).To put it more precisely, you have taken the beatitudes as the magna carta of evangelical citizenship (WD 70-77).In the words of the Pope on his return from the World Youth Day at Toronto, you have a confirmation of what you had already written: “On the Mount of Galilee”, said the Holy Father, “Jesus defined the identity of the citizens of the Kingdom in the form of congratulations: the beatitudes”.They are, he said, “the magna carta of those who want to introduce into the world a new civilization: (Angelus address, Castelgandolfo, 4 Aug. 2002)
I would like to go a little more deeply into this matter of the beatitudes, which is proclaimed to us today, in order that this part of the gospel text may become “the ideal of evangelical life”, “the response to the thirst for God and happiness”, “the path to attain that objective”, and “the logic of the Kingdom”.
All generations of Christians, and religious communities especially, have considered the beatitudes as the best synthesis of Christ’s Gospel, and its happiest proclamation.Jesus presents his Gospel as a program for happiness, and through it offers us our complete fulfilment in God.But this is a message that can be perceived and understood only by faith. It implies a deep change in our assessment of values, an upending of our ideas about relative importance, an overturning of worldly logic, and ultimately a change in the way we think of God.
These words of Jesus seem so utopian that it is very difficult to take them seriously. Who really believes that the poor and suffering, the hungry and the persecuted, are happy? Let us ask them for their own opinion! Or do the meek really possess the land?There is no doubt that after the 11th of September last year the world has become much more dangerous! What good is there in us trying to become more open in heart, or merciful?You need only think of the vast numbers who are on the verge of starvation, while others accumulate goods and property without limit. Our own daily experience seems at times to be an open contradiction of what Jesus says.And yet this was the first promise made by Jesus of Nazareth when he began to speak of God and of his dominion.
It is interesting to note that both Luke and Matthew place the beatitudes as a preamble and framework to the discourse in which Jesus sets out his program (“Sermon on the plain” in Luke, “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew). The intention is clear:for the citizen of the Kingdom joy is an imperative, the happiness of God comes before the demands intrinsic to the Kingdom.For Jesus, only a firm establishment under God’s dominion can bring bliss and true joy to this earth beset by poverty, suffering and death, and give it a firm foundation in the human heart.Moreover this happiness can be lived in any human circumstances, no matter how wretched.Precisely in those situations where joy seems out of the question, God comes to promise happiness and to make it possible.
And a first consequence of this, my dear Sisters, is that a firm belief in God’s promise means becoming a citizen of his Kingdom and an attentive listener to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount.God begins to reign where the promised happiness is realized.We are called therefore to make happiness our program of life, to practise joy as our daily way of life.Is not this fully in line with the most authentic salesian tradition: “We make holiness consist in being always happy”?
On the lips of Jesus the beatitudes were a proclamation of the Kingdom, addressed in the first place to the poor, to those deprived of this world’s goods, to the oppressed.And even today, in a world becoming ever more secularized, a world that has decided to prescind from God, it will be those who count for nothing in the world who are best able to look forward to God and his dominion.Their happiness comes from God, because it is God himself who is their true happiness.
This, dear Sisters, should be our Gospel, the good news to be lived and passed on to others.And here we have the second consequence: God comes close to all who have need of him. His Kingdom comes only and exclusively to those who are awaiting it.The Gospel is meant for the poor, those afflicted by any kind of poverty, old or new.When one relies on a God committed to the beatitude of those who are his own, all other expectations are superfluous as also is the effort to seek them.True happiness, like wholesome bread, “the Lord gives to his friends while they sleep” (Sal 126, 2b). “Seek therefore the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be given to you as well”.
The happiness promised by Jesus is not just a matter of words alone.He made the beatitudes the program he practised himself during his public ministry.The realization of the joy he proclaimed was the distinguishing trait of his messianic mission (cf. Mt 11,2-6).He had come to proclaim this messianic joy and he did so by living it.In this way he was able to manifest his own intimate religious experience:he was able to speak of God because of the living image of God that was always with him: a God who makes happy whoever believes in him.
And that, dear Sisters, brings us to the third consequence:we must proclaim what we live; we must communicate to others our experience of God by the way we live, just as did Jesus who, in the beatitudes, revealed his own experience of God.He practised what he preached, he himself did what he proclaimed: "Go and tell John what you hear and see:the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news brought to them.And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me" (Mt 11, 4-6). Like Jesus, we are called “to go about doing good” (cf. Acts 10, 38), making everyone happy and “introducing into the world a new civilization”.
