Fr EGIDIO VIGANÒ:
pREADING THE FOUNDER'S CHARISM AGAIN AT THE PRESENT DAY
In our foundational reinterpretation an important role of practical
guidance was played by the effort to produce a fundamental redrafting
of the text of the Constitutions. At the outset this was resisted for
various reasons; and even at a later stage, when the work had already
been started, there were some who still thought that it would have been
sufficient to touch up the previous Constitutions here and there. The
result was a wise and bold decision to embark on a complete rethinking
and redrafting of the whole text in fidelity to the original.
This delicate work was, of course, put in hand in line with the new conciliar guidelines. The objective was to produce a "Basic Code" with an authentic description of the identity, evangelical values, specific characteristics, ecclesial dimension, healthy traditions, and also the indispensable juridical norms for ensuring the character, ends and means of the Institute.
A change from the previous norm desired by Ecclesiae Sanctae was that the renewed Constitutions should be rich in evangelical, theological and ecclesial principles, not indeed as an artificial conglomeration introduced from outside and at a theoretical level, but rather as perceptions and declarations emanating from the life lived by the Founder and from within his plan of life. They had to contain an integral synthesis of an original plan of consecrated life and indicate the substantial principles with which the Founder wanted his followers to be disciples of Christ with a specific ecclesial sense.
In them a harmonious integration had to be achieved between gospel inspiration, apostolic criteriology and structural practicality, going beyond the institutional requirements to make clear the historical experience of the Holy Spirit lived by the Founder and by him passed on to the Institute.
Don Bosco, our Founder, did his utmost to instill his own personal experience into the Constitutions (as far as was possible at the time) so as to leave a 'living testament' which would be like a mirror reflecting the characteristic features of his spiritual and apostolic countenance. Rightly was he able to declare that "to love Don Bosco is to love the Constitutions"; and when he handed a copy to Don Cagliero, who was leaving for Patagonia at the head of the first missionary expedition, he said with winning emotion: "Here is Don Bosco going with you".
Naturally, in the redrafting of the Constitutions the effort was made to refer back as much as possible to the spirituality of the Founder, to his more charismatic writings, to his well proven experience, as a model from which to derive the genuine aspect and indispensable key for the foundational reinterpretation.
The work was not easy; it went on for more than ten years, but it constitutes in fact the clearest and most authoritative synthesis of the enterprise. It was subsequently enriched by an official commentary, article by article, as a valid help for the correct interpretation of the Constitutions. In addition a manual of government was prepared in two volumes - one for Provincials and the other for local Superiors - in view of the renewal of the exercise of authority. It was also possible to draw up an appropriate" Ratio institutionis" for the initial and ongoing formation of the confreres.
The spirit of the Founder
In the redrafting of the Constitutions particular importance was given
to their organic structure in a global and unified presentation. A plan
of life cannot tolerate a fragmentation which conceals or does harm
to the implications of a scheme which is in itself vitally organic.
But to be able to do this we had first to be clear about two concepts
which lie at the basis of everything: that of 'consecration' and that
of 'mission' and their mutual relationships. We may say in fact that
on this point there developed a veritable battle in the Chapter; it
was not easily resolved, as we shall see, but in its solution we finally
found the key to the organic unity.
Meanwhile, as a separate and basic element (at least for the work we had in hand), we wanted to be sure that we had the correct description of the most significant traits of the Founder's spiritual countenance. Within the great gospel values common to all the Institutes of consecrated life we had to single out the daily style of life, the personal and communal attitudes, and the manner of living and working, or in other words the climate and atmosphere of life which constitutes our particular physiognomy; certainly in this too it was necessary to establish a hierarchy among the components, because it was a matter of a deep reinterpretation with a central motive force, which could not be allowed to become a mere logical theory but had to remain a typological description.
In the important first part of the new text of the Constitutions there is a completely new chapter of 12 articles (from 10 to 21), which are a condensation of what is considered to be the substance of the 'spirit of Don Bosco'.
