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General Chapter XVIII - 2018

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The Homily On the Occasion Of
the Election Of the Superior General

(July 4, 2018)

Mass in Honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Theotokos, the Holy Mother of God
Galatians 4, 4-7
Psalm 67, 2-3,5,6,8
Luke 2, 16-21

Before sharing with you some thoughts, please allow me to express my feelings. I am relating with you in a personal way during this celebration of the Eucharist in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We all know that Mary, the mother of God, like other mothers and other women, remind us that feelings are part and parcel of our life as human beings.

The most difficult hours for me were yesterday morning, during and after the straw ballot. I was aware that my name was mentioned in my basic group, but I was hoping that I was still safe because many other names were being considered. I always kept my dream that I had in the last three years that after these six years in Rome as General Councilor I would apply for a mission assignment in Liberia (Ghana province), or to Humaita (Brazil Central Province) . However, with the straw ballot yesterday morning I was distraught. I know myself, my many limitations taking into consideration that during the last six years I was part of a significant leadership team in our congregation. Moreover, to be the successor of Fr. Heinz Kulueke, Fr. Antonio Pernia and all the other superiors beginning from the time of Saint Arnold, is not easy.

During these troubling moments of uncertainty and even fear, I talked with some confreres expressing my feelings. I was encouraged by many confreres saying: trust, trust in the guidance of the Lord who knows what is best for the Society; trust in the confreres who are discerning during these days facilitated by Sr. Miriam Altenhofen and Fr. Tim Norton. Moreover, the word: trust, made me feel calm. So I must say to you that I came in this morning to the plenary hall for the election with a calm heart and was open to accepting whatever the capitulars decide.

Looking at Mary, the mother of God and our mother, I want to call your attention to the following points. The first is trust. Trust is what Mary lived from and lived for. She lived from the trust that God has a good intention by calling her to be the mother of a child without having a husband; she lived from the trust that she is not alone in her suffering as the mother of Jesus and that the sacrifice that is asked of her is not in vain. This trust was evident in the life of Mary, and she depended on trust: she encouraged the servants at the wedding in Canaan to trust Jesus and follow what he tells them to do. After the resurrection she prayed together with the apostles, strengthening them to trust in what Jesus had promised.

Trust in God, as mentioned by Fr. Joseph Alt, the biographer of our Founder, is one of the three main characteristics of our Founder, Saint Arnold Janssen. Trust is the first of the three words Pope Francis told us during the Papal Audience needed for our spiritual renewal. Spiritual renewal, as the main thrust of our chapter, means, first of all, an invitation and a call to strengthen our trust in the Lord. The more we are rooted in the Word, the more we realize that our God is a trustworthy God. Also, this God puts his trust on us and entrusts us his Good News of salvation. Deepening our trust in the Lord will help us to trust each other. Our spiritual renewal shall help us to heal whatever trust that has been broken: the trust between the leaders and confreres, the trust of the confreres and their leaders and other similar situations. We need to strengthen the mutual trust with our lay partners. We need to trust that every one of us has been given unique gifts for the sake of the kingdom of God. Our bible reading yesterday also reminded us why we could trust in God, Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you (Peter 5, 7).

The second point to consider as we focus on Mary is the role of a mother as formator. As a mother Mary was influential in forming Jesus, preparing him for what he would become in his mission. Preparing people, preparing our young confreres for the mission is a critical task for the whole Congregation. As I mentioned during my sharing yesterday, formation, both initial and on-going, for our intercultural life and mission is crucial for us. This also includes the formation for lay people to live out their dignity given by God, to be co-responsible in the building up the Church.

The third point that comes to mind as I continue to refer to Mary is her heart and concern for the poor. Mary has the heart of a mother that beats for the poor, feels the need of the people and dares to carry over the necessary steps to address the needs. Again we can see Mary’s role in the wedding of Cana. In the Magnificat, as a woman and a would-be mother, she raises her voice as a prophet, and with genuine conviction, she exclaims that the lowly and poor will come to their right. Here we are reminded that as missionaries we need a heart that feels the pain of the people, especially the poor and oppressed, a mind that searches for ways and means to assist the marginalized in defending their rights, and hands and feet that work with and for the poor. This is the call of Jesus, the inspiration we get from our Founder and the founding generation, and the commitment we want to renew following this 18th General Chapter. In the poor and marginalized we see the face of the Lord. Inter gentes, to be among the people, to feel the joys and hope, sorrows and anguish of the people (GS 1), and putting the last first inspired and guided this generalate administration and will continue to inspire us.

The fourth point is the role of Mary, the mother of God, in helping build up the community. Mary is the mother of God and the mother of the Church, church as communion, as a community of brothers and sisters, of the strong and the weak, of the courageous and the fearful. As religious, our strength is our community life, and as SVDs our community is intercultural. We need to nourish our openness and willingness to live and work as brothers coming from different ethnic and cultural groups and nationalities. In these communities, we learn to care for each other, especially those who are facing difficulties. Our renewal is a renewal to community life.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, just before the election, Marek Vanus, our excellent biblical coordinator, and Jose Antunes, encouraged me with these words: “When you will be elected, please do not forget the Bible and the poor.” I think this summarizes what I just shared with you. We should not forget the Word of God and the poor and always find the inspiration and strength in the Word of God in our work for and with the poor, seeing in the face of the poor the face of the Lord himself. We need to listen to the Word of God in the cry of our mother earth, a call that we need to respond today. May Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother, our Founder Saint Arnold, our exemplary missionary Joseph Freinademetz, Blessed Maria Helena and Josepha, our Blessed Martyrs, pray for us.

Lastly, I would like to thank each one of you for the trust and confidence that you have deposited in me as the 12th General Superior of the Society. If you allow me, I would like to use the very same words Pope Francis told the crowd gathered at St. Peter Basilica during his election as Pope, Please pray for me.

Budi Kleden