Understanding the Signs of the New Times



 

These reflections were kick-started by some expressions of the Word of God in the Liturgy during the months immediately after the GC 98. I was particularly struck by the Gospel Acclamation for Friday of the 29th Week . In the Italian version of the Lectionary this derives from Ephesians 1:17 and Luke 21: 29-31 and the composite text reads (in translation): "May the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our heart, so that we may be able to understand the signs of the new times". The GC process in its three phases of preparation, celebration and assimilation can be 'new times' for us if we allow the Spirit of Wisdom to transform our inner vision so as to recognise the the new life that is beginning to bud on the old tree of the Institute. The phase of reception and assimilation of the GC Decisions and allied documents, including the Pope's Message, is a particularly important one if the Congregation is to bear fruit in our lives. The Pope's words about the CG being "for all Rosminians a time of profound personal and community renewal in the charism bequeathed to you by your Founder" can be said to have an ongoing significance and be relevant also in the present post-congregation reality. The qualification which the Holy Father adds to the word ‘renewal’ by calling it 'renewal in the charism', give a special focus to what we are trying to achieve. Likewise, when he says that it is renewal for 'all Rosminians', he is surely thinking of the whole Society and, therefore, of the Ascribed Members as well.

 

The methodology used at the GC led the members to articulate what were deemed to be the core values that gave meaning to their lives as Rosminians. A fair degree of unison was arrived at by the 33 members representing the entire Institute who, with a variety of expression, laid claim to what Rosmini expressed in the Constitutions as the end or purpose of the Society. Rosmini wrote: "The end of this Society, therefore, is to care lovingly for the sanctification of the members who compose it and, by means of their sanctification, to expend whatever longings and strength it has in all works of charity, and espeially for the eternal salvation of every one of its neighbours" (n.5). The core-purpose of the Institute, reappraised by the GC 98, informs all the Decisions of that Congregation.

 

The whole Institute now has to assimilate and put into effect what the Congregation decided. The Decisions are striking in their simplicity. Though not very radical, they are the fruit of a process that engaged the whole Institute over the past three years. If taken fully into our consciousness, they are capable of changing us profoundly (as was highlighted in the recent 1998 Christmas Letter of Father General). It is, for example, easy enough to appreciate at a cerebral level that a return to serious and more prolonged prayer can only be good for our corporate health (Cf GC Decisions,'Rosminians at Home' a) and b) and 'Return to Roots' e). Making this happen at the level of the heart will require daily conversion and submission to the promptings of the Spirit. The sub-sections c) and d) of 'Rosminians at Home’ are also likely to cause some difficulties. Community Meetings, for example, will not be so difficult to organise. Making them life-giving will be another matter. Perhaps c) and d) should be seen as essentially related. If Community Meeting were to become a genuine searching together for the will of God (respecting the competency of the various organs of government in the matter of final decisions), they would surely be a formidable instrument of renewal.

 

 

Cui bono? may well be the attitude of some when they reflect on all that has already been said in the Special General Chapters over the past thirty years about personal and community prayer and about many other matters touching our lives?. What went wrong ? Why did it not all come together? I have been reflecting recently on this reality and I believe that part of the answer lies in the fact that we have not been formed for discernment. This is no original insight. The Salesian theologian, Mario Midali, in a paper given to a recent meeting of the AMGC (Association of Curia Members) says that one of the "radical challenges" facing General Councils comes from the fact that "while discernment of the signs of the times, by the light of faith, was much talked about in the post-conciliar period, the ideas and the words became hackneyed and rhetorical because what they implied did not get the place it deserved in formation programmes". The result is that members of Institutes at every level today "do not feel prepared to undertake the demanding task of a theological reading of the present social, cultural and religious situations so as to respond adequately to these". Midali goes on to say : "Discernment carried out according to the light of faith cannot be improvised or left to the wit and the goodwill of individuals or of communities. It has to be learned in the school of intelligent apprenticeship and verified practice. We are talking of something which is a theological activity and which presupposes constant spiritual and apostolic renewal. It is a moral and sapiential work undertaken by a person who is living an ethically mature life and is open to change. Discernment is the work of an individual who is inserted in a community which is open to all God's invitations. It calls for dialogue hich is both intra and extra ecclesial. Discernment has an intellectual basis. It implies information about and evaluation of the circumstances in which the Spirit indicates which paths to follow." Reflection on these words will perhaps help us to see more clearly the correlation between a-b and c-d of 'Rosminians at Home'.