Vatican II, as we have already said, had asked religious to concentrate their attention on the figure of the Founder as an original expression of the many forms of holiness and evangelical life in the Church. Every Founder is born of the Church and lives for the Church.
Paul VI reminded everyone: "The Council rightly insists on the obligation of religious to be faithful to the spirit of their Founders, to their evangelical intentions and to the example of their sanctity. In this it finds one of the principles for the present renewal and one of the most secure criteria for judging what each Institute should undertake. For while the call of God renews itself and expresses itself in different ways according to changing circumstances of place and time, it nevertheless requires a certain constancy of orientation".
We have spoken of 'spirit' rather than of 'spirituality' so as to remain more faithful to the facts of history and to the life of the Founder as a 'kairos' become model; 'spirituality', on the other hand, customarily refers to more abstract concepts.
The work that was done certainly constitutes today one of the meritorious elements of our foundational reinterpretation; we are convinced that it would have pleased Don Bosco himself who, speaking with humility of the constitutional text he had drawn up according to the norms then prevailing, said that it could be considered a 'rough copy' of what he really desired, but that the 'fair copy' would be written later by his sons.
Concentrating attention on the spirit of the Founder meant giving priority to interior matters and attitudes of the heart, having the same sentiments with which he copied those of Christ.
This enables us also to understand the qualitative leap forward desired by the Council as regards the concept of the Constitutions: from a text that was rather normative and juridical, to a pleasing and stimulating synthesis of the evangelical experience of the leader of a new movement in holiness and the apostolate.
The spirit of the Founder is certainly bound up also with the culture of his time; it is manifested in it but transcends it, so that it is able to constitute an ensemble of spiritual traits that can be embodied in other cultures. This, therefore, is due to the transcendence and adaptability of the charism, though its transmission is not brought about by words alone but by a continuous tradition of life linked, in fact, with a long and delicate process of sound inculturation.
From the 'mission' to the rediscovery of the 'charism'
I have already referred to the capitular discussion on the fundamental
notions of 'consecration' and 'mission'. A deeper understanding of the
mutual relationship between these two vital aspects was central to our
reinterpretation and at the foundation of the final synthesis. A sound
interpretation of the Council led us to a convinced and dynamic convergence.
When the Special General Chapter began its work, among the commissions set up was one dedicated specifically to the charism of the Founder. It ran into great difficulties, and after a certain space of time was dissolved. Why?
The basic reasons were of two kinds, at odds with each other. Some did not want a study of the charism to be made at all, because it would have left the future open to arbitrary experiments; others did not want it because it would have rendered sacred what were only fleeting cultural elements of the last century. Both groups were eventually able to agree on one thing only: there was not yet a sufficiently enlightened mentality on the point.
It is useful also to recall that in the documents of the Council the expression "charism" of the Founder is never used, even though characteristic elements of its specific nature are indicated. The first official use of the expression "charism" of the Founder is found in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelica testificatio of Paul VI in 1971. An authoritative and more specific clarification, and a more detailed description is found in the document Mutuae relationes of 1978.
On the other hand there was a general conviction that, in a period of rapid change, the aspect felt to be the more challenging was that of the 'mission'. And so the mission became the central point in the concerns of reinterpretation.
But in what did the mission consist. It was all too easy to forget its theological nature and restrict it to the practical theatre of activities. And so an 'essentialist' kind of mentality maintained the ontological primacy of the kind of 'consecration' which many thought must precede and guide the whole project.
A far from easy problem, and one rendered still more difficult among the capitulars by reductive and imprecise ideas of the concept of 'consecration' and of 'mission'.
The path which opened up to us the authentic sense of the reinterpretation of the charism was the realization of the meaning attached by the Fathers of the Council to the famous verb" consecratur" in Lumen gentium n. 44. A long work of discussion was needed to change the mentality concerning the concept of religious 'consecration'.
