Jesus Alvarez Gomez, CMF
English Translation by Fr. John Klopke, C.PP.S.
In this little work we are not trying to describe the traits which today characterize the reality of the world, the Church, and the Congregation. This is the reality with which those to be formed will have to engage themselves and into which, after a dialectic confrontation, they will have to insert themselves. This description of reality can be found briefly sketched in the document of the General Chapter of 1979 under the title: Our Vision of Present Reality (MCH 4-48). That being the case, our intention would rather be to indicate the method and the attitude which we should adopt in the face of today’s reality.
The general principle which has to direct our encounter with reality is that it has to be read, understood, and used under the discernment and the impulse of the Spirit who makes all things new without forgetting, however, that all dialectic reality, discerned from the viewpoint of the Spirit and read in a Christian manner, has an eschatological hue.
It is precisely in and from this eschatological perspective that the prophetic responsibility of the Claretian’s evangelizing activity situates itself: “In the face of the world of our times – sceptical, lacking a sense of the transcendent, and desirous of security – there is laid upon the Claretian community the demand of that very radical option for God which was present throughout the vision of our Founder: taught by Jesus, being with him in the things pertaining to the Father, being achievers of his will for salvation, striving that his Kingdom come to this world” (MCH 144).
1.Reality as a challenge
The renewal carried out in the Congregation during the postconciliar years has shown us that certain transformations have occurred in the world and in the Church which necessarily need to involve a profound change in our life as Missionaries. It does nothing less than oblige to “make a critical analysis of the concrete reality (human, social, cultural, economic, and religious) in which the life of the people whom we are evangelizing is carried on” (MCH 202).
Our Project of missionary life as described in the Constitutions already reflects this new situation of the world and of the Church and it adopts the attitude that all Claretians, from the very outset of formation, must be inculcated in confrontation with reality. This is set forth in number 74 of the Constitutions. “The missionaries in formation have to acquire a correct understanding of the social and political conditions of peoples and the times in such a way that, wisely judging the situation of the world in the light of faith and burning with apostolic zeal, they can respond to the needs of human beings with greater efficacy.”
This imposes several questions upon us: Where are we, really, in this new social, ecclesial, and congregational context? What relation does our life and our apostolic mission have to a reality which is going through a number of transformations which are so rapid and so deep? How to listen to the cry of the people, above all, to the cry of the poor and oppressed which is daily more piercing?
The evaluation carried out in our last General Chapter has established that there is a certain contrast between our style of life and mission and the surrounding reality which needs to be repaired since Claretians are called to “carry out their founding charism at the service of the Church and the world in such a form that this charism be truly incarnated in the situation and the needs of the local Church and its surrounding world both in life-style and in the manner of carrying out the mission” (Const.14).
On that account, our formation can begin nowhere else but from a double perspective which has to be safeguarded at all costs: On the one hand, there is our congregational identity, that is, the “originating charism”; and, on the other hand, the reality around us. It is from this first that the second will have to be evangelized since it, too, has its own identity and its own characteristics.
From this viewpoint, reality presents itself to the Claretian as a true challenge both to his style of life and to his mode of accomplishing his mission. Thus, it will be necessary that we Claretians tackle this reality to ourselves in order to understand its challenges and to give them a fitting response just as the General Chapter of 1985 indicates: “All these impulses – both from within and without the Congregation – must be encouraged which can improve the chances for opening each Claretian to worldwide reality around him as well as the critical study of that reality in order to respond to its challenges from our missionary charism” (CPR 70).
Consequently, the formation of the missionaries will have to be directed towards revitalizing our Claretian identity and towards involving our identity in the reality of the Church and the world so that, in every time and place, a prophetic response may be offered to the questionings of human beings in the same way as the evangelizing response of St. Anthony Mary Claret was a prophetic one.
In fact, our Congregation has its origin in a charism which was granted initially to St. Anthony Mary Claret. To the extent that it was a grace, the foundational charism was a persona! gift, one proper to the Father Founder; but to the extent that our Congregation arose from this grace, this personal gift necessarily finds a resonance in all those of us who, first by a personal gift from the Lord and, then, additionally, by a communitarian gift have proposed to live and work in the style of Claret.
