Wednesday, May 23, 2018
In the Rule of Life I find four basic dimensions of the charismatic identity of the Comboni Missionary Institute and its members. These mutually complementary dimensions of our identity are inseparably intertwined and overlap [e.g., Cf. RL 10.3], so that it is somewhat artificial to present them separately and yet it may be helpful to attempt to delineate each dimension as it is presented in the Rule of Life. The order of presentation does not reflect a chronological journey of assimilating our shared identity, since these elements are intrinsically united in the Comboni Missionary charism, however it does represent a certain logic of “belonging” to the Comboni Missionaries. […] Fr. John Converset, MCCJ.
The Charismatic Identity of the Comboni Missionary Institute in the Rule of Life
Fr. John Converset
In the Rule of Life I find four basic dimensions of the charismatic identity of the Comboni Missionary Institute and its members. These mutually complementary dimensions of our identity are inseparably intertwined and overlap [e.g., Cf. RL 10.3], so that it is somewhat artificial to present them separately and yet it may be helpful to attempt to delineate each dimension as it is presented in the Rule of Life. The order of presentation does not reflect a chronological journey of assimilating our shared identity, since these elements are intrinsically united in the Comboni Missionary charism, however it does represent a certain logic of “belonging” to the Comboni Missionaries.
The four fundamental dimensions that I find in the Rule of Life are:
A. IDENTIFICATION WITH THE CHURCH IN HER MISSIONARY VOCATION
The Rule of Life clearly founds the Comboni Missionary vocation on the missionary nature of the Church as a whole and of every local church, and so the missionary lives in a special “bond of unity with the Church in its evangelizing mission” [RL 22.1; cf. 9, 10.2 & 66]. The Comboni Missionary “Institute is a sign of the fraternal solidarity of the Churches in the common missionary responsibility” [RL 17]. In fact the Institute’s purpose is to carry out “the evangelizing mission of the Church” [RL 13] and consequently its members can be only those persons “who intend to consecrate themselves without reserve and until death to the work of evangelization” [RL 13.1; cf. also 2.1; 14 & 15]. The “members are a missionary expression of their Church of origin and active members of the inviting Church [RL 17; cf. 101.2]; they are also necessarily in communion with the universal Church [RL 66].
Faithfulness to the missionary commitment for which the Institute exists in the Church is the mark of obedience to the Spirit [RL 33.1; cf. 56].
It is clear from the above that the personal appropriation of the fundamental Mission that Christ entrusted to the Church and a personal commitment to advance that Mission is a determining factor in the vocation and identity of every authentic Comboni Missionary.
B. IDENTIFICATION WITH A COMMUNITY OF BROTHERS CONSECRATED TO GOD FOR MISSIONARY SERVICE
The Comboni Missionary lives and evangelizes, not individually, but as a member of a religious community of brothers that is in some degree an embodiment of the Church [Cf. Mk 6:7-8 and Mt 18:20]. They are a community of brothers consecrated for the missionary service of the Church who share the same life with equal rights and duties , share material goods [27, 162], and also share the difficulties and joys of missionary service , accepting and supporting one another [RL 23.1], in a life of genuine brotherhood and authentic friendship [26.3]. They witness to Christ, not as individuals, but in a life of fellowship. [23; cf. 84.1].
Community life is at the service of mission [36.4]. Especially when members are from different countries and cultures, community is a sign of the Catholicity of the Church-Evangelizer . In carrying out their missionary service the members of the community, animated by those in the service of authority, seek to discern God’s will together [33.4, 35.5 7 & 39; cf. 41]. The community, united in love and service, is a “visible sign of the new humanity born of the Spirit that becomes a concrete proclamation of Christ” through its unity [36 & 38; 10.3; cf. 58 & 84].
Community prayer, especially the celebration of the Eucharist [50, 53], strengthens community life, gives direction to community service [39, 39.1, 33.4] and enables the missionary to proclaim the Father’s love and proclaim the death and Resurrection of Christ .
The person called to be a Comboni Missionary recognizes that the Institute and its communities are substantially “incarnating” the missionary Church and are effectively serving the Church’s fundamental Mission. In this sense a vocation may be described as the discovery of one’s “belonging” to the community. The community then mediates the way in which the person lives his missionary vocation.
C. IDENTIFICATION WITH CHRIST, PARTLY MEDIATED BY SPECIFIC BIBLICAL IMAGES OF CHRIST
An ever-deepening relationship with Jesus Christ is at the very center of the Comboni Missionary vocation, life and service. This relationship is, of course, firmly established by God through the gifts of faith and baptism , but it is delineated in a particular way by the missionary vocation and charism.
After RL 20 presents missionary consecration as God’s “initiative of gratuitous love”, RL 21 declares, “The missionary is called to follow Christ, remain with Him, and to be sent by Him into the world to share His destiny.” And RL 21.1 founds the missionary vocation on the personal appropriation of a love-relationship with Christ:
The personal encounter with Christ is the decisive moment of the missionary’s vocation. Only after the discovery that he has been loved by Christ and conquered by him, is he able to leave everything and to stay with him. The missionary is enabled to follow Christ by continually reliving this encounter and by deepening his communion with the Lord. [21.1 ]
Consequently the missionary “welcomes Christ as the Father’s living Word” , “responds with undivided heart to Christ’s love” , chooses Christ [26.4] in discipleship [92.2], remains and grows “in a close personal relationship of communion with Christ” [26, 58.2, 92.3 & 99], “identifies with Christ” [26.1 & 35.3], imitates Christ , and follows Christ in living his consecration [21.2, 26, 27, 33-34, 89.4], and in prayer to the Father  whose love “he experiences in personal communion with Christ and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit” . Recognizing Christ as the only authority , without whom he can do nothing [46.1], the missionary follows Christ in evangelization. In union with the people receiving evangelization , the missionary comes to share more closely in the destiny of Christ and in Christ’s suffering [21.2 & 58.3] as he invites others to “adhere to Christ” .
