The Missionary Dimension of Institutesof Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
Table of Contents
OMI Documentation is happy to present some majorextracts from a paper prepared by Archbishop Henri Goudreault for theOctober 1998 Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for the Evangelisationof Peoples. He unfortunately died suddenly at Edmonton on July 23 of thatsame year. This posthumous publication wishes to honor the memory of aman who "in his person and in his teaching knew how to join theologicalcompetence with the ministry of pastor" (OMI Information N°371Sept. 1998).
We are grateful to Archbishop Marcello ZagoO.M.I.Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoplesfor permissionto publish this text.
Three spaced dots ( . . . ) indicate abridged text.
1. A new contextof mission
The missionaries themselves are living through thisturning point in a very profound way. The communities which they foundedno longer regard them as they did formerly. Some of the faithful ask themto leave. Others call their work into question. Several are of the convictionthat they cannot take responsibility into their own hands as long as theforeign missionaries are living amongst them. The compatriots of the missionariesthemselves are also asking questions. A Canadian missionary said: "Inthe l950'son my return from AfricaI was treated like a hero. Todaymy nephews and nieces say to me: 'Unclewhy do you go to introduce anew religion to them? Don't you change their cultures? Don't you findthat there is enough to be done in Canada? All of this has a corrodingeffect on the convictions of the missionaries themselves. They admit thatin the past mission had its problems. Today they have the impression thatthe mission itself is the problem. It becomes demoralising to accomplishsomething while asking oneself if it is worth the trouble. Missionariesin the pastleft to undertake the obligation of mission; today they havethe impression that they must justify their presence in mission. At leastpsychologicallywe have moved away from the time when Pius XIthe greatPope of the Missionswrote: "Of all the activities of the CatholicChurchthe greatest and the holiest is that of the missions. This worksurpasses all other forms of charity as the soul surpasses the body".Pope Paul VI would have subscribed to this statementwhilst acknowledgingthat this activity takes place today in a context which is very new. Onthe occasion of World Mission Sunday in 1970he wrote: "A new erahas arrived for the missions.... This means that missionary activity mustbe encountered with broad and modern perspectives. A new implementationis indispensable: in theological principlesin informationin recruitmentin preparationin methodsin work and in organisation." 1
The principal charges levelled against the Church inher missionary work are:
These indictments verge on caricature and demand tobe better nuanced.2 It is always unjust to judge the past by present criteria.If certain problems arise today because of the weaknesses or limitationsof the pastothers have been generated from the successes of the missionaccomplished. Once the missionaries have instilled in the people a wishfor participationprogress and autonomywhich are the fruits of a lengthyeducation and an ever-growing maturitythey can no longer act as theyhad previously. When a community tries to develop local leadershiptobecome more aware of its identity and of its cultural richesto takeresponsibility into its own handsto adapt its institutions to its owncultureit shows signs of a very positive evolution. The missionarieswho are at the centre of this evolutionmust accept the "kenosis".Superiorsdirectors or tutors though they may bethey must accept beingsimple collaboratorsworking under new mastersliving the spiritualityof John the Baptist. "He must grow greaterI must grow less"(Jn 3:30). If we have to change many things todayit is not that pastefforts have been found wanting and without results" but rather thattimes have changedthanks in part to the work of the missionariesthatsituations are different and mentalities have evolved.
2. New Questions
1. The people are of good faith. Now God does not abandonpeople of good faith. Why then evangelisation?
2. The non-Christian religions contain real values whichlead people to God. Why then evangelisation?
3. What reply can be made to the great religions ofAsia whichbecause of the Incarnation of Christ and of the attentionwe pay to creation and developmentconsider that we have a materialisticreligion?
4. What do we reply to the Muslims for whom the Incarnationof Christ hides the transcendence of God?
3. The absolutelyunique role of Christ
This unique place of Christ explains and justifies allthe rest. Salvation cannot come from anyone other than Jesus Christ. Heis the sole mediator. "For of all the names in the world given tomen this is the only one by which we can be saved" (Acts 4:12). Wego on mission to make known this name. No one can make known God the Fatherexcept him"the only Son who is close to the Father's heart"and "who has made him known" (Jn 1:18). Interreligious dialogueis enriched by this revelation and attracts people without compellingtheminfluencing their hearts without doing them violence.