First it was being identified with the more typical interior human aspects (prayer, vows), and with the individual religious as its agent ("I consecrate myself'). This led to a prescinding from the true concept of charism and gave a secondary place to the 'mission' with its requirements, as if it pertained only to activity and works and was not theologically inherent in the consecration itself. All this evidently had an influence on the structuring of the Constitutions. A deeply felt discussion was necessary to overcome the dualism between' consecration' and 'mission' which went to the very root of the identity of our apostolic vocation.
We were greatly helped by what the Council asserts in n. 8 of the Decree Perfectae caritatis, and especially by the consideration that God is the active agent in both consecration and mission. This led to a rethinking of the significance of Profession, and the formula was redrafted.
In particular the inseparable theological nexus between 'consecration' and 'mission' was examined at greater depth, and this gave a renewed sense to the whole project of the specific character, and opened up the possibility of rethinking the constitutional structure. This vision of our apostolic consecration is summed up in an article of the Constitutions which says: "We live as disciples of the Lord by the grace of the Father, who consecrates us through the gift of his Spirit and sends us out to be apostles of the young. Through our religious profession we offer ourselves to God in order to follow Christ and work with him in building up the Kingdom. Our apostolic mission, our fraternal community and the practice of the evangelical counsels are the inseparable elements of our consecration which we live in a single movement of love towards God and towards our brothers.
Our mission sets the tenor of our whole life; it specifies the task we have in the Church and our place among other religious families".
It is a matter, therefore, of living a Christian existence which is simultaneously consecrated and apostolic, rather than being apostolic because it is consecrated. The gift of the Spirit to the professed religious involves in him a 'grace of unity' which makes him capable of a vital synthesis between the fullness of consecration and the authenticity of apostolic labor. "This type of life - declared the Special General Chapter - is not something fixed and prefabricated, but is a project in permanent construction. Its unity is not static, but is a unity in tension and in continual need of balance or revision, of conversion and adaptation".
This grace of unity, the result of pastoral charity, has recently been described also by the Holy Father in the Apostolic Exhortation Pastores do vobis. And the same John Paul II in an address to the members of our 23rd General Chapter on 1 May 1990 said: "First of all I want to emphasize as a fundamental point the strength of a unifying synthesis that stems from pastoral charity. It is the fruit of the power of the Holy Spirit which ensures the vital inseparability between union with God and dedication to one's neighbor, between depth of interior evangelical meditation and apostolic activity, between a praying heart and busy hands. Those two great Saints, Francis de Sales and John Bosco, have borne witness to this wonderful 'grace of unity' and brought it to fruition in the Church. Any deterioration on this point opens up a dangerous path to activism or intimism, both of which are insidious temptations for Institutes of Apostolic Life".
In this vision of vital synthesis we found the spark of our identity, the one that flashes at zero hour where everything begins, where friendship explodes and the covenant is ratified, where pulsates the grace of unity. It is the meeting of two loves, of two freedoms which fuse together: that of the "Father who consecrates us" and "sends us out", and that of ourselves who "offer ourselves" totally to him in accepting to be "sent". In this mutual fusion of friendship the initiative and very possibility of the apostolic covenant come from God, but are confirmed by our free response: he it is who has called us, who has sent us and has helped us to respond, but we are the ones who give ourselves and become 'missionaries.'
For us the term 'consecration' emphasized especially the initiative on God's part: He is the one who consecrates! We were well aware too that the same term 'consecration' - with respect to its contents - is not in itself free from ambiguity; in fact it changes its meaning in line with various levels of ecclesial life. We did not enter immediately into a consideration of such differences, leaving to the elaboration of the Constitutions what the concrete significance was for ourselves.
What we were concerned about in the first place was highlighting the qualitative leap stemming from the recognition of God's initiative: "consecratur a Deo"! This it was that opened up horizons for us.
From this standpoint of apostolic consecration we were led also to contemplate the Founder: God, who chose him and guided him, made of his existence in mission an experience of the Holy Spirit, to be continued and fostered in the Church in the future.
