Divine Word Missionaries
† Fr. John Musinsky
Mass of the Resurrection
Openness to the World, Rootedness in the Spirit
† Fr. John Musinsky, SVD
My dear Confreres and Sisters,
My dear Relatives and Friends of Fr. John Musinsky,
My dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Despite what we believe as Christians about life and death, death continues to be a mystery even to us Christians -- a mystery which transcends our understanding and our imagination, a mystery that we can never seem to get used to, no matter how often it strikes those who are dear or close to us. That is why, when it comes, death always shocks and saddens us, and creates in us a sense of loss and grief. And this is what happened last Thursday, when we heard the news that our dear Fr. John Musinsky had died. There was shock and sadness all over the SVD world and beyond -- from St. Louis to Santiago in Chile, from Chicago to Rome, from Nemi to Steyl, from Mumbai in India to Mozambique in Africa.
This universal outpouring of grief and sadness reveals how much Fr. John Musinsky was loved and respected by so many people. Many knew him as the 7th Superior General of the Society of the Divine Word. But I think many more knew him as a truly good person, a generous confrere, a humble priest, an understanding superior, a profoundly spiritual man, an insightful spiritual guide. Today, then, we mourn the passing away of a genuinely good person. The tributes given at his wake last night underlined Fr. John's simplicity, his humanness, his genuine goodness, his sense of humor, his zest for life, his love for sports, his profound spirituality. But Fr. John was not just a genuinely good person. He was also a truly great man. To last night's tributes to Fr. John's goodness, I wish to add this morning a tribute to his greatness -- his greatness as the 7th Superior General of the Society of the Divine Word.
My predecessor in office, Fr. Henry Barlage, used to tell me, during those evenings in Rome when we sat together for a beer, that he considered Fr. John Musinsky as probably the greatest among the superiors general of the Society. His reason was that Fr. John presided over the Society as superior general during one of the most difficult and delicate times facing the Society in particular and the Church in general. He meant, of course, the times immediately after Vatican II. As we know, the reforms introduced by Vatican II were meant to renew the Church in general and the religious life in particular. But these reforms also had the potential of dividing and splitting up religious communities and the Church itself -- progressives against conservatives, the young against the old, the left against the right, reformists against traditionalists.
Fr. Barlage tells the story of the time he was asked to be prefect of scholastics in St. Augustine's in Germany because unrest and rebellion were brewing among the students and the younger confreres in Germany. Fr. Barlage says that he invited Fr. Superior General, John Musinsky, to come at this time to St. Augustine's. And he claims that it was Fr. Musinsky's presence at St. Augustine's which calmed the restive students and prevented a possible division in the Society. Similar situations were in existence in other parts of the Society during Fr. Musinsky's time in office, especially in Latin America and Asia. And it was Fr. John's insightful and effective leadership which kept the Society one during those turbulent years after Vatican II.
I believe two principles characterized Fr. John's leadership of the Society as the 7th Superior General -- namely, openness to the world and rootedness in God's Spirit. On the one hand, true to the insight of Vatican II, Fr. John insisted that, like the Church, the Society must be at the service of the modern world. How can we bring God to modern man? How can we respond to the questions of modern society? How can we meet the challenges of the modern world? These were some of the fundamental questions with which Fr. John grappled during his term of office. But on the other hand, true to the spirit of the Founder, Arnold Janssen, Fr. John also insisted on a profound spirituality of rootedness in God's Spirit. We can bring God to modern man only if we are rooted in God's Spirit. We can respond to the questions of modern society only if we become prayerful persons. We can meet the challenges of the modern world only if we become profoundly spiritual men. These were some of the convictions which Fr. John sought to promote as superior general. Thus, he dedicated his annual letters to the Society to the theme: "The Divine Word Missionary in a Time of Change".
I believe Fr. John Musinsky was the right superior general at the right time. His twofold challenge for us to be open to the world and to be rooted in the Spirit was a challenge that renewed the Society and kept it united in the difficult times after Vatican II. But Fr. John's challenge continues to be relevant today. For looked at closely, openness to the world and rootedness in the Spirit is "prophetic dialogue" -- the theme of our coming general chapter. "Prophetic Dialogue", or dialoguing with the world out of our deep Christian convictions. Even now, we are reaping the fruits of Fr. John's insights after Vatican II.
Fr. John Musinsky was a great gift to the Society of the Divine Word. Thank you, Anita and Melissa [see Note], for sharing Fr. John with us. Without him, our Society would never be where it is today.
Last Thursday, one of the lights -- perhaps the brightest -- on the SVD horizon was extinguished. But we do not necessarily have darkness as a result. For that light shone so brightly that its afterglow continues to light up our way into the future.
Godspeed, Fr. John! We will miss your sense of humor, your contagious laughter, your genuine humanity, your profound spirituality. And thank you! Thank you for keeping us as one family by challenging us to be open to the world and rooted in the Spirit. May you now hear the words of the Lord: "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Master" (Mt 25:21).
Antonio M. Pernia, SVD
Note: Two nieces of Fr. Musinsky who attended the funeral in Techny