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General Chapter XVIII - 2018

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(Saturday: 14 July 2018)

“In His Name – Directions for Discipleship (The Beatitudes)”

Dear Confreres, Sisters and Mission Partners,

At the end of our XVIII General Chapter, we come together to thank the Triune God for His presence among us in our deliberations and fraternal encounters. The future will continue to depend on God’s guidance and at the same time on our openness to transform our lives and habits – allowing space for creative renewal and new paradigms, discerning and doing mission in His name. Our Chapter is an important step along the way of renewal bringing back to light the vision that "His life may become more and more our life and that His mission, as a consequence, will be our mission once again” – all of this impelled by the love of Christ, rooted in his word and newly committed to his mission. At the beginning of this Thanksgiving and concluding Mass, we ask God for what we will need most on the way ahead, that is, his mercy and compassion:

  • Lord have mercy,
  • Christ have mercy,
  • Lord have mercy.


Dear Confreres, Sisters and Mission Partners,

As we come together at the end of our XVIII General Chapter to thank God, in the name of the Society of the Divine Word, I would also like to thank all of you here present, as well as our confreres, sisters, mission partners, benefactors and all people we journey with around the world, for all that you have shared so generously to make His mission possible. Without you the Society of the Divine Word would not be what it is today and would not be capable of doing what it does in so many countries worldwide, serving people from all walks of life, particularly the poor. The present Chapter’s invitation is and will remain a re-orientation, to find “directions for discipleship” meditating on the life and mission of the Divine Word himself. We will have to continue to pray for His guidance.

Allow me to add some thoughts to the Gospel we have chosen for this concluding mass, the Beatitudes. “The Beatitudes present a sort of veiled interior biography of Jesus, a kind of portrait of his figure. “They are directions for discipleship …” Pope Benedict says [Jesus of Nazareth (74)]. And more recently Pope Francis adds: “The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card” and he concludes “We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount” [Gaudete et Exsultate (EG), 63] Renewal and change require going back to the life and example of Jesus himself. From here “a spirituality of change” can take its direction.

The Beatitudes – Matthew 5:1-11 [New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)]

1-2 “When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak and taught them.”

Symbolically speaking, in past decades, for many confreres coming to Nemi for renewal courses or chapters, looking back at their personal religious missionary life and that of the congregation has been a kind of mountain experience; a new encounter with the Lord himself; a time to rethink and to relearn. This could be equally true for the XVIII General Chapter.

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit …,” Jesus says.

A. To learn to accept one’s own poverty before God is an important task for us as religious missionaries. Several confreres have told me after Nemi courses that they have rediscovered the real meaning of their lives, that of serving God; and this with all their poverty, their limitations and sinfulness, often times walking and stumbling in the dark, not knowing exactly where the way is going and where He is leading us.

Many confreres coming to Nemi go home with this experience, realizing once more that it is not us who are the ones in charge but that it is the Lord Himself who takes care of what we cannot do or to paraphrase Pope Francis “what we have messed up.” This is the experience of being a mere instrument, that we can entrust the rest to God Himself. Also, this has been a realization during many a General Chapter.

B. As a Society, in spite of our vast infrastructures, trust funds, investments and insurance policies, before God, we merely have to acknowledge our poverty. Ultimately everything depends on Him. If there are no vocations, the congregation will not survive for long; if He does not touch the hearts of generous people, we will not have the means to do His work; if He does not share His grace of reconciliation, there will be no healing and collaboration. To let God take the lead, to regularly pause, discern, and ask “What does He want us to do?” will bring the envisioned renewal and changes. To those who accept this poverty in Spirit, Jesus says: “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

4 “Blessed are those who mourn ….”

A. Mourning as we all know is a painful part of life. No one will be spared. We grieve for many reasons. The loss of loved ones shakes the foundation of our very existence. … However, mourning often also brings a gift; it is the gift of higher sensitivity for the needs of others. You will recall your own stories of mourning. Besides the loss of loved ones and people important to us, there are the experiences of having to let go of friends, favorite apostolates, work assignments and also structures. "The eternal ‘goodbye’ missionaries have to say,” as a confrere told me once.

B. Among the saddest parts causing a lot of grief in the more recent history of the Church at large and of our Society as well are the abuse cases particularly those of minors, the mismanagement of finances, the cultural insensitivity of some confreres, the indifference towards the plight of the poor and the lack of openness of confreres to change what urgently needs to be changed. And yet confronting these issues has made many of us, particularly those in leadership positions, more sensitive to the needs of the victims and all those who suffer.

Besides doing what we can do to address and remedy all of these, Jesus invites us to trust in God’s caring and changing presence. The ones who genuinely mourn and learn to let go, he says, will be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek (who do not use any violence), for they will inherit the earth.”

A. My first mission assignment in the Southern Philippines brought with it the exposure to a lot of violence. It was the end of martial law in 1986, and yet the fighting and repression continued with all the implications known from similar situations in other parts of the world. I learned fast that violence is an inadequate response to violence but also that there is no peace without justice and in consequence no development. The significance of reconciliation has since then become for me a key message of our Christian faith.

You will have your own experiences. How difficult it is to forgive and on top of that to forget unless justice has been served.