 

It would be wrong to say that our Institute has no experience of discernment. What we have not been used to is any kind of communal discernment Not having had a tradition of Chapters or of Community Meetings, we have not yet formed a mind-set towards this kind of activity. In our tradition, discernment was the task of Superiors. It is true that these were obliged to consult with 'several of the more prudent members' in all matters of importance (Cf. Constitutions, n.69) and that their authority, according to the same Constitutions, is 'spiritual only' ( n.696) because the end of the Society is the 'supreme rule of all government' ( n.695). But, in the history of the Institute from the death of Rosmini until very recent times, consultation was not a perceived reality, nor did the brethren always experience authority as spiritual only. Where Rosmini himself stood as regards consultation, Congregations and meetings has not been clearly established. There is evidence that, shortly before his death, he was hoping to begin holding both Provincial and General Congregations (Cf. EC 12 : 284-285 and 419) but this did not influence his successors for the next hundred years.

 

It remains true, however, that when adapting parts of the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus to suit his own particular inspiration, Rosmini was careful to retain the Ignatian emphasis on attentive selection of the members to be admitted. This was to be based on a knowledge of their gifts and of their vocation (Cf Constitutions n. 20, 21 and 21(E.)). The person who is examining the postulant must see his own role as one of following (not anticipating) the movement and call coming from God. The postulant, in his turn, will have arrived at wanting only to do God's will (the examination comes as a particular stage in a process). In an important number of the Constitutions, and one which seems to be his own composition, Rosmini says: " After private reflection, the postulant may conclude that there can be no safer way of learning the divine will than that of obedience. Moreover, he may wish to use the judgment and discretion of the superiors of this Society to discern the divine will, and consequently make himself over entirely to their direction, submitting himself to obedience in all matters. If so, he can be said to have made up his mind to enter this Society" (n. 66). This number, which places great emphasis on the freedom of the postulant, uses the language of discernment (judicium, discretio, internoscere). Internoscere, in particular, means 'discernment', that kind of intimate and familiar knowledge that makes the mother of twins certain that Peter is not Paul (Cf Forcellini, Lexicon, Tome 2:767). It seems to me that Chapter 7 of Part 1 of the Constitutions, where a process of discernment takes place with the person seeking admission to the Society of Charity, is one that needs to be reappropriated especially today. We recall too that this is the Part where we find the Instruction on the nature of the Society of Charity. In pre-conciliar times, this Instruction and, in fact, all the material on the 1st Probation formed part of Novitiate programmes. Nowadays, we risk falling between two stools. There is a presumption that Postulants coming to the Novitiate will already have clear ideas as to what is involved in a vocation to the Institute, when in fact this may not be the case. They may well have undergone a certain assessment and been give some experience of community life and, indeed, received instruction or catechesis on prayer, sacaramental life and liturgy but, unless they have been given a clear idea of the nature of the Institute, they cannot really make up their minds about joining us. It is significant that in this part of the Constitutions, Rosmini is less dependent on St. Ignatius. In writing about the nature of the Institute, he is giving expression to his own particular experience of the Spirit. All those who are truly called to the Institute will share in this experience. Accordingly, the postulants need sapiential direction at this stage of their vocational journey and it is important for the Institute to provide Formators who are capable of discerning with them and guiding them. The Formator, who values his own vocation as a minister or servant of divine Providence (Cf EC 3 : 418), will be in the best position to direct others in the search for the divine Will.

