La première étape du Chapitre général est terminée: La joie de l’action de grâce. Nous partageons avec vous les moments les plus significatifs.
Tuesday, May 3, 2022
Bear with me while I take a mental breath. Although today was a retreat day, and the schedule was simple and straightforward, the rich input that we had reminded me of the Far Side cartoon where the student raises his hand and asks to be excused because his brain is full. Today’s talks were a kind of spirituality equivalent of that, at least for me.
Sr. Maria Cimperman from the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago was our presenter, and there were two presentations, one at 9:00 am and the other at 3:00 pm, both about 90 minutes long. Her experience as a professor in social ethics and a female religious were both evident in the things that she shared with us. Her style was conversational, which was really helpful, but her material was both challenging, deeply grounded, and very thought-provoking. I took over six pages of notes on my laptop, highlighting some things as they struck me as important.
The flow of thoughts, connections, and images were something like a symphony, which you can appreciate on any number of levels; melodic passages, interesting harmonics, exciting rhythm here or there, long thematic stretches, and so on. If you can imagine that on a verbal/mental/reflective level, you will also understand that it’s useless to try to share its content here. All I might attempt is to share some of the statements or questions that captured my attention as something I’d want to think some more about.
– There is the hermeneutic or serendipity. When you think you are settled somewhere, surprises happen that call for new pathways, new thinking, different approaches from the past.
– (One part of the General Chapter’s theme is transforming lives.) Consecrated life is also in need of transformation, interior conversion. “Trannsfoming lives includes your own. It must.”
– Religious life doesn’t own the charism; we embody it and seek to live it. The charism is a gift of the Holy Spirit, which means that it is brought forth in creativity and freedom. It’s given for particular needs, always grounded in God. We’re not called to be NGO’s but to be the Good News.
– The title “Brothers” speaks to the loving tenderness of relationship that your Founder of and is in your documents. You witness what it means to be a male religious.
– She quoted from and expanded on a Canadian theologian’s thinking about seven cautions or challenges for religious orders who engage in a “transformation” process: we make new improved versions of the past; we think we have to try harder rather than think differently; we play it safe rather than innovate; we engage in polite incremental change rather than vigorous and deep transformation; we exercise avoidance rather than creation; we download the same information and put it in another Excel form, not shifitng our consciousness; and we focus on external work rather than inner work.
– Where are our new peripheries? Where is the charism calling us now, today? What message of Jesus does God want to speak to the world today through the Institute?
– By their nature, the Brothers go to the peripheries (she used quotations from the Rule throughout her talks.) “You have the periphery at the center. They are your focus. The question is, if that’s your center, where are your next peripheries? They may very well be the existential ones. … What is calling next?”
– The need is for process more than structure. A pathway isn’t a building. It’s not concrete. It will be far more organic, and you will walk this way. The richness comes from listening, listening long and hard.
By now you’re either a little bored or just trying to figure out how all that ties together. Did I mention that the talks were hard to summarize? I just know that several times I wanted to hit the Pause button, so that I could think through something that was said, either by the presenter or by one of the Brothers during the open response times. But I think that it was the overall impact that was her focus, which was to help us to contextualize the riches that we carry, become increasingly aware of our present realities as opportunities, and motivate us to trust in the Holy Spirit’s dynamic in the existential realities of the present and move forward in a way that aligns with our foundational (think Heroic Vow) and Gospel priorities. In some ways, her talk was like a collie herding sheep, getting the group to move in a direction that was being guided by one whose perspective was outside of our own immediate minutiae of life. I’m not sure if I enjoyed the whole experience, but it certainly was rich with potential and meaning.
When we weren’t in the talks, we were supposed to be reflecting on questions that were give out at the end of each session. And I’m sure that many people did that. In my own case, I had a number of things happening in my Secretariat and needed to be there for most of the day. Plus, tomorrow is the day for my short 15-minute presentation to the Chapter about the Lasallian Research and Resources Service. I’ll let you know tomorrow how that went.
By the time I had finished my work, Mass had started, and so I arrived late and remained in the background. But there was a nice photo from that angle, however. Just looking at all the Brothers present there, from all the countries where we have ministries, it was impressive to see that inter-culturality (one of the strengths and catalysts of transformation according to Sr. Maria) was clearly and quietly on display. We are just at the beginning of our time together, but already the strong sense of common mission and community provides assurance that we may do some rather good things here.