(taken from the Doctoral Project/research of Brother Joseph Rocco)
A charism is a special gift that the Holy Spirit gives to a person for the good of the whole Church community. The Second Vatican Council, in its document entitled Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), stressed the importance of the special graces the Holy Spirit grants for the renewal and growth of the Church in every age through the gift of a charism. Vatican II states that the Holy Spirit “distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts He makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and up-building of the Church, according to words of the Apostle: ‘the manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit.’ ( 1 Cor. 12:7)”
In summary, new educators in the faith should understand that a charism, simply put, is a special gift that the Holy Spirit gives to a person for the good of the whole Church community. This gift can be given to a person who is the only one to have it, for example, the charism of teaching. However, he or she can involve others who, together with the one who initially received the charism, will form a special group for the service of the Church community. A religious community or congregation is such a group.
A religious congregation receives through its founder, a particular gift for a particular mission. This gift is called the charism of foundation. The founder’s charism is the characteristic element of the whole congregation. It expresses the specific service the religious congregation will offer the Church and the world. We find in it the special grace given to the founder and, through him or her, to the particular congregation and to those who collaborate with the congregation. The charism contains three very closely related aspects which can be called the life-giving force, the family spirit, or the task. Stated another way, the charism is a spirituality, a type of community life, and a particular apostolic activity. The charism of founders does not consist of a set of rules and regulations, religious habits, prayer styles or a particular type of congregation. The life-giving force is the spirituality; the family spirit (community) is the way the members of the congregation – and those who associate or collaborate with them – relate to each other, to authority, and how they interact socially and by sharing (competencies, experiences, etc.); the task (apostolic activity) is the work that is given to the congregation to be accomplished in the Church. As educators in the faith and as models for new educators, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, give a concrete image of life according to Jesus Christ to their students in order to establish a true relationship with God the Father through an educational task. In the above three aspects, it is the spirituality which activates the other two, but the two in turn enrich and develop spirituality…. I reiterate once again for new educators in the faith, that in order to embrace and live out a particular charism, a healthy personal Christian spirituality is a necessary prerequisite.
The Important Elements for an understanding of a Religious Congregation’s Charism
The charism of a religious congregation is composed of three inseparable aspects: (1) a spirituality; (2) a type of community life; and (3) a particular apostolic activity.
For the founders of religious congregations, the spiritual experience was first and foremost, before any apostolic activity could take place or any attempts made to organize a group. It is this personal experience of God, at first, then collectively in the congregation, in which the apostolic dynamism is based and the communal body is unified and strengthened.
In the Rule of Life of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, Article 112 captures for the Brothers an understanding of the founding charism of their congregation:
112. Christ in our Life
Our founders made us heirs of their devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
And so Christ, in his mystery of love, holds first place in our life as Brothers of the Sacred Heart.
He is our reference point and the center of our motivations, just as he is the very principle of our total self-offering and of our apostolic action.
In the same Rule, Articles 14, 15, and 16 articulate extremely well all three elements of the charism while speaking of the Brothers’ spirituality:
14. Love of Christ
The spirituality of the Institute flows from contemplating Christ, whose open heart is a sign and a revelation of the Trinitarian love of God for all.
We respond in love to God’s goodness by our consecration in a way of life totally focused on Christ, gentle and humble.
15. Love of our Brothers
The Institute is marked by a spirit of love expressed through simplicity, acceptance, and brotherhood.
As true brothers, we share our life and our apostolate.
We develop a family spirit which makes each brother feel loved for who he is.
16. Love of Neighbor
Challenged by our contemporaries and the developments of our time, we reach out in love through understanding, discernment, and involvement.
Set free by the cross, the world awaits our initiatives so that the Father’s plan “to bring all things together in Christ” might be fulfilled. Eph 1:10
It is important to note that as educators in the faith, the Brothers’ charism does not focus chiefly on the educative mission or a profession such as that of teacher. It is, first and foremost, a contemplation on Christ, most especially on his open and wounded heart. It is a spirituality which calls the Brothers to give witness to this contemplation through the ministry of education.
A Type of Community Life
It is quite evident from Article 15 of the Brothers’ Rule of Life, that from the onset of the congregation, emphasis was placed on the importance the role of community and community life would play in the lives of the Brothers and their apostolic works – their schools. … Article 156 from the Rule – ‘The School Community’ – …we note the importance and value that the Brothers placed on the school community…. “Christian education cannot easily be realized without the witness of a school community, which is built on close relationships among teachers, parents, students, and the local people….”