 

Apart from what we find in the Constitutions, Rosmini has left us many descriptions of the Institute. Some are very pithy. On one occasion, during the years when he was waiting for the Church to approve his project, he summarised information sent to Pagani (then a Professor in the Seminary at Novara) in the following brief remark : " In replying to him, I explained the true nature of the Institute which is to make the Word of God bear fruit in us." The Word is, obviously, not only the revealed Word in Scripture but but also the the 'gift of God' which we encounter in the circumstances of everday life but which we do not always recognise without help. The woman at the well in John's Gospel (Jn 4:5-30) is brought gradually through experience and misunderstanding to faith in the Messiah. The person who perceives a call to a particular way of life will not immediately understand all the implications of what is involved and has also to be brought gradually to appreciate the 'living water' which alone is capable of satisfying a deeper thirst.

 

Parts 8 and 9 of the Constitutions of Rosmini can also be understood as being about discernment: about the needs of the neighbour and as to how we can answer those needs. The Institute desires and wills all good, without limit, because to do so is simply to allow God to love in us (Cf Constitutions, n. 549 and especially 551). But the individual Rosminian cannot be the sole arbiter of his capacity for charity. Rosmini expects him to manifest what the Lord is saying in him,and the Institute will have to take account of the gifts and talents of each member. But he himself is expected to remain 'indifferent' with that 'golden indifference' which itself derives from the universality of charity (Cf. Constitutions n.553). There is a further motivation for this indifference and that is the connection in the doing of good between all the members of the Institute. Just as all the members of 'the mystical body of the Institute' feel their spiritual life increasing when a new member is added to the body (Cf EC 12 : 160), so too all rejoice in the good that is done without worrying about who does what. They believe that (as Rosmini wrote to Stefano Bruno in 1851): "Love is hidden in every work like a precious pearl; this alone is what all love and all those that love find love..." (EC 11 : 370).

 

In Chapter 2 of Part 8, Rosmini writes that the members of the Institute "should not seek occasions of exercising charity, but accept those which first offer themselves spontaneously and, with boundless generosity according to the gift of God they possess, satisfy those neighbours who ask for help" (n.554).

 

This becomes a criterion for discerning which works to take on. It is remarkable that in this chapter Rosmini builds all that he says on a biblical foundation. Almost every one of the eleven numbers, either in the text of the number itself, or in the explanation that sometimes follows, carries a biblical quotation. When discerning about works of charity, he seems to be encouraging us to keep one eye on the Gospel and the other on the world in order to have a properly focussed vision.

 

The other side of the coin of discernment has to do with the selection and preparation of those to be assigned to works and with the direction of the works themselves ( Part 9). In the second and third chapters of this Part of the Constitutions, Rosmini provides criteria which have lost none of their validity. The essential standard for the superior in his non-transferrable task of getting to know the brethren is that of pure charity ( Constitutions n. 670). In this way he will avoid judgments based on prejudices and will imitate the mercy of the hevenly Father (Cf Mt 7:1) Even though the superior must discern, he must never judge. His attitude is to be one of compassion which in turn provokes a compassionate response as in Lk 6:37-38 which Rosmini quotes here. The GC 98 Decision 'Discernment Towards A Government For Renewal' n.2 says that it is "through fraternal dialogue that the superior will help the brethren to come to "know the dispositions of divine Providence" (RL 157)" This presupposes superiors who are capable of dialogue and brethren who feel "bound by their vocation to co-operate in the common good, as far as they can, by giving their superior, with candour and charity, all the information about themselves (E.1) and the brethren that the superior could desire, and which they believe will be useful to them" (Constitutions n. 672). This kind of openness, which a religious may well have had at the beginning of his religious life, will only be kept alive by ongoing formation. The growth in the virtue of indifference by which the religious of the Institute will be able to "maintain for their whole life, by divine grace, what they promised at their entrance to the Society, and learnt and exercised during the probations" (Constitutions n. 681) can only come about if there is "a readiness on everyone's part to let themselves be formed every day of their lives" (VC 69).