In this way, grace – which begins by being a personal gift – is converted into a communitarian gift, that is, it is converted into the special vision, the manner of understanding and acting of a whole collective, of all Claretians in their togetherness.
Jt is a matter of an attitude charged with faith and love, because this personal gift and this communitarian gift have to allow Claretian Missionaries to see things which no one else has realized and to hear cries which no one else has been aware of. It is not a matter of a vision or a hearing being projected on a reality which is out there; rather it is a matter of an illumination and a sensitivity which has overwhelmed the Claretian and which impel him to live and act in a determinate manner. As it did to the Founder, faith presents a vision of the reality of the Church to the Claretian and love commits him to give a response to this reality by means of a concrete evangelizing activity.
The Claretian will have to give this response from three perspectives, not separated from each other but mutually complementary:
- From a perspective of understanding.
- From a perspective of interpretation.
- From a perspective of experience.
Understanding and interpretation are important and, equally, cannot be prescinded from: but the most important is experience. This is so because the Congregation and each Claretian will have to confront its or his own present reality with the reality of the Father Founder – allowing that this latter could have features which the present situation may have transcended or surpassed and granting the personal originality of each Claretian. All generations of Claretians have to achieve this re-meeting with the Father Founder. This is so not just because each generation collectively but also because each Claretian specifically has to put his identity face to face with a spirit and charism. That is to say, he has to face a special mode of placing himself before God, before persons, and before things in the fashion which was precisely that of St. Anthony Mary Claret.
2.The multiform countenance of reality
The first and fundamental vocation of the human being in the world is that he be a human being. And the human being will be fully human if he is capable of exhibiting all the voices which call to him from his very depth as a human being. The human being will be fuliy human if he is capable of achieving a genuine relation with all that is within himself and with all that surrounds him. Here is where the dictum of Ortega holds true: “I am myself and my surroundings.” The existence of a human being as such depends also upon his surroundings. A human being will achieve his fulfilment if he is capable of adequately arousing that triple relation planted in the depth of his being:
- Relation with the world.
- Relation with his fellows.
- Relation with God.
However, as something prior to the concrete embodiment of this triple relation, the human being will have to maintain an adequate relation with himself. He will not be able to be in good relationships with Reality if he is not first master of himself.
2.1 Relation of the human being with himself
This relationship is not to be understood in a psycho-individual sense but in a cultural sense. It is that “self-awareness” which every human being has as an experience of being conscious of himself as a human being. Although it is a matter of “self-awareness,” it makes sense to say that this consciousness is possible only within a social context, never occurring within the boundary of the self. This is so because a human being is a social being and is able to understand himself only from his unalienable condition of being open to others. Only to the extent that he goes out from himself in order to reach out to encounter others does the human being possess himself as a person. (Cf. J. B. Libanio: Formation of Critical Consciousness, I, Petròpolis, 1978, pp. 26- 27).
At bottom, it is a matter of a human being achieving his maturity as such. This involves several conditions. In relation to or, better, in the perception of one’s own ego, the conception of self holds a special importance – that is, what the person thinks of himself. The concept of self takes on various forms: I am: awareness of self; I can: awareness of one’ s abilities; I should or I should not: awareness of what counts as a value and what lacks value; I value: one must be aware of one’s own personal values and these must be recognized by others; I want to be: awareness of one’s own aspirations.
This adequate conception of one’s self has to be realistic. This involves struggling against all those mechanisms which can impede one’s own concrete liberty and understanding and tolerating the persona! and cultura! values of others.
2.2. Relation with others
Being human calls for a relation to one‘s self but also for a relation to others who possess and live their own experience of REALITY. From this arise interpersonal relationships: I-Thou. Thus dialogue with the reality of others becomes possible which is what creates US.
In fact, the person does not exist for himself but in tension and relation towards the other, towards others. “A human being understand himself as a human being in relation with his brothers, in constituting society, in making history. Naturally, the sort of awareness of these relationships which the human being makes for himself will vary throughout history” (Libanio, op. cit., p. 27).Out of this giving of one’s own person to the other and the acceptance of the person of the other grows interpersonal communion. By means of it, the other in some fashion, lives in me and I in him. Dialogue is the sacrament, the efficacious sign of interpersonal communion.
