Becoming Conformed with Christ the Missionary
50. The fundamental objective of our formation — union and conformity with Christ according to the Claretians charism — is a process that impels us to keep our gaze fixed on Christ, imitate him, and be so steeped in his spirit that it will no longer be we who live, but Christ who truly lives in us. This is the only way in which we will become forceful instruments in proclaiming the kingdom of heaven. This process of becoming conformed begins with the gratuitous experience of a vocational call that consecrates us for a total dedication to God and his Kingdom, introduces us into the fellowship or communion of all who are called along with us, and asks of us a faithful response in order to carry on the mission of Jesus. Consecration, communion and mission are, then, three complementary dimensions of our one vocation to union and conformity with Christ. We strive to achieve this union through a total self-surrender to God, expressed in the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. We also achieve and express it by means of certain virtues that are in keeping with our charism in the Church.
1. The experience of vocation as a point of departure
51. The experience of feeling blessed by God, of being looked upon and personally loved by Jesus and of being anointed by the Spirit, is what drives us, like our Founder, to be about the Father’s business, always seeking his glory, and feeling that we are urged on by Christ’s love to announce glad tidings to the poor. Our vocation is a covenant that makes our life a constant dialogue with the God who calls us and consecrates us to Himself. This personal relationship, lived in the obedience of faith, in the openness of hope and in the power of love, is the foundation of the missionary life. Hence, it should inform our whole life in closest communion with the Church.
52. The call of God, which is given in the origin of our religious consecration and of our formative itinerary, can only be explained by the love that He has for the person who is called. This love is absolutely gratuitous, personal and unique. It has been poured forth in our hearts by the Spirit. It is the first and most necessary gift which marks us out as true disciples of Christ. The experience of vocation consists, then, of the gift of love, the only gift that never passes away and the one that a missionary needs most of all. For this reason, we must ask for it constantly, and be convinced that the Father always grants his Spirit to those who ask for it. Only if we welcome this gift and give it life within us will we be able to be on fire with it and spread its fire wherever we go.
53. The call to follow Christ encompasses our whole person and demands of us a response in faith and love. Fidelity to vocation springs from a lively faith, the same faith that burned in the Prophets, the Apostles and the martyrs, and led so many preachers of God’s word gladly to accept poverty, self-denial and sacrifice in the cause of spreading Christ’s kingdom. It also implies a love that surrenders itself totally and without reserve. Only this nuptial kind of love that encompasses the entire affective life of a person will allow him to adopt and sustain the renunciations and crosses that are necessarily met by anyone who wants to lose his life for the sake of Christ and of the Gospel.
2. Community as an expression of our shared missionary calling
54. We have been personally called by Jesus to live in fellowship with Him and with the others who have been called together with us, in order to share his style of life and his lot, and to be a sign of the koinonia that He inaugurated. This communion has its ultimate roots in the manifold and rich complex of relationships that springs from the Trinity and is prolonged in the communion of the Church understood as the sacrament, that is, the sign and instrument of union with God and of the unity of the entire human race in Christ. The call of God, though it is always personal, is also a vocation to community, because each of us has been called to form but one heart and soul with the others who have been called. Rather than being a mere human task, this fellowship or communion is always a fruit of the Spirit.
55. For us, as for our Founder, missionary community has its origin in the God who communicates one and the same spirit to us, so that by living a perfectly apostolic life in common, we might come to be one, as the Father, the Son and the Spirit are one, so that the world may come to believe. This communion is built up when our life is quickened by the love that the Holy Spirit has poured forth in our hearts. Fraternal life is fully realized in the Eucharist, the sign of unity and the bond of charity. It is also nourished in prayer, fostered by a style of family life, and expressed by sharing in the governance and ordering of the community. It is also perfected in the Sacrament of Penance, which restores us to peace with our brothers. The fellowship that is expressed and strengthened in missionary community is essential for us, to the point that a Claretian’s initiation is not possible, unless it takes place in the heart of a community.
3. Mission as a key to formation
56. Since we form a truly and fully apostolic institute in the Church, mission, understood as missionary service of the Word, must be present throughout the entire process of formation. It affects the whole person in his deepest depths. It implies a way of being, acting and signifying, in relationship with God, with our own community and with the people to whom we are sent. For this very reason it ought to impregnate our whole being as consecrated persons and it ought to be lived in its diverse dimensions: affective, intellectual, spiritual, communitarian and apostolic. Indeed, based on the experience of Claret, an apostolic missionary in all moments and settings of his life, the word “missionary” has an all-embracing meaning for us: community of life with Jesus and in Jesus, and an effective living of the so-called evangelical counsels in the proclamation of the Kingdom or evangelization.
