2009-04-25 FRANCE

International experience on processes of joint formation and charismatic vitality

Today, April 26th, the International experience on processes of joint formation and charismatic vitality – recreating Marist life together gets under way. It will end on May 18th. It is the experience for the English-French world, corresponding to that which took place in Quito last year, for the Spanish-Portuguese world. There are 9 Brothers and 7 Lay Marists who are to participate in the experiment, as follows: L?Hermitage (2 brothers), West Centre Europe (1 brother and 1 lay woman), Canada (1 brother, 1 layman and 1 lay woman), United States (1 brother and 1 layman), Sidney (1 brother, 1 layman and 1 lay woman), Melanesia (1 brother), South Asia (1 brother and 1 lay woman). The General Administration is represented by Brother TeĂłfilo Minga, Secretary of Religious Life Commission.

We present the greetings to the participants by Brother TeĂłfilo.

Dear Friends, Brothers and Lay Marists,

We welcome you ?

?We welcome you and the God who walks with you? on these grounds of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux. Such was the way of greeting visitors or pilgrims in my village when I was a small child. Even today, the elderly greet the people whom they meet in this manner. The Christian environment that was present in all of society at that time favored this greeting ?full of God.? And when the visitor or pilgrim departed, they used to say to him ?May God go with you!? God was then the point of arrival and departure in the relationship between the resident/stranger or visited/visitor. And between these two points, the stay of the visitor could only be ?a stay with God.? Everything in the relationship of people who met each other had God as the point of reference. It was God who gave meaning to every encounter, to all meetings. He was present in everything.

In thinking over my childhood today and the way that I learned to greet people when they arrived and when they left, I would like to invite you to live the experience that we begin today, as an experience of God and in God. Fundamentally, I would like it to be an experience of faith, of hope and of love. A theological experience. It is God who led us here. It is God who wants us here. It is God who will send us in a few weeks to be his witnesses in the world. I believe that we arrive here as men and women of God. At the end we will leave, at least I hope, more filled with Him, more ?with Him?, after having lived this totally new experience in our Institute. In one sense, we will leave spiritually transformed.

To be transformed

What will this transformation consist of? The program on which we are about to embark shows us when it presents us with the theme ?Process of joint formation and charismatic vitality ? re-create Marist life together.? To speak of process is, precisely, to speak of journeys, of discovery, of new horizons, new dreams, new possibilities. And all of that enveloped by the exigency of faith, the call of hope, the certainty of love.

But it?s a question of joint formation process. And we are quite familiar with the last documents of the Institutes to which we?ve made reference in the preparatory stage of this experience. And we have also seen how, time and time again, the last General Chapters and the last General Administrations of the Institute encourage the discovery of the Marist charism as a gift to the Church, a gift for all, brothers and laity. When the laity welcome it in their lives, both in the aspect of mission as well as spirituality, they become lay Marists. I am convinced that we cannot be lay Marists if we don?t assume and don?t live this double component day to day: mission and spirituality.

We have before us a reality that is obvious to all congregations at the moment of coming to the questions of the laity and their full belonging to the life of the Institute. I?ve followed a bit the last General Chapter of the Jesuits, and their conclusions in the chapter about cooperation with the laity. They are heading in this direction as well. Regarding joint formation (the topic that brings us here) we read:
?Formation (in matters of collaboration in mission) in this regard must be more than just proving professional skills, but must also develop an understanding of Ignatian spirituality, especially as regards mission, and should include opportunities for growth in interior life?our experiment on lay collaboration was meant to be spiritual and mission-focused, rather than legal or canonical?? If instead of ?Ignatian spirituality? we write ?Marcellin?s spirituality? we declare true exactly the same thing of the experience that we are living. It is not the canonical or juridical aspects that we?re interested in here, but rather those aspects tied to joint mission and Marist spirituality that we are all called to live.

Charismatic vitality

The title says again that it?s about processes of charismatic vitality. And, immediately, the subtitle explains what this charismatic vitality is: to re-create Marist life together. Gathered here at Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux we suddenly see the great responsibility to which we are called: it?s about a mission of life, of a ?re-creation? of Marist life today in the 21st century. But in this re-creation we should not forget the seed that brought it to birth: the intuition, or rather, the inspiration coming from God and planted in the heart of Marcellin. This intuition is ours; it belongs to us; it cannot die.

In our case we can concretely express this by making reference to our most recent book of spirituality: we are called to recreate Marist life together, by drinking the water from the rock. That is to say, in making ours and in assuming in our lives the great intuitions of Champagnat. These intuitions were developed in the hard work of the rock of L?Hermitage, or the water of the Gier (the river which flows across the property of L?Hermitage). You realize that we are looking at symbolic realities which lead us to the same essence of our spirituality: God is the rock on which we can have confidence; he is the living water which satisfies our thirst. It is suddenly possible that throughout this experience which gathers us in this historic house of the Marist world, we feel close to God as the rock that sustains our efforts, as the water of life that strengthens us.