Jesus interpreted and made clear the logic of God’s Kingdom by living in it.All his life, from his humble birth to his tragic death, was a living out of the attitudes of the beatitudes: he was poor (2 Cor 8, 9), he was meek and humble of heart (Mt 11, 29), he suffered the pangs of hunger (Mt 4, 2) and thirst (Jn 4, 7; 19, 28), he was persecuted for the Kingdom (Mt 10, 16-24). The beatitudes were his way of life before being words on his lips.Jesus himself is the existential hermeneutic of the beatitudes!. Without him they would be a simple paradox, a game of words, a mad utopian idea without either realism or guarantee of truth.For this reason the beatitudes imply the need to know Jesus. If the mind and heart were not completely centred onhim it would be impossible to grasp the secret of his beatitudes.They would remain nothing more than an abstract ideal, whereas they reflect, in fact, the human experience of Jesus as a believer.He knew who and what he was talking about when he proclaimed them.
And so we have a fourth consequence: to understand the deep roots of Jesus’ joy we must discover the motivation of his life: God and his Kingdom.
In the beatitudes, Jesus shows us how he views the world, man, and especially God.He is not imposing any new law on us, nor is he exhorting us to particular attitudes or behaviour. He is just bringing us face to face with fundamental attitudes that give rise to powerful forces, prompting surprising forms of behaviour and revealing new objectives.With the beatitudes, as a prologue to the proclamation of God’s Kingdom, Jesus is showing us a way for making our own his experience of God: to live in need, without on that account losing the joy of having God as our God; to rely on God when we find little reliable in the world; to face up to our own limitations and death itself, without renouncing the happiness of having him as God.This is what our experience of Jesus can be.
It is not difficult to understand what a high price Jesus had to pay for breaking away from the prevailing image of God: death on the cross.In reality the beatitudes and the whole of the Sermon on the Mount make sense and can be understood only in the light of Jesus’ death.On the cross Jesus shows himself as the one truly meek of heart, as the one suffering for the sake of justice, as the one truly poor, close to everyone, who loved us to the end and gave his life that we might have life more abundantly.For this reason, adopting the logic of the beatitudes is the same thing as adopting the logic of the Kingdom, which is the logic of the cross.And so we reach a final consequence, that of willingly becoming a “citizen of the Kingdom”.
But betrayal, rejection, abandonment and death do not have the last word for those who believe in God.The beatitudes proclaimed by Christ continue to be valid, because he experienced the fidelity of the Father, who did not “abandon him to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption” (cf. Acts 2,31).Indeed. “God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (1 Phil 2, 9-11).In the cross we get a glimpse of the true countenance of God committed to our happiness, and light is shed on the paradox of his Dominion.In the cross of Jesus, dear Sisters, lies the reason for our joy.The cross of Christ defends our happiness from any temptation to purchase it cheaply.The resurrection continues to be, as always, God’s response to men and women who are determined to live according to the beatitudes of the Gospel.
May Don Bosco and Maria Domenica Mazzarello be your models and inspiration.And may Mary, Mother of the Church, the first among all believers and citizens of the Kingdom, accompany you and be your guide in this spiritual and pastoral enterprise.
Fr Pascual Chávez V.
Address of the Rector Major
to the Members of the FMA GC21
Your Eminences Reverend Mother General
Brothers and Sisters of the Salesian Family
Dear Members of the Chapter
I am with you this morning to bring you, in the first place, the good wishes of all the Salesians; they are accompanying this important assembly by their prayers, that from it may emerge guiding inspirations and lines for future activity that will make the life and mission of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians effective throughout the world.
If it is true that without the other groups of the Salesian Family we Salesians would not be what we must in fact be,this is particularly true with respect to the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.With them we share a founder and father, a common charism lived in a male and female manner, a spirit which makes us feel members of the same family, a spirituality that stems from the same preventive system expressed in Da mihi animas,and a mission that incites us towards collaboration and communion.It is only natural, therefore, that we are following with much love, support and interest, this GC21 of your Institute, as you yourselves did for our own GC25, convinced that the conclusions you reach and the guidelines you adopt will always be an enrichment of our own vocation, as well as an encouragement for the renewal of your religious and educative communities.
This is your first General Chapter of the new millennium, and hence it must be approached and realized in the social and ecclesial context now prevailing.Your working Document, in fact, reflecting present-day realities, speaks of the situation of globalization (WD 82; 87) and of modernization which are becoming ever more clearly dominant in our world;and on the other hand it draws enlightenment from the pastoral program of the Church and the spirituality of communion in line with Novo millennio ineunte (WD 87).
