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Mission AD GENTES and the « new land »

Cmi

02/08/2010: General House

Some time ago, a friend, who wanted to have a little joke and who knew I was remaining in Rome after having communicated to him my happiness at returning to Portugal, asked me: «But then, what is your « new land » ? He was surely expecting me to tell him: « My new land is AD GENTES ». But I replied in the same joking tone and in words that seemed paradoxical: « My new land is the same office! » In fact, I changed function, but I kept the same office. Only the name on the door changed, from « Religious Life Commission » to « AD GENTES ».
But beyond the joke, one thing was clear: it was the same office and the same person. But the work changed, and so did the thinking, and even the method in comparison what I had been doing. New plans and new perspectives appeared in my work. All that requires a new interior disposition of openness and listening. I might be working in the same physical space, but the environment of my work is elsewhere. My interior attitude to responding to new calls has to be different also. An attitude, basically, of obedience, that is, of keeping on listening to the new calls of God and mankind. And in all that there is something of the « new land ».

Despite everything, this question, asked in joking, can lend itself to a more serious and more complete reflection. And without wanting to play the exegete, we can interpret in different ways this expression which caught the attention of the capitulants so well that it ended up becoming the title of a chapter document: « With Mary, go in haste to a new land». I am thinking of three possibilities:

1. Mission AD GENTES

This is perhaps the most obvious meaning of this « new land », as important as other possible meanings of the expression. To speak of Mission AD GENTES necessarily means moving to another country, or to another zone inside the same country. We have to set out because « mission ad gentes, properly speaking, is addressed to peoples, human groups, in sociocultural contexts in which Christ and his Gospel are not known » (cf. Redemptoris Missio, 33). In the Gospel, this movement is translated by the word « sending »: « As the Father sent me, so am I sending you» (Jn. 20: 21). Paul, Apostle of the Nations, understood well that « … the promise that was made is also for all those who are far away » (cf. Ac. 2: 39), and he did not hesitate to begin his missionary journeys to carry salvation to « the ends of the earth » (cf. Ac. 13: 47).

2. Humanity renewed (conversion)

Already at the Chapter, someone observed that the new land could be humanity converted, renewed (= renewed by God, « new land » where God dwells and is at the centre). I asked myself if the suggestion came from a Biblical scholar accustomed to meditating on the Word of God, perhaps even in Hebrew. In fact, the first historical page of the Bible begins with a demand from God to Abraham, a demand that harmonises perfectly with the polyvalent idea of « new land »: « The LORD said to Abram : ‘Enter into yourself (= leq-leka) and leave your country, your family, and your father’s house for the land I will show you » (Gn. 12: 1).
Abraham leaves his country. But it is not a matter simply of a geographical journey. It is a journey which affects his person and his capacity to become a free being. Notice that the full text does not say simply: « Leave (leq) your country », but « Enter into yourself (= leq-leka) and leave your country ». It may be that this expression does not fit in very well in our languages (and, indeed, it is left out in many translations); in Hebrew grammar it is a special form of speech known as the « ethical dative ». It concerns a different journey, not simply in the physical sense, but a journey directed towards our interior in order to discover the proper « me » and see where we are. So to begin the work of our own liberation until we are truly free as the Gospel proposes to us. Transformed in this way, that is, renewed by God, we then become accepted and accepting beings. And we accept the blessing of God in our lives, as Abraham did. We are blessed and we become persons who bless. The Biblical text continues: « I will bless those who bless you…; all the tribes of the earth shall bless themselves by you » (Gn. 12: 3). The new land is therefore this space of conversion accepted and realised.

3. New experiences and new hopes

The new land can also be the newness of some themes which, in one way or another, are already alive in the Institute. Apart from the aspects mentioned (AD GENTES and conversion), the Chapter insisted on others. I mention four of them:
• The theme of the vocation of the laity and the common experiences of life, formation, and mission already developing in the Institute.
• The Marial theme, taken up with force and vigour, seen in the perspective of the Visitation: « With Mary, go in haste… »
• The theme of internationalism and multiculturalism, already present in many parts of the Institute, but it is now question of developing and consolidating it.Strongly linked to this theme is that of solidarity ad intra and ad extra of the Congregation.
• There is also the theme of urgency on which the Chapter insisted forcefully. The sense of urgency (wherever we may be!) is felt because it seems high time to begin harvesting the fruit expected. It is more than 40 years ago that our dear Brother Basilio spoke, using a beautiful expression of Yves Congar, of a « new dawn to be born ». This is an all-encompassing expression where we can see the need for conversion, for renewed mission, for courage and hope, for creative solidarity… so many echoes of this Chapter and preceding ones.

So it is time to leave, to leave without delay, so as not to let the newness which is sprouting be lost. The Chapter is an invitation to discover this new land under different aspects. It can be distant, but it can also be found very close to us. Or even closer: inside ourselves.

____________________
Br. Teófilo Minga
Co-ordinator of the Project AD GENTES
Rome, 14 April 2010

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