Feed Them With The Finest Wheat
Acts of the 32nd General Chapter of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart
Opening Letter, pp. 2-7
This booklet is the general council's way of promulgating the results of our 32nd general chapter, convoked to "continue the revitalization of the institute with gospel boldness." As my introduction I offer some reflections taken from my own experience. This was the fourth general chapter at which it has been my privilege to serve as delegate. From the initial roll call session 23 August at which we verified delegates' right to sit, and at which we discovered the presence of many faces and voices returning for their third, fourth, or even fifth consecutive time, I realized the basic unity of our recent chapters.
I can now see that all four chapters I have attended, spanning eighteen years, have had as their purpose to follow up on the landmark extraordinary general chapter of 1968, which culminated with the promulgation and experience in the institute of our renewed Rule of Life in 1970. Taken together, all have been graced occasions for international communal discernment on the Rule of Life which has served as the cornerstone of our renewal with its emphasis on God's graciousness and our response as brothers in the Heart of Christ.
The chapters I attended have used a succession of privileged words to capture Pope John XXIII's spirit of aggiornamento: experimentation, updating, personal renewal, conversion, communal renewal, refoundation, PAC (Communal Apostolic Project). Each term, it seems to me, emphasizes a different aspect of the same reality. What is that central reality? To describe it I believe we need to go back to the source of religious life. The dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, takes us there when it describes the Church as a field of the Lord where various forms of solitary and community life, as well as various religious families have grown up in a marvelous and multiple way from this divinely given seed. (LG VI: 43)
It is the Lord who has willed to sow in the Church and the world the gift of our institute. He wants it to take root and spread. (R 175) Our religious life is a radical way to live the gospel. It is a part of Jesus' mission to attract us and all people into the mystery of the reign of God. The gospels show that the growth of God's reign, sown by Jesus, is slow and intangible, like the parable in Mark:
"This is how it is with the reign of God. A man scatters seed on the ground. He goes to bed and gets up day after day. Through it all the seed sprouts and grows without his knowing how it happens. The soil produces of itself first the blade, then the ear, finally the ripe wheat in the ear." (Mk 4:26-28) All the terms we have used since Lumen Gentium for renewal can be summarized in the gospel image of the growth of the "divinely given seed" which is our religious life implanted to further the reign of God. PAC, refoundation, and revitalization never have been the goals of our religious life. They are means by which we seek to live the Gospel as it is incarnated in our Rule of Life. By living our Rule our goal is to further Jesus' mission to bear fruit through God's mysterious grace, a harvest which feeds us and the young people who come to us in quest of their eternal destiny.
One of the graces of the 1994 chapter for me was the presence of our leaders over the last twenty-five years of renewal. It was a blessing to work and exchange with all three superiors general who, since Vatican II, played primal roles in nurturing the growth of the Lord's seed and in continuing to sow good seed in his name:
Brother Maurice Ratté, who gave his spirit to the 1970 text of the Rule and who, with his council, made it understood throughout the Institute by means of circulars and close work with the brothers; Brother Jean-Charles Daigneault, who guided our new Rule through approbation by the Church and who saw to its translation and promulgation throughout the institute; Brother Jesus Marín, who recognized the critical importance of formation by providing the Forma¬tion Guide and who gave us his vision of PAC as an enduring synthesis of our identity.
Life of the Institute
Beginning with the general report of Reverend Brother Jesus Marin, which has been distributed as a separate publication, the chapter delegates listened for just over a week to reports covering the map of the institute. Each regional and provincial described the lived expe¬rience of the brothers, the communities, the efforts at animation, the needs, and the realities of his district or region. Often the reports were made by groups of provincials to reflect close cooperation among provinces or within a geographic sector.
It was a real discipline to learn the actual life of the institute through the time-consuming process of oral reports. But the listening was ac¬tive and honest. It became clear that, despite the Lord's generous sowing, refusals and delays are part of our lives (R 117). We found signifi¬cant inconsistency between what we profess and what we practice. This reality led us to Jesus' parable of the weeds and the wheat:
"The reign of God may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep, his enemy came and sowed weeds through his wheat and then made off. When the crop began to mature and yield grain, the weeds made their appearance as well. . . . His servants said to him, Do you want us to go out and pull them up? No, he replied, pull the weeds and you might take the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest." (Mt 13:24-30)
After each set of reports we took time for personal reflection and then divided into seven small international groups to examine the reali¬ties of the life of the institute we had just heard. For each geographic sector we discerned what we considered to be the wheat, (the graces and strengths), the weeds, (the problems and incon¬sistencies), and the soil, (the cultural values of the local society or Church).