Relation with others is founded simultaneously in fullness and emptiness, in riches and in neediness. This is so because I have need of the vision the other has of himself and the rest of reality: God, others, things. Reality is experienced, is lived by others in a different manner, according to their proper and unalienable originality. The experience of each individual human being is poor, incomplete. For this reason, when they interrelate, when they open themselves each to the other in order to receive the experience of others, the experience of all is enriched even to universality. In some fashion, in each human being so open and receptive there condenses all the lived experience of humanity throughout its history.
This reality – fullness-emptiness; riches-neediness – shows that we are mutually complementary and it demands that we keep ourselves continually in an attitude of giving and receiving. But this attitude does not always tum out to be gratifying; this is so because relational dialogue in which I hand over my riches and fullness occurs largely in the desert. Moreover, it also costs to receive the truth from the other, above all, when that other’s truth contradicts my truth and my visions of reality.
Being human is a vocation, a dynamic project, which is carried out in relation to others. The maturity of the person corresponds to his openness to others, to mutual surrender and acceptance.
Surely we Claretians, as evangelizers in the footsteps of Jesus, have to relate ourselves to all human beings. But we have to give first place to the poor and emarginated, placing a special interest in understanding situations of injustice, poverty, and margination and supporting efforts at organization arising among the people in view of liberation from these situations” (MCH 202).
2.3.Relation to things
The relation of the human being to material things has to be one of lordship, of dominion: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground” (Gn 1:26).
By being the image and likeness of God, the human being is the representative, the deputy of God in the world. He is called to con-create, to organize and put order into the world in which he lives. The human being serves God and likens himself to God if he really is lord and dominator of the world. Between God whom he has to serve and the world which he has to conquer a bit more every day, the human being realizes himself and reaches his fullness. Being the image of God is not something static but, rather, something dynamic. It does not indicate just who man is but for what he exists.
It seems to be a contradiction but it is a reality: the human being who is destined to be the lord and dominator of the world is “the animal who comes into the world least ready to confront it, in total dependence on the beings who give him life; yet, on the other hand, gifted with intelligence, he overcomes his indeterminateness by means of the creative force. The human being lives in continuous struggle with nature. This opposes him as a challenge, indeed, as an enemy; it has to be tamed, workedand transformed. In this process of struggle and transformation, the human being humanizes nature, and, in the process, transforms himself. His relationship with nature will undergo modifications throughout history to the extent that he succeeds in dominating it, in mastering it. The human being expresses his dominion over nature by means of work, scientific investigations, and every more perfect technological achievements…” (Libanio, op. cit., p. 27-28).
2.4.Relationship with God, transcendent reality
Because of being in the image of God, the human being is called to be son of God. Genesis says that Adam, after the death of Abel, begot a son “in his likeness, after his image” (Gn 5: 3). In the same way as the son is the image and likeness of the father who begot him who, in turn is “image and likeness of God,” he must be son of God.
Every human being is necessarily faced with the question of the knowability of a reality which is beyond him and transcends him and all else which presents itself to him, be it nature or history. He will have to accept or reject this relationship; however, the question regarding this relationship with a transcendent Reality is necessary; it expresses one of the fundamental elements of the mental structure of the human being (Libanio, op., cit. p. 28). Surely for a Christian, to the extent that he accepts Revelation and to the extent that his everyday life is led within an experience of faith, this relation with a Transcendent Reality, with God, can be nothing but a filial relationship. This is so simply because in his identity he bears this characteristic of “image and likeness of God,” his Father.
2.5. Success or failure in the multiform relationship of the human being with reality:
If the vocation, if the profound word, proclaimed from within his very being defines the human being as open to the world around him, as lord of things, as brother of other human being and as child of God, the human being will never be able to reach his full if he turns in upon himself, if he lets himself be dominated by things, if he hates his brothers and if he tries to lift up his proper nature to the level of God.
If one of these relations is missing, all the restare necessarily missing because the human being is a global unity, not a being divided into watertight compartments:
- The human being should not center himself so much on himself that he forgets that he is a being-in-the world, which means multiple relations.