A Particular Apostolic Activity…
Once again, a charism is defined by a determined apostolic work and it is quite clear that this apostolic work flows from a particular spirituality. For the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, Article 13 from the Rule succinctly captures it:
13. Brothers [Congregation] Today
To belong to the Institute today is to believe in God's love, [a spirituality of compassion that flows from the wounded heart of Christ] to live it, and to spread it; it is to contribute as religious educators to the evangelization of the world particularly through the education of youth.
Rule 13 gives the Brothers, as educators in the faith, evangelization through education, as their specific mission. The Rule reminds the Brothers (and their lay collaborators) that their task is, before all, of a spiritual nature. Rev. André Coindre and the first Brothers of the Sacred Heart perceived the needs of the times and responded to them effectively and evangelically. Because of this powerful mandate given to us today as educators in the faith, what we do, our means of action, our schools, our staffs, must be reviewed and evaluated in order to enable us to better carry out the apostolic challenge entrusted to us by our founding charism. Through the charism given to Coindre in 1821, we must continue to be attentive to the signs of the times, so that our means of apostolic activity – our schools – will be in conformity with this charism and will always flow from our spirituality. New educators in the faith, must realize that it is our spirituality that needs to be examined regularly on a personal as well as a collective level in order to live out that particular charism. Fidelity to the charism demands it!
Any history of a religious congregation has its core from the inspiration of the founder who was able to gather and inspire a group to take up a mission and continue that mission as a gift to the Church. The legacy of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart is just such a legacy. As with all religious congregations, time and experience have changed many aspects of the congregation, but nothing has truly altered its connection with the founding charism. For the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, nothing has changed their desire to make the love of God known in our world through the ministry of education.
Brothers of the Sacred Heart
An Educational Charism: A Focus and A Strength
…. the statistics clearly indicate today that religious communities of men and women are diminishing from the elementary and secondary school levels. Their particular charism and strong spiritual formation, which once embodied the spirituality of the school atmosphere, may disappear. The reality is that Catholic education is now predominately in the hands of the lay Church. Therefore, it is extremely important for those who educate our children, most especially new educators in the faith, again, predominately lay, to be imbued with the educational charism, ‘a way of life’ lived by the members of religious orders, with their special gifts and talents, who conducted our Catholic schools.
Over twenty years ago, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, observing the changing face of their schools, realized the importance the lay people would play in the schools since they were the majority on the school’s staff. The shift began to take place whereby the lay teachers were no longer considered ‘hired help’ by the Brothers, but an integral part of the school ministry. The Brothers began to develop a ‘partnership’ in all aspects of the running of the school, from teaching positions to administrative leadership roles. But it was not enough for the Brothers of the Sacred Heart to merely appoint lay people to take over school positions where Brothers were not longer available or able to fill. The Brothers felt the need to take initiatives to form their lay colleagues to a deeper participation in their apostolic mission, spirituality, and charism.
In the early 1980s, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart took initiatives so that the charism could be developed and fostered among their lay colleagues in the schools. A series of spirituality days, workshops, and retreat experiences were planned for faculty and staff formation. These experiences, which were developed and executed mostly by the school leadership teams, dealt with spirituality and charism. Literature about the Brothers’ founder, mission, and the founding charism was distributed, as well as published in faculty handbooks. Bulletins and related information were sent home to parents and students. Each school conducted or staffed by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart in the United States was left to its own initiative to plan programs for its lay colleagues. However, from the onset, it can be said that the Brothers of the Sacred Heart believed in the following principles:
- the formation of the laity by the clergy or by religious
has to function as a mutually enriching process;
- laypersons make a contribution at their level;
religious need to listen intently to them;
- religious and laypersons could
contribute to each other’s enrichment.
In March of 1996, Pope John Paul II delivered his apostolic exhortation entitled, “The Consecrated life (Vita Consecrata)”, reflecting on the October 1994 World Synod of Bishops on the topic of consecrated life and its mission in the church and in the world. Not only does his apostolic exhortation treat issues concerning religious life in the Church, but John Paul also speaks about religious congregations (institutes), their founding charisms and the important role religious congregations play regarding cooperation with the laity, especially in the areas of lay formation.