 

The evaluation of natural leanings and talents makes a particular demand on superiors and brethren alike. Natural propensities are a sign of divine Providence and have to be taken into account but, equally, the same Providence can ask a person to undertake a work for which he has no natural leanings. Because "God alone scrutinises all hearts and knows their true needs, and the cross which is beneficial to each", a delicate act of discernment is needed, when a person is to be assigned to a work which goes against his natural leanings. The same care is required in trying to harmonise the persons 'sphere of activity' with his sphere of charity. Sphere of activity is a particularly Rosminian emphasis and what Rosmini says about it in number 686 and elsewhere in the Constitutions has to be carefully noted. If a person can employ all his strengths and talents, then he will be able to work better for the Reign of God. There must, as far as possible, be a balance between the sphere of charity assigned to a person and his own sphere of activity. It is precisely in this 'balancing act' that discernment plays its role. The weighing and measuring, the sorting and choosing is an operation that calls for much openess on the part of superior and brethren alike. It cannot be taken for granted that all our superiors have acquired the skills necesary for this process of discernment. Neither can it be presumed that even the most recent products of our novitiates and scholasticates have been sufficiently formed for the kind of trusting disclosure about themselves that enables superiors to know them thoroughly. The 'grace of office' will not, in itself, make up the defects in the formation of the superior nor will actual years in the Institute supply lacunae in the other professed. Ongong formation, as the recent GC recognised, is of great importance as is the 'spiritual leadership' given by superiors (Cf GC Decisions,'Return to Roots',(c)).

 

Rosmini lays great stress on the spiritual nature of Superiors' government. Even from Postulancy, the potential member is entitled to see higher superiors, at least, as 'spiritual fathers' (Cf Constitutions n. 70 (E.)). It is interesting also to note that in Part 9 of the Constitutions (selection and preparation of members for works of charity), Rosmini lays great stress on the spiritual nature of authority and on the voluntariness of obedience. One would like to refer at length to this Part which is perhaps too little known in its details and has not been adequately transfused into the RL. There is an inexorable logic in the development of the numbers in Chapter 4 (692-705 inclusive) but the kernel of the matter is in n.695: "They will note how the end of the entire Society, that is the sanctification of the members (they come together to become more perfect,and to please God better) and, through the sanctification of the members as an instrument in the divine hands, the good and sanctification of others, depends upon this voluntarines of obedience. Consequently, since the end of the Society is the supreme rule of all government, they will realise that all their effort and zeal must consist in preserving and augmenting this voluntariness of obedience. Without it the end of the Society and the Society itself would be a mere chimera."

 

In the context of the selection and preparation of members for charity, we have to keep reminding ourselves that Formation (initial and ongoing) is one the most important, if not the most important, work already assumed. The recent GC has spoken of both stages, and as regards the selection of Formators, it is peremptory: "This Congregation commits the Institute to the selection and training of future formators" (GC Decisions, 'Transformation', n. 6). Here the reference is primarily to persons who will accompany the brethren up to Coadjutor Profession. But all religious are persons who have to be concerned with a "constant return to the sources of the whole of the Christian life and to the primitive inspiration of the Institutes and their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time" (Perfectae Caritatis, n. 2). In other words: a constant return to roots. In the GC decision/document of this name, there is an outline of an 'action-plan' and suggestions about its implementation. This will obviously require a programme and the directors and the members of the 'small team' mentioned in n. 3 will be essentially engaged in the ministry of formation. Hence the necessity of their careful selection and preparation.

 

There are instruments of ongoing formation mentioned in the GC documents which have a community dimension. These are, in particular, Regular community reflection on the Word of God; Regular community meetings; Regular community discernment. It might be useful to offer a word about each of these themes.

a) Community reflection on the Word

This has not been habitual with us, nor has it been so until recently in religious life generally, outside the monastic tradition. Vatican 2 in Dei Verbum exhorted clerics, especially priests, to 'immerse themselves' in Scripture and all the other members of the Church, especially religious, to a reading of Scripture accompanied by prayer. (Cf DV, n. 25). Since the 1970's, there has been a renewed interest, even within monastic circles, in that form of Scripture reading known as Lectio Divina. The 1993 Document from the Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, gives the following useful summary of what Lectio Divina is: " Lectio Divina is a reading, on an individual or communal level, of a more or less lengthy passage of Scripture, received as the Word of God and leading, at the prompting of the Spirit, to meditation prayer and contemplation" (St.Paul Books and Media Edition, Boston, p. 126.). This description recalls the method expressed by Guigo (Guy), a twelfth century Carthusian monk who was the 9th Prior of the Grande Chartreuse. Under the image of the steps of a stairs or a ladder, Guigo says the Lectio proceeds gradually from reading (lectio), to (meditatio or cogitatio), to prayer (oratio) and, finally, to contemplation (contemplatio). Modern commentators, with an eye to mission, sometimes add three further steps: discernment (discretio); decision (deliberatio) and action (actio). In this case, the image becomes that of the circle rather than the ladder and the unbroken nature of the circle signifies that the person is always in a process of con-joined prayer and action. The steps of the Lectio are not to be understood as rigid and hierarchical but, rather, as the "gradual development of a global intuition which comes from the creative influence of the Spirit" (A.M. Cąnopi, "Lectio Divina" e Contemplazione, in CISM Religiosi in Italia, 6/1997, p.207*)

