LETTER OF FATHER GENERAL ON THE RENEWAL OF VOWS OF THE STUDENTS OF IBERIA
(Rev. Fr. Aquilino Bocos, Rome, 24 October, 1992)
Letter to the Claretian Missionaries in Formation. On the Occasion of the renewal of Vows of the Students of IBERIA. Rome, 24 October 1992.
(The present “Letter to the Missionaries in Formation” was read by Fr General to the Claretian Seminarians 0f IBERIA on the day when they renewed their Religious Profession: the 24th of October 1992, the Feast ofSt. Anthony Mary Claret and the Eve of the Beatification of the Claretian Martyrs of Barbastro. The values which the Fr. General of the Claretians sets forth in it are valid for every seminarian. We publish it here without retouching anything in it, so as not to rob it of the freshness of an immediate communication).
At this moment a series of events are conspiring to make our encounter in prayer a fitting occasion for praise and thanksgiving, for offering and petition
In the first place, today is the Feast of Saint Anthony Mary Claret, who died in Fontfroide, more or less at this very hour, 122 years ago. You have seen the epitaph on his tombstone: “I have loved justice and hated antiquity; therefore I die in exile”. His life was marked by persecution and he had the satisfaction of being able to offer some of his blood for the truths of the Gospel and the praises of Mary Most Holy, both of which he had preached most joyfully (EC I, p. 1205), His death was his last act of service to the Church and to the Congregation.
In the second place, we find ourselves gathered in Rome to participate in the Beatification of our brother Martyrs of Barbastro. You have come here after preparing yourselves spiritually for this ecclesial and Congregational event.
Finally, you have readied yourselves to renew your religious vows in the hands of Fr. General and before the Major Superiors of the Congregation against this backdrop: the intense Missionary life of Claret and our Brothers’ admirable witness of faith and love to the very end. I want to take this opportunity to tell you that these days of the Encounter of the General Government with the Major Superiors have been days in which you have also been very much present in all that was said concerning the missionary future of the Congregation.
The most profound and at the same time most spontaneous sentiment we feel is one of praise to the Lord. Let us give Him thanks and bless His name. He is the Giver of life and the Lord of history. We are in His hands and we wish to be instruments of His mercy.
I would like to share with you the spiritual preparation for the Beatification which is, at the same time, an invitation to make your renewal of vows in a martyrial spirit. I am overjoyed that you have come here and I thank the Superiors and Formators who have allowed you to have the opportunity to share the joy of this event of grace for the Congregation.
During the anniversary days of the death of the Martyrs, I thought of you very often, and I began to write a letter which remained unfinished and unpolished. I am going to read it to you, because I was writing it for you and for all our brothers in formation.
LETTER TO THE CLARETIAN MISSIONARIES IN FORMATION
I am sure that by this date you will have read the Circular Letter that I addressed to the Congregation on the occasion of the Beatification of our brother Martyrs of Barbastro. Many paragraphs of it were written above all with you and your formators (Priests and Brothers) in mind, since the Community of Barbastro was a Formation Community.
Now, in a more familiar way, I am addressing it to you alone, because its dense and vibrant message belongs to you in a special way. Most of the Martyrs were young men, and the messages they wrote in jail, which we now treasure and admire, were by them. For the Martyrs, you form part of the Congregation which was yet to come and would spread throughout the world. Now you are members of that very community. You are ensouled with the same missionary ideal and are ready to announce the Good News to the poor throughout the five Continents.
1. In dialogue with the Martyrs
Two of the companions of our brothers of Barbastro “were able to escape to bring us the news”, (cf. Job 1:15-19). The Argentinean students, Pablo Hall and Atilio Parussini, related the events and recounted the sentiments that teemed in the hearts of the Martyrs during the days previous to their holocaust. They had received repeated pleas to let Fr. General know that they were dying happy, faithful to their vocation and eager to contribute with the shedding of their blood to the growth and expansion of their beloved Congregation. Recall what they say in their Letter to the Congregation and in their Last Offering to the Congregation, written on August l2th, the eve of the liberation of the two Argentinean students. Pablo Hall also refers to this fact: “Mr.Juan Baixeras, together with a regular group, charged me to tell Fr. General that he should be glad to have in the Congregation, whose assignments he governed, sons who following the example of their holy Founder, knew how to face anything, even death itself, spurred on by their sublime ideal” (AC 1937, 77).
