Congregational Letter #12

Pentecost | June 8, 2014 | en Français

Dear Brothers, Associates and Collaborators:

Then Jesus said to (the women), “Don’t be afraid.  Go tell
my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me.”

Mt. 28:10

We first heard those words from Scripture in our Easter liturgy fifty days ago. Why did Jesus tell his brothers Galilee? Why not go Bethlehem of Judea? Why go to Galilee? For mainline Jews and especially the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who set the standards of orthodox belief and the purity of religious rituals,Galilee epitomized all that threatened orthodoxy or defiled purity: the misfits, the marginalized, the uneducated, social outcasts and those Jews who mingled with the Gentiles and foreigners. So why then Galilee? What is Jesus really communicating to “my brothers?” As Easter comes to a close with the feast of Pentecost, and we get ready to enter the common and ordinary time of our liturgical life, a reflection about Galilee is appropriate.

Liberation theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez, provides wonderful insights in answer to the question. In his Christmas Meditation, he points out that God, who is love, chose to become flesh in Galilee where the materially poor, the social outcasts and the marginalized lived. The choice of Galilee was intentional. God’s love needed to be present, active and accessible in Galilee in order to liberate the poor and outcasts. It is God’s love that liberates.

It is in Galilee, in his father’s carpentry shop, that Jesus’ impulse to mission was first stirred as he watched the poor and the little people pass by the shop daily. As we hear so many times in the gospel, “Jesus was moved with compassion” at the sight of these people. Jesus must have noticed how often the religious leaders lacked compassion and even shunned these people. This milieu strengthened Jesus’ deep desire to bring about God’s reign of love and justice which grew stronger and stronger as he mingled with the people, experienced what they were feeling and finally committed Himself “to do the will of the Father.”

In the mystery of the Incarnation, Jesus becomes the human eyes, ears, heart, mind, hands and voice of the invisible God for all people in a place that needed God’s unconditional love. As Gutierrez notes, God loves all persons equally and that God loves the poor preferentially. In Galilee, through Jesus, God makes His preferential option for the poor and lives  among those who have no power, no voice, who are not the controllers of history or the money brokers, who are not the mighty and socially acceptable or “the wise and learned” as Saint Matthew calls them. (Mt 11:25) In his ministry Jesus is often moved with compassion. We are familiar with the healing stories and the miracles. We also know that Jesus challenged the religious leaders to be people of compassion and justice not just protectors of their self-interests or guardians of their version of orthodoxy and ritual purity.

 Tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me. 

For several weeks, my reflection has been bringing me to Galilee. Certainly the visit John and I recently made to Congo has evoked a lot of thoughts and feelings about seeing Jesus in Galilee. The poor and marginalized are so evident in a place like Congo. How aware am I of Galilee in the common and ordinary of my own life? Am I aware of my encounters with the risen Lord? In explaining the process of liberation, Gutierrez’s first point is our need to reflect on our personal encounters with Christ. In each encounter, Gutierrez notes, there is something of the Spirit that stirs and leads us to respond to Christ.

In my childhood, I had some vague inklings of Galilee. I grew up in a low income city project in Brooklyn. My family was poor. I didn’t realize I was poor until I went to high school. I didn’t call it Galilee. I called it Sheepshead Bay. I lived in a largely Jewish neighborhood. My family was the minority in terms of ethnicity and religion. As Lois Ann Rothfeld, a Jewish girl my age, used to say, “Eddie, Irish, Jewish? What’s the difference? They’re both ishes.” I learned we could not always afford what other kids had. My grandparents’ simplicity and constant message that God always takes care of us made a lasting impression on my formation. Indeed something of the Spirit stirred.