Guigo, in fact, writes : " These steps I have spoken about are so joined together and so depend on each other that to have one without the next profits us but little or nothing and to have the higher without the lower is rare if not impossible" (The Ladder of the Spiritual Life ( Scala Claustralium), unpublished translation from Migne PL by Bruno Scott-James, p.12).

 

Much has been spoken and written about Lectio in recent years. The revival of the practice and especially the fact that the lay-faithful are claiming their right to be involved is encouraging. It remains true, however, that Lectio is "probably more talked about than practised" (A.M. Canopi. loc.cit.). Even Guigo, in his time, was aware of the impediments that can arise and had his own comment to make on them : "There are however four obstacles that often impede our ascent of the aforesaid steps, they are unavoidable necessity; the demands of useful activity; human infirmity; and worldy vanity. The first is excusable; the second, tolerable; the third, unfortunate; the fourth, culpable." (Scott-James trans.,p.15).

Rosmini too was well-schooled in the Fathers and in the monastic literature. His own familiarity with Scripture is both explicit and implicit even in writings which are not strictly 'spiritual'. He counsels others to read Scripture especially the "actual words of Jesus Christ, which are of infinite strength and gentleness (soavitą)...leave a heavenly taste, give divine nourishment...carry inexhaustible wisdom...we must keep bringing our minds back to these words, dwelling on them and reposing in them..." (EC 9: 99)

 

The Fathers at Vatican 2 wrote in Dei Verbum: "For, in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets his children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power of the Word of God is so great that it remains the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her children, the food of the soul, the pure and perennial source of spiritual life" (n. 21). Formation, initial and ongoing, must ensure that this happens for us. Initial formation must inculcate a 'courageous practice' of Lectio and ongoing formation develop what has been achieved (Cf PI n 71). Vita Consacrata lays particular stress on the reading of the New Testament, especially the Gospels "the heart of all the Scriptures" (Cf CCC :125) (VC n. 94). Lectio must draw us to contemplate Christ and there is an indissoluble connection between lectio and liturgy where the mystery of Christ is celebrated and from which the power of the Church for mission flows.

 

 

b) Community meetings

There is a connection between what we have been saying about Lectio and the other two themes of renewal: community meetings and discernment. There is one text of the Exhortation Vita Consecrata which quite neatly expresses this relationship and, because this same text is, in a way, the synthesis of all that we are trying to say in these reflections, we highlight it:

 

"From familiarity with God's Word they draw the light needed for that individual and common discernment which helps them to seek the ways of the Lord in the signs of the times" (VC n. 94).

 