Seen through the lens of this gospel pa¬rable, our revitalization is experiencing mixed success. The renewal to which the Lord called us years ago through the promulgation of the new Rule of Life is still incomplete, halting, undernourished. Yet in our communities, schools, and other works, thanks to such means as PAC and the Formation Guide, it is still growing toward a future harvest, still promising, still a source of hope.
After a synthesis in general assembly of our prolonged meditation on the weeds, the wheat, and the soil of our life as Brothers of the Sacred Heart, we recognized several critical challenges facing the institute. The same challenges often surfaced in several reports. They were frequently controversial or difficult to express. To me this means, in the Lord's wisdom, that the harvest is not yet ready, that we must live with ambiguity, that we need ongoing discernment to understand the challenges before us.
I offer six titles to synthesize the critical challenges which kept surfacing through the reports and our small group discernment. Some of them have to do directly with us; they can be thought of as weeds grown up among the wheat the Lord has planted in the institute. Some have more to do with cultural influences upon us; they can be thought of as the conditions of the soil where we are planted.
- The cry of the poor. In our society there is a growing contrast between the haves and the have nots, and young people are the first victims of poverty. Our style of life identifies us with the haves.
- Inconsistency. In our personal and communal lives there is often a discrepancy between what we practice and what we preach. For instance we speak of the importance of prayer, but too many brothers lack a spiritual appetite. We speak of PAC but often live individualism.
- Youth without hope. There are few places of true hope for youth because our society often ignores, exploits, or offers them the hollow promise of materialism.
- Vocation crisis. We struggle to find effective means of recruitment, vocation discernment, and initial formation.
- Secularism. We live in societies which are growing more and more indifferent to Christianity and less and less receptive to religious values.
- Loss of identity. We risk losing our true identity as religious educators because of confusion about our mission and the prevalence of activism and of professionalism among us.
The sheer scope of these challenges threatens to discourage us. The chapter saw clearly the danger of discouragement and the risk of resignation to the status quo. It chose instead a hopeful approach aimed at discovering positive responses to the challenges facing us. To prepare our responses, we divided into study commissions:
- Apostolic and communal spirituality
- Communal mission
- Fraternal life
- Structures and revitalization
- Formation and vocation ministry
- Patrimony and causes of saints
Each commission studied the work prepared by international commissions since the last chapter, and considered all proposals sent in from individuals and groups around the institute. But, as recommended by the coordinating committee, the main work of the commissions was to answer this question: With what means and strategies can our institute commit itself to continued revitalization?
The commissions were asked to recommend bold and concrete commitments in dynamic fidelity to our charism. After a few days of work they began reporting back to the assembly. Each commission transmitted its resolutions to the challenges facing the institute through a variety of texts, oral presentations, and proposals. The final result of their work translates into specific legislation, that is, into ordinances and recommendations.
Ordinances have the binding power of legislation. Recommendations express a common value whose implementation is left up to our generosity and initiative.
Both the ordinances and recommendations express general lines of action to confront the critical challenges. Although the chapter did not organize them this way, they can be grouped to provide a thematic overview of the chapter's responses:
- To the cry of the poor the chapter responds with a call to concrete gestures of solidarity between the northern and southern hemispheres and with the poor.
- To our inconsistency between what we practice and what we preach, the chapter responds with a call to deepening our commitment to the Rule of Life.
- To the needs of youth without hope the chapter responds with a call to renew our option for the young in our schools and in alternative works of education.
- To the vocation crisis the chapter responds with a call to re-energize our vocation and formation ministries.
- To the secularism of our society, the chapter responds with a call to new evangelization.
- To our crisis of identity the chapter re¬sponds with a call to a mission sustained by an authentic communal apostolic spirituality.
These six responses to critical challenges are the chapter's act of hope in our future and in the value of our mission to the young who come to us seeking the finest wheat.
Centers of Responsibility
True Christian hope is linked to a recognition that God, through Jesus, saves us and takes responsibility for our good. We can never forget St. Paul's hymn in Romans which inspired article 130 of our Rule of Life:
"We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who have been called. ... Who shall bring a charge against God's chosen ones? God, who justifies? Who shall condemn them? Christ Jesus, who died or rather was raised up, who is at the right hand of God and who intercedes for us? Who will separate us from the love of Christ?" (Rom 8:28, 33-35 )
We must trust that the seat of all responsibility is the risen Christ sustaining us and interceding for us. The parable of the weeds and the wheat reinforces our trust that the Lord assumes responsibility for the field he has planted even despite the presence of evil. But Jesus shares his responsibility with us as he did with his apostles in feeding the five thousand. He feeds us, as he did his disciples who ate from the standing grain. He trusts us, supports us, and empowers us to act in his Spirit and on his behalf. He begets in us both the willing and the doing, as our Rule of Life reminds us in article 65. We rely on divine strength as we commit ourselves to our future.