The salvation which Jesus offerssurpasses human development.It is not restricted to the framework of a temporal existence; it dealswith salvation which surpasses all human limitations so as to attain aperfect communion with the Absolute. This transcending and eschatologicalsalvation begins here below but finds its completion in eternity. 5
4. Consecrationand mission
5. The followingof Christthe first way of being missionary
6. Professing theevangelical counselsthe second way of being missionary
Why should the following of Christ need to be expressedin a special way through the evangelical counsels of chastitypovertyand obedience? Tillard tells us that"they embrace the three concupiscenceswhich dominate human existenceand the person thus sees him/herself compromisedin the very core of his/her being." 6 Fundamentallythe three vowshave helped in overcoming the three great temptations inherent in humannature. In a world where possession of goodslove of passion and self-determinationare bound to become absolutes and block the perfect fulfillment of thehuman personthe evangelical counsels of chastitypoverty and obediencekeep these realities within their relative meanings and encourage peoplenot to allow themselves to be dominated by them.7 In living out the evangelicalcounsels of chastitypoverty and obediencepeople give witness to theworld that the appetite to have is not ordained to possessingbut tosharing. Jesusduring the temptation in the desertrefused to changethe stones into bread for himselfbut he multiplied the bread to feedthe starving crowd. He did not live the married lifebut he loved deeplyand he made marriage a sacrament; he loved familieschildrenspouses.He did not seek power by accepting all the kingdoms of the earth offeredto him by Satanbut he washed the feet of his disciples and acted likea servantinviting them to do likewise. To secure a better worlda worldmore conformed to God's plan and his design of salvationthis witnessis far stronger than any words. In the concrete it shows that with God'sgrace this ideal is possible. People are thirsting for truthauthenticitysincerity; they are searching for witnesses whose commitment is beyonddoubtwitnesses so strong that the eyes of the blind will be opened andtruth will shine forth. Gabriel Marcel said: I have known individualsin whom I have felt the reality of Christ so intensely that I could nolonger doubt it." 8 In Vita Consecratathe Holy Father stressesthis need of witness: "In our worldwhere it often seems that thesigns of God's presence have been lost from sighta convincing propheticwitness on the part of consecrated persons is increasingly necessary.In the first place this should entail the affirmation of the primacy ofGodof eternal lifeas evidenced in the following and imitation of thechastepoor and obedient Christwho was completely consecrated to theglory of the Father and to the love of his brothers and sisters (...).Prophecy derives a particularly persuasive power from the consistencybetween proclamation and life" (VC 85).
7. Responding tothe needs of the worlda third way of being missionary
a. A world torn asunder
b. A world torn apart by violence
c. A voiceless world
d. A world of efficiency andprofit
e. A world whose changes causethe virtue of fidelity to be doubted
f. A world that is both thirstingand indifferent
g. A world which devalues life
8. Searching fora universal missionary presence
a) Territorial limits
There is no magic formula which would answer all needsbut there are guidelines which some modern missiologists have given us.Richard G. CoteOMIin a recent book 11 says that evangelisation willbe marked by:
l. the courage to review our conventional image of God;to present a nonutilitarian and gratuitous Godthe God of the Covenantbased on lovesharing and generosity;
2. the wisdom of giving priority to mystagogyand notto pedagogy. To present the faith as a mysterya reality which is opento the unexpectedto the sounding of unplumbable depthsto the mysticallife;
3. the creation of structures which are directed outwards:"Goteach all nations." People often come to Church; they donot reach out so often. The apostles do not multiply as rapidly as thefaithful. We too often have consumer Christians who image their society;
4. the desire to marry or to make one's own the "questfor integrated wholeness". The whole is greater than the parts; unfortunatelywe are often satisfied to look at the parts and we do not see the wholewhich is the masterpiece. Everything is inter-related: interaction iseverywhere. We must therefore stop fragmenting realities like the creation- the incarnation - the resurrection - the redemption - the natural -the supernatural - the profane - the sacred - justice - charity. It issometimes necessary to separate them so as to better understand thembut they should not be left divided. It is in the whole reality that allthe richesbeautyand force of attraction are to be found;
5. To accept ambiguity as a blessing and not as a curse.Every period of transition and progress is marked by a certain ambiguitya disturbing uncertaintywhich tests peoples' faitha "night"in a mystical sensea purification. But i is also an occasion for progress.12
b) New worlds and new socialphenomena
c. Cultural sectors or modernequivalents of the Areopagus
The means of social communications are powerful instrumentsof evangelisation. But they do not automatically play this role. It isfor the Church to make use of them. ( . . . ) As the Holy Father has indicatedto use the media "to ensure the spread of the Christian message andthe Church's authentic teaching is not enough. It is also necessary tointegrate that message into the 'new culture' being created by moderncommunications" (RM 37c)
A second cultural area is that of the commitment topeacethe promotion and liberation of peopleshuman rightsetc. Concreteactions give credibility to words. One way or anotherlove of neighbourif it is realcannot fail to lead to commitment. ( . . . )
Culture is also a modern area which at the highest levelconcerns the mission "ad gentes". Inculturation is in the verylogic of the incarnation. One cannot be truly present in a nation andignore its culture. ( . . . ) What appears clearly unacceptable will changebut very littleif at allby an attitude of condemnation. It is necessaryto aim at giving a new meaning to the realitiesat creating a new mentalityand the rest will follow. What is unacceptable willalmost automaticallyeither be transformed or rejected. On this point it is good to rememberthe instruction that the Congregation of Propaganda Fide addressedin1659to the three French Apostolic VicarsFrançois PalluPierreLambert de la Motte and Ignace Cotolendichosen to administer the missionsof AnnamChinaKorea and Tartary; it was suggested "not to makeany judgementsand in any case to condemn nothing rashly or excessively"and to challenge customs which are openly evil "by a nod of the headand silence rather than by wordsat the same time not failing to graspthe opportunities by which these customs can be imperceptibly uprootedfrom the souls of those willing to embrace the truth." 15
The world of education is another major cultural areain which Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Lifehave much experience. ( . . . )
Are Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies ofApostolic Life always missionary? The answer is unhesitatingly "yes".But what changes have there been during recent years?