57. Throughout all the stages of formation for mission, both theory and practice should be carefully articulated, taking into account in a particular way the demands, options and preferential recipients of our mission. On the one hand, we should integrate a study of theological disciplines, a knowledge of the world and of human beings, and an apprenticeship in the techniques of the apostolate and, on the other, we should carry out some formative apostolic experiences. In this way we will help equip our young men for direct apostolic action and favor their growth in all the personal dynamics they need in order to carry out their mission in a mature manner.
58. Claretian formation should seek for the identifying traits of a true missionary in Mary: capacity for contemplation, profound adherence to Jesus, pastoral charity and mercy toward people in dire want, availability, identification with the poor of this world, fortitude in the face of the cross and death, unbreakable hope and transparent communication of the Word.
4. The religious vows
59. Our missionary existence consists of manifesting in the Church Christ’s virginity, poverty and obedience in proclaiming the Good News, in such a way that consecration becomes for us our first form of evangelizing. Thus we express our total self-giving to God. Our Founder intensely lived this union with the Lord by imitating the life of the apostles and, like them, by following Christ in complete self-denial for the announcement of the Gospel.
60. The faithful living of the vows becomes possible when, sustained by the gift of our vocation, we are concerned with growing in human maturity, the life of faith and the sense of communion and mission. The Constitutions orient us in this viewpoint. An adequate formation must not only pay attention to the human contents and the theological, apostolic and community dimension of the vows; it must also care for the concrete practice and living of their demands. This means living as consecrated men within the Church, witnessing and proclaiming that the Reign of God has come, is growing and will reach its fullness in the final coming of Christ, for whom we are waiting. We must strive to achieve a unity of life between consecration and mission, offering to God and commitment to our brothers and sisters, praise and service.
61. The charism of chastity that our Founder received was directed towards his vocation as an evangelizer, to which he had to devote himself with total dedication and complete freedom. Through consecrated chastity our conformity with Christ shines through. He wishes to possess our whole heart, body and soul, so that people may not see anything of the old man in us, but only Jesus.
62. Our sharing in Christ’s total and exclusive consecration to his Father’s concerns, the cause of the Kingdom, the gift of the Spirit and the example of Mary — all these constitute the foundation of Claretian chastity. They manifest God’s glory shining through our human weakness and become a source of fraternal fellowship and of apostolic fruitfulness.
63. Claretian chastity is:
– Prophetic and eschatological: lived in detached yet committed love, it acts as a critical commentary against unbridled eroticism, against the commercialization of sex, and against the pleasure-seeking and selfish outlook of our times, and it encourages others to hope in the good things of the life to come.
– Spiritual maturity, grounded in a deep faith and an ardent and impassioned love, like Claret’s love for Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the Church, which assures us of victory over temptation.
– Emotional maturity, which will allow us, on the one hand, to combine sexuality and self-sacrificing love in a normal, unafraid and uninhibited way and, on the other, to develop the ability to collaborate with both men and women in the practice of our apostolate. Maturity of this sort involves an adequate knowledge of masculine and feminine sexuality and their diverse connotations, and of our own sexuality; an adequate integration of past experiences; the ability to verbalize feelings, problems and crises; prudence in using the communications media and in maintaining authentic and healthy interpersonal relationships with members of either sex.
– A capacity for personal love, both an understanding love for others and a rightly ordered love for oneself, respecting, accepting and adequately valuing oneself; due emotional and sexual self-control; and a concern for harmoniously integrating and developing one’s gifts and capacities.
– Loving and gladly accepting the gift granted to us. Chastity represents a sign of election and of God’s trust in us.
– Cultivating it and faithfully living all its implications. Trust in God begets trust in ourselves to be able to fulfill all our commitments. This trust should prevail over internal or external difficulties that impose certain renunciations on us.
– Practicing the requisite means: intensifying our relationship with God, filial devotion to Mary, cultivating friendship and community life, avoiding dangers, keeping busy, pastoral prudence, care for our physical and spiritual health, and personal accompaniment, both spiritual and psychological.
66. For our Founder, poverty was a demand of his missionary vocation. He followed and imitated Christ in His poverty, in keeping with the Gospel, as the best way of becoming conformed with His evangelizing mission, of lending credibility to his ministry and of taking a stand against the world’s mad quest for riches.
67. We find our motive for professing lifelong evangelical poverty in Christ: in his person, in his conduct and in his teaching. We also find it in Mary, the first and foremost among the poor of Yahweh, and in the apostles, who left all things in order to follow the Lord.
68. The traits that best define the style of Claretian poverty are:
– The sharing of goods as an expression of brotherly love.
– A simple lifestyle.
– The sharing of both material and spiritual goods with the poor, and in service to them.
69. In order to achieve the goal of being missionaries who are truly poor, both in fact and in spirit, we have to assimilate the distinctive character of evangelical poverty. This is concretely embodied in:
– Striving to avoid everything that is contrary to it; hence, not retaining, acquiring or using anything as one’s own.