And so in this way we reach a theological vision of the "charism of the Founder": "an experience of the Spirit transmitted to their followers to be lived by them, to be preserved, deepened and constantly developed in harmony with the Body of Christ continually in a process of growth... with a distinctive character which also involves a particular style of sanctification and apostolate".
The dynamic element which has brought about the maturing of this theological category of charism has been precisely the recognition of the divine initiative in the consecration as a specification by God. This, in fact, was a true conciliar reversion which brought about a rethinking of the significance of the Profession and the specific work of the Founder. It also served to give the name of consecrated life to Institutes which had been previously known as "states of perfection".
'Apostolic consecration' and 'charism' have become for us two theological categories which are superimposed on each other and mutually interchange. We are dealing, in fact, with an exclusive initiative of God, which does not lose its force in a faceless genericism but consists in an original intervention which establishes a particular mission and a gospel plan of life to give to the Institute a concrete physiognomy ("style of sanctification and apostolate").
We may say that the conciliar vision of 'consecration' implies a viewpoint of an initiative of the Holy Spirit which, when applied to the painful historical work of foundation, manifests the substance of the charism given to both the Founder and the Institute, which has as the permanent source of its continuity the religious profession of the individual members.
And so in our foundational reinterpretation, although we began by temporarily excluding the category of 'charism' we have been forcibly led back to it through the providential deeper analysis of the event of 'consecration' as envisaged by the Council.
The duration of the reinterpretation and those involved
We can consider in general terms four stages through which our work
of reinterpretation passed: the Special General Chapter and the three
General Chapters that followed it; in practice they were two decades
of intense work, from 1970 to beyond 1990.
- The GC20 (from 10 June 1971 to 5 January 1972: seven months, no less!) was the "special" Chapter desired by the Motu proprio Ecclesiae sanctae. It was the longest and most laborious stage of rethinking and reelaboration of the elements of our identity; it remains the fundamental Chapter of all the work done.
- The GC21 (from 31 October 1977 to 12 February 1978) was a further period of revision and consolidation. It completed some particular aspects of our identity (e.g. the Preventive System, the role of the Rector, the figure of the Salesian Brother) in harmony with the doctrine and guidelines of Vatican II, and prolonged for a further six years the experiment of the renewed Constitutions.
- The GC22 (from 14 January to 12 May 1984) represents the final contribution and the goal which concluded the experimental period of the previous twelve years, and gave to the Congregation the Constitutions and Regulations in a renewed and organic form.
- The GC23 (from 4 March to 5 May 1990) differed from the three previous
General Chapters precisely because it was an 'ordinary' Chapter. The
previous three Chapters belong in a certain sense to the category of
the 'Special' General Chapter, because of their overall concern with
the identity of the. charism and the consideration of various related
matters. The GC23 , on the other hand, dealt with a single concrete
argument, chosen to intensify the process of renewal. It is interesting
to note that whereas the three 'Special' Chapters led to an identity
now clearly described in the Constitutions, the GC23 applied the charismatic
identity in a sector of accelerated evolution for a practical application
in the mission; and this reminds us that the reinterpretation of the
identity does not close the door on the search for fresh commitments
in the new evangelization, but rather opens us to them with greater
courage. Hence, the reinterpretation serves also for a more fruitful
research for the benefit of the mission.
It is interesting also to observe that the four stages constitute, we may say, a single continuous and complementary process. This means that the redrafted text transcends not only the labors of the restricted groups of particular confreres but also the four individual General Chapters. In each of them, with a distance of six years between one and the next, there was a turnover of a good part of the members, with new lived experiences and reflections each time, and in each subsequent Chapter it was possible to reduce the possible influence of earlier elements resulting from circumstantial considerations of the moment; a deeper and more prolonged reflection enabled ambiguities and lack of precision to be corrected. Time allowed the deeper understanding of delicate aspects to mature, while the accelerated rate of change enabled clearer distinctions to be made between permanent and transient values, between what pertained to the identity and what was linked only with culture, thus increasing the awareness of the ecclesial and worldwide dimension of the evangelical project of Don Bosco.