- Nor, however, should the world occupy the being and the activity of the human being in such a way that he forgets his relations with his brothers. If it does, he would not be lord of things, but their slave.
- Nor should centering himself in God make the human being forget his obligations to the created world and towards his brothers. If so, he would cease being lord of things and would forget that other human beings are the place for a human being to meet God.
The second Vatican Council put Catholics on their guard against this neglect regarding temporal things thinking thereby that only then are they committing themselves to the true contemplation of the mysteries of God: “They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself, they are more than ever obliged to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation” (GS 43).
The Council most clearly expresses the mutual overlapping of the multiple relations to which the human being is subjected on earth: “The Christian who neglects his temporal duties neglects his duties toward his neighbour and even God, and jeopardizes his eternal salvation” (ibid).
Nor, however, should relations with one’s brothers occupy and preoccupy the human being to such an extent that they make him forget his relations to God and to temporal things.
The fundamental vocation of the human being, his being fully human, rests upon a difficult equilibrium among relations with himself, material things, his brothers, and God himself, each of them demand from him a commitment and a total dedication without neglecting any of the others.
Jesus, the perfect relation with reality
In Jesus of Nazareth the human being can contemplate the human utopia made fully real. In Jesus the old man is transformed into the new man. In Jesus the human project does not remain only as a nostalgic aspiration as in the case of the first Adam, but has become palpable reality. Jesus of Nazareth is the human being fully related to himself, to things, to his brother and to God.
From Jesus of Nazareth we can understand what and how a human being’s relation with reality ought to be. Pilate’s declaration was the most solemn proclamation of all the aspirations of humanity: “Ecce homo.” Behold the man. The perfect man, the man fully reconciled with himself, with things, with his fellows, and with God.
In fact, if being human consists in unfolding to the fullest a world of relationships with the whole of REALITY, Jesus of Nazareth exhibited what it is to be human being in all its splendour because, with regard to himself, Jesus is the perfectly one human being, without breaks or fissures or internal divisions. Jesus has perfect mastery of himself even in the most difficult moments. The relation of Jesus with things is one of absolute lordship; he admires God’s creation. Jesus does not call human beings to a flight from the world but to be lord of the world, dominator of the world. In face of others, Jesus is the brother who does not discriminate against or humiliate anyone; he made himself neighbour, dose to all without exception. In the face of God, Jesus is the Son who experiences intense intimacy with the Father, a full identification with the Father; for him there are no sacred versus profane spaces; rather, every place and every time are fit for encountering God.
3. Reading reality
3.1 Attending lo the signs of the times
REALITY has a sacramental value in so far as it is a sign of the presence of God. Today the whole Church is more conscious of this than ever. For Claretians there is here a call from God: “The Church is experiencing the presence of the Spirit by means of significative events” (MCH 47).
The mission which Claretians have to fulfil in the world and in the Church demands a watchful attention vis-a-vis REALITY. lt demands an attitude of availability towards whatever of good there may be in every time and in every place in order to embrace ìt; it demands a watchful attention to whatever there is of evil in order to avoid it and, regarding what is ambivalent, to retain what is good and to discard what is evil.
The second Vatican Council newly emphasized the reality of the category of signs of the times (GS 4, 11,44; DH 15: AA 14). Pope John XXIII used it in Pacem in Terris and Pope Paul VI in Ecclesiam suam. But Jesus already used this expression to invite the people to recognize the rnessianic signs: “if you can interpret the portents of earth and sky, why can you not interpret the present time?” (Lk 12: 56; Cf. Mt 16: 2-3).
If Vatican appropriated as its own the category of signs of the times especially in Gaudium et Spes which treats of the relations of the Church with the world. The world is not just the addressee of the message of salvation but is also a theological locus in which all those who have a mission of evangelizing should search for the warning signs of God’s presence.
In this fashion REALITY constitutes a call of God that the Claretian renew himself in his prophetic dimension. Thus, reality is the theological locus in which the relation of the Claretian with God, with human beings, and with things is fully realized.