Re-build Marist life together

If we look beyond the title we have the answer or the beginning of an answer to a fundamental question that we happily remember at the beginning of this course: ?How will we recreate together Marist life for the 21st Century?? The answer is found, precisely, in formation. Before recalling the contents, it?s useful, however, to stress the general objective that unites us here: ?To form a group composed of brothers and lay people who will be called to offer processes of joint formation in their administrative unit (AU). These people will thus be better prepared to plan, develop and animate formation processes in their own administrative unit.? You know the specific objectives. They are also found in the description of our program. They clarify and present the general objective in detail.

It is essential that we grab hold of the scope of this general objective: we are not here first and foremost because of ourselves. We have been sent by our province to Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, for a project that goes beyond ourselves. We are here to live a spiritual experience of formation which, while benefitting us personally, projects us beyond ourselves: we are called to become multipliers in our provinces of the experience of joint formation which we are living today. We are therefore responsible to those who sent us and to the members of our province. At the end it will not be a question of simply ?writing a report? on our living together. We are called to become ?animators of the life? that we are going to receive. Becoming animators of life, means that we will be capable of bringing it and making others enthusiastic about living it with the same excitement and the same hope. A bit like the slogan of the vocation year reminded us: ?Live the Dream of Champagnat Today. We would say that our experience goes a bit further: ?Live the Dream of Champagnat and also make it alive for others.?

We can now answer the question that we left hanging. And we can do it in a very simple way: we will re-create Marist life together for the 21st Century by studying in depth and by living the contents of the different processes that our experience will offer us during the course of these weeks that we?ll live together. Our program cites five of them:

The processes of formation

* Process of faith: We strive to deepen our relationship with God, with a particular reference to Marist spirituality. This, such as it is presented now in Water from the Rock, is an excellent means of living a deeper faith. This book is not the only means, but for us Marist, it is essential.

* Process linked to vocation: It is essential for us Marists to discover the common ground of our identity. But this common ground and the development of the theology of the laity also asks us to be able to find, more and more, what is specific to each of our vocations. No one doubts any longer that what is ?Marist? can be and should be lived in the different states of life.

* Process of mutual relationships: We know the importance that Marist writings give to the community aspect of our mission and our spirituality. We can never deepen enough the sense of community and of communion among us. It is not by chance that in contemporary theology the notion of ?Church-communion? is part of the definition of the Church. On our level, we can think that the community dimension of Marist apostolate and spirituality is not only an important dimension, it is a constituent of ?being Marist.?

* Process of mission: We are an active congregation with an apostolic spirituality. We live our spiritual life in the mission; the mission is the backdrop of living and putting our spirituality into practice. In this ?process of mission? we are all invited, brothers and laity, to discover and to participate as much as one can in the mission of the Institute be it in a traditional apostolate or on the ?new horizons? of the mission. It would be good to mention here the project Mission Ad Gentes which is bringing the Institute to those places which, a short time ago, were far from our worldviews and perhaps far from our hearts.

* Process of formation: On this level we are thinking about individual formation and our formation in a group such as this. They compliment one another. We must be attentive to our own formation, making sure to participate in courses of ongoing formation. At this time, we should underline in particular joint formation, brothers and laity, like the one we?re living now as what we are invited to ?invent? in our provinces upon our return. We are supposed to offer them this formation ?first hand,? this joint and innovative formation that we?re living here at Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux. Formed in this Marist school, we are called from here to share this same formation with other schools. Let?s not allow the flame that lives in us extinguish. It will certainly be rekindled and deepened during the course of the next few weeks here.

The historic framework of our experience

I would also like, before finishing, to situate our experience in the development of the Institute. The framework in the history of the Institute will be able to enrich the meaning; at the same time it will show us that our experience is not an isolated experience and one without meaning. It doesn?t happen by chance. On the contrary, it is the result of a conscious planning which continues following the calls of the preceding General Chapter; it also follows other very important events which justify its existence, like the international meeting of brothers and laity at les Avellanes in September 2007. It?s an opportune time to make reference here to the sister experience which took place in Quito, Ecuador, for the Spanish and Portuguese speaking group from the 1st to the 30th of July 2008. The results of this experience are extremely positive and encourage us to live ours with enthusiasm, depth and great hope.

a) The Year of Spirituality and the next General Chapter
However, our experience is happening precisely between the Year of Spirituality which finished on October 12, 2008 and the next General Chapter which will begin on September 8th of this year.