Like all General Chapters, this one of yours is a Pentecostal event, a visit from the Holy Spirit, who by his powercan “renew the face of the earth” and create the “new heavens and a new earth” that we so much desire and look forward to.
And now, as Don Bosco’s successor, I would like to share with you some reflections prompted by the study of your Working Document.
1.The context and the evangelical response to it
My first point of reflection was the vision of reality presented in the Document, which makes quite clear the context in which the Chapter is taking place and which I would sum up in two main focuses, one social and one ecclesial;the first we can identify with neo-liberalism and secularism, expressed in materialism, consumerism, permissiveness and ethical relativism (cf. WD 7); and the second is provided by the pastoral program of the Church of the third millennium, as outlined by John Paul IIin Novo millennio ineunte.
The context is doubly important in such an assembly as this.It corresponds to the situation in which we are living, in which the Christian faith is developing, and in which we experience our religious life and pastoral activity.From the moment of the incarnation the whole of reality must be taken up in order to be redeemed, as Irenaeus would say.The context is a backdrop but it appears also as a challenge, and we cannot reflect on life and make decisions if these are out of step with reality.
I am glad that in the Institute there is a strong sensitivity concerning “problems inherent in the globalization that characterizes our society, (...) and in the injustice that is at the root of the unequal distribution of goods, the exclusion of the weakest, the violation of human lefts and that become a provocation in the contexts in which they are inserted [the educating communities]” (WD 31).It is a new awareness that stems specifically from the salesian vocation, which calls you “to be present in the situations in which the young people, especially those of the working classes, have difficulty in expressing the best in themselves;(...)to live in the closeness to them to which Jesus gave witness and allow yourselves to be evangelized by the poor” (WD 37).
In my opinion the Holy Father gave a masterly description of the present state of affairsin his homily during the Beatification Mass at Cracow on 18 August:“The twentieth century, despite indisputable achievements in many areas, was marked in a particular way by the ‘mystery of iniquity’.With this heritage both of good and of evil, we have entered the new millennium. New prospects of development are opening up before mankind, together with hitherto unheard-of dangers. Frequently man lives as if God did not exist, and even puts himself in God’s place. He claims for himself the Creator’s left to interfere in the mystery of human life. He wishes to determine human life through genetic manipulation and to establish the limit of death. Rejecting divine law and moral principles, he openly attacks the family. In a variety of ways he attempts to silence the voice of God in human hearts; he wishes to make God the ‘great absence’ in the culture and the conscience of peoples. The ‘mystery of iniquity’ continues to mark the reality of the world. In experiencing this mystery, man lives in fear of the future, of emptiness, of suffering, of annihilation. The message of merciful love needs to resound forcefully anew. The world needs this love. (Oss. Rom 19-20 Aug. 2002, p.8).
This is equally the message of Novo millennio ineunte in which – as a response to this situation – is offered to the world the salvation that comes from Christ’s death and resurrection, and hence from his Gospel, from the spirit of the beatitudes (cf. WD 79).
Indeed there is great need of a new international order, and we must not fail to make our contribution as disciples of Jesus and as religious in creating already a small microcosm where life may mature, flourish and bear fruit.
2.The theme and the grace of unity around God
A second reflection with regard to the theme: In the renewed Covenant our commitment to an active citizenship.It seemed to me a fascinating choice, because in the first place it provides an interesting synthesis of your religious life, starting from the experience of God (covenant), which gives rise to a new form of communion (community) and becomes an educative and pastoral program (mission) in “evangelical citizenship”.In this way everything becomes a mystery of love and communion, a participation in the life of the Trinity, which is diffusive of its nature, is expressed in community life and social life, and is manifested and made credible in the loving kindness characteristic of the preventive system.The latter, in fact, is not only a method of education but something that gives shape to our relationship with God and to our personal relationships in the community and mission, since it makes us feel that we are loved and prompts us to respond with the force of love. In this way, as you aptly express it, “The magnitude of the task is joined to the depth of our being rooted in God” (WD 79).