– Practicing the common law of work.
– Sharing the condition of the poor.
– Living an austere life.
– Dealing with the simplest and humblest people.
70. The demands of our mission, as well as the fact that the practice of poverty affects the deep-seated craving of our nature to possess things, make it indispensable for us to develop:
– Sufficient spiritual maturity to center our life in contemplating, loving and following the Poor Christ. The source of an authentic solidarity and of a true option for the poor, springs from a heart that is poor and that follows the Poor Christ.
– The primacy of being over having. We must be more by having less, and by asking ourselves whether we really need what we say we need. For us, living poverty also entails acts of detachment that make us freer for mission.
– Loving and serving the poor. Personally relating with the poor, who are the vicarious presence of the Lord, is essential for a disciple of Christ. A formation that lacked this clear reference, would be lacking an evangelical soul.
71. Communities that are inserted in surroundings that are poor and on the edge can be a significant expression of the “preferential option for the poor,” because it is not enough just to work for them, but rather, to live with them and, so far as possible, to live like them. Communities that are inserted in this way are called to be a means for generating fellowship with those who are in greatest need and, by way of praxis, in the heart of those in formation, they will send down roots of an option that will prepare them for living in the manifold structures and situations of life. In a context where the majority of the people are impoverished and oppressed, this expression of Gospel radicalism will spur all of us on to a more authentic living of our option for the poor.
72. For our Founder, who felt fully identified with everything that the title of “apostolic missionary” entailed, obedience was an element that shaped his personality. He understood and lived obedience within the mystery of the sonship and mission of Christ, with a passion like Christ’s for the Father’s will, and with a strong sense of Church, which was spelled out in the need to be sent.
73. The foundation of our missionary obedience lies in so imitating Jesus as to become conformed with the mystery of the Obedient Christ, in following the example of the Virgin Mary, in receiving the gift of the Spirit and in doing all this through the mediation of the Congregation.
74. Formation for obedience must stress those traits that best define the style of Claretian obedience:
– It arises as a demand of the missionary vocation, as an attitude of living faith engaged in a personal and community quest to be in constant relationship with the will of the Father, in order to know it and do it.
75. The demands of our mission, as well as the fact that the practice of obedience affects that basic urge for power, makes it indispensable for us to develop:
– Enough spiritual maturity to be able to incarnate the mystery of Christ’s obedience in the daily asceticism of our self-denial, in the mortification of our laziness or weak will, and in perseverance.
– The mature and responsible freedom that we need in order to live a life of full dedication to our apostolic project in creativity and renunciation, offering our personal gifts and acknowledging our common mission.
– Becoming aware of the “we” of the community, which bestows the fraternal dimension on co-responsibility, on the exercise of authority and on our shared mission.
76. Formation for obedience entails:
– Being docile to the guidelines of the magisterium of the Church and of the Congregation.
– Gaining an adequate notion of what religious obedience supposes in our missionary life.
– Fostering spiritual attitudes of discernment, dialogue and personal and community search for the will of God.
– Exactly and generously fulfilling the apostolic commitments and community charges that have been entrusted to us.
– Practicing dialogue and co-responsibility with those with whom we collaborate in our apostolates.
– Discerning our gifts of nature and grace and using them rightly, in keeping with our charism and the needs of the Church.
5. Apostolic virtues
77. Conformity with Christ the Missionary is also expressed by means of other apostolic virtues in keeping with our distinctive charism in the Church. Among those most necessary for the missionary, we are going to call special attention to those that our Founder lived and that the Constitutions propose to us.
5.1. Apostolic charity
78. It was Christ’s charity, in the form of apostolic zeal, that spurred our Founder on. He used to say to himself and to others that the true missionary is a man on fire with charity, who spreads its flames wherever he goes…and strives by all means to set the whole world aflame with the fire of God’s love. Kindled with this same fire, the missionaries have gone out, go out and will keep going out to the ends of the earth to announce the Word of God, so that they can apply to themselves the words of Paul which Claret set as the motto on his episcopal shield: The charity of Christ impels us. This virtue has been one of those most carefully attended to in the tradition of the Congregation. It has nourished the ardor of many of our brethren, even at the risk of their lives, in diverse and difficult missionary undertakings throughout the world.
79. Our Constitutions explicitly avow that this is the virtue a missionary needs most of all, proposing Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin and the Apostles as models of it. This same apostolic zeal, which seeks to make God known, loved, served and praised by all, should be the driving force that urges the missionary on. It is the force that begets and sustains our missionary vocation, especially in moments of trial.
80. From a pedagogical point of view, the means used by our Founder are still valid. Today, we should single-out the following in a special way: meditating on the Word of God, the Eucharist, the living of our sonship in Mary’s Heart, and having recourse to her efficacious intercession as Mother of Charity. It could also be helpful today to undergo some apostolic experiences in the fields of marginalization, unbelief and poverty, or to take part in certain specially qualified apostolic activities (such as giving popular missions, working with local churches in formation).
