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You are here:Home / Family News / NEF 2017 / Family News - March 14th, 2017 / A word from the Superior General
Mar 15, 2017

A word from the Superior General

The experience of evangelical brotherhood

A word from the Superior General

Our Congregation is an institution of consecrated life. That is the way our founder, St Michael Garicoïts, wanted it, contrary to the wishes of the bishop who considered us just as an institution of apostolic life. Saint Michael defended his project before the bishop, he patiently put up with the incomprehension, and he obeyed, at the risk of reducing to nothing what had been inspired from above. It was not until twelve years after his death in 1875 that the Holy See recognized the Congregation as our founder wished. The first article of our Rule of Life states:

The Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Bétharram, founded by Saint Michael Garicoïts is an apostolic clerical religious Institute. It is composed of religious, priests and brothers, called to live today the Gospel of Jesus Christ by their life of prayer, their personal consecration, their community life and apostolic activity for the salvation of the world.

Sometimes it is said that the requirement of communal life is not so important, that the important thing is mission. In an institution of consecrated life like ours, community life counts just as much as mission. If there are exceptions, they cannot in any way become the rule. It would be to deceive ourselves, to live in contradiction with what the Church has recognized in us, and to betray the divine inspiration, the intentions and the project of our Father St. Michael Garicoïts.

Community and mission are two essential elements of our lives. The community cannot prevent us from carrying out the mission’s activities, nor can the mission prevent us from being faithful to the demands of fraternal life in community. Mission must hold together three elements in order to truly bear witness: the gift of our life to the Lord through the guidance of the Gospel, our evangelical fraternity in community and apostolic activities. Our Rule of Life reminds us: Following the Incarnate Word, whom “the Father consecrated and sent into the world” (John 10:36), we in turn are consecrated and sent to be in the world, by our whole religious life, a sign proclaiming Jesus Christ. “Religious life will be all the more apostolic as the gift of oneself to the Lord Jesus becomes more interior and the common life more fraternal and the commitment to the specific mission of the institute becomes more ardent.” (article 13)

Being clear about what the Church means by community life is important. Before the Council, in all the communities and congregations, it was practically the same. Community life was monastic in style. It consisted in observing the regulations. There were community schedules: meals, prayers, recreation, community outings ... the rest of the time was devoted to sacramental, pastoral and educational activities; after which the good monk retired to his room. It is worth noting that community prayer could be summarised as devotional practice. With the foundation of the Jesuits, the institutions of apostolic life were not obliged to pray the liturgy in communal hours, for this obligation was an obstacle to the mission. They prayed therefore in private. Today, the Church recommends consecrated men to pray the daily liturgy when they are together, since this is not an impediment to the mission.

Since the Council, the emphasis has shifted from the observance of regulations to the experience of brotherhood as an evangelical value. This brotherhood consists of living a communion of brothers, the foundation of which is the union of each one with Jesus and with the Father. “Community living entails a daily sharing of life according to specific structures and provisions established in the constitutions. Sharing of prayer, work, meals, leisure, common spirit, “relationships of friendship, cooperation in the same apostolate, and mutual support in community of life chosen for a better following of Christ, are so many valuable factors in daily progress” (ET 39). A community gathered as a true family in the Lord’s name enjoys his presence (cf. Mt 18:25) through the love of God which is poured out by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rm 5:5). Its unity is a symbol of the coming of Christ and is a source of apostolic energy and power (cf. PC 15). In it the consecrated life can thrive in conditions which are proper to it (cf. ET 38) and the ongoing formation of members can be assured. The capacity to live community life with its joys and restraints is a quality which distinguishes a religious vocation to a given institute and it is a key criterion of suitability in a candidate.” (EEVR 19 - Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life, Essential Elements in the Church’s Teaching On Religious Life..., 1983). These are the values ​​we must live in evangelical brotherhood. They can be summed up in four points: sharing life, sharing faith, sharing property and sharing the mission.

This is what the experience of brotherhood must guarantee. Unlike in the past, where the regulations applied uniformly to all the communities of the Congregation, there is great respect today for the reality of each one of them. Taking into account the spirituality we need to live, the mission we have to fulfill, the place where the community resides, all the members come together and try to answer two questions: what do we want to prioritise together in our lives this year? What do we need to do to be able to live together as we have decided? In answering these questions, the spiritual elements which need to be prioritised will emerge, and then, agenda in hand, the community calendar can be established; and this is the best articulation of community and missionary commitments.

Drawing up the community project, finding the foundation ofour life and vocation, is already a community activity which is very beneficial. Of course, it takes effort, but the challenge is worth it: let our fraternity be the bearer of fidelity to vocation. We always come back to the same thing: we have experienced the love of God through the encounter with Jesus, which marked and reoriented our lives. It is our raison d’être, our reason for living and our reason for acting. It is also the experience that brings us together in community. How is it possible, then, that to say what discovering the basis of our life costs us at this point? Should we be ashamed of being what we are, in community? Could it be that we do not really do community? Perhaps we are contaminated by our individualistic societies. The consecrated life is communal, and worldly individualism should have no place. Individualism can also taint the mission. Sometimes activities that eat into our time and energy are not directly related to our mission, but we like to do them. Without the life of prayer and fraternity, all these nice activities will eventually change us from God’s men to civil servants, as pointed out by Pope Francis.

At present, it has become customary to consider a mission only on the basis of a canonical mandate. Rather, we need to foster the formation of a community whose mission is not based on a pastoral responsibility, but rather on an apostolic community project, a community that establishes itself in a place, that takes the time to make itself known, living by its work and where, little by little, through fraternal witness, the brothers give reasons for their hope, and proclaim Jesus who motivates their life ... so, little by little, around the religious community, a Christian community of men and women will be able to form. When fully formed, this community can go further in establishing others. So it was, I imagine, with the first community of Bétharramites who arrived in China in 1922.

Gaspar Fernández Pérez scj
Superior General

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