At different times in the general assembly several delegates expressed their hope that the chapter might avoid the trap of writing ordinances for the general council to implement.
They struck a responsive chord, not because they wanted to spare the general council some work, but rather because they wanted to ask all the brothers in the institute to share responsibility for meeting the challenges confronting us. The Lord has chosen all of us, not only those with a service of authority, to accept responsibility for the institute's future and mission.
A close reading of the acts of the chapter shows that the various ordinances and recommendations are addressed to brothers in every service, at every level, and in every situation. The chapter relies on several centers of responsibility through the institute. Its directives will go unimplemented and our critical challenges unmet unless every center of responsibility accepts its proper role in union with the Lord of the harvest.
The general council is eager to do its part, but I hope that we will have many partners pursuing our challenges into the next millennium. As our way of promulgating the 1994 general chapter, we have written letters to each of the following centers of responsibility in the Institute:
- each individual brother
- each local community
- members of formation teams
- members of apostolic teams
- brothers in the service of authority
- brothers of the year 2000.
We hope the letters which follow both convey the spirit of the 1994 general chapter and empower you in a real and active way to respond to its ordinances and recommendations.
We ask you to do what you can do. Father Coindre said "When a person has done what he can, he has done what he must." (Letter of 15 May 1823) As an individual, as a member of your community, as a member of an apostolic or formation team, and so on, we ask you to use the letters that follow as a source of discernment and goal-setting so that you can make firm commitments to meet the challenges facing the institute. The commitments should not be utopian. Rather we encourage you to undertake what is realistic. But we ask you – as an individual or as part of a group – to keep yourself ac- countable through some means, and to make provisions for evaluation of your commitments after an appropriate period of time.
Please read all of the letters which follow.
But please give your energetic prayer and attention to those which involve you most directly. Let us return to the parable of Matthew 13. Given the fact that our religious life is and will always be a field of both weeds and wheat, these letters ask you to make firm commitments
- to plant or nurture or protect the wheat,
- to stifle or ignore or discourage the weeds,
- to water or fertilize or aerate the soil.
We must discern our responsibilities in union with the Lord. We must intercede with him, realizing that he is the center of our motivations just as he is the very principle of our total self-offering and of our apostolic action. May he guide and sustain our efforts.
Bernard Couvillion, S.C.
for the General Council
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Feed Them With The Finest Wheat
Acts of the 32nd General Chapter of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart
Letter to You in the Service of Authority, pp. 28-33
How many changes we have witnessed over the last decades in our societies, in our Church and in our communities! They have demanded many of us to rethink and reorganize our works and our form of presence. At the heart of all of these social and cultural changes, no matter what form they take, it's always the role of authority to keep the brothers tuned in to the Spirit and to be co-responsible for the formation of a true community of life and of apostolate (Rule, #210).
All these social changes have not been without effect on you or on the brothers whom you serve. As a brother in the service of authority, you undoubtedly ask yourself what you can do each day to sustain, energize, and reinvigorate your brothers. The members of the chapter were very aware of the demands and the importance of the service of authority. They encourage you to continue with faith and intensity your indispensable work at the service of community, spirituality and mission. Through several ordinances and recommendations the chapter sought to present to all the brothers several interpretations and concrete ways of revitalizing institute finances, structures and forms of animation.
Service of Solidarity
Our big religious family is embodied in the world. It is healthy and we are proud of it all the same, the members of the chapter were very aware of human, social, and financial disparities among the various regions of our institute. It is clear that our brothers of the southern hemisphere face huge deficits of human, material, and financial resources. The delegates recalled the importance of being attentive to the less favored sectors of the institute (Rule, #93). We noted with joy that there is a real relationship of mutual exchange between the North and the South. But despite this generosity, our resources remain in- sufficient to respond to the daily needs of our brothers and their works in the less favored regions. The chapter therefore issues an appeal for solidarity, a call directed at every level of decision-making and of community (Rule, #47). We count on you to sensitize your brothers to the necessity of such solidarity.
On the other hand the chapter invited the brothers in developing countries to show creati-vity and ingenuity in finding ways to become self-sufficient (Rule, #48). They also have a duty and a serious responsibility. All the brothers of regions with limited resources must commit themselves to a vigorous search. It's always in relationship to the people who benefit from our services, with whom we live and work, that we must examine our life style and decide on the changes necessary. That is why ordinance 43 took a more realistic approach to the per capita.