In the light of that text, Community meetings will have a quality that will ensure that they are always something more than business meetings. In fact there should be no dichotomy between meetings, which have to do with the practical aspects of the work of charity, and any other kind of meetings if the persons who meet together do so with hearts and minds which are informed by the Word of God. In this way, Community meetings can be one of the great instruments for the formation of community and help create a spirit which will have influence far beyond the physical confines of the particular group. The spirit of 'union and mutual agreement' that ought to characterise every Christian community makes a special demand on us who have charity as our aim. In the 2nd Probation, we learned that "nothing must be permitted to interfere with this aim, because the bond of fraternal charity enables the members to devote themselves better and more effectively to the worship of God and the assistance of their neighbors" (Constitutions n. 185). Community meetings are important not only to help us recall and live these principles but also to create the solid human base in which our virtue must be grounded. We will be effective witnesses only if we try to create communities where "solitude is overcome through concern for one another, in which communication inspires in everyone a sense of shared responsibility, and in which wounds are healed through forgiveness, and each person's commitment to communion is strengthened" (VC n. 45). Even though our Institute, by and large, has remained rooted in these principles, we do not have a tradition of community meetings. The Second Special General Chapter (1980-81) seems to have been the first occasion that the Institute reflected on itself as a community and recognised the existence of a 'variety of community life' ( 2 SGC Documents, n.232). Regarding community meetings, the same Chapter said: "...the main purpose of community meetings is bring us together spiritually and humanly, to build bridges, to promote communication between individuals whose temptation is to remain in isolation, wrapped in their own selfhood" (n. 244). The same document on Community goes on to say that such meetings taking place in a spirit of union and mutual love "will help the members themselves, and in particular the superior, to discern the will of God when there are decisions to be made on matters which concern all the brethren" (n.245). The RL does not specifically mention community meetings but numbers like 124 (in particular) and 255 help us to understand what 'community' means. The Directory says that "Community meetings are to be held regularly since they constitute a valuable means of strengthening mutual union" (n. 111). We might note in passing that what the recent GC says about holding 'regular ' community meetings has been part of our legislation for the past eight years. The new element in the GC document is that 'regular' is interpreted to mean 'at least once a month'. The Directory in the number just referred to would have us devote at least one meeting a year to examining the quality of our community life and another number speaks of an annual review, also at community level, of the 'things and the goods we are using' (n. 253). Both of these elements could be good starting point for renewed community meetings in this post-GC period and an occasion for asking ourselves honestly how we are to bridge the gap between the ideal and the real in our community living. (Cf also Father General's Christmas Letter 1998).

 

Recent Church documents look on community as one of the important 'agents' or instruments in the formation of religious. The note of realism expressed in the following needs to be taken to heart : "The community is established and endures, not because its members find that they are happy together due to an affinity of thought, character, or options, but because the Lord has brought them together and unites them by a common consecration and for a common mission within the Church" (PI n. 26). The spirit of this number should resonate with us who profess a faith in Divine Providence and who try to live the virtue of Indifference also in the matter of accepting the brethren who have been asigned to our community and have to put up with us.

 

The most recent ecclesial document on community, Fraternal Life in Community (1994) emphasise that there is no community life without each one paying a price for it "in terms of personal commitment and dedication" (FLIC n 21). Formation is necessary in order to engender this attitude. The document just referred to says: "Right from the beginning, it is necessary to prepare to be not only consumers of community, but above all its builders; to be responsible for each other's growth; to be open and available to receive the gift of the other; to be able to help and to be helped; to replace and to be replaced" (n. 24). If this spirit must be inculcated in beginners, it must be revived in the more seasoned religious whose formation was often quite different from that being experienced by those who enter today. Integration between all the age-groups is important and initiatives of permanent formation are needed to make it happen. Some communities have given up on this and are aiming at clustering people of the same age groups and formation. It is questionable whether this could ever be our spirit. It is to be hoped that the proper implementation of the Decisions in 'Return to Roots' will have their effect in forming communities that are "mature, evangelical, fraternal and capable of continuing permanent formation" (FLIC n. 43).

 

c) Discernment

Personal reflection on the Word of God will give us the desire to share that Word with others, firstly with our own community and , in turn, this will lead us to engage in a discernment of the signs of the times. For us Rosminians these are new times: we have been at a General Congregation and we have been with the Pope. Together, in the GC, we articulated some of our core-values and the Pope in his message to the Institute pointed us in the direction of the nuclear attitude which was at the heart of Rosmini's christian life: the principle of passivity. The Holy Father rightly interpreted 'passivity' as a dynamic category and not one redolent of quietism, when he said that: "the ‘passivity’ in question appears more as a constant watchfulness for signs of God's will and an absolute readiness to act upon such signs when they appear." These words are a great challenge to us as is the reminder that, while remaining a man of his time, Rosmini also transcended it and became "a universal witness, whose teaching is still today both relevant and timely." We can either bask complacently in the glow of these words, or take up the challenge they offer by using every means at our disposal. The Pope makes mention of the Institute's specific mission to teach the path of freedom, wisdom and truth. To tease out all the implications of these words calls for great discernment at every level in the Institute. We have to examine our present works and try to see how they measure up to the religious and cultural project inherent in our charism and ask ourselves how that same charism is entering into dialogue with the cultures of our time. The GC Decisions in 'Rosminians in the Market Place' commit us along certain lines. But there is probably a preliminary work needed to deepen what inculturation of our charism ought to mean for us.