If so, how to become aware of the presence of God in surrounding reality? Number 44 of Gaudium et Spes offers a few guidelines:
- First of all, it is necessary to identify reality and the challenges it offers. To do this, it is necessary to answer these questions: What is going on in the world, in the nation, in one’s own milieu? What is happening in the universal Church and in the local Church? What is occurring in the Congregation, in the Province, in one’s own community?
- One must analyze in the light of the salvific plans of God what are the aspects of reality which coincide and what are the aspects which do not coincide with those plans.
Throughout the history of the Church as well as the history of the Congregation, this reading of reality has always been going on especially in Ecumenical Councils and General Chapters. And, following the guidelines of the Church and the Congregation, each Claretian should make the same sort of reading of reality.
3.2. A contemplative reading of reality
In fact, REALITY, as bearer of the warning signs of God’s presence, needs a contemplative reading. Reading reality is something done also by Marxists, by liberals, and by all who do not believe in God’s presence in the world. However, the reading of REALITY as containing the signs of the times demands an attitude filled with faith and love, that is, a growing experience of God.
Really, one of the most characteristic qualities which should define the evangelizing style of Claretians in following their Father Founder has to be contemplation. In fact, each Claretian, confronted with the prophetic dimension of his own apostolic vocation, has to feel himself impelled by contemplation. In such a way – only in contemplating and living in intimacy with God – will he be capable of discovering the image of God in every human being and, as a logical consequence, he will become an apostle of Christ evangelizing the concrete human being in his concrete circumstances.
This means that the Claretian’s contemplation is not done in the abstract but that each new epoch, each new reality constitute a new context for his contemplation.
How to read reality in order that it be converted into splendid sign of the Kingdom’
First of all, it is necessary to know the reality which surrounds one. One has to be informed. So often our meetings or communitarian assemblies for reflection or discernment turn out to be routine and dull because we do not pay attention to what is happening in our surroundings, be they national or local, ecclesial or congregational. Of course, we have to have the Word of God permanently in our hands; but we also have to read the daily papers where there will also be some appeal from God relative to our life.
And so the outcome of reading the words of God which each morning’s paper surely deliver to us should lead to an awareness which is not just informative but also formative. That is to say, an awareness which leads us to involve ourselves, based on our missionary-apostolic identity, in that reality, in that challenge, in that impatience for the Kingdom of God which the reading of the means of communication will have created in us.
Of necessity this implicative awareness has to lead the Claretian to an attitude of incarnation within that very reality in order to evangelize it from within: “The study of the human situations of the persons who evangelize will be neither profound nor motivating if we do not incarnate in the reality of the people, sharing their difficulties and hopes in a continuous dialogue of life” (MCH 211).
This implicative awareness of reality has to have continuous reference to our concrete manner of living the faith, to our concrete manner of being apostles. We have to convert this reality, as has already been said, into a channel for our contemplation. If it is such, it should lead us necessarily to an overwhelming apostolic commitment.
Moreover, this contemplation, founded in reality, will question both our life-testimony as well as our concrete apostolic activities. Both one’s style of life and one’s apostolic activities have to be confronted by the congregational identity; that is not a matter of renewing our identity since that is the permanent reference-point but, rather, of making all concrete activities with regard to that which regards one’s style of life and one’s specific apostolic activities.
Once surrounding reality is known and re-read, the Claretian should feel himself impelled to respond to its urgencies by means of continuous pastoral services. And we say continuous in opposition to flirtting from flower to flower like a butterfly; that is, going from activity to activity without serious dedication to anything. This does not mean renouncing pastoral creativity. Just the opposite. Creativity imposes itself on the one who feels himself pressed by the love of Christ presses us – by zeal for the salvation of souls. However such urgency also should not forget the needed patience of the sower who knows how to wait for the time of the harvest.
However it is not enough just to have arrived at the decision to respond to the evangelical urgencies discovered in one’s surrounding reality. In addition, we have to give a well-defined intentionality to our overflowing apostolic motivation. For example, it would not be enough to make the decision to accept or create a new pastoral activity of any old kind; rather one must be very clear about the evangelizing significance which this activity has.