Sensitive points in the process of discernment
In the conciliar view of Ecclesiae sanctae the Constitutions had to
provide an authoritative presentation of an evangelical plan of life;
they had to indicate the fundamental principles of the following of
Christ, the ecclesial dimension, the charismatic originality, the healthy
traditions and adequate service structures.
They present, in fact, a harmonic integration between gospel inspiration and a concrete structural nature. They are the fundamental document of the Congregation's particular law. More than laying down a priori detailed norms to be followed, they describe mainly a spiritual and apostolic manner of bearing witness according to the spirit of the Beatitudes. They help in rereading the mystery of Christ from the standpoint of the Founder, which is for us the salesian standpoint of Don Bosco. Their general structure has been rethought with a style and arrangement which induce a prayerful reading and prompt a commitment of life. A person meditating on them in faith, i.e. with 'new eyes', will draw from them both life and strength.
Guiding criteria, shared by all (sometimes indeed after long and deeply-felt discussions), were followed and can be considered sensitive points in the process of discernment. In addition to the living sense of the Founder, of which I have already spoken, I would list the following;
- The significance of the religious profession
The reinterpretation of the charism has reawakened especially the awareness
of a new starting point for consecrated life with an overall commitment
to a new beginning to really relaunch the Founder's plan. This sensitivity
as regards a relaunching has brought with it the rediscovery of the
vital significance of religious profession.
We have come to realize that religious profession cannot be reduced to the simple making of the three vows, as though they were identical in all Institutes of consecration. It was not a matter of writing into the Constitutions a kind of general treatise on consecrated life, but of providing a description of what the Council called the "particular character" of the evangelical project that was being professed. We needed to describe the spiritual traits and existential attitudes which would distinguish and characterize us among the People of God. These aspects, of course, presuppose and require the constitutive elements of all Christian and consecrated life, which we necessarily have in common with other religious and members of the faithful.
The particular character is brought about by existential aspects and nuances described and specified in the text of the Constitutions and explicitly assumed in the act of profession as practices for the following of Christ: something, in fact, which is by no means insignificant and which cannot be set aside by the professed. For us the manner of being disciples and living our Baptism is that of practizing our "Rule of life". To become true Christians we must live as good Salesians. "There are not two levels", our Special General Chapter told us: "that of religious life which is a little higher, and that of Christian life which is a little lower.. For the religious, testifying to the spirit of the Beatitudes with the profession of the vows is his only manner of living out baptism and of being a disciple of the Lord."
In religious profession we discover the full living and overall significance of our special Covenant with God.
- The oratory criterion
This refers to the question of what groups we work for: a 'crucial
point in the Special General Chapter. In Don Bosco's heart the priority
was for the work of the Oratories for those to whom he felt he had been
specially sent. In our reinterpretation of the charism the first Oratory
at Valdocco was taken as an apostolic point of reference. As a model
this is not identified with a particular structure or institution, but
rather with a specific pastoral standpoint for assessing our present
works or those to be taken up in future.
At the centre of this 'oratorian heart' there is a predilection for the young, especially those who are poorer, and for the working classes; before and above the works themselves there are the people, the young people; the disciple of Don Bosco must feel himself a missionary of the young.
The inspiration of this criterion throws light on the ecclesial commitments Don Bosco wanted for the Congregation. They are: the evangelization of the young, especially poor youngsters and young workers; the fostering of vocations; apostolic initiative in densely populated working-class areas, especially through the means of social communication; and the missions.
For a faithful understanding of the reach of this criterion it is well to have in mind some constitutional requirements at three different and complementary levels:
- the preferential choice of those for whom we work: poor youth and, at the same time, those who show signs of a vocation;
- the spiritual and educative experience of the preventive system;
- the ability to recruit numerous collaborators, chosen from among the laity and the youngsters themselves, to share with us responsibility for the work.