My childhood inklings became stronger adult insights shaped by women and men committed to God. As noted Gutierrez talks of God’s love this way: God loves all persons equally and God loves the poor preferentially. I am privileged to know women and men who grasped how these statements are inseparable. My encounters with Christ took place the community at Transfiguration parish in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

I have vivid images of Peter Kelly, along with Father Bryan Karvalis, two Sisters of Saint Joseph, Sisters Peggy and Marcellus, and several Spanish Carmelite Sisters that made a preferential option to live not only with and for the poor but also as poor people. These common and ordinary individuals ministered among poor Hispanic immigrants who are often discriminated against and exploited for their labor. They showed the Hispanics of the parish what Christ’s love means. Something of the Spirit stirred in me during my occasional visits with this community.  What was that something?  Their joy.

One could readily feel the joy they had as they showed God’s preferential love to the people they were serving. They did so by their prayer life, their daily adoration of the Eucharist, their sharing community with the Hispanics, their meals, laughs and mutual support. They simply loved God. From that love came their joy of living for God. Being of one mind and one heart created a contagious spirit within the community.

Gradually Galilee became for me a felt experience calling for a response. In 1989 Matthew asked me to accompany him to Bolivia and then later to Haiti to interpret. My first visit in Carmen Pampa was an opening experience. The material poverty of the students was evident. Their simplicity and happiness were touching. Something of the Spirit was alive and stirring in Carmen Pampa. This encounter did something to me that still affect me today. Similarly the visit to Haiti opened both my eyes and heart. I will never forget the sights, sounds and smells of the Cité Soleil, nor the signs of political oppression during the presidential elections that were going on. The first night we were there, the secret police ambushed Aristide at a political rally. The electricity was suddenly cut. All communication halted. Gun fire could be heard in the neighborhood. The next morning seven civilians were found dead. It was Galilee as I have never experienced it.

My lasting image of Haiti, however, is one of joy. The image takes me back to a Sunday Mass celebrated in a church in the countryside. The people dressed in their Sunday finest. Little girls in bright starched dresses. The rhythmic swaying back and forth of the entrance and offertory dances (processions). The joyful singing and smiles. The baskets of fruit and vegetables balanced on the women’s heads presented as the offertory gifts. The simple reverence of the people as they received the Eucharist touched me. Their simple faith remains with me as an inspiration. Again something of the Spirit was moving among the people. That something of the Spirit led me back to Bolivia.

Tell my brothers to go to Galilee and there they will see me.

Where is Galilee in my life today in the USA? Where is Galilee in our shared lives as a Congregation? These are poignant questions that evoke a gamut of emotions. Nineteen years ago, the General Chapter gave us a call. We have been wrestling with it ever since. The Chapter stated, “We are called to a contemplative stance in the world and to mission and ministry among the poor and marginalized.” At times, this statement, it seems, has caused more guilt, hand-wringing, disillusionment and cynicism among us. That was never the intent of the call. The call simply asks us to integrate the love of God that we find in our contemplation and prayer with our mission to the poor and marginalized.

My observation is that we have been responding to this call even before it was a call: our Belgian Brothers’ mission to Congo; our Brothers’ response to John XIII’s call to Africa and Latin America. Roughly 50 of us served in those areas. Peter Donohue’s prison ministry; the Orangeburg community; Appalachia; Peter Kelly; the Rosebud Reservation; Haiti, Bolivia, the Nativity Schools. Arthur Caliman’s leadership with restoring housing as part of a Bon Secours outreach to the much blighted Galilee of West Baltimore. I know we have been to Galilee. I wonder if we have talked enough to each other about our encounters with the risen Christ? Such sharing was a felt need for the disciples on the road to Emmaus. I sense it is a much unspoken felt need for us today.

How about today? Many of us will say, and rightly so, I don’t have the energy or health for Galilee as I once did. Yet Galilee stares us in the face every day. It is where Jesus asks us to meet Him. What does Galilee look like today? Do I meet the risen Christ in my Brothers who are experiencing the physical and mental diminishments of age? Do I show compassion? Or exasperation? How am I the eyes, ears, voice, heart and hands of Christ to family members or colleagues who are ill or struggling? How do I meet Christ in them? Am I willing to overcome fear and volunteer serving the homeless at a soup kitchen? Do I realize that there are many elderly in nursing homes who have been marginalized by their families? How about the students who need the perceptive eyes and ears of their teachers and counselors to invite them to talk about what is bothering them?

