2.2. AN OUTLINE FOR REFLECTION AND WORK ON THE THEME OF THE GC27
In this outline, some suggestions are offered to the Provinces. They can be useful in focusing the attention of the confreres, of the local communities and the Provincial Chapters on the theme of the GC27. In particular they can guide their reflection and their work.
2.2.1. The Letter convoking the GC27
Our journey towards the GC27 begins with the personal study of the Rector Major’s letter convoking the Chapter and community discussion of its contents. The theme of the GC27 is not a customary one; it is a challenge to the way of life of each confrere and each community; it sends us back to the gospel roots of our vocation; it requires us to bear witness to the “better” and to the “more.”
The theme might appear too difficult and demanding; but what is at stake is precisely the future of consecrated life, its “very existence,” its identity. It is on this that the need to root oneself in Christ and in the gospel is based; from here derive the visibility, the credibility and the fruitfulness of our vocation. We are sustained by the conviction that witnessing to a radical approach is not primarily the result of our efforts; but rather of the superabundance of grace, an excess of gratuity, the richness of the gift.
We can often feel tired or find ourselves living our lives by “routine”. Not everyone feels ready for this new experience of the Spirit. Will this theme of the GC27 succeed in banishing inertia from our lives? Let us leave it to the Spirit; He will know how to renew our hearts, inflaming us with the love of God and re-awakening in us the “love as before” for the Lord Jesus.
2.2.2. The Process of preparation for the GC27
In all the Provinces the General Chapter is preceded by the Provincial Chapter. This is an explicit requirement of our Constitutions (C. 172). It is the task of the Provincial Chapter “to elect one or two delegates to the General Chapter and their substitutes” (C. 171) and “to forward proposals to the Moderator of the General Chapter” (Reg. 167).
The carrying out of these tasks does not exhaust the nature or the competences of a Provincial Chapter. It would be a mistake to think that the Chapter needs to be held with the approach of a General Chapter for the sole reason of electing the delegates or for forwarding proposals to the Moderator. In fact articles 171 and 172 of the Constitutions and art. 167 of the General Regulations list a lengthy series of the aims and tasks, which, however, are not all or always to be undertaken in every Provincial Chapter.
Reflection on the subject of the radical approach of the gospel is a concern not only for those confreres who will be taking part in the GC27. The convocation of the GC27 is intended to foster a profound process of reflection aimed at the conversion of each confreres, of all the communities, of every Province. With the publication of the letter a wide-ranging process is set in motion at grass roots that is spread over a period of time and which involves the whole Congregation. In this process a very important occasion is the “representative assembly of all the confreres and local communities,” which is what the Provincial Chapter is.
The GC theme does not require the undertaking of an academic or doctrinal reflection to be written up in theological terms, either spiritual or pastoral “to be sent to the Moderator”. It is a “challenge” issued to everyone . It is the voice of the Spirit urging us to examine ourselves to “examine our own works,” to carry out a “review” to “examine our conscience and be converted”. “He who has ears let him listen to what the Spirit is saying.” It is the Spirit speaking to us too and inviting us to listen (cf. Rev. 2, 1-29).
The dream of the diamonds to which the Rector Major explicitly refers in the letter convoking the Chapter, presents us with an “either or” situation, a courageous review of personal and community life. In dramatic form, this dream speaks about the responsibility every confrere has for his own life and for his contribution to making the face of the Congregation bright or obscure. The mirror image description of the Congregation in the future “as it ought to be” (“qualis esse debet”) and “what it runs the risk of becoming” (“qualis esse periclitatur), offers a frame of reference and of comparison anything but rosy, indeed decidedly disturbing. There is no room for half measures or compromises.
Therefore those responsible for this process are each and every one involved at the same time. The General Chapter will be held in Rome in 2014 and over 200 confreres will be taking part in it; but it would be more correct to say that it has already begun and taking part in it are all the confreres in the Congregation: the individual confrere who examines his conscious about his fidelity to the apostolic plan of Don Bosco; the local community which assesses its own way of bearing witness to the primacy of God, to fraternity, to the apostolic mission; the Provincial Chapter which reviews fundamental options, the style of life and of work of the communities, their credibility and fruitfulness, in the contexts in which they are living.