B. During my visits in the past six years, I have had conversations with confreres, ex-confreres, lay mission partners and particularly people entrusted to us in our missions which were subjected to violence and injustice. Not to respond to violence with violence and to search for justice and ways of reconciliation are a constant challenge for the time ahead after the Chapter. There is a call for us to address conflicts on all levels be it personal, in our communities or within the larger world. Jesus says that trusting in him, what we cannot achieve with human means will be given as a gift.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness …”

A. You feel this hunger and thirst for righteousness when you are living close to the people, particularly the poor. Too often our religious institutions and infrastructures keep us at a safe distance from the people. And thus this hunger and thirst die! I heard this often, “We are doing enough already” or “We cannot change anything anyway.” As religious missionaries, we may ask “Is this hunger and thirst for righteousness still part of our/my life?” In the past, the Nemi renewal courses have helped confreres to revive this hunger and thirst for righteousness. Also during the time after the Chapter, to rediscover this hunger and thirst for righteousness will play an important role in any renewal process.

B. A missionary Society like ours – being in many countries close to people who suffer, being exploited and impoverished – cannot afford to lose this hunger and thirst for what is right. If it does, the Society would fast become irrelevant. “What else can we contribute to making this world a better place … to make things right?” … Those who ask “will be filled,” Jesus says.

7 “Blessed are the merciful ….”

A. Many biblical stories show God’s mercy and compassion very concretely. The Samaritan story is but one example. It proposes a change in perspective. The first question should not be “What happens to us when we stop and help?” but rather “What happens to the person in need if we pass by?” (Martin Luther King). A real sin is habitually passing by where we could have stopped and helped. This is true for passing by people in need as well as closing our eyes to a suffering environment (Laudato Si). We could recall our own stories where we passed by but also, probably many more stories, where we stopped and helped. It will also be important to realize that we are not always the Samaritan and that we often need the Samaritan ourselves.

B. “The world without religious congregations such as the SVD would be a much poorer place.” As I have often shared many times, this thought came to my mind visiting confreres and countries around the globe. It is more than obvious that God is using the Society as His instrument to help numerous people in need; to strengthen their faith, to find meaning in life, to receive a decent education, to be informed, to be healed, to get justice and many other things without which humans cannot live; particularly mercy and compassion. Those who do not pass by, the merciful, Jesus says, will receive mercy themselves.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart ….”

A. To be able to see God comes with the condition that is difficult to meet, a pure heart. We know how tough it is to introduce permanent and lasting changes in our own lives, simply to change bad habits or what is wrong ... “In thoughts and words, in what we have done and in what we have failed to do…” we confess. There is a task of constant conversion.

B. What needs to be done to clean the “heart of the Society of the Divine Word”? Make it pure once again. Heal the wounded members. Confront those irresponsible. Change bad habits. Let irrelevant structures and programs die and start anew. The Church and each congregation need this renewal. Is the time ripe? Are confreres ready? Am I ready? These are questions we can ask ourselves at the end of this XVIII General Chapter and beyond. Only when we let this happen, will we see God! Can His Life and Mission also become our Life and Mission once again.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers ….”

A. Being at peace. Going home with peace after the Chapter in Nemi and having re-learned where and how to find it. This happened to many who came here before. … Confreres at peace with themselves, with others, and with God as well, are important witnesses in our international and intercultural religious missionary communities. They are important to our lay partners but also for the younger SVD generation to find meaning in their religious missionary life. It surely will contribute to help young people join and make others persevere. Being at peace will make a difference in the way we live and work together…

B. For many generations and in many parts of the world, our Society has contributed to peace building and yet, we know, how much peace is missing in our world today. We will continue to pray for it, but we have to do our part. We, the children of the one God …

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

A. The theme of righteousness comes back for the second time. We know how important righteousness is in our own life and beyond. And yet many things are just not right in our personal life, in that of our Society and the world at large.

B. How to straighten out things, how to make things right in our world at large and in our Society as well, how to animate confreres to come out of their comfort zones, not to be satisfied with the minimum… is a challenge that needs prayer. It also requires an honest dialogue and confrontation. It is a long, ongoing and life-long process that will not end with the Chapter.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for, in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

A. “On my account, in my name” … Only at the end, Jesus puts himself into the center. Being busy with so many things in life, we at times forget that it is His and not merely our mission. As Mother Teresa said about the work of her sisters, “We are not doing it for something, but for somebody.” And this “somebody” asks us during the Society’s XVIII General Chapter in Nemi to put Him back into the center. Like in the life of our Fr. Janssen, only simplicity of life and deep faith in Him will bring the needed renewal and enable us to persevere.

B. Renewal means nothing else than putting Jesus back into the center. This is what Pope Francis does with his threefold agenda as we know already: “Putting Jesus/the Gospel back into the center and this is to be followed by a conversion, a turning around, seeing the Lord, remembering that it is He who has called us and is calling us once more; to go out again, doing mission in His name.”

In ending: Pope Francis says: “… whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that He is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you…’” (EG 3). And in a later Exhortation the pope writes [in quoting Saint John Paul II]: “If we truly start out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he himself wished to be identified” [GE 96]; the poor and those at the margins. “Clinging to him [the Lord], we are inspired to put all our charisms at the service of others. May we always feel compelled by his love (2 Cor 5:14)” [GE 130] Our Founder St. Arnold then encourages us: “Go forward with full trust in God and resolve again to build up your life in holy humility, and thus God the Lord will be with you.”