It is a question, therefore, of a complex but concrete criterion which leads us to transcend the material character of the works and enter into Don Bosco's heart to make judgments and plans in line with the specific style of his pastoral charity.
In point of fact, this criterion has led among other things to a courageous Project Africa which, after 15 years, now sees more than 800 salesian missionaries working in 36 countries of that continent.
- The community dimension
Another sensitive point in the reinterpretation was that of the community
dimension, which is intrinsic to the religious life, albeit - in our
own case - with a particular style all its own.
It was not, however, just a matter of intensifying a genuine 'family spirit' among the confreres something that had been emphasized from the origins, but of insisting on the special communion or sharing of responsibility in the mission: this is entrusted in the first place to the community, which is the subject responsible.
Hence the particular manner of exercising authority; hence the community aspect of the educative and pastoral plan; hence the commitment to formulate it, realize it, and revise it together; hence _he stimulus to offer personal contributions to the exclusion of all individualism and arbitrary independence. The community is called to a continual pastoral discernment so as to remain united and faithful in the apostolic realization of the charism.
This sensitive point has had a great influence throughout the long process of renewal.
- The "form" of the Institute
The form of the Institute (i.e. whether it is "clerical",
"lay", "mixed", "indifferent", etc.) implies
constitutive traits which express and ensure, even from a juridical
point of view, the particular character and characteristics of the charism.
It has, in fact, a theological and spiritual importance in the growth
and vitality of the charism: "According to our tradition,"
reads the text of the Constitutions, "communities are guided by
a member who is a priest, and who by the grace of his priestly ministry
and pastoral experience sustains and directs the spirit and activity
of his brothers".
The mission, which determines the tenor of the whole life of the Institute, is pastoral of its nature and the whole spirit of the Founder emanates from the pastoral charity of his priestly heart.
Our Institute is not strictly 'priestly', nor is it simply 'lay', and neither is it 'indifferent' properly so-called. The members are clerical and lay. "Our Society is made up of clerics and laymen who complement each other as brothers living out the same vocation"; each one is aware that he shares responsibility for the whole before considering himself cleric or lay. "The priestly and lay components of the Society do not imply the extrinsic summation of two dimensions, each belonging to groups of confreres, distinct from each other, running on parallel lines and eventually putting together the efforts of each group, but rather a single community which is the true recipient of the one salesian mission. This requires a particular formation of the personality of each member, so that in the heart of each clerical Salesian there is an intimate feeling of being linked to and involved with the lay dimension of the community, and in the heart of each lay Salesian in turn, there is the same feeling in respect of the community's priestly dimension." This is a single characteristic bound up with the specific 'secular dimension' of the Institute. For this reason it is of the greatest importance for us to promote simultaneously an awareness and harmonious growth of clerical and lay members in the spirit of the salesian tradition.
And so the service of authority in the Congregation is linked with this originality of 'form'. It exerts a delicate function of identity in the spirit and unity of apostolic action. Its specific role is that of promoting and giving direction to the 'pastoral charity' which is the centre and synthesis of the salesian spirit and the soul of all our activity. The grace of priestly ordination (which is the sacrament of pastoral charity) enriches and confirms the potential for service, and ensures that a genuine pastoral criterion lies behind all our participation in the evangelizing mission of the Church, including also human advancement and an incisive effect on culture.
It is a contribution useful to all members because it is intimately connected with the oratorian criterion.
We were convinced of the urgent need to indicate and embody through
flexible methods the common identity in different local cultures. This
is an arduous task; it demands a clear idea of the identity in the process
of formation, and an acute sensitivity and intelligent discernment in
respect of cultural differences.
We felt ourselves in full agreement with Fr Voillaume: "There is a tendency nowadays to place in doubt the unity of a Congregation on the pretext of developing the regional or national characteristics of the foundations. Such a tendency is ambiguous. It is lawful to the extent that it is a reaction against a uniform commitment to a univocal expression of religious life too much dependent on a single mentality, but nonetheless it throws doubt on one of the characteristics of the Kingdom of God which is above every culture, in the fraternal unity of the People of God which should know neither race nor culture."