Therefore the convocation of the Provincial Chapter by each Provincial is a great opportunity being offered to every Province. It can become a time of prophecy in which, in an atmosphere of prayer and a sincere search for the common good, problems are faced, their causes identified, and suitable decisions are taken. This process can happen only by starting from the involvement of everyone, and it requires courage, humility and a willingness to be converted.
2.2.3. Structure of the theme for the GC27
Studying the letter convoking the GC27, we can identify a number of ways of developing the theme of being witnesses to the radical approach of the gospel. The experience of these recent years leads us to concentrate our attention on some priorities and not to lose focus. For this reason we have identified three key topics, which are proposed to Salesian communities and especially to the Provincial Chapters.
These key issues refer to what ought to characterise the Salesian of the future; as the Rector Major puts it in his letter, he is being called to be a mystic, prophet, servant; this applies also to the Salesian community. In this letter ‘mystica’ prophecy and service are linked to the fundamental features of our apostolic consecration, in other words to spiritual experience, to fraternal life in community, to the mission to youth. Therefore in reference to the Salesians, we are speaking about mystics in the Spirit, prophets of fraternal life, servants of the young.
In the first place, developing each of these three key issues, the fundamental point to bear in mind is that of its being a witness to the radical approach of the gospel. It is a question of identifying the signs which make it visible; in fact we have to offer a beautiful witness to our vocation, testimony that it is something fascinating, attractive, joyful, aware that its real attraction is the Lord Jesus. Then it is important not to lose sight of the “the radical approach of the gospel” of these key issues; it is a question of returning to the roots of the vocation. Consecrated life is a search for something “more” to live for, something “further” to which to give expression, of something “better” to be proposed. The something “better” is not the ordinary; the something “better” is the “more.”
As well as this we have to bear in mind that these three key issues express our vocation in its fullness Therefore it cannot be forgotten that witnessing to the radical approach of the gospel is not mainly an effort on our part, but is a call; God Himself calls us to bear witness to the radical approach of the gospel; witnessing is not a boast or a privilege, neither is it the result of our human efforts, nor is it our choice; it is most of all a grace and a gift; it is a vocation. It is a vocation which demands from us a faithful response, expressed joyfully, the grace of unity in personal and community life.
Finally in the three key issues it is necessary to pay attention to developing the Salesian character of the witnessing to the radical approach of the gospel, in other words, what is specific for us Salesians in bearing witness to the radical approach of the gospel, that which distinguishes ours from other forms of consecrated life. The motto “work and temperance” is a visible Salesian expression of the radical approach of the gospel, as the dream of the ten diamonds shows. Therefore it is up to us to examine further the Salesian features of mystica, of prophecy and of service.
Mystics in the Spirit. To God who has chosen us, called us, and reserved us for himself, we respond with total and exclusive dedication. The primacy of God, which arises from the free and loving initiative of God in our regard, is translated into the unconditional offering of ourselves. Our desire for self-fulfilment is expressed in the giving of ourselves. Love is the measure of our gift and the measure of love is that it is without measure. Immersed in our work we often run the risk of neglecting God; we are not capable of balancing our tasks/commitments, our work runs the risk of distancing us from God. By vocation we are “in search of God” and “following Jesus.” Our vocation has its roots in the gospel; it is the gospel which gives attractiveness and beauty to our vocation. Only with the strength of the Spirit can we live this call; He is the one who in the history of the Church continually draws new people to perceive the attraction of such a demanding choice; He is the one who has raised up Don Bosco, to whose apostolic project we have committed ourselves through religious profession.
Prophets of fraternity. Fraternal life lived in community is an alternative life style, a counter-cultural proposal, and therefore it is prophecy. Wide-spread individualism, social exclusion, cultural acceptability are challenges to which the Salesian community responds, showing that it is possible to live as brothers, sharing one’s life and communicating in depth. There is the danger that we can live in community without knowing one another. Our living together in community is first of all a vocation and not a personal choice or for convenience sake: we are called by God. Fraternal life finds its fruitful expression in self-giving; it needs to discover gratuity and an ability to relate. The young people who are drawn to consecrated life are fascinated by the way fraternal life is lived. It gives witness also in international communities that it is possible to work together on a common apostolic project. Differences constitute a treasure to be recognised and appreciated also by the educative pastoral communities, in which the various vocations are united in living and working together. Fraternity shows the face of the Church, the house of communion.
