Christmas letter for 2016
To the Sisters and the extended family of the Congregation of Our Lady
In the spirit of the Chapter, let us inhabit our time
“We live in the best of times. This is God’s time for us”. These opening lines of Carmen Sammut’s article on consecrated life in the UISG magazine express a beautiful hope : we have no other time in which to make up our minds, in which to act, and welcome God who never fails his people. He comes in this time, the only good time for us : “before” now, it was other people’s concern; “after”, others again will deal with it. Now is the time !
And yet, it is very difficult to cover one’s eyes and ears: the conflict in the Middle East and the resultant sequence of disasters fill our television screens. Thousands migrating, an awakening of nationalism, world leaders meeting but making no progress because they share no single ideal of the common good; in other parts of the world individuals remain in power through force or manipulation; everywhere, money controls everything, including us...
Now has to be the time to cry out, with blind Bartimaeus of Jericho: “Rabbuni, let us see again!” (Mk 10, 51). Not simply to bandage up all this suffering and return to the peace and quiet of our ideal. But because He alone can teach us to live in the real world with all our frailties and contradictions, He alone tells us that the real world is a world of possibilities. Then our eyes may see abundance once again. Now is the time !
We have come to the end of the Year of Consecrated Life and the first day of the Jubilee of Mercy. A good time to narrow the divide created by our contradictions. At the 16th General Assembly of the Union of European Conferences of Superiors Major which took place last March in Albania, Fr Marko Ivan Rupnik (SJ) spoke about the future of apostolic religious life. According to him, this life faces two specific threats:
- activism, commitment to serving an ideal with considerable research into new methodologies and psycho-socio-cultural initiatives which tend to turn into a kind of secularised spirituality… But the desired effect is never achieved – the world does not change, vocations do not increase – for life is not there to be conquered by our commitment.
- devotion without real theology, a kind of sentimentalist and individualistic intimism.
The only way to overcome these threats is to rediscover apostolic religious life as testimony to a relationship, to a communion. “We are the work of his hands” (Ep 2, 10), not of our commitment to serving an ideal.
We are here to testify to a loving relationship, to a new, transfigured, creative, beautiful life; to a life of “wisdom”, flavoursome and full of taste, like herbs and spices. “The appeal of apostolic religious life becomes apparent when it presents itself as a calling nourished by this relationship/communion and joined inextricably to Christ… when it teaches us how to remain in Christ.”
This new Jubilee is given to us as the Gospel parable of the fig tree: “For three years now I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and finding none. Cut it down! Why should it be taking up the ground?” “Sir”, replied the man who looked after the vineyard, “leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.” (Lk 13, 7-9)
A year to bear fruit! A year for our Lord the gardener to work on us !
French theologian Véronique Margron describes thus the vocation of the Christian : “It is a passion for talking with God and neighbour, an insomnia for the salvation of the world. Let us become even the smallest signs by our love of this time. No matter that we may not be understood ! We are not called to be ‘sacraments of perfection’ but signs that we have been saved.”
To each and every one of you, a joyful and happy Christmas:
“Let us put down our daily work, even if night has fallen, and, just as we are, let us go to welcome the Good News. At the manger, we will let the child-God look on us with the eyes of eternal love. We will let the gaze of our vulnerable God touch us. Let us be like lovers, worshipping the one who loves us with an immeasurable love. ‘Come, let us adore Him.’
As we approach the manger, we realise that it is a parable of our lives and of life around us today. We live in a world that often smells like a manger, smells of war, kidnappings or human trafficking, of ethnic hatred, religious intolerance, life-threatening diseases, of unwanted migrants, of greed… And clearly the difficulties and struggles we see on the outside are also present, to a certain degree and in a more subtle way, within our own communities and within ourselves. The Saviour our earth needs is the same Saviour we pray to for ourselves. May we allow ourselves to be touched by the light. ‘Come, let us adore Him.’
If we remain by the manger, we will soon see that it is a special place of welcome and encounter. To welcome smallness and fragility which, far from being rejected, are protected, loved, wrapped in tenderness. What an invitation for us, brothers and sisters, to welcome the smallness, the fragility within ourselves, within our communities, and on the margins of society ! The manger is a meeting place where we learn to listen, to marvel… Meeting people who have come from near and far, people of a different culture, with different religious convictions or moral standards. The manger questions our narrowness, our barriers, and calls us to be open to all ! ‘Come, let us adore Him.’ Our adoration will enable us to express our joy while continuing to give our lives for others.” (Carmen Sammut)
To one and all, a happy and beautiful Jubilee : let us be the joy of our merciful God. Now is the time !
With my affection