A charism which is not open and adaptable to cultural values becomes institutionalized and cuts itself off from the future; but a culture which is closed to the signs of the times, to mutual exchange with other cultures and to the transcendence of the mystery of Christ and his Spirit, risks becoming a museum piece from the past or a reductive interpretation. of universality.
From this one can see how delicate and crucial formation has become in the Institute at the present day, and at the same time one comes to realize the importance of an adequately decentralized authority to ensure in the Provinces and groups of homogeneous Provinces a practical possibility of inculturation.
- The Salesian Family
Convinced that the Founder has launched his spirit and mission over a wider range than our own
.Institute, and that he has bequeathed to us special responsibilities for the animation and coordination of many apostolic forces, we considered anew one of the great paths of our renewal to be the development of what is called the "Salesian Family".
It is made up of various groups (both Institutes of consecrated life and lay Associations and movements), which share - in different ways - Don Bosco'_ spirit and mission. This has become a vast and fertile field which provides at the present day special possibilities for the committed laity. We are al_ ready following this line in a decisive fashion, following in the footsteps of the Founder, and we intend to intensify and perfect this option in the coming 24th General Chapter of 1996, with its theme: "Salesians and Lay people: communion and sharing in the spirit and mission of Don Bosco".
Urgent need of a practical methodology
The process of functional reinterpretation has been in itself an intensive
and far from easy research into our charismatic identity. We are satisfied
with what has been done, and we thank the Lord for it. But we must add
that the lengthy process has not ended the period of research; quite
the opposite. It has, indeed, opened up a kind of exploration still
more accelerated and intense. It is as though the foundational reinterpretation
has loosed all available energy in view of a greater significance and
It is not, therefore, a matter of a work already concluded, but a kind of prophecy which relaunches the process of renewal starting off on a double new track: that of the assimilation by all the confreres of a personal renewal of individuals and communities, and that of practical involvement in facing the challenges of the new evangelization.
Knowing more clearly who we are in the Church (through our foundational reinterpretation), we feel ourselves challenged as bearers of a charism relevant to the present day. And this requires a special methodological capacity in planning and action. The process from the charismatic identity to the actualization of the mission at the present day (from orthodoxy to orthopraxis) is quite complex. Here is concentrated all the great pastoral problem of the Church, "a new enthusiasm, a new methodology, new expressions", the capacity for planning, the serious element of revision.
The clearer our identity as consecrated persons, the more demanding is the search for a dynamic updating of the charism.
This is why our first 'ordinary' General Chapter of 1990 (GC23) after the reinterpretation of our identity, was concerned to give new life to Don Bosco's mission today for the "education of young people to the faith".
We know that the road ahead is a long one with innumerable unknown elements, and constant progress along this pastoral path will be the best proof of the authenticity of our foundational reinterpretation.
We feel the urgent need to promote a whole sector of theological reflection which will go. beyond the fundamental and classical disciplines of the faith. It is a question of a kind of pastoral theology which is in contact with real life and enters also into dialogue with the human sciences (history, anthropology, philosophy, sociology, pedagogy, politics, etc.), keeping firmly in mind the official guidelines of the Church's magisterium which accompany an ecclesial praxis animated by the Lord's Spirit; such a practice essentially precedes scientific reflection. A pastoral mentality needs many contributions: together with theological reflection of a biblical, historical, dogmatic and liturgical character, it must be disposed to develop an appropriate manner of intervention. This in turn will be the result of a pedagogical and methodological reflection which involves strategy in activity, the study and the planning of times, modes, processes and means - in other words the elaboration of projects for passing from a challenging situation to a positive solution as the sought-for goal.