81. In order to imitate Jesus faithfully, our Founder did his utmost to achieve humility. Through it, he lived the life plan that God had laid out for him. He also discovered, through the humiliations and persecutions that he suffered throughout his life, that the Father’s love wanted him to remain humble. For him, this virtue was the foundation of perfection and a means whereby to please Jesus and to transmit the Word faithfully, striving to give glory to God and to bring salvation to humankind. Hence he stressed it insistently. He recommends it to the novices as the foundation of all other virtues. He asks the students to seek in their studies a way to become fitting ministers of the Word and not to indulge in vainglory. Finally, he exhorts all his missionaries to become conformed with the humility of Christ, so that they may rejoice, like the Apostles, whenever they suffer humiliations for Jesus’ sake.
82. Our Constitutions invite us to live a life of humility as a way to become conformed with Him who emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. This humility, which is especially necessary for ministers of the Gospel, disposes us to seek the perfection to which the Father calls us and prepares us to receive his grace.
83. In order to form ourselves in humility, we should foster certain attitudes and means: giving all the glory to God, making His gifts bear fruit, acknowledging the fact of our own sins and failings, accepting and practicing fraternal correction, and finally, acting consistently with this by our simplicity, asking for forgiveness, serving our brothers and dealing with all of them in an open and sincere manner. These means are also an updated pedagogical proposal as to how we missionaries can and should be formed in this virtue which is so essential and of such great witness value for building up the People of God.
5.3. Meekness or gentleness
84. Our Founder acknowledged that God had endowed him with a special grace and blessing of sweetness, and that this gift was related to his vocation to the apostolic ministry. In order to correspond with this gift, he proposed to contemplate Jesus Christ, whom he regarded as meekness incarnate. This is the trait that characterized Jesus’ personal relationship with his disciples and with the people. In effect, he will not quarrel or cry out…, a bruised reed he will not break and a smoldering wick he will not quench. Through his compassionate attitude toward the disinherited, the God who wants mercy and not sacrifice shines through. In the measure that situations of conflict and adversity increased in our Founder’s life, he focused his ascetical efforts on this virtue. To this end he changed the subject of his particular examen from humility to meekness. In response to this, the Lord granted him the infused gift of love for his enemies. Claret attached great importance to meekness in the spirituality of the missionary, going so far as to consider it as a sign of a vocation to the apostolic life.
85. Our Constitutions reflect our Founder’s experience and teaching on this virtue when they highlight its christological and apostolic aspect. Today, too, we should imitate and be animated by Him who is meek and humble of heart and should exercise our ministry with meekness and gentleness, in order to win as many as we possibly can for Christ.
86. The text of the Constitutions also contains a pedagogical proposal. The missionary should maintain a balance between zeal, which is ardent and vehement love, and gentleness or kindheartedness. Today, meekness or gentleness can be manifested by:
– Avoiding any sort of dominance or show of violence.
– Being understanding with the pace that each person follows, knowing how to wait for God’s good time in peoples’ lives, just being with others and listening to them.
– Showing patience in the face of the slowness with which the Kingdom grows.
– Expressing loving kindness and mercy in our mission.
87. For our Founder, mortification sums up all asceticism, understood as a persevering effort to become fully converted to the Gospel and to live it in such a way as to bear transparent witness. In Claret, mortifying oneself means depriving oneself of one’s own pleasure in order to please God. This attitude of our Founder had its origin in his devotion to the Passion of Christ. It awakened in him a great compassion for the Crucified, which led him to perform acts of bodily penance in order to imitate Him. Without slacking off in these acts of bodily penance, Claret soon came to see that the Passion is lived above all by bearing the cross of everyday life. Along this line, he adopted a sober and mortified form of life, gladly accepting the labors, sufferings and contrarieties of itinerant preaching, always moved by his need to become conformed with the Lord in his paschal mystery and by the desire to bear witness in his life to the Gospel he preached. For Claret, mortification was always an essential element of apostolic witness that made the missionary’s preaching efficacious and helped him in prayer and in the attainment of perfection. And he taught his missionaries to do the same.
88. Our Constitutions maintain the full force that our Founder attached to this virtue, also placing it in this same setting of conformity with Christ and of its exemplary apostolic thrust. We missionaries commit ourselves to follow Christ, taking up our cross and losing even our life for His sake and that of the Gospel. This following is concretely embodied in:
89. These ascetical proposals can be expanded to include others in keeping with the conditions of time and place. For example:
– Calmly accepting mistakes, failures and frustrations.
– Learning to be realistic in accepting persons, situations and the pace of everyday life, and overcoming our feelings of impatience, nostalgia and routine.
– Permanently revising our personal and community attitudes, and our apostolic positions.