The worldwide Congress on Consecrated Life was an event of great importance; as an experience, it was unique, with plenty of suggestions and proposals.
A. THE MAP OF THE TERRITORY
1. The worldwide Congress on Consecrated Life (23-27 November 2004) was an event of great importance.
- 847 listed participants; 5 days of intense work; 16 multilingual discussion groups.
- Three years of preparation by various commissions; a long Working Document, disseminated also via vidimusdominum; the final Acts already printed in five languages.
- Throughout 2005 various smaller congresses were held for the following up and for re-proposing the issues, especially in Spanish-speaking areas.
- As an event, it was very important; as an experience, it was unique, with plenty of suggestions and proposals. It was an excellent and even unique expression of catholicity, not planned from above but started from a real feeling of communion.
- During last year various meetings were held to assure a continuity to it, to trigger off other phases of the process at personal level, to find themes and initiatives that would assist in keeping alive its style of approach and its intuitions.
2. Looking back from some distance and taking into consideration all that in 2005 has happened in the Church (a new Pope, waiting for new strategies, a greatly felt lack of new inspiring themes, a consecrated life anaemic in ideas and impact, etc.) the Congress was a kairòs that was not easy to prolong forever through follow up and by founding contemporary and provocative movements. To avoid making the Congress a failure and fall into oblivion, it is, nevertheless, necessary to make such an effort.
3. In the meantime also the Congregation for Consecrated Life has held its own worldwide Congress, almost in competition with and “correction” of ours, with a dynamic and contents very different and an effectiveness, as it happened, practically null. It is, nevertheless, an indication of a sign that the Congregation its keeping its distance, an attitude already observed concerning and during our Congress…
I would like to make a comparison between what I want to say and the story we read in Mc 8:22-26: the cure of the blind man at Bethsaida, a very small miracle, which is really a parable of life. Allow me to comment on some details and apply them to consecrated life.
1. Already the Vatican Council II challenged us to make such an effort by asking us to get out of the peaceful and sheltered “village”. It asked us to trust in the guiding hand the Council’s texts were offering us for a suitable journey of renewal, which indeed was beginning to take a risky turn, due to all the different paths one could easily take, the fears and utopias, the conflicts and censures…
2. The Synod of 1994 and the document “Vita Consecrata” (1996) provided an opportunity for discernment and strategic repositioning of consecrated life. It enabled us to overcome confused visions and tattered identities, but also to integrate the new in a systematic and fruitful way. As a matter of fact, the document “Vita Consecrata” positively reflects such an effort.
3. The Congress of 2004 has expressed the awareness at the moment of “going home”, but without passing through the village. A journey that still has to be found, a personality to be creatively reconstructed, a liberation to be lived prophetically, and not just for maintenance sake. It was like becoming aware of oneself, of one’s own identity that needed to be candidly expressed in a new way, experiencing it, ever improving on it, in the face of those who had not gone through the same process and who, therefore, oppose it…
4. Two new Gospel icons were used which caught us by surprise and left us puzzled at first. We all know the other icons that are traditionally used to symbolise consecrated life: the disciples’ vocation, the sending out as missionaries, the first Christian community, some prophetic figures, etc. These two unusual guiding icons have made it possible to set off from a different and surprising starting point. The “Samaritan woman at the well” (Jn 3:5-42) and “the Samaritan who shows compassion” (Lc 10:29-37) were the two symbolic and metaphoric icons that dominated the inspired link to Scriptures and opened up new challenges. They were ground-breaking icons for the theology as well as for the spirituality of consecrated life and they functioned very well, detaching our reflection from the usual and recurring biblical references.
5. The working method. There were few long inputs, lots of group sharing, the “Instrumentum Laboris” was effectively used and a lot of interaction among the participants, horizontal dealings for all. No one had the pretence of having the solution for all the problems, neither to be in possession of the best method to interpret the challenges and opportunities, but certainly there has been great serenity when talking about misunderstandings and weaknesses, resources and embarrassments, distortions and rectifications. As we were speaking of problems that concerned us, we all spoke from personal experience when talking of wounds and anguish, healings and new utopias. The final synthesis, even if brief, presented a good insight on what was discussed, the icons used and the knots to be untied, as well as of pressing problems and the new paths of the Spirit. Even in the brevity of the concise synthesis, we can perceive the riches, for instance, of the vision of faith and of the contribution of groups work.
C. TO BECOME AGAIN THE PROTAGONISTS:
BETWEEN THE HOME AND THE VILLAGE
1. A different world is possible. It became evident that it is possible to give shape to a new way of being and of thinking, of implementing and of dialoguing: the many and varied differences of the participants did not hampered the dialogue, but actually favoured it; it is possibly to live differently as organisations and Institutes as well as consecrated individuals.
We have witnessed such prospective applied also to many traditional sectors of consecrated life: from Biblical inspiration to community models, from concern of the body to empathy, from a too rigid classic anthropology to managerial and organisational preoccupations. In all such sectors we could start a “re-foundation”, which seems urgent and full of possibilities, though also full of risks. In this prospect we have to recover the utopian conscience, that is the perspective we also call prophetic dimension: it perceives new pathways of God’s fidelity in history and it inspires people’s faithful and creative answers.