Anyone living in apostolic mission always feels the urgent need to improve his pastoral mentality; he keeps an attentive eye on the rise of centers of serious pastoral theology: a particular theology which does not pretend to set up a unique interpretation of everything but throws light on praxis. It "is inserted in the vast area of theology as a vital and important part, but not one that covers everything or is a unique criterion valid for everything. Pastoral applications do not seek to change the formal nature of theology; especially must they not change it when it turns its attention and reflection to something concrete and urgently vital. If the urgent aspect of reflection is precisely theological, i.e. polarized by the light and revelation of the mystery of Christ through the guidance of the Magisterium, it would be a serious mistake to deprive it (as unfortunately has sometimes happened) of this natural polarization, and replace it by a horizontalistic approach which would pretend to manipulate the interpretation of Christianity to suit itself."
And so our foundational reinterpretation has brought us to revise and renew the academic structure of our Pontifical University as well, so that it may have a greater pastoral influence and effect, while always ensuring a serious theological reflection, because it is precisely in an ambit of a certain so-called pastoral enthusiasm which also runs the risk of setting out on mistaken paths and so disjoining itself little by little from the authenticity of the charism.
Animation and government
A concrete methodology in view of updated and more incisive apostolic
activity has brought to the fore the indispensability of a commitment
to ongoing formation for all confreres: to take up clearly the foundational
reinterpretation and to stimulate every community to the ability to
make practical plans for the new evangelization.
Such a wide-ranging commitment has changed the style of the exercise of authority in government, and the secret underlying this exercise is competence in animation. How many initiatives have been launched in this connection! It is neither a simple nor a short-term work, but is nonetheless indispensable; without it the foundational reinterpretation will end up only on library shelves.
It has been found that in a period of deep change the concept of formation has its fundamental and primary significance ("princeps analogatum") in ongoing formation, in which every religious house becomes a centre of formation, and initial formation is directed to ongoing formation to prepare the 'formandi' to be capable subjects committed to facing the pressing and widely varying challenges of the ecclesial and cultural future.
The epoch-making changes call on all religious to feel themselves undergoing in a certain sense a second novitiate in order to renew their own religious profession in line with the postconciliar reinterpretation.
Together with fidelity in the spirit, stimulation is also given to creativity in the mission with sensitivity as regards the variety of situations which prompt government to adopt a kind of structure and mode of action in view of pluralism in unity and unity in pluralism.
A visit of the Holy Spirit
We were and remain convinced - as I have already said - that Vatican
II was a visit of the Lord's Spirit to his Church; it produced a qualitative
leap in the whole of the pastoral area, starting from the identity of
the Church's mystery, its relationships with the world, and its presence
as leaven in history.
We set about making our foundational reinterpretation in this climate of Pentecost. There were certainly periods when things moved slowly, when preconciliar residues were evident; there were fears and instances of shortsightedness which prolonged our work; here and there may still be found some obscure areas still be clarified in harmony with the whole; but with simple faith we think that all the work that has been done cannot be explained without the light, the creativity, and the intuition about the future, which can have come only from a special presence of the Holy Spirit. When we look back and read over the new Constitutions once again, when we note the development of the life of the Institute, its transformations and its vitality in every continent, we believe that the Holy Spirit, through the motherly intervention of Mary, has given us appropriate and clear lenses to enable us to read our origins once again and make a decisive leap forward.
In this way we feel ourselves called by the Spirit to collaborate in the People of God, through our specific mission, in the laborious ecclesial pilgrimage towards the third millennium.
We have a valid and updated 'identity card'
Dear confreres, let us be grateful and rejoice. The Holy Spirit has enlightened and accompanied us; he has shown us the highway we must follow; he has enriched us with a treasure of life; he has taken from us the distress of insecurity and deviations, and has ensured our identity among the People of God; but on this very account he has opened for us an immense field of work, where we have to search and labor, create and predict that spirit of initiative and originality which characterized the apostolic origins of our mission. May Mary be our guide through all our foundational reinterpretation, that we may be able to relaunch Don Bosco's charism towards the immense hopes and possibilities of the third millennium.
With Mamma Margaret let us look to the future with intuition and maternal
With every blessing on your work,
Cordially in Don Bosco,
Don E. Viganò