Therefore, our experience can be enriched with all of the fruits of the Year of Spirituality that we have already received and that we continue to receive in abundance throughout the Institute. Without going into detail with what one can see in the publications of the Institute and the provinces, the call made to us by the different titles of the document Water from the Rock can be a very effective answer to enrich all of the formation processes that we are living in the course of these three weeks that we are spending together. This is a call that will enrich the different aspects of our spirituality and of our mission as brothers and lay Marists.

In fact, the invitation of Water from the Rock is very demanding. But this demand which comes from our spirituality is what can fill to the brim the formation processes in which we will be involved. In fact, Water from the Rock invited us, and still invites us, to ?let spring forth from the sources of living water, to make our way in faith as brothers and sisters to bring the Good News to the poor and dream new dreams.?

Here we see that the language of our formation process is not different, even if it is presented in other words: it speaks to us of faith and our relationship with God, of our Marist identity in relationship to the other identities in the heart of the Church, of mission based on the proclaiming of the Good News. We are, in fact, dealing with the same reality. Thus, the Year of Spirituality which just ended has been a very good preparation for the experience at Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux.

If we look toward the future, our experience takes place some months before our next General Chapter, whose slogan is: ?New Hearts for a New World.? The Guidelines for reflection in preparation for the 21st General Chapter published by the Preparatory Commission of the 21st General Chapter in Rome, January 30, 2009, points toward some themes that are found at the heart of our formation processes. Taking only the ?Concerns and Lines of Action? (p.5), we see almost word for word the same themes of our formation processes: ?identity and vocation of the laity, mission, collaboration between brothers and laity, consecration and community.? That means that we are not alone in our search for answers to all these themes which cross the synchronic and diachronic fabric of the Congregation. But we can consider ourselves, in a way, privileged in opening ourselves to this possibility of formation in this tranquil setting of Saint-Paul-Trois Châteaux for three weeks to reflect and ?have the experience? on all these themes; they are for us quite a challenge.

In this sense, our experience takes in the wisdom and the richness of a Year of Spirituality when we look at the recent past. What?s more we will be able to offer to the Chapter, in the near future, the richness of an experience that points toward new paths and new horizons. We thank God because we are among the first to make our way along these paths and to seize the new intuitions that they can offer us. Thus, we place ourselves squarely in the center of the Chapter theme which asks for ?new hearts for a new world. We feel here the great responsibility to which we are called when we feel confident to become, in all humility, travelers, with many others, to discover the new thing that is asked of us. Is a matter of a Gospel newness, for from the Gospel one can always find new and old things (Nova and Vetera).

b) Two important documents
If instead of events (Year of Spirituality and the 21st General Chapter) we think in terms of publications, our experience falls between two documents which enter in a decisive way into the history of the Congregation. I refer to Water from the Rock which has become a real ?phenomenon? at this moment in the history of the Congregation: there were 61,700 copies published and 16 translations. But more that these external factors, I can say that the document caused ?change? in the best sense of the word, for many brothers and laypeople with regard to spirituality and mission. And there we are, once again, before a document which can help us enormously in our ?formation process.?

Elsewhere, one already perceives on the horizon another book which will certainly make a mark in the history of the Congregation. I refer to The Vocation of the Lay Marist. I was able to look very quickly at the text of the fourth version of the work. Much of its contents are not far from our formation process. We will not be able to make any great suggestions for completion of this book which is practically finished. But when we read it in the future we will realize that it can shed much light on the themes that we will soon be studying and living. In the same way, it will be able to put in a great light the parallel experiences that will take place in the future on the provincial level as well as the local. And I am convinced that we will become the ?engines? of these future experiences. That is why we are here. It?s our responsibility before the Church and, more concretely, before the Congregation that sent us here.

?May God go with you.?

In finishing these words of welcome, I would like to return to the beginning of my text and remember what I said then. Well beyond the technical and organizational aspects of our experience, what we are going to live is an experience of faith. It will have all of its meaning to the measure that God is the center. And, consequently, to the measure that Christ, Mary and Champagnat are also the center of it. In practice we are invited to live this experience immersed in God. In the certitude that we will be immersed in God, better will be the fruits brought by the experience, by relationship to the formation processes themselves, by relationships to the experience of our spirituality and the richness of our mission. We have ?come with God?; then we have ?lived with God.? Then, with great joy, I will be able to say to you: ?Leave and may God go with you!?

This is the best way of sharing with those whom we will meet the fruit that we will grow and that we will gather from our experience at Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux. To offer them to God, this is to offer them the fullness of life and of happiness. And, in joy, we fulfill this offering expressly in a Marist way.

Brother TeĂłfilo
Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, 26 April 2009.


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