2. Exercise in synergy. The exercise in worldwide synergy that took place during the Congress seemed to me positive, because it has shown to everyone that it is possible to interrelate the differences in a respectful and collaborating conviviality. For many participants it has sure been the first time to find themselves side by side with many representatives of major Institutes and organisations of consecrated life. I don’t believe they found this a hindrance in their dialogue and collaboration: there was a remarkable equality among the participants that surely left a mark. It is possible to have a wider and open dialogue expressed in many new ways, in mutual trust and loyalty: because, above the legitimate differences in many things, the common passion for the Lord and contemporary history bind us together. It is a horizon to be fully explored in the situation in which we find ourselves.
3. Re-founding ourselves through a new interpretation of the Word. We have to give to the Word of God a spiritual and meditative interpretation, but also a function that does away with structures, on the one hand, and sets up structures, on the other hand, but which are in line with the understanding and the objectives of consecrated life in its totality. The exegetic, symbolic, cultural and planning exercise that was done concerning the two mentioned icons, has shown that in the Word we can find a wealth up to now unexplored. The future will not only have to engage consecrated life in a lectio divina that is serious and that nourishes life (something that is becoming ever more familiar), but that also finds the ability to offer new charismatic ways of reading it in order to recover the forgotten flavour of the Gospel and its disquieting prophetic leaven. Only in this way our re-founding will have an assurance of authenticity, without being just an enlightened cultural reform. Besides, we know very well how the new season of evangelisation of many local Churches was basically leavened by a serious and committed return to the Word, done by the people’s practical, and not only devout, reading.
4. Allowing ourselves to be surprised in our everyday life. This seems to me to be the real lesson of the icon of the Samaritan woman: a woman who lives a boring everyday life, because of her need to have to go every day to the well to fetch water. Indeed, it is exactly in this situation that she receives the surprise of an affective and spiritual adventure that changes everything. We too may experience a similar adventure if within the limits of our everyday life - which is the truest reality – we learn to dialogue with curiosity and courage, opening the door of our heart to encounters that do not seem to promise much. Many religious live a dull and grey everyday life, because within themselves they are not alive, but just resigned and depressed, defending themselves all the time and are full of prejudices. Dolores Aleixandre spoke of a kind of religious life that generates in its sterile womb “half dead individuals”, with no desire for life.
The icon of the Samaritan man, furthermore, teaches that the everyday living may be full of insecurities, to which one must react by placing signs of assurance and effective solutions even for the future. Today the “half dead” are of all kinds: along the road, but also in the house and even perhaps within the persons themselves. There is a fear of living and an anguish for the signs of violence and death. We live, but just about, full of resistance and fears, always on guard and protecting our intimacy. Roma in se ipsa marcescit, used to say Pope Gregory the Great: that is Rome that was withdrawing into itself in fright was becoming incapable of facing the challenge of the “Barbarians”, of cross-culturalism, of synergy.
5. Greater lightness in the entire system. An obvious assertion that emerged was the criticism to the heaviness of the structures and organisations, in contrast with the lightness and the flexibility of the new forms of consecrated life. Truly we have inherited an enormous and heavy patrimony of works and activities, of glorious history and sacred theories. The unanimous demand was for greater lightness and temporariness and for a little courage in demythologising and embarking into new adventures.
It is not just a matter of “reducing”, but of re-expressing, by listening to the realistic requirements of our time. Let’s not go around providing answers (namely activities and styles of life) before having paid attention to the questions and the sufferings. We must listen first to the questions which, indeed, are entirely new. It seems to me that it is in this direction that the Spirit, in the first place, is leading us. To carry out this process of lightening and of breaking with the past, in order to renovate but in a different manner, we need great commitment, even daring, prophetic vision and patience.
6. The formative journeys. Towards the end of the Congress it was suggested a serious review of the models and of the formative journeys. This is one of the keystone for the re-foundation of consecrated life in the new contexts. In fact, to the lack of candidates in some areas of the world, where instead specialised and unemployed formators abound, correspond elsewhere an abundance of candidates and a dramatic shortage of formators. What is urgently required, indeed, is the challenge of finding new models of formation, selection, processes of identification, and this in order to prepare the future with creativity, and not just to survive and to guarantee the survival at all cost.
The obvious tendency to what is traditional and the historical disengagement in young people, require clarity and firmness in the formators, if they want to guarantee a high-quality future and not just a numerical quantity.
At the beginning of the Congress Sr. Teresinha Rasera spoke of alternative journeys that cannot pass through the territory of pharisaic contexts, but rather through the world of the outcasts. At the end Fr. Alvaro Rodríguez insisted on the still challenging “fascination” that consecrated life can have.
We must preserve both these two aspects, bring them into play, finding new ways outside the languidly preserved set ups, in order to make us the heirs of a mysterious fascination that comes from above, purifying ourselves through incessant watchfulness, so that we do not turn to the idolatry of pale traditions or remain remote from culture.
17 February 2006
Fr. Bruno Secondin, O. Carm.