What about God’s preferential option for the poor? How do we respond as followers of Christ?

What has helped me understand this call is what Gutierrez shares about poverty. Gutierrez sees spiritual poverty as essential to the liberation to which Jesus calls us in Matthew 5:3. To be poor in spirit is to recognize clearly that we have nothing which we have not received from God. Being poor in spirit is to be devoid of all pride and trust in the power of one’s own spirit. It is to be freed from all reliance on one’s own ideas, opinions, and vain desires of one’s heart. To be poor in spirit is to love God. Mary is the exemplar of spiritual poverty.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.

In talking of voluntary poverty, Gutierrez explains that we are called to make a preferential option for the poor by leading lives that witness to humility and simplicity and that free us to love Christ. The preferential option for the poor asks each of us to work to eliminate the unjust systemic sins that enslave people in material poverty: corporate greed, exploitation of works, indifference to the poor, etc. I am confident together we can renew our preferential option for the poor.

God’s reign of love and justice is transformative. It calls all of us to be aware that we live in the midst of Galilee right now. And once we grasp that awareness, we need to do something about it. But how do we do that? Together. Together we can be the eyes, the ears, the heart, hands and voice of those suffering from systemic poverty. We can all make a phone call or write an email. We can do a lot of volunteer work that matters. We can support our XBSS schools in their efforts to form today’s students in their call to grow in faith and to serve those in need.

Gutierrez is very clear that liberation is not possible without finding the love of God in our contemplation.  Contemplation slowly brings us to know God’s love. In the tradition of the mystics, Gutierrez calls contemplation resting in God’s love. This same current is also found in Ryken’s thinking.

Your Founder, too, insisted that his brothers enter an intimate relationship with
God… It is this communion with the living God which at the heart of your life…

Our recent chapter calls us to live in a “place of humility and simplicity, from which we receive the grace to turn toward God, fall in love with God and to put ourselves in the God’s service as followers of Jesus. Such resting in God’s love enables us, I believe, to allow the risen Lord to walk this path again in us.”

The recent chapter provides a powerfully new consciousness of who we are as we evolve as a Congregation. We are called as Brothers, Associates and Collaborators to union with God through an integrated life of both contemplation and service (Description of the Xaverian Charism). This call is perhaps better understood today than it was 19 years ago.

As we celebrate Pentecost, I am reminded of Virgilio Elizondro’s excitement when John XXIII was elected pope.

Elizondro, also a liberation theologian, saw John’s openness to the world as a second Pentecost inspiring new life especially for the Hispanic Church. Fifty days have passed since Jesus told his disciples where to meet him. Curiously the disciples were still held up in the Cenacle in Jerusalem. What held them there? Was it fear? Grief? Lack of confidence? We will never really know. What we do know, however, is that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). The Spirit enlightened, enlivened and encouraged the disciples to lead a new life of making Christ visible, active and accessible to all people. Pentecost released an energy, confidence, faith, hope and charity and zeal to go forward together to Galilee to see the risen Lord.

As we celebrate Pentecost, I pray for all of us that we may experience ourselves as also being called to a rebirth and new life as a Congregation. Our recent chapter provides us great insights to our Founder’s charisma that still guides us today. Let’s study Ryken’s charism and pray that in the words of our Fundamental Principles…

Your Founder’s charism will reveal to you the mysterious
ways of God in the cycle of death and rebirth that has been
the life of the congregation.

God loves all persons equally and that God loves the poor preferentially.

We are called to do both. We cannot do one without the other. My prayers and fraternal support,

In Christ,
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Brother Edward Driscoll, CFX
General Superior

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