Articulate the Calls of the Institute
Revitalization is essential in several regions of the institute. The members of the chapter gave their attention to studying structures with the view of enhancing viability. It became evident that present structures no longer correspond to reality and are often an obstacle to revitalization. You know that this is not an easy undertaking because it affects structures and institutions of community, of works and of religious lifestyle into which many brothers have invested the best of their energies. It is clear that these choices can be painful and can become a source of conflict. However the realities of life ask us to take a clear look at the present and future of our works. Doing so will require on your part the courage to take restructuring initiatives where necessary. They must be taken in a spirit of trust and fraternal collaboration.
It is important to rely on communal discernment, a common search for the will of God, and gospel trust in taking risks. Here we would like to give several criteria which throw light on this common search to be made by communities and those in the service of authority. The search for new structures must:
- be faithful to our founding charism while adapting it to the changes of the real world;
- guarantee a vibrant and genuine community life, since community is the setting in which our identity takes life and grows;
- respond to the needs of the Church and the world around us,
- take place in an atmosphere of detachment and trustful dialogue with those in authority, who have the charism to maintain unity.
Furthermore, through ordinance 20 the chapter made an appeal to all the brothers to enhance the viability of each local community, each regional community, and each provincial community. The delegates selected eight signs of viability to serve as points of reference geared towards revitalization at all levels. We invite you to articulate and promote these signs, to involve your brothers in finding concrete means to insure viability of local communities, regions, and provinces. The future belongs to those who are bold enough to take prudent risks.
Undoubtedly a movement toward revitalization is already under way. These criteria and signs of viability will enable you to heighten the brothers' expectations. With that in mind the chapter offers you several ordinances and recommendations touching on collaboration, directories, finances, structures, terminology, and unity. These acts of the chapter will be useful to you in developing a renewed vision of our structures and of institute-wide solidarity.
Structures must above all be at the service of life and of our mission. The chapter directed the general council and the provincial councils to set into motion the process of cooperation, merger or change of status where the signs of viability are lacking. We have serious work ahead of us which requires the generous involvement of all the brothers. And you who serve in the role of authority, you are the cornerstone in building a consensus for taking appropriate steps along the road to revitalization. We count on your love of the institute and on your faith in him who renews all things.
Promoter of Unity
Brother, you are a representative of God, a servant of your brothers, a sign of Christ among them. According to our Rule of Life, you are also the promoter of unity, of the common good, and of an apostolic spirit (Rule, #102). In your service of authority the chapter asks you to apply the principles of our Formation Guide and to deepen the brothers' appreciation for the Rule of Life #7. The chapter insisted that these two principal documents of the institute not be relegated to the bookshelf but that they come alive as inspirations of communal animation and ongoing formation. We hope they can nourish our daily lives.
Ordinance 11 also asks you to make an annual evaluation with your brothers of personal and communal efforts to show a preferential option for the poor. It is not enough to make commitments on paper. They must affect our life style as well as our ways of seeing and understanding the materially poor. The implementation of this chapter ordinance is essential if we are to give witness to the gospel.
Finally, the chapter also recommends that in your role of animation you make ample use of communal discernment and reference to our spirituality of love. It wants these elements to have a concrete bearing on the making of decisions, on the life of the local community, and on the evangelizing power of our apostolate.
We direct our apostolic concern first of all toward making our own community dynamic (Rule, #27). The chapter repeatedly urged serious study of our structures as a means to increased vitality. It is the responsibility of every brother to take concrete initiatives toward this viability. But such initiatives must be made in the spirit of our founding and under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Our founder and our predecessors never let themselves become entrenched. Rather they went out to the frontiers of their world and of their time in obedience to the urgings of the Spirit.
In several places it may be necessary for us to abandon an established system and a well known style of life to take the course that Father Coindre and Brother Polycarp pointed out to us. Brother Polycarp exhorts, "Let us do all we can to prepare the congregation for a period of renewal according to the true spirit of its founding". (Heritage, p. 45)
Numbers are not the issue. Revitalization will be life-giving if it can get beyond empty words to create new forms of presence in response to new needs, especially the needs of those who come from neglected and forgotten regions (cf. Fraternal Life in Community, Rule, #67). Brother, you have accepted the service of authority and so you are a special agent of renewal in our institute. Again we express our confidence in you and we pray that your service among your brothers will open up roadways full of hope. Let us keep our eyes fixed on him who guides our steps and who gives direction to our life.
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“They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’ Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them, ‘Whoever receives a child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.’
