Wednesday, May 4, 2022
It already seems like we have been meeting for several weeks. Now that the retreat days are done, the planned process has begun and the schedule is tightly configured. The Superior General’s report this morning was the main event. He told me that he thought that it would not fill in the time given for it – 90 minutes – and he was right, except that part of that time was to be given over to questions and comments.
The presentation itself was about 45 minutes, and it was really excellent. He started by quoting Ephesians 4:23 about putting on a new mind and asked what it meant for us at this moment in the history of the Institute to “procure God’s glory” because that is what we have consecrated ourselves to. We joyfully proclaim God’s glory through the ministry of education. We must not forget why this charism came into existence, and we must realize that we inherited that charism, one that always exceeds our expectations and our cautions. It is a charism that witnesses to Jesus and his project for the reign of God.
The talk went on in that vein, and it is well worth reading once it is publicly made available. Listening to it was like a spiritual rally – a sort of political rally without the fuss and noise and confetti – touching lots of echoes in the heart and articulating all those things that first attracted you to this Lasallian vocation and that keeps you in it. In one section, he said, “Brothers, we too are called to be men of the spirit. The renewal of the Institute will become a reality to the extent that we give ourselves to spiritual renewal. Each Brother is invited to renew himself spiritually. This won’t happen without knowing that we are loved. …” He also highlighted the new realities of today: “Our world has changed in these last two years. What meaning does a changed world have for us? … It is time to realize the dreams of past chapters … Reimagine who we are and for whom we are as followers of Jesus Christ.” And in terms of the expectations for this General Chapter, “We don’t expect that Chapter to offer a definitive governance model in these three weeks, but we do hope that it provides clear direction for developing a model by the next General Chapter.” These are only little nuggets that I managed to write out almost verbatim, but it gives you a sense of the message. He also repeatedly urged us to be aware of the fact that while there are few Brother vocations, the Holy Spirit has given us thousands and thousands of Lasallian vocations. What does that mean? How do we read that for our lives and our future?
After the talk, there were some questions and some comments, a number of them highlighting the organizational realities and responsibilities that were part of our educational scope today. One of his responses stood out to me, although it’s not exactly verbatim; “Through dialogues and discussion, I am convinced that we can move toward new models. … I wonder if we have been offering models to our Partners based on religious life structures? I hope that we come up with a model whereby Brothers and Partners share responsibility for the mission.” He highlighted some of the ways that France and ARLEP have responded to their realities and have shared responsibility for the mission with their Partners, and Brothers made reference to synodality. One asked, “Are we really enriching the entire Lasallian world in terms of the charismatic path, or are we just maintaining the mission?” Here I’ll stop putting down quotations. Just know that it was one of those genuinely engaging exchanges that are as rare as they are rich. At the end of the 90 minutes we deserved a break and took it.
The next person on the agenda was me; my fifteen minutes of fame, as it were. The report was going to be on the Lasallian Research and Resources Service, for which I am the “Secretary/Coordinator” – a rather strange title, but okay. For the last couple of weeks, I’d been working on the talk, figuring out ways to keep it informative but also appealing. The text was written out, with cues for the Powerpoint pieces, and timed to the minute. I’d figured out a way whereby a smaller corner video could run across multiple slides, allowing me to make my points while a silent walk-through video of the various locations ran in one corner of the slide. I had also made copies of the text, with DeepL.com translation copies in French and Spanish, to be given to the translators in their booths. They would certainly appreciate the English text I was going to use, but perhaps they’s like the pre-translated ones as well.
People seemed to be quite happy with the result. After the applause, as I was walking back to my seat carrying the laptop with its dangling power cord and clutching my text, all the Brothers I passed or caught my eye gave me the thumbs-up with a wide genuine smile. And for most of the day, Brothers I know well, and some I don’t, have come to let me know that they really appreciated the presentation. We had also prepared a booklet about the SRRL (the acronym, in French, for our Service) that we placed at each seat during the break, in the language of that particular person, along with a copy of “The Teacher’s Saint” in the same language. And so I think that everything was well covered. The talk would make them interested in reading the booklet, and my “observations” during the presentation may help advance the interests of this Service. A couple of folks asked for copies of the Powerpoint, but it was simpler to record the Powerpoint and then put it on YouTube. (HERE)
The Communications Service followed my presentation, and Br. Alexander did a fine job of explaining all of the work that his staff does to ensure publications and communications on all sorts of media. (#FSC46GC is the hashtag to use on Twitter, although I’m not a Twitter user.) One of the guests sitting next to the Superior General was Br. Ernesto Sanchez, the Superior General of the Marist Brothers. He also spoke to the assembly with kind words, recollecting times when groups he was associated with had used that particular hall, and identifying with many of our concerns and priorities. Then everyone went off for a short break before lunch.
At 3:00 pm, the usual time to resume things in the Motherhouse, we gathered in language groups in different rooms to answer one or more of some questions that would begin our discernment journey. The process for the group – there were two English language groups of about 16 people – was that first four people would converse for 30 minutes, then two 4-person groups would come together for 30 minutes to share their results and continue the conversation, and then the whole group would come together for another 30 minutes to consolidate their thoughts which the Secretary for the group would report on afterwards. The question that our small group chose was “What challenges have been met during this seven-year term that have had the greatest impact on you?” By the end of the 90 minutes, we were rather tired but had raised a number of things that we appreciated and things we were concerned about. (Not enough time or space to cover these here.) It should be said, however, that various works of direct service of the poor such as the Fratelli project and the Beyond the Borders projects were repeatedly mentioned as examples of where charismatic life seems to be most evident.
We finished at 4:30 and had a short break before returning to the Aula Magna at 5:00 pm for our group reports, which took about an hour. After that, there were questions and comments from the floor, and Sr. Leslie, our facilitator, provided her comments, very impressed with the deep and bold thinking that had been expressed. In effect, she said “The touchpoint in the center of the table is charism, which will move us – some things will fall away and others move forward; but that charism rekindles our passion. Be encouraged; there is alot of to be proud of here; these examples have given you much support.” Then there were announcements and instructions for upcoming events, so that by the time we left the Aula Magna it was 6:34 pm – Mass would start at 6:45 pm. But it started on time, and I think many people were relieved to be somewhere where they didn’t have to do anything but pray.