l. The personnel of the Societies and Institutes thatsupply missionaries has greatly diminished. The vocation crisis has affectedthem very much. Departures of new missionaries have been less and lessnumerous.
2. The return of many missionaries of retirement age.
3. The difficulty of adapting to new situations in countrieswhich have become independent.
4. The sending back of some missionaries by the civilauthoritiesthe nonrenewal of visasthe prohibition of the work of evangelisation.
5. The increase of vocations in young Christian countries.
6. The conviction that each local Church must take responsibilityfor increasing apostles locallyespecially by promotion of the laity.
7. The awareness of the missionary needs of the olderChristian countrieswhich themselves have become mission territoriesand are in need of first and second evangelisation.
All of this explains the concrete situationsbut doesnot take away the missionary obligation of Institutes of Consecrated Lifeand Societies of Apostolic Life. To close ourselves to mission would beto turn in on ourselvesto face the challenges aloneto cut oneselfoff from the riches which opening up to others givesto lack oxygenso to speakand die of asphyxia. A group which refuses mission finishesup by no longer finding in itself the strength to repair the tissues whichare breaking down within itself. ( . . . )
The missionary task has always been difficult and thosewho are called by God to carry it out are "the precursors of thepeople of God in the march through history" (Olivier). Their activityis one which places them in the front line. He who leads and animatesthis great enterprise is the Holy Spirit himself.
Like the Apostles after Christ's Ascensionthe Churchmust gather in the Upper Room "together with Mary the Mother of Jesus"(Acts 1:14)in order to pray for the Spirit and to gain the strengthand courage to carry out the missionary mandate. We toolike the Apostlesneed to be transformed and guided by the Spirit" (RM 92).
* * * * *
3) See Henri BourgeoisIdentité chrétienneDesclée de Brouwer1992pp. 115-128.
4) Joie de croirejoie de vivrep. 226.
5) Evangelii NuntiandiNo. 27
6) Devant Dieu et pour le mondeÉditionsdu Cerf1974p. 126.
7) See Yves St-ArnaudEssai sur les fondements psychologiquesde la communautéMontréal1970pp. 113-130.
8) Quoted by René LatourelleLe témoignagechrétienDesclée & CieBellarmin1971pp. 51-52.
9) The city of Montreal alone has more than seven hundred.See Richard BergeronLe cortège des fous de Dieu EditionsPaulines1982511 pp.
10) L'Esprit-Saintle don de DieuPrions enEgliseNovalis1998p. 51.
11) Re-Visioning MissionThe Catholic Churchand Culture in Postmodern AmericaPaulist Press1996191 pp.
12) Ibidempp. 150-158.
13) Richard Coté writes in Re-Visioning Mission:"If Christianity is to survive in the postmodern world and retainits 'core' identity and integritythe Christian symbolswhich go tothe very heart of 'being' a church with a missionmust somehow be recoveredrevitalized and reappropriated; in a wordthey must be 'set free' inorder to do what only living symbols can do for us.... The survival ofthe Church as a significant transforming and gracefull presence in today'ssociety dependsas John Riches has correctly stated'on its abilityto adapt and change its symbolism to the new pattern of society; otherwiseit will have a distorted view of God and the church and society."(p. 13).
14) Henri Goudreaultomiin Atheism and DialogueSecretariat for Non-ChristiansVatican CityXIX-21984p. 121.
15) Translation by Miss Achard of the latin text citedby H. Chappoulie in Aux origines d'une Eglise. Rome et les missionsd'Indochine au XVIIe siècleParis1943t. 1pp. 392-402.The Holy Father in Vita ConsecrataNo. 96points out how "theInstitutes of consecrated life have always had a great influence in theformation and transmission of culture." To give but one exampleCanada in 1979 had 3912 missionnaries in AfricaLatin AmericaAsiaand Oceania. Grouped according to their fields of apostolate37.5% werein education10.9% in health care7.9% in social activities32% inpastoral ministryand 11.9% in other fields (Conférence religieusecanadienneMissionnaires catholiques canadiensStatistiques 1979p. 40).
AG Ad Gentes
OMI DOCUMENTATION is an unofficial publication
of the General Administration of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate
C.P. 906100100 ROMA-AURELIOItaly
Fax: (39) 06 39 37 53 22
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org