The service of authority finds its strength in the witness of lived virtues
The General Chapter reminded us that the superior is called to be animator towards fraternity, discernment and the corresponsibility of all. He is also the promoter of the missionary spirit of each individual, of the community and of the province. His primary task is that of fostering the missionaries’ and the community’s growth in faithfulness to the charism of our missionary vocation (Letter of the General Council after the Intercapitular Assembly, 18; RV 102).
As Pope John Paul II said, today we need witnesses more than words, examples rather than sermons. Benedict XVI also teaches that “the service of authority demands a persevering presence, able to enliven and take initiative, to recall the raison d'être of consecrated life, to help the persons to correspond with ever-renewed fidelity to the call of the Spirit” (To Superiors General, 22 May 2006). The superior, besides, must assist his confreres in their journey of personal sanctification, as a response to the gospel, the charism and one’s vocation.
At this stage it is clear that the service of authority finds its strength in the witness of lived virtues.
In order to be a faithful administrator and to serve the confreres and the Lord well (cf. Lk 12, 41-48), the superior, today more than ever, is called to be:
A man of prayer
Prayer is the gift to present to the confreres every day: praying for them and praying with them. The evangelists present Jesus who prays with and for his disciples.
The apostles often saw Jesus as one who rose very early, while it was still dark and went to a deserted place to pray (cf. Mk 1, 35-36). At other times they knew that Jesus had gone to the mountain to spend the whole night in prayer (Cf. Lk 6, 12)
Perhaps the most meaningful request made to Jesus by his disciples was this: Master, teach us how to pray (Cf. Lk 11, 1). Above all, Jesus prays for them with fraternal affection and a profound sense of belonging. His prayer for his disciples at the Last Supper is edifying: You have given me these men chosen from this world. They were yours and you have entrusted them to me. I have revealed your name to them… I have protected them and none of them has been lost… keep them in the truth… I offer myself in sacrifice for them, so that they may remain in you (Cf. Jn. 17, 16-19).
It is clear that the superior who has much to do for the confreres but has no time for prayer, to pray with them and for them… ought to be worried, because he is failing in his vocation as animator, leader and guide of the community.
A man of truth
The superior must always jealously guard the evangelical values of the consecrated life. He keeps alive and is the guarantor of the riches and requirements of being Comboni missionaries. He is called, therefore, to be firm against every type of hypocrisy, compromise, mediocrity, passivity and relativism. The superior is often called to pronounce the last word so that what is true, just and necessary may prevail. It is he who must decide, not according to majority choice, but according to the criterion of fidelity to the gospel, the common good and the safeguarding of the truth. What the majority wants, at times, may be a sign of mediocrity and compromise, it may even betray the radicalness of the Gospel and the consecrated life. How wretched Jesus would have been had he been obliged to submit the will of the Father to that of the majority! At times the majority needs to be shaken out of its routine, of what has already been attained, of that’s-how-it-has-always-been-done.
A man of faith
The superior, especially today, is called to serve with an optimistic outlook in order to keep alive the hope for the future. He must treasure even the smallest signs of vitality in the individual and the community: My Servant, says the Lord, will not break the crushed reed or quench the wavering flame (Cf Is 42, 3).
Love is truly this: the absence of death (a-mors). It is the job of the superior to carefully interpret the situation of the Institute and the persons, with sentiments of faith, hope and charity. In the Institute the signs of the benevolence of God are many and there are many virtuous confreres in our Comboni family. Serene and positive understanding leads the superior to appreciate every confrere and to be merciful towards the weak, to communicate simply and to listen always. All this will give him moral authority when he needs to intervene with energy and firmness to affirm the basic principles of the Comboni life.
A man with the mission at heart
We must thank God for the missionary spirit seen and heard in the superiors of every circumscription and in local superiors. As long as we have superiors who are in love with and lovers of the mission the Institute may continue with confidence and with the blessing of God and Comboni. As long as we have superiors with a missionary heart we shall never be frightened by the weaknesses, the defections, the internal conflicts or that small number who have already forgotten the mission.
The superior with the mission at heart will always be a missionary grace for the community, the province and the Institute.
A man of encounter
The Institute is new because the time and the people are new; there are new sensitivities and a new geography of Comboni missionaries, with different identities and cultures. The superior, therefore, is called to promote missionary fellowship and the acceptance of diversity.
The superior has that same delicate task which Comboni had with his missionaries: to unite them around the mission, bringing the different origins, cultures and backgrounds to unity for the good of the mission itself.
Comboni had the same passion for his missionaries as he had for the mission. United by the same faith and mission, he loved and esteemed all his missionaries including those who caused him difficulties and problems.
Everyone, the coadjutor Brothers, the Camilliani, the Pie Madri della Nigrizia, the Sisters of St. Joseph, the lay people, the women teachers and the young Africans trained in Cairo, could always find in Comboni the animator and the point of contact for reciprocal encounter and encouragement.
The apostolic work and the difficulties of the Vicariate did not prevent Comboni from always being appreciative of everyone. As well as that he exhorted each missionary to be concerned with peace among themselves (W 5566) and to work in perfect harmony with other missionaries (W 1859). This was always for the good of the mission to which God had called them, without distinction.
We are already looking forward to the ordinary-special General Chapter of 2009. We believe that, at this particular time of the Institute, rather than working more and harder, the gift being asked of us is that of personal conversion. We are all being called to place ourselves in a state of rebirth towards a service to Christ’s mission which is increasingly authentic and involves the whole person. It is important to enter this new epoch of the Institute as disciples who are attentive to the signs and the times of the Spirit.
Some historical coincidences may be of help in living this time as a missionary grace:
- 150 years since the first departure of Comboni for Africa (1857 - 2007)
- 140 years since the foundation of the Institute (1867 - 2007)
- 40 years since the General and Special FSCJ Chapter (1969 - 2009).
The Intercapitular Assembly reminded us that this is the time to dare, to risk and to believe. Let us therefore reach out to the future with hope and confidence, especially since – as Comboni teaches us – “God is always present and makes use of the weakest to accomplish the most difficult tasks” (W 3179).
15 March 2007
The Birthday Anniversary of Comboni
Fr. Teresino Serra