Finally, at the moment of making our personal rereading of reality, one must keep in mind the possibility that others of our brothers in the Congregation, in the Province and even within one ‘ s local Community will be making their own re-reading from a different perspective. Each Claretian will have to be imbued with enough humility as to think that he may not interpret correctly but, rather, may refract the illumination which the Spirit is sending him through reality.
However, there exists an objective infallible criterion. This cannot be other than that which Jesus himself gave to confirm that He was the promised Messiah. That is love and unconditional dedication to the service of all human beings, in a very special way, to the neediest. It is the sign given by Jesus.
This very liberating attitude of Jesus vis-a-vis the poor and the oppressed is where our own evangelizing activity as Claretians is to be situated in the Church:
“We have to develop a sensitivity regarding the role of the Church as liberator of the oppressed, evangelizer of the poor, and defender of justice and of those who have no spokesman” (MCH 202).
5. Asceticism in our commitment to reality
In a world such as ours, a world strongly secularized, in which hedonism and comfort invade all aspects of human life – including a deep penetration into the aspects of the lives of Christians and religious – asceticism cannot fail to occupy a significant place in the mentality and the practice of daily life.
In fact, asceticism regarding what must be renounced in favour of the primacy of life is an imprescindible factor of human, Christian, and religious life. Christian asceticism is not mere fakirism nor – based on the fundamental Christian presupposition of the incarnation – is it to be explained or justified on the basis of mortification but, rather, on the basis of life in its more ample dimension.
Despite the allergy towards asceticism and towards all which presupposes a rein on natural instincts, we are witnessing a new awakening of austerity encouraged by numerous socials groups who have become aware that, without a certain austerity, a truly human quality of life cannot be achieved. Here we find the ecological movements; here, too, the permanent call for attention by the Club or Rome and other like Societies concerned about the squandering of fueis; here, above all, the fear of the destructive power of the atomic bomb.
Modem societies are beginning to be convinced that the world will not be able to survive if human beings, both as individuals and as collectivises, do not understand once and for all that the price of liberty is self-discipline and austerity. These are the lay or secularized forms in which the Christian asceticism of old is clothed today.
Now it is worth asking oneself: this ascetic attitude – both when it has to do with decisions of the individual regarding himself as well as regarding his relation to reality. In general – should it not have some repercussion in the life of the Claretian who claims to adopt a style of life in consonance with the message of Jesus, which message he has to present to human beings?
Of course, we are not talking about repeating the old forms of ancient monastic asceticism. Each epoch has had its own ascetic models and those of today will have to clothe themselves in several specific characteristics which will have to be discovered by observing the concrete difficulties which the reality with which we have to cope daily is presenting to us. Still, asceticism continues to be as necessary today as in the past.
The purpose of asceticism, today as yesterday, must be to eliminate the obstacles which keep us from leading a fully human, Christian, and religious life, a life as is required of us by our participation in the very life of God and in the missionary following of Jesus. But in the present, asceticism has to militate in favour of the whole human being whereas in the past some human aspects were left far in the background if not left out completely.
Our asceticism has not to be marked by the very reality in which we are functioning which, quite frequently, imposes hard renunciations on us and even certain situations of unavoidable penury.
The forms with which asceticism has to clothe itself for each Claretian in the concrete will depend on the concrete situations which present themselves to him in his daily relations with the surrounding reality. The Constitutions ask for this ascetic adaptation: “In food and drink and in the use of those things which favour enjoyment let them choose the forms of temperance most conformable to the time and place and which best correspond to apostolic men” (Const. 43).
However, there are certain attitudes which is necessary to cultivate always and which demand a good dose of asceticism. I mention just some of them:
- Putting one’s own life in order: This is the fruit of an experience of internal and extemal reality. Such order is what allows the Claretian to have his own powers and capabilities at his disposal. Only thus will he be able to affirm himself in the face of the conflicts, the demands, and the disappointments which will inevitably come upon him in his reiationships with himseif, with others, and with material things. This will be so both regarding his own style of personal and communitarian life as well as regarding the style of mission to which he will have to commit himself. Only by means of this effort to put order into his own life will the Claretian succeed in reaching, little by little, his own interior and exterior freedom.