When, a short time after being elected Superior General, I re-read these testimonies, I felt deeply moved. I was impressed above all by the interest these young men had in letting the Superior General know about their state of mind and their final will. I had a feeling that their testament was becoming, just before their approaching Beatification, a challenging word and a renewed offering. It was as if our brother Martyrs had kept on sending their message to the Congregation and were waiting for a reply. As if they desired to revive that dialogue that began on the day of their death and wanted to encourage us to redouble our enthusiasm in committing our life for the sake of the Gospel.
In this open-ended dialogue, in which it is now our turn to speak our piece, I would also like you young rnissionaries in formation to take part. If they, on the eve of their martyrdom, desired that Fr. General should know their deep feelings and convictions, now, in this new context, it is Fr. General who, in virtue of the testimony that they left us, is expressing his feelings and proposing that you should bring your own missionary restlessness and hopes face to face with theirs. They felt blessed to be Sons of the Heart of Mary and to belong to the Congregation. They were attentive to the missionary challenges of their time and were preparing with a universal outlook for their already near ministry. They had integrated persecution into their spirituality and were already disposed to face death when they had made their profession.
Aren’t these brothers of ours – who were so deeply formed in the radical following of Jesus Christ, so thrilled with their vocation, so clear sighted in their hierarchy of values and so bent on risking life itself for the one thing necessary – asking us to have a little more passion and enthusiasm in sharing the life and mission of Jesus? Aren’t they striving to re- create and strengthen our daring to leave everything for the sake of the Kingdom? Aren’t they spurring us on to enliven our faith and enkindle our love for Mary, the Church and the Congregation? At the same time aren’t they calling us to revise our scatteredness,laziness and cowardice?
In sincere dialogue with our Martyrs we can learn how to be consistent, to adjust our everyday iife with the demands of our unconditional commitment to the cause of Jesus, which is the cause of the poor, the marginalized, the defenceless. With their flair in the way they faced death they offer us a serious corrective against our day dreams and facile messianisms. They came to tell us that, as Claretians, we dare not abdicate our resolve to follow Jesus because of some momentary whim or caprice. In moments of trial, they, by their martyrdom, a supreme and definitive act of love, remind us of those words in the Letter to the Hebrews: “You have not yet resisted to bloodshed in your struggle against evil” (Heb 12:4).
2. Fidelity to the future
I am not inviting you to look backwards, but rather to fix your attention on the future which our brother Martyrs opened up with their sacrifice and which still remains to be realized by us. They lived their historical, social, ecclesial and congregational moment, which was quite different from our own. But the affirmation of the values that they sealed with their blood is one great “prophetic cry” for all Claretians, and in particular for our missionaries in formation.
Fidelity to the future is tantamount to saying fidelity to the Spirit who chose to initiate in the Church a community similar to the one Jesus formed with the Apostles, so that they might be with Him and be sent out by Him to proclaim the Gospel. This community, begun by Claret, is an open ended project. Since it was inspired by the Spirit and is guided by Him, it carries with it some permanent signs of novelty and surprise. Hence, at the same time that it opens us up to gratitude, fidelity to the future broadens our outlook and our heart toward horizons of universality and solidarity. Fidelity to the future demands that we be ready to accept the unforeseeable plan of God and to renounce our own most cherished personal plans.
When the Martyrs express their love for the Congregation, they are not looking to themselves. They are not afflicted with some sort of group narcissism. For them, the Congregation is the universal community spread throughout the different countries of the world, the community that lives in commitment to the service of the Gospel according to the missionary spirit of our Holy Founder. They love the Congregation as a Mother and Mistress who has engendered them in the missionary life and has taught them to follow Jesus Chnst, to serve the Church and to love the poor.
In them, love for the Congregation and love for the Congregation’s future were one. They loved, to be sure, in a quite concrete way, the persons, works and apostolic activities of the thirties. But their love for the Congregation had a much broader and deeper reference: a reference to the missionary mystique underlying their vocation as Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in keeping with the Claretian Reminder. Hence they were able to anticipate, through their holocaust what would become a permanent task for us: a missionary life filled with evangelical spirit and with apostolic charity, capable of crossing frontiers and bringing the Word of life to all human beings.