 

The word 'inculturation' has been used officially in the Church since 1977, although it was coined before then. In ecclesial terms it replaced words like 'adaptation' and 'accomodation'. Inculturation is meant to have a deeper significance than these latter terms which tend to stop short at mere external adaptation. The 1985 Synod in its Concluding Statement goes further when it says that Inculturation "means the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity in the various human cultures". None of this is an easy or a speedy process; it requires patience and an effective method. G. A. Arbuckle distinguishes certain stages in the process of inculturation which might be worth noting: "... a) Identifying aspects of a culture that are in conformity with Gospel values; b) Identifying aspects that are not in conformity; c) Choosing how to elevate, purify a culture, according to Gospel values. In seeking to change a particular custom, it is important to effect a change in the world-view and value-system which underlie it. One needs here to appeal to the opinion leaders in the community, who may not be the official leaders; d) Actual implementation of the plan chosen. One will bear in mind that this process involves a meeting of three cultures: that of the Bible, of the people being evangelised and of the evangeliser (if he/she belongs to another culture). Inculturation is therefore a process of intercultural communication" (Earthing the Gospel, Orbis Books,1990 quoted in: J.Saldanha, Inculturation, St.Pauls, Mumbai,1997, 17).

 

The root and model of all authentic inculturation is found in the incarnation of the Son of God whose humanity united with the Person of the Word became the instrument of our salvation (Cf SC n. 5). What belongs to humanity receives its ultimate healing and transformation by being assumed by Christ Our Lord. What Gregory Nazianzen writes can be applied to all efforts at genuine inculturation : "What is not assumed is not healed; but that which is truly united to God attains salvation" (PG 37:182). The 'assumed' state of our Society, which is meant to be the ongoing 'incarnation' of those values we acquire and live in the elective state, can provide us with a method for examining the human values of the cultures in which we work and for allowing the power of the Gospel to transform these values from within. This may often mean being 'counter-cultural' by challenging certain dominant cultural values. A radical evangelisation of culture, as Pope Paul VI writes in Evangelii Nuntiandi means : "affecting and, as it were, upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, humankind's criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life, which are in contrast with the word of God and the plan of salvation". The task before us as we look at the signs of the new times is a demanding one which will require tapping all the available resources of the Society, including those of the lay-faithful who collaborate with us, and those already offered to us in the Ascribed members. But that is a chapter still largely unwritten.

 

 

Abbreviations

 

Dir Directory

 EC Epistolario Completo

 FLIC Fraternal Life in Community

GC General Congregation

RL Rule of Life

 
SC Sacrosanctum concilium ( Vatican II Constitution on the Liturgy)

 
VC Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata

 

  

A Bibliographical Note re : Lectio Divina

 

Anything by the following authors is worth reading. Some of their works have been translated into other languages:

B. Bariffio, D.Barsotti, A.M. Cąnopi, E.Bianchi, I.Gargano, M.P.Giudici, M.Magrassi, C.M.Martini, M.Masini.

 

The following works have recently appeared in English:

 

 

Lectio Divina, an Ancient Prayer That is ever New - Mario Masini

 

Praying the Bible, An Introduction to Lectio Divina- M. Magrassi

 

Your Word is a Light for My Steps, An Introduction to Lectio Divina- M.de Vertueil

 

 

There are good articles in the following Dictionaries:

 

Dizionario Enciclopedico di Spiritualitą (DES)

Dizionario Teologico della Vita Consacrata (DTVC).

 

 

M.H. : Jan 1st, 1999.