- Fraterna! tolerance: Called as he is to live together with other missionary-brothers, called also to be bearer of the message of Jesus to all human beings of any time and place, of any social and cultural condition, it is not enough for the Claretian to have put his life in order. If for no other reason than that he is an “ordained” man, he can be a very dangerous man who will inevitably fail into intolerance and rigidity in his relations with whoever may not be “ordained” in the same way as he is.
Thus a Claretian “unilateraliy ordained” in his styie of life and mission will best be able to live and work in community if he makes his own the maxim of St. John Berchmas: “Vita communis, mea maxima poenitentia.” Neglecting this maxim can tum out to be a guarantee of the worst sort of individualism.
And so Christian and religious asceticism, properly understood necessarily involves the most sincere and solid fraternity. Here is where the asceticism of tolerance plays a role of maximum importance. It is characterized by free unconditional openness which facilitates encounter among human beings and, very especially, between missionary-brothers who share one and the same life and mission.
This is a new version of what was previously said about relationship with the reality of the other. It takes a good dose of asceticism for one to accept himself as the foundation for accepting, without envy and resentment, the values and qualities of one’ s brothers without, on that account, leaving off being oneself. In one word, being tolerant means being open to hear the calls of God and of those for whose salvific service we have been sent. This is so especially regarding the neediest: “In solidarity with those who are suffering sickness, pain, injustice, and oppression let us bear all for them in order that they, too, achieve salvation” (Const. 44).
– Asceticism which is struggle and effort: Asceticism of “order” and of “tolerance” imply struggle and effort as well. But now we are talking about the “struggle” and the “effort” needed to “keep growing” in the face of the demands and renunciations which one’ s own personal reality imposes and in the face of the threats and blandishments which are never missing in the life of a missionary.
It is necessary that the Claretian Missionary learn to remain steadfast and upright in the face of the impulses which arise from within himself as well as in the pressures which will certainiy come from the outside. It is a struggle to be found, above all, in his own heart which is the place where true conversion, true change of mentality, is to be sought and achieved. How right Einstein was when he said that he feared the atomic bomb less than the human heart. In fact, it proves easier to fight against all the atomic bombs in the world than to fight against one’s own heart and the hearts of those to whom one goes on apostolic mission. Here is where one enters into the great battles, those which are worth the pain of committing oneself, body and soul.
6. How the Father Founder re-read reality
Chosen by God for evangelizing the peoples, St. Anthony Mary Claret experienced himself as forming part of the line of Prophets and Apostles, of the great missionary saints and of all those who were called by God to be continuators of the saving mission of Jesus. Claret felt anointed by the Spirit to announce the Good News. And from this, his condition of being sent, of being a missionary, is explained everything that he was and everything that he did (Cf. Aut. 113-120; Doc. Aut., BAC, 2ndEd., pp. 416-8).
The Spirit’s anointing, the charismatic graces enabled Claret to see things which others were not capable of seeing; it made him discover several threats or challenges to the People of God which others were not capable of detecting. Like no one else, he knew how to analyse the ultimate root of the evils which, in his time, were at work in the Church and in Spanish society.
Even though at that time neither expression was used, the analysis of reality or the discernment of the signs of the times was something habitual in St. Anthony Mary Claret as a consequence of feeling himself called to evangelize: “On seeing that God, our Lord, without any merit on my part but only because of his good pleasure, was calling me to withstand the torrent of corruption and was choosing me to cure the half-dead and corrupt body of society of its ills, I thought that I should dedicate myself to studying and understanding well the sicknesses of this social body. And, in fact, I did it…” (Aut. 357; cf. n. 685)
From the writings of our Father Founder, especially from his opuscula, one could draw a lucid and detailed description of the reality of his time.
It is only too well known how Father Claret in his evangelizing toil went through life with his eyes quite open, permanently scanning the horizon in such a fashion that, for each problem which he detected among the People of God, he found some appropriate apostolic activity or at least wrote some apposite opusculum. It can be said that each opusculum reflects a very concrete aspect of ecclesial or social reality of the time. Among all this his opuscula The present epoch. antidote against the Protestant contagion and Travellers on the railroad deserve special emphasis. – In them he makes a very accurate description of the religious and social reality of his time.
