‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt..). This encounter between Jesus and his Abba is at once revelatory and foundational for framing who Jesus is and his ministry. Jesus is God’s beloved Son, the manifested fullness of God’s love. Whatever Jesus does in his ministry reflects back to this defining moment and exchange of Love, a Love that is transformative and always stronger than the powers of evil and darkness. As followers of Jesus, his baptism reaches into our lives; it tells us that we are beloved daughters and sons. This reality of being beloved sons and daughters calls us then in the words of Pope Francis to “think like Him, love like Him, see like Him, walk like Him. It means to do what He did and with his same sentiments, with the sentiments of His heart” (Homily, January 3, 2014). This is how we are to incarnate the Divine life given to us and for us. The baptism of Jesus inaugurates his ministry and thus it is a feast that turns us towards the heart of our vocation.
Pope Francis in his meeting with the Superior Generals of Religious Men in November said that the Church “grows through witness not by proselytism” (p.3). Francis goes on to say that this witness is what attracts and it is associated with certain attitudes: “generosity, detachment, sacrifice, self-forgetfulness” (p.3). To tease this out a little, it seems to me that ‘witness’ attracts because it is real, it is authentic…it touches the core of our lived lives. ‘Witness’ radiates a reality that comes from the core self of a person and a community. We have only to take a look at our brothers of Atlas to see this. In the film Of Gods and Men the dialogue in the film is spare but what we see is their authentic gospel witness as lived within the monastic path and its charism.
To expand on what Pope Francis means by ‘witness’ he said: “The Church must be attractive. Wake up the world! Be witnesses of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living! It is possible to live differently in this world. We are speaking of an eschatological outlook, of the values of the Kingdom incarnated here, on earth” (p.3). Monastic life, its path, offers a different way of acting and living. And, as a community we are to embody the values in and through this witness: treating all the ‘tools of the monastery as though they were the sacred vessels of the altar’; ‘not letting the sun set on our anger towards our brother or sister’; ‘never to despair of God’s mercy’; ‘to seek God in all things’; ‘to run with the unspeakable sweetness of love’. And we could add more such sayings from the Rule of St. Benedict, which offers a way of living the gospel in the context of community. Pope Francis is calling religious and this morning we as a community are being called to be “real witnesses…of doing and acting differently” (p.3).
To add an important element to what Pope Francis means by ‘witnessing’ he said: “I am convinced of one thing: the great changes in history were realized when reality was seen not from the center but rather from the periphery” (p.3). He continues by giving us more insight into what he means: “To understand we ought to move around, to see reality from various viewpoints….This really is very important to me: the need to become acquainted with reality by experience, to spend time walking on the periphery in order to become acquainted with the reality and life experiences of people. If this does not happen we then run the risk of being abstract ideologists or fundamentalists, which is not healthy” (p.4). We need to move around, not staying at the comfortable spot with our comfortable and strong opinions or notions. We are to move around, dare to go to the periphery to see reality in new ways, in different ways than what is our norm. This witnessing from the periphery opens the heart wider, does not keep us closed in upon ourselves. It helps us better understand one another, it reveals the human face in ways we have not seen or experienced before, it broadens our outlook and expands our horizons, and in the end it connects us to how Jesus saw and thought. In fact if we want a glimpse of what it means to witness and live from the periphery we have only to look at how Jesus lived and what he taught.
Finally, I want to mention how Pope Francis responded to the question from the Superiors: “What is the priority of consecrated life?” (p.4). He answered: “Prophecy of the Kingdom, which is a non-negotiable. The emphasis should fall on being prophets, and not in playing at being them….In reality, the charism of religious people is like yeast: prophecy announces the spirit of the gospel” (p.4). This suggests or points back to how we live, what is the motivating force behind all that we are and all that we do. The root meaning in Greek of ‘charisma’ is ‘gift’; its other nuances are ‘grace’, and ‘joy’. Francis says that the charism “perdures” and works “fade away” (p.4). Living the charism is like yeast…it begins from within. What is always left is the ‘Spirit,’ this gift, this grace, which has called forth the action. It is the ‘spirit’ of a community that lives on, that intangible grace that is sensed and lingers beyond time and place. We are called as religious to embody Christ’s life, to live the spirit of the gospel on the monastic path, to allow the fullness of grace that we have received and continue to receive to form and shape our lives, our actions, our choices, our relationships as individuals and as a community.
Sr Kathy DeVico