The spiritual experience of Comboni and the missionary charism that Comboni Missionaries inherit through him enrich the missionary’s relationship with Christ through three biblical images that depict Christ as the Missionary of the Father. The images of the pierced Heart, the Good Shepherd and of Christ Crucified mutually reinforce each other in depicting the faithful life-giving love of the Trinity that Christ embodies.
The Founder discovered in the mystery of the Heart of Jesus the thrust of his missionary commitment. Comboni’s unconditional love for the peoples of Africa had its origin and model in the saving love of the Good Shepherd who offered his life on the Cross for humanity. “Trusting in that most Sacred Heart … I feel more inclined to suffer….. and to die for Jesus Christ and for the salvation of the unhappy peoples of Central Africa”. [3; cf 6 with regard to the Shepherd].
These images are not peripheral, but lie at the very center of both the Old and New Testaments. While every biblical image of Christ enriches our Christian and missionary life and service, I personally think that every Comboni Missionary is called to relate to Christ and experience the call to share deeply in his mission through the mediation of these images, without thereby excluding other images. Therefore we are called to pray and meditate with the Scripture passages related to these images, as Comboni himself did. Comboni and the Comboni Missionary community mediate a rich experience of Christ, the Missionary of the Father, and a deeper identification with him through these biblical images. Attention to particular biblical images of Christ is one of the unifying factors of a religious charism.
D. IDENTIFICATION WITH DANIEL COMBONI WHO MEDIATES A SPECIFIC WAY OF BEING IN UNION WITH CHRIST AND SHARING IN THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH.
“The Institute derives its identity and specific manner of following Christ from the charism of the Founder lived in consecration in the light of the sign of the times” [1; cf. 81 & 81.2]. The Rule of Life then goes on to delineate specific characteristics of Comboni that are part of the spiritual inheritance of the Comboni Missionaries.
The first characteristic is Comboni’s “total dedication to the missionary cause” founded on an unshakeable faith in God” , followed by “unconditional love for the peoples of Africa” through his union with the Heart of Christ Crucified, the Good Shepherd who gave his life for all humanity . From this union with Christ’s saving love came Comboni’s willingness to suffer and die for Africa [3 & 4].
Attentive to the working of the Spirit and the signs of the times, Comboni perceived clearly that God was calling the “poorest and most abandoned” of Africa to faith and new life, i.e., regeneration [5 & 6], and that the Spirit was empowering the Africans to be missionaries to each other . Comboni did not evangelize haphazardly. After many years of study, research, reflection and dialogue with others Comboni came up with a Plan that would enable the Africans to evangelize Africa and at the same time to involve and maintain visible union with the Universal Church [7, 8, 9 & 19] which he challenged to recognize and carry out its missionary responsibility .
Through his personal experience and that of others Comboni was aware of the deleterious consequences of solitary missionary service and wanted his missionaries to live in community, to be a Cenacle of Apostles .
Comboni acknowledged the necessity of giving his missionaries a deeper formation [80 & 81.2], although he had little opportunity to take part directly in the formation of his missionaries and often did not have suitable formators whose personal missionary experience would have enabled them to be more effective in preparing missionaries.
For many decades many Comboni Missionaries had little personal knowledge of Comboni. Fortunately there were always a few who knew and appreciated Comboni’s missionary zeal and, especially after Vatican II, we have had the privilege of a more direct knowledge of Comboni. Fr. Pierli has often said that Comboni’s intercession played a role in our call from God to be missionaries. St. Daniel Comboni is a model who shows us how to be whole-hearted, pragmatically idealistic and enthusiastically prudent in service to the “poorest and most abandoned” people of our time, devising strategies to evangelize in a variety of times and places. In short, St. Comboni shows us a way to follow Christ in missionary service and invites us to appropriate to ourselves some of the gifts that God bestowed on him. Without specific reference to Comboni and a sharing in his charism, we would risk being “part of the life of the Church in a vague and ambiguous way” [Mutuae Relationes, 11].
OTHER IDENTITY INDICATORS
Of course, all of us have individual sources of our personal identity, especially the culture or cultures of the country and cultural group(s) into which we were born and the sub-cultures(s) of our family. Each of us will integrate the dimensions of the Comboni Missionary identity indicated above with the varied dimensions of our family and national cultures in a very individual way. We also have gifts of the Spirit given to us individually that we need to integrate with the Comboni Missionary charism [Cf. 41.2]. For that reason no two Comboni Missionaries will assimilate the Comboni Missionary charismatic identity in exactly the same way. Comboni wanted his missionaries to be “catholic” and the Holy Spirit has a great diversity of human “material” to shape into an institute whose diverse members are united in missionary service within the broad parameters of the “Catholic “ Church.