In effect, it is from communion, from participation in the life of the Trinity, that liberating impulses flow for the benefit of individuals, of society, of the Church and of the poor.The human person is called to overcome all the machinations of selfishness and live his life in communion.Society, which is offensive to the Trinity when organized on a basis of inequality – “the new society cannot be built on the suffering and poverty of others” (John Paul II, on his arrival in Poland, 16 August 2002) – does honour to the Trinity when it fosters communion and participation, thus giving rise to justice and equality among all.The morethe Church is able to overcome divisions among Christians, so much the more does it esteem and live the unity of faith in cultural diversity, and the more it becomes the sacrament of Trinitarian communion.Finally, the poor find in such communion the model of a human society which, starting from individual differences, manages to form a fraternal society which is open, just and supportive, and in which all have access to those goods that make life on earth humanly possible.
The Trinity is not an incomprehensible mystery of which it is better not to speak.No!Its mystery is one of love, in which we can all find ourselves and feel that we are loved.God is love (1 n 4, 8.12).That is precisely where the preventive system finds its foundation and inspiration, in the love of God “who provides in advance for all his creatures, is ever present at their side, and freely gives his life to save them” (Const. SDB, C 20).It is a matter of a liberating love, expressed in the integral advancement our pastoral activity must aim at, and making itself a sign of the presence of God’s Kingdom.
Without any doubt the theme chosen for the GC21 centres everything on the primacy of God, to find in him the grace of unity, which helps in overcoming the fragmentation of lifeand spiritual superficiality (cf. WD 77; 84).But at the same time it emphasizes in a practical manner the consequences for the life of the community (WD 88-95) and for the educative activity to be carried out (WD 97-102).God does not give us ready-made answers to problems, but when we go back to him we rediscover the great lines of humanization and regain the courage to follow them.Many of our modern problems would find a just solution if we abandoned ourselves to God who loves us and wants peace, justice, development and solidarity for every individual.He will unmask our ruinous idolatries and show us alternative ways to repair the fabric of our communities and society.
3.Evangelical citizenship and the commitment for education
A third and final element for reflection is the theme of evangelical citizenship, which you have decided on as a program with the consequent commitment to an education that takes its inspiration from the Beatitudes.
As the pre-capitular text well says, the community is a workshop for evangelical citizenship (WD 18).The community is not only a support for our fidelity and an element for making our religious life easier and more effective; it is already evangelizing in itself, rich in humanizing elements and in suggesting alternative models for social organization (cf. Acts 2, 42-47; 4, 32-35).For this reason the community is the real subject of the mission, which does not consist in doing things, however eye-catching they may be, nor in managing works, even though they be complex and grandiose, but in being signs and bearers of the love of God, or better of the God who is Love, the God who is Three in One.
It follows that the salesian method which is chosen is an appropriate one, i.e. it fosters the growth of the individual, and enables him/her to face life successfully with common sense and a sure objective.Little by little it will bring about a change in the culture of a people, with particular reference to women, in the conviction that “if we educate a woman we educate a people” (WD 40). Such a choice does not exclude, but indeed demands, “networking among the members of the Salesian Family, ecclesial groups, government and civil institutions, NGO's and all those who are interested in education and work to collaborate in the building up of a new society” (WD 38), and even the “critical and constructive contribution in the places where youth policies are developed, in the defense of human lefts with actions turned toward restoring dignity to the poorest among us” (WD 39).
In this category fall proposals aimed at strengthening the need to “educate ourselves to economic solidarity, to seriousness, to a critical conscience in confrontation with the impoverishment of the planet in order to assume a new vision of poverty and its concrete implications; to struggle against the logic of consumerism and that of exclusion; to support the movements that promote the transparency of public power and the respect for basic human lefts (WD 43), and the promoting of social and political education in the light of the social doctrine of the Church (WD 51), in the spirit of the beatitudes and in fidelity to the charism.
A perspective of this kind evidently demands a new type of FMA, and to produce it is a task for formation (cf. WD 59; 61).In this connection let me say that it is clear-headed and even courageous to recognize that “It is urgent to re-left our formation journey on Christ and on his message, (...) a need solicited also by the actual complexity” (WD 103).
It is my earnest hope and prayer that you may be able to find, in the Word of God and in the patrimony of salesian spirituality left us by Don Bosco and Mary Domenica Mazzarello, the inspiration and strength to deal successfully with the theme you have chosen, and to lead the whole Institute to a renewed Covenant, verified in the commitment of evangelical citizenship.You can count on our prayersand active interest.In addition to prayer we shall be accompanying you by the use of the information we shall receive throughout this spiritual experience you are beginning today in the Lord’s name.
May Mary, the Woman of the new Covenant, guide you in your undertaking and help you to manifest your evangelical citizenship in your communion with each other and in your commitment to the care of young people, while you share as she did the lot of the poor and lowly.
Pascual Chávez V.