Concrete reflections of his analysis of reality abound also in his correspondence. In a special way I want to mention the very accurate analysis which he makes of the Spanish socio-politica! reality in a letter addressed to D. Antonio Barjau written a few months after his arrival in Madrid to take the post of confessor to Isabel 11 (Epist. Clar. I, p. 1507-8).
In this extraordinary clairvoyance a special illumination from God was not missing. This is just what Claret himself says in his Autobiography. On September 23, 1859, while reading the book of Revelation, God made him conscious of the evils which were threatening humanity (Aut. 685). When he experienced the sacramental presence of Christ from one communion to another, he also received special illuminations regarding the condition of the Church in Spain (Aut. 694-5). He made his confessor and chaplain, D. Carmelo Sala confidant of these revelations (Informative Process of Tarragona, session 8) and also Fr. Xifré in a letter of August 27, 1861.
So, then, the Father Founder did not stop with ecstatic contemplation or with simple lamentation over the evils which were threatening the Spanish Church and all of the humanity; rather he felt called to confront them. Even more, he thought of himself as the providential response of God to these evils of the Church and society of his time.
In one of the retreat talks which he preached to practically the whole Congregation gathered in Barcelona in 1865, Fr. Claret rose to the level of an authentic theologian of history in a reflection concerning the activity of God who always watches over His Church. The Holy Founder places himself ìn the chain of the interventions of God throughout history in favor of the Church. Although out of modesty he does not mention his name, still in logical consequence of what he was expounding, he could have cited himself. It is a matter of a paragraph which I consider of capital importance for understanding the apostolic specificity of the Congregation: “At all times (God has had special care for his Church) but especially at certain ones:
- when Pelagius was in England, St. Augustine was born at Tagaste.
- when the Abigensians appeared on the scene, God sent St. Dominic and St. Francis. With the rosary.
- when Luther began to publish his errors in 1521, in that year St. lgnatius of Loyola was wounded at Pamplona.
- in the middle of nineteenth century, Strauss, Hegel, Schelling published on pantheism; in France, M. Renan wrote against the divinity of Jesus Christ; in Spain the most Holy Virgin founded her sacred Congregation in order that her Heart be the ark of Noah, the tower of David, the city of refuge and the sacred Propitiatory. and we who are priests of that Congregation have the obligation to be watchful…”
(Constitutions and texts regarding the Congregation of Missionaries, ed. J. M. Lozano, Barcelona 1972, p. 602)
Our Father Founder made a profound analysis of the reality of his time although – in order not to place himself in the line of saints so outstanding as St. Augustine, St. Dominic, St. Francis, and St. Ignatius of Loyola – in the last instance he attributed the foundation to the most Holy Virgin of whom he was only the instrument, he considered the Congregation of Missionaries as a moment within the history of the Church. One should not forget that 1865 was a year of special reflection by our Father Founder on the apostolic meaning of the Congregation. It was then, when he, in analyzing thoroughly the socio-ecclesial reality of his time, realized that the ultimate reason for the foundation of the Congregation was not just to supply for the lack of preachers of the Word (this, in the last analysis, could be classified as no more than a rather internal episode in a local Church) but, rather, under the Spirit’s guidance, it rose rather in consideration of a phenomenon of the cultural order, of challenge and response, and on that account it was destined to exercise more prolonged influence in the whole Church. One should not forget that this talk to the missionaries comes after the Autobiography. After this panoramic vision of the analysis of reality achieved by our Father Founder, it should not strike us strange that he was a truly telling apostle both in the detection of problems (Aut. 357-8) but also in responding to them.
The Congregation has attuned itself perfectly with this great intuition of our Father Founder when the MCH prescribes: “After the example of Father Claret and in attunement with the Church of our time, the Congregation sees itself urged to reflect about the man of today, letting itself be questioned by him in order to better fit itself for its mission. Our reading of contemporary reality, made in perspective of evangelization… can do no less than place man at the center of its attention and be aware of the “situations” which he presently is going through” (MCH 4).
It was also in this very same attitude that the Congregation placed itself in the General Chapter of 1985: “Favouring the opening of each Claretian to immediate and universal reality, and the critical study of this very reality in order to respond to its challenges from our missionary charism” (CPR 70).