The XVI General Chapter has encouraged us to renew our outlook on Mission and on our missionary methodology, especially in the context of the dubious phenomenon of globalization (CA ’03,24).
This is a necessary renewal that must touch the mind, heart, being, will and daily life of each one of us.
How to renew ourselves?
The expectations for the conclusions of this Chapter were many, possibly because we expected brilliant and effective solutions to the many problems that today burden the Institute and the Church in the mission field.
Looking over the Chapter Acts, we understand that probably the Chapter disappointed those who were expecting solutions to local problems and, above all, to the control and distribution of missionary personnel, numerically evermore insufficient to face the needs of missionary service. It did, however, open ways to face the future of Mission with open hearts, by stressing the quality of the life witness of missionaries who must “place more emphasis on being missionaries than on doing mission” (CA ’03,52.1). For this we are grateful to St. Daniel Comboni and to all the capitulars.
We must, nonetheless, be conscious of the fact that no Chapter, no Superior General, no Chapter Acts will be able to perform the miracle of renewing the persons and the Institute.
Renewal is first of all a personal decision and no one can make this decision for us.
The Chapter Acts we have in our hands are only paths and encouragements guiding us on the journey that each one must travel personally and within the community.
• First of all we must renew ourselves by educating the mind, through reading, reflecting, interpreting the signs of the times and analyzing reality.
• We must educate the heart by listening to and contemplating the Word and the Mystery of God, who became man and was crucified out of love, following the example of Mary who “kept all these things in her heart” (Lk 2,51).
• Finally, we must fill our lives with the presence of the Crucified God, who opened his heart, overflowing with love and mercy, to people who are themselves crucified and have no history, by adopting a style of life becoming to consecrated people (CA ’03, 27.1-4), rather than being managers, activists or philanthropists.
Deepening our spirituality
In order to renew Mission, therefore, the Chapter tells us that we must deepen our Christian and Comboni spirituality, by getting closer to the mystery of God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, with the spirit, the vision and the heart of Comboni (CA ’03, 31-42; 53-55; 98).
Together with St. Daniel Comboni we want to contemplate the Heart of the One who was pierced, overflowing with love and mercy and, like him, allow ourselves to be pierced by the many situations of poverty and neglect (CA ’03,38), devoting our lives to the reconciliation of peoples, through a commitment to Justice and Peace (CA ’03, 46-48). Together with St. Daniel Comboni we agree that the way of the cross is the necessary path towards a fruitful regeneration, both personally and for all humankind.
Tell me what spirituality you have and I will tell you who you are
Within the Comboni Missionaries we detect three types of spiritual journey:
• The Comboni Missionary who’s totally into devotional practices that are detached from life (RL 46.2), heartless or, as Comboni would say, deprived of the fire of charity (W 7063).
• The Comboni Missionary who is a dynamic and frenetic activist, for whom even action is prayer.
• The Comboni Missionary who radiates joy, serenity and strength, who generates cooperation and the involvement of people, who motivates and affirms his confreres and God’s people in their fidelity to mission.
Where do you belong?
If you had to figure out percentages for the three categories above, how many Comboni Missionaries would you assign to each one?
Ask the confreres in your community where they would place you!
It would be desirable to engage in a personal and community revision of life in this regard, facing one another and telling one another with open hearts how things stand in our Institute, in our province and in our community.
Spirituality must be nourished
In the Rule that Comboni wrote in 1871 we read how he wanted his missionaries to be:
“Completely emptied of self and deprived of every human comfort, the missionary to Africa works only for his God, for the most abandoned people in the world and for eternity. He is moved by the pure vision of his God, and so, in all these circumstances, he knows how to sustain and nourish his heart abundantly…” (W 2702).
Further down, after having made a list of devotions such as: “the annual retreat, the monthly day of retreat, sacramental confession at least once a week, over and above an hour of mental prayer every morning, the examinations of conscience, spiritual reading, the visit to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Blessed Virgin…” (W 2707).
St. Daniel Comboni concludes: “… What matters is that all these prayers and mortifications should not through habit become simply a formality. To avoid this, it is necessary often to reflect on the importance of a prayer that is meaningful and practical and of a life lived in spirit and truth, and this reflection should be done by each individual in private and also by everyone together, especially in spiritual conferences. In order to discern whether piety is genuine or superficial, it should be measured by the development of interior mortification, especially with regard to the two fundamental virtues of the interior and exterior life, humility and obedience” (W 2709).
Our Founder understood clearly that the contemplation of the mystery of God, crucified for love, must lead his missionaries to a style of life lived “in spirit and in truth,” fed by a prayer that is both “meaningful and practical” and marked by the practice of “humility and obedience” as signs of a true Comboni spirituality. In this sense we understand those expressions of Comboni who wanted his missionaries to be like “stones hid under the earth” (W 2701) in the building of the living temple of the Church, and as “lambs for the slaughter” (W 5683) in facing any situation of danger and risk, ready even to face martyrdom for the cause of the Gospel, “not putting on airs of holiness and full of egoism… but like daring and generous souls who will know how to suffer and die for Christ” (Cf. W 6486; 6656).
In conclusion, Comboni taught us that, in order to be missionaries, we must be holy.
This is, in fact the first appeal the Chapter offers us: there cannot be a renewal in our view of mission, or in our missionary methodology, unless we feel deeply identified with our charism and our spirituality. (CA ’03, 53-55)
We must agree that in the Institute little has been done so far along these lines. During the next six years we plan to promote at the provincial, continental, and Institute’s level, in communion with the other members of the Comboni Family, the deepening of the meaning and of the spirit of the Comboni charism, of which we are heirs and which we want to hand down especially to the young and to the Churches where we perform our missionary ministry.
For our reflection and sharing
In our community meetings we may enrich our sharing in the light of the following passages from the Word of God:
“Follow me, and I will make you into fishers of men” (Mk 1, 16-28)
“Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4,4)
“Lord, it is wonderful for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tents…” (Mt 17, 1-8)
“Blessed is the man who built his house on rock…” (Mt 7, 21-27)
“Why are you asleep? Get up and pray, not to be put to the test” (Lk 22,39-46)
How many Comboni Missionaries today continue to pray in the “meaningful and practical” way Comboni spoke of?
It is beyond discussion that many crises, defections, disappointments and flights from the missionary life are explained by having abandoned these wise and spiritual directions.
It is an illusion to think that activities alone will fulfill the expectations and solve all the problems of mission. It is necessary to do and to act without forgetting what Comboni said: to act in “spirit and in truth”, aiming at the quality of life and of witness that brings to light the mystery of the crucified God and is able to bring closer to Christ, the source of life, all those who hunger and thirst for justice, above all the poor and the marginalized.
What do you plan to do in your community and in your province or delegation in order to deepen the Comboni spirituality?
Fr. Teresino Serra, mccj - Fr. Fernando Zolli, mccj