For the Brothers of the Sacred Heart and all who are charged with the responsibility for preparing new educators in the faith, the apostolic exhortation, “The Consecrated Life (Vita Consecrata),” offers some fundamental principles which challenge our schools and those responsible for faculty formation. … Articles 156 and 157 from the Brothers’ Rule of Life, the Brothers place a great deal of importance on the value of developing a true Christian community within the school. For the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, the mandates from “Vita Consecrata”further challenged and enlarged the scope of their task of preparation and formation of new educators in the faith especially in light of the Brothers’ mission to develop a true Christian apostolic community within the school.
Institutes of Consecrated Life have always had
great influence in the formation and transmission
of culture…Consecrated persons cannot fail to
feel challenged by this pressing need…of fostering
the growth of a culture imbued with Gospel values…
A serious and effective evangelization of culture
cannot take place without active cooperation with the laity.
In recent years, one of the fruits of the doctrine
of the Church as communion has been the growing
awareness that religious and laity can and must
unite their efforts, with the view to cooperation
and exchange of gifts, in order to participate more
effectively in the Church’s mission. This helps to
give a clearer and more complete picture of the
Church herself, while rendering more effective the
response of the great challenges of our time, thanks
to the combined contributions of the various gifts.
….Today, often as a result of new situations, many
Institutes have come to the conclusion that their
charism can be shared with the laity. The laity
are therefore invited to share more intensely in
the spirituality and mission of these Institutes.
We may say that a new chapter, rich in hope, has
begun in the history of relations between
consecrated persons and the laity.
The document published in the year 2002 by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, “Starting Afresh From Christ,”affirmed and supported the efforts being made by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart to share their educational charism with their lay educators in the faith and for the preparation of future educators.
Whereas at times in the recent past collaboration
came about as a means of supplementing the
decline of consecrated persons necessary to carry
out activities, now it is growing out of the need
to share responsibility not only in the carrying out
of the institute’s works but especially in the hope
of sharing specific aspects and moments of the
spirituality and mission of the institute.
Finally, further impetus was given to the Brothers and their lay leaders to continue their efforts by the 2003 document from the Congregation for Catholic Education:
Consecrated persons must therefore transmit the
educational charism that animates them and
promote the formation of those who feel that
they are called to the same mission. To discharge
this responsibility, they must be careful not
to get involved exclusively in academic-administrative
tasks…what they must do is favor attention to the
richness of their charism and try to develop it in
response to the new social-cultural situations.
It is for this reason that the institutions of
consecrated life and religious communities,
especially in charge of Catholic schools, propose
formation itineraries for teachers…to emphasize
the vocational dimension of the teaching
profession in order to make the teachers aware
that they are participating in the educational and
sanctifying mission of the church.
Consecrated persons can reveal…the richness of
the spirituality that characterizes them and of
the charism of their institute, encouraging them
to live them in the educational ministry
according to the lay identity and in forms that
are suitable and accessible to young people.20
- Walter M. Abbot, gen.ed., “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium),” The Documents of Vatican II (New York: The American Press, 1966), p. 30.
- Ibid., pp. 14-37.
- Brother Rene Sanctorum, SC, Notes from conference on “The Foundation Charism of an Institute.” Sponsored by the André Coindre International Center, Lyons, France, July 1999.
- Brothers of the Sacred Heart, Rule of Life, No. 112.
- Ibid., No. 14.
- Ibid., No. 15.
- Ibid., No. 16.
- Ibid., No. 156.
- Ibid., No. 13.
- Brothers of the Sacred Heart, Attentive to the Spirit (Rome: Brothers of the Sacred Heart, 1998), p. 77.
- Nihal Abeyasingha, CSSR, “Can Laypersons and Religious Enrich One Another?” Review for Religious 62.2 (Quarterly 2003), pp. 187-188.
- Pope John Paul II, “Apostolic Exhortation: The Consecrated Life (Vita Consecrata),” Origins 25:41 (April 4, 1996), No. 96-99.
- Ibid., No. 98.
- Ibid., No. 54.
- Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, “Starting Afresh From Christ: A Renewed Commitment to Consecrated Life in the Third Millennium,” Origins 32:8 (July 4, 2002), No. 31.
- Congregation for Catholic Education, “Consecrated Persons and Their Mission in Schools: Reflections and Guidelines,” Origins 32:32 (January 23, 2003), No. 57.
- Ibid., No. 59.