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Feed Them With The Finest Wheat
Acts of the 32nd General Chapter of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart
Closing Homily, pp. 44-45
Closure of the 32nd General Chapter Homily
Then he took a child, stood him in their midst, and putting his arms around him, said to them, "Whoever welcomes a child such as this for my sake welcomes me." (Mk 9:36-37)
In today's gospel Jesus tells us we must become like children. As the gospel of the last week of our 32nd general chapter, it may be good for us to do just that. I invite you to join me as I review our work and our words during this chapter through the eyes of the young people who are the object of our mission, or the young people who are described in the very first sentence of the preamble of our Rule of Life.
What if a teenage Roman student had driven his motorbike through our gate, put on a pair of these headphones, and listened to us during the last month? What would he have found in our words and in our commitments for himself? What would he have heard?
To help us enter into "the mind of a child" as today's gospel says it, I offer an image I found this week in a magazine in the community room.
When we separated the weeds and the wheat earlier in the chapter, each group's final synthesis in some way described the social soil in which our institute is planted as indifferent or even dangerous to youth. One group said it like this: "The sign of our times which poses the greatest challenge to us is youth suffering because of the secularization of our society." I thought of this quote when I came upon this photograph. Our social and secular culture has produced young people in this image – an image of a young man disinherited, spiritually jaded, confused, cold, alone.
I will give this young man the name FRANCESCO because that is the first name I saw written in graffiti on a wall just outside our property, written next to the letter A inside a circle, a symbol meaning anarchy. We know that the Lord loved Francesco before he painted his name in foot-high (30 centimeters) letters as a way to callout for love and attention. This is Francesco. Let us imagine that for a while he traded in his walkman for our headphones. What love and attention did he hear from us? What was in this chapter for him?
Much, I believe, thanks to the grace of our charism planted deeply within us.
Francesco would have heard the formation and vocation commission ask three key questions:
What kind of brother does today's youth challenge us to become?
What kind of formation is needed to develop that kind of brother?
How can our local communities become more visible and more attractive to youth?
He would have heard the mission report remind us that our mission goes beyond the general Christian mission of knowing, living, and spreading the love of God, that we have the specific mission of spreading good news to youth through education. He would have seen us vote by more than two-thirds to reaffirm "with force and enthusiasm the urgency of the mission of our institute towards the young."
He would have read in the reflections of the commission on fraternal community that young people are society's first victims of the law of "every man for himself" and that young people searching for meaning in their lives need for us to have hospitable communities where brothers listen to them and allow them to be heard.
Although we did spend many moments concentrating on our own internal structures and on areas of misunderstanding among us, I believe Francesco would have been heartened by the frequency with which we spoke of our deepest intuitions of concern for the eternal and pressing needs of the young.
I take great hope in the understanding that is evolving among us of the dynamic unity between our mission and our spirituality. Although Francesco may be left cold by such terms, there is great hope for him, too. The Rule of Life says our spirituality flows from contemplating Christ and his open heart. Our escutcheon gives us an image of that heart to contemplate. The photograph of Francesco with the same heart on his tee-shirt reminds us that contemplating the wounds and sufferings of Jesus should lead us to begin contemplating the pains and cries inside the hearts of young people. Of those who have been spiritually and materially neglected. Of those pierced by tattoo needles and crucified by syringes. Of youth for whom Christian images are superficial emblems like brand names rather than icons of deep interior, eternal realities.
The object of our spirituality must be not only the Sacred Heart of Jesus but the Heart of Christ as present in the hearts of the young. We need to contemplate the sacredness of Francesco's heart as a preparation for our mission to him.
We need brothers in schools of all types because schools are where Andre Coindre and Brother Polycarp taught us to reach the Francescos of this world before they can become dispirited and callow. We also need brothers rescuing the Francescos from the streets because for a growing number of young people schools as institutions smack of regimentation and failure rather than of possibilities for hope. We need brothers wherever there are youth to be gathered and unified into a healing and understanding community.
Looking back at our chapter "as a child" makes me want to give the highest priority in our general council work to promoting those recommendations, texts, and ordinances which will have the greatest impact on Francesco and other young people of our provinces and districts. We received a message from the Holy Father through Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who tells us "take care of youth." He expresses his strong desire that "the Brothers of the Sacred Heart continue through the impulse of this chapter to apply their best energies toward dialog with young people and to forming them according to the heart of Christ."
May we remember from today's gospel that we will be effective as Brothers of the Sacred Heart to the degree that we can become one in spirit with the young people to whom we go out on mission.
Brother Bernard Couvillion, S.C.