Divine Word Missionaries

General Chapter XVII -- 2012

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XVII General Chapter
Opening Mass
17 June 2012

Introduction to the Mass:

Today, the 11th Sunday of the year, we celebrate the votive mass in honor of the Holy Trinity. It is only fitting that we begin our 17th General Chapter by celebrating the principal feast of our Society. For the mystery of the Trinity offers an ideal perspective for our reflections at this general chapter on “sharing intercultural life and mission”. At the same time, the gospel reading for this year’s celebration of the solemnity of the Holy Trinity reminds us of the “Mission Mandate” of the Lord: “Go, make disciples of all nations”.

The first reading is from the book of Revelation, which describes the vision of the universal gathering in the endtime “of a great multitude from every nation, race, people and language”. The second reading comes from the Letter to the Colossians which speaks of the reconciliation in Christ of all things, “things in heaven and things on earth”.

Let us entrust our 17th General Chapter to the Triune God and pray that it may bring about a genuine renewal of our entire Society so that “the One and Triune God may live in our hearts and in the hearts of all people”.

June 17
Opening Mass


Mission and Interculturality

Dear Confreres,

128 years ago, on December 10, 1884, the first ever general chapter of the Society of the Divine Word opened with a Mass in honor of the Holy Spirit. Along with the Founder, there were just three other capitulars – John Janssen, the Founder’s brother, John Baptist Anzer, Pro-Vicar of South Shantung, and Hermann Wegener, the prefect of studies in Steyl. One of the decisions of that first general chapter was to make the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity the principal feast of the Society.

Today we gather to start the 17th General Chapter of the Society with a Mass in honor of the Holy Trinity. Indeed, the general council had wanted to begin the chapter two Sundays ago, on the very feast of the Holy Trinity. Unfortunately, we were told that the House of the Mercedarian Fathers in Nemi would be available only by the end of last week. In any case, our liturgists suggested that, given the importance of the general chapter, we should celebrate today the Votive Mass of the principal feast of our Society.

That the solemnity of the Holy Trinity became the principal feast of our Society was, obviously, because of the Founder’s great devotion to the mystery of the Holy Trinity. This fact has been captured in the prayer that he has bequeathed to the three religious congregations he founded: Vivat Deus Unus et Trinus in cordibus nostris et in cordibus hominum. “May the One and Triune God live in our hearts and in the hearts of all people”. And, after about 20 years of the existence of the Arnold Janssen Spirituality Center in Steyl, it is now common for us to say that the spirituality of the Founder – and thus, of our Society – is a “Trinitarian Spirituality”.

And so, the Trinity not only characterizes the spirituality of the Founder, but also defines the identity of our Society. Two aspects of the Trinity, in particular, characterize our identity:

First, Mission.
Since Vatican II, we have gotten used to speaking about the “Trinitarian foundation” of mission, that is, that the origin or source of mission is the Triune God himself. As we know, Vatican II’s decree on “The missionary activity of the Church” (Ad Gentes), traces the origin of the mission of the Church to the sending by the Father of the Son and the Holy Spirit in order to bring about God’s universal plan of salvation (AG 1-2, 9). This understanding is based on the vision of the Triune God as communion and interaction between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This communication or dialogue in God’s inner life overflows into creation and history, and constitutes mission – that is, God’s ongoing dialogue with the world, a dialogue which invites and draws all of humanity into full communion with the Divine community.

Thus, at the heart of the Trinity is mission. And so, to be devoted to the Trinity is to be committed to mission. A spirituality based on the Trinity is a spirituality for mission. This is brought out nicely in the gospel reading this morning. Apparently, the choice of this gospel reading is dictated primarily by the fact that it contains the clearest expression in the New Testament (NT) of Trinitarian belief, with what probably was a baptismal formula in the early church: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. But, by a happy coincidence, it also contains the great “Mission Mandate”: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations”. Thus, this gospel reading underlines the necessary link between the Trinity and mission. Perhaps, we should read the Trinitarian formula not only along with “baptizing”, but also along with “Go” – not just “baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, but also, “Go, therefore, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Secondly, Interculturality.
Since the time of the early church, Christian theology has always understood the oneness in the Trinity not as uniformity but as unity-in-diversity. As the Preface of the Mass of the Holy Trinity puts it: “You are one God, one Lord, not in the unity of a single person but in a trinity of one substance.” In the Trinity, divine unity or oneness entails plurality or diversity, and divine plurality or diversity constitutes oneness or unity. Thus, in the Trinity, the more God is one, the more God is diverse or plural; and the more God is diverse or plural, the more God is one. Or, as someone has put it: “In the Trinity, there is an “I” and a “Thou”, but never a “mine” or a “thine” – an “I” or a “Thou”, that is, diversity or plurality; but never a “mine” or a “thine”, that is, unity or communion.

The Founder’s Trinitarian spirituality allowed him to found religious missionary congregations that are open to the diversity of different cultures. This openness to internationality or interculturality has found its place in our Constitutions, where the Prologue defines our Society as “a community of brothers from different nations and languages”. Perhaps it helps to remember that our religious family was born in a small town along the border between two countries. Its birth was accompanied by an experience, on the part of the Founder, of being an outcast, of being thrown out beyond the border. I suspect that this experience left a lasting impression on the Founder. As a result, he founded congregations that were to have no borders, and whose mission is to work towards the elimination of barriers that divide people.

Thus, mission and interculturality, two aspects of the Trinity, and two characteristics of our Society. Today, as we open our 17th General Chapter and gaze at the one and triune God, we see ourselves, our Society, reflected in the mystery of the Trinity. We are a missionary religious congregation. We are an international or intercultural missionary congregation. These two essential characteristics of our identity will provide the perspective for our reflections and discussions in this general chapter. What does being an international or intercultural missionary congregation mean today in the context of a world that is becoming more and more multicultural? What directions do we need to take? What actions do we need to undertake?

The Prayer for the 17th General Chapter gives us a hint. It says that as an intercultural missionary congregation we have been “called from among peoples of diverse nations and languages to share in the universal mission of gathering humankind into God’s Trinitarian communion”. This entails working to promote unity-in-diversity in our own congregation, in the wider Church, and in the world at large. Further, it entails the mission of creating communities where people can sit at table with Jesus, communities where we invite sinners to join us in our journey of conversion, communities where we welcome strangers and outcasts, the poor and the marginalized. In other words, the mission of helping to break down barriers and borders that separate and divide people. For in God’s kingdom, there are no barriers or borders, no strangers or outcasts, but only sisters and brothers sitting at table in the heavenly banquet.

Ite ad gentes, testificate inter gentes, venite cum gentibus. In the light of today’s readings, these, I believe, are the three moments of our call to mission: Go to all nations, be my witnesses in the midst of the people, and come with people of every nation, race and language to the universal gathering in the end-time around the throne of the Lamb.

Dear confreres, the Lord who sends us to go, to witness and to gather also promises to be “with us until the end of the age”. Let us pray that He may be with us throughout our general chapter. May his presence make our general chapter not only a fruitful discussion and reflection on mission and interculturality, but also a genuine experience of sharing intercultural life and mission among us. Above all, may it be an experience of true Trinitarian communion among brothers coming from “every nation, people and language”.