Servants of the young. Our whole life is dedicated to the young especially the poorest; it is dedicated to the Gospel cause. Our dedication to the young and to the Gospel is rooted in God’s call and our total and exclusive dedication to Him. The most beautiful gift we can offer the young is the possibility of an encounter with the Lord Jesus; it is the offer of an education inspired by the gospel and opens for the young “the door to the faith.” Sometimes there is the danger that we feel ourselves to be more masters than servants; that we are more servants of the works than of the young and of the gospel. We dedicate ourselves to the mission “with tireless energy taking care to do everything with simplicity and moderation” (C. 18), following the example of the Lord Jesus who “like the Father is always at work” and imitating Don Bosco who spent himself “until his last breath.” Apostolic work sometimes requires self-abnegation, fatigue and sacrifice, which make sense if directed towards a greater good: “the glory of God and the salvation of souls.”
2.2.4. Method of community discernment
In the GC25 and the GC26 we adopted the method of community discernment, which gave good results. It is a question now of continuing, improving and further developing this method. We have to find a way of carrying out a real “discernment in the Spirit.” In the process of discernment there are the following stages: listening, interpreting, the way ahead. For each of the key issues the local communities and the Provincial Chapters are invited to carry out a process of discernment following these three stages.
Listening. In the first stage it is a matter of ‘listening’ to the situation; facing up to it in its priority areas; seeing where the major challenges are; ‘listening’ to what is challenging us the most; highlighting the more promising aspects from the point of view of the confreres, the communities and the Province and what needs to be developed, but also that which poses the greatest risks and which needs to be confronted and overcome. It is a question of hearing the signs and of seeing the expressions of the radical approach of the gospel already in action, but also the manifestations of infidelity to the vocation, counter-witness and conformism.
Interpreting. Starting from the points mentioned, in a second stage it is a matter of interpreting the situation and the signs heard; of identifying the deep causes of the good or bad state of affairs; knowing how to interpret the challenges and the dangers. Reading the situation ought to lead us to understanding it in depth, identifying the root causes and not being content with a surface view of the effects mentioned; we could speak of a “radical” interpretation . The keys to understanding the situation are the Gospel, the life of the Church and the Constitutions; then we can really speak about a “spiritual and pastoral” interpretation.
Way ahead. The third stage consists in identifying the path to be followed; it is a matter of discovering what will lead us towards new forms of the radical approach of the gospel what will enable us to re-enforce those already present but not yet fully developed, what will help us to overcome forms of infidelity, weakness and danger. The path needs a goal or objective; for each key area it would be well to limit oneself to one or at the most two objectives. These objectives then need to be worked out in stages or procedures and things to be done; they refer to the life of the Province but also of the Congregation.
In the process of discernment we need to concentrate on some priorities, in the stages of listening, interpreting and the way ahead; we need to get to the roots and to the fundamentals without losing focus. The written document, the result of the discernment process, will be an indication of the efforts of the Province to implement the Chapter theme and will represent its contribution to the GC27.
For each key issue it would be best that the written document to be sent to the Moderator as the contribution of the Provincial Chapter for GC27 be not more than two or at the most three pages.
2.2.5. Contributions to be sent to the Moderator of the GC27
Before 15 July 2013 the various contributions should reach the Moderator of the GC27; these can be of three different kinds:
- Contributions of Provincial Chapters on the theme of the GC27 “Witnesses to the radical approach of the gospel”; these contributions should refer to the three key issues; each of these will have its own form which will be provided by the Moderator;
- contributions of individual confreres or groups of confreres on the theme of GC27 “Witnesses to the radical approach of the gospel”; these contributions should refer to the three key issues and will have their appropriate form;
- contributions of the Provincial Chapters, of individual confreres or groups of confreres on issues regarding the life of the Congregation, the Constitutions or Regulations; these too will have their own separate form.