They loved the Congregation with the love that the Spirit pours forth in the hearts of those whom He calls to be with Jesus and to proclaim his Reign. They felt their missionary vocation as a sublime ideal which they were carrying out with enthusiastic, creative fidelity and which was at once opening up to them horizons of universality and solidarity. They were gladly living their condition of being beloved sons of their Mother Congregation, which they saw as a missionary community that projected its evangelizing thrust throughout the geography of all peoples and throughout all centuries to come. Hence, in their farewell to the Congregation, it is not at all strange that, while “they offered it their own sufferings and anguish as a holocaust of expiation for their own shortcomings and as a witness to their faithful, generous and everlasting love” they also prayed for us to God that “their blood would be a red arid lively flood that fills your veins, stimulating your growth expansion throughout the world”. And they did so with such singular conviction that they were bold enough to say: “So long as you have sons take those you have in Barbastro, never doubt that your assignments are eternal”.
We are that future foretold by them. It is hard to say whether we are living up to their expectations. But one thing is sure. The Congregation is aware that the blood of Martyrs is coursing through its veins and it feels that it is
impelled toward a profound renewal of Gospel radicalism and is being launched forward into the missionary vanguard. These are not baseless allegations. The Congregation is not perfect. It has many limitations and shortcomings, as it has repeatedly confessed. But it is alive and experiences the power of the Spirit who has given rise to it in the Church for its service. If that is not enough for you, then examine its life and you will discover that there are in it many brothers who are seeking in all things, with deep concern, the “glory of God”, the coming of His Kingdom, in this world; who suffer hunger and thirst for justice and have learned to leave family, lawful personal ties, culture, in a word, all things, for the sake of Christ and His Gospel.
3. So long as you have Sons like those you have in Barbastro
The Martyrs thought of the Congregation as an open ended project to be carried out by all its members, both those living at that time and those of us who were yet to come. They saw themselves as debtors to the charismatic inheritance they had received and felt obliged to contribute to its growth. They gladly contributed all that they had:
their own life, in a perfect holocaust. Out of this unconditional self-gift, they began to be active members of our missionary community, because they became qualified and imperishable witnesses of the Kingdom.
Since it is an open-ended project, the Congregation, as a servant-community of the Gospel, is awaiting our owri personal contribution. We have been con-gregated, gathered-together, to proclaim, by our life and by our words, the Good News to the poor.
Sometimes we hear questions like these: What does the Congregation have to offer me? What prospects does it hold out? Is it worth my while to live in it? There is no room for such questions in the mind, let alone the heart, of anyone who recognizes that being Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a gift of God and that it is a grace from God to follow Christ, to serve the Church and to work so that all human beings should come to know and love God the Father. When one has this experience of grace and lives it with enthusiasm, these questions are transformed into creative affirmations of solidarity, without suspicions or reservations. If we want a better, more evangelical, more missionary Congregation, a Congregation committed on those fronts where the cause of Jesus is being waged. all of us have to work together at it by offering the best of ourselves.
Our brother Martyrs, before dying, told the Congregation: “So long as you have sons like those you have in Barbastro, never doubt that your assignments are eternal”. Perhaps their daring might strike us as excessive. But when we meditate well on the _expression, we see that they weren’t saying it just because they felt strong in the face of death, but because they were already well prepared to face situations on the brink. For this reason, they are master teachers on how to build and accredit the Congregation as a missionary community with a hope-filled future.
The Congregation is bent on responding generously to the call of the mission “ad gentes” and to the New Evangelization from the standpoint of our condition as missionaries, servants of the Word. Besides revising and qualifying many of the services it provides in different particular churches, it is even now at work on the project of consolidating the new foundations in Russia and of founding communities in China, Brazzaville, East Africa and Eastern Europe. The call to make these proposals a reality is for all the members of the Congregation, including the members of small or recently-founded Organisms. All Claretians should feel available to go and proclaim the Gospel wherever we deem that there is, as Father Claret would say, the greatest need for the Word of God.
As you see, beloved brothers, the Congregation is going to have the kind of future that all of us together want it to have. The Martyrs of Barbastro offered their life in a clear cut moment when they had to confess their faith. We are offered the opportunity to go on offering our life successively, by bearing witness that the Lord is coming and is making all things new.
I would close with these words from the First Letter of John: “I address you, young men, for you are strong, and the Word of God remains in you, and you have conquered the evil one”.
Your loving brother in C. M.,
Aquilino Bocos Merino, C.M.F.