Growth and Change in Consciousness

Brother John Hamilton listens to Brother Raphael Wanjala in there small group session at the Integration Team meeting in Rome, June 2017

By Brother John Hamilton | en français

In the Working Paper on Mission prepared for the Charism Project, Brother Regj Cruz makes the following point: “When the Belgian, English, and American provinces were created in 1875, the missionary character of the Congregation for all practical purposes became inoperative. Each province concerned itself with its own internal development.” This is not in any way to diminish the continuing outreach of the Congregation to Zaire/Congo on the part of the Belgian Province, to East Africa on the part of the American Northeast Province, and to Bolivia and later Haiti on the part of the American Central Province. Yet, we do well to consider the description of Regj that “Each province concerned itself with its own internal development.” If we were to reflect on the dynamics of General Chapters and other international meetings not only up to 1995 but beyond, we would have to recognize that many of the conflicts and controversies were the result of the competing visions and gratifications of the separate provinces.

One result of this provincial “turning inward” was the understandable tendency to see the Congregation as a whole and to appraise its present and future directions from the perspective of one’s own province culture. It was not until 1983 that a Brother from Congo attended the General Chapter. Up to then, and really well afterwards, the Chapters “sense” of  life and mission of the Congregation in Congo, East African, Bolivia, and Haiti came from Belgian or American “missionaries” to those areas, who, although living overseas, remained very much members of their home provinces and cultures. Even in discussions concerning Africa, Bolivia, and later Haiti, the situations there were thought about and appraised from a Euro-American cultural mindset. A consistent witness to this distinction was the use of the pronouns “we” and “they.” Although all of us shared a common commitment at a basic level, we did not share a shared and common consciousness.

Following the General Chapter of 1995, we often spoke quite glibly of our “international” identity. Yet, until recently, we had not really begun the serious effort to listen to and understand each other across our cultural divides. For we Americans, this should not be surprising as in many ways we never crossed the cultural divide between the two American provinces. In an attempt to radically return to our initial charismatic identity, an aspect of which was lost in 1875 with the creation of provinces, we dissolved the provinces and created a single administrative structure in 1995. Yet, common General Leadership and a single administrative office and team do not create a common/communal consciousness. That can only come about as we begin to speak to each other from our hearts, when we attempt to be honest with ourselves and with each other about where we stand and who we are.

At the recent meeting of the Integration Team in Rome, we heard voices we had never heard before. Brothers from the United States heard of the real struggles of our Kenyan and Congolese Brothers. The Brothers from Kenya and Congo heard and witnessed some of the difficulties and conflicts that have beset our brotherhood in the United States. Every Brother shared something of his own gratitude for his call and hope for the future, but also his fears and difficulties. Becoming brothers to those with whom we live and now with those who are half way around the world from us is no easy task.

We began to understand that if we Xaverian Brothers are to become one village rather than many separate villages, we must abandon the old and tired stories we have told about ourselves and each other. We in Belgium and the United States must cease speaking of “our demise” as if our brotherhood did not have some 70 younger members in Africa. It seems as if our Brothers from Kenya and Congo already have a much stronger sense of belonging to an international community. It is they who raise the question for us about what our charismatic identity and vision might ask of us by way of ministry in the United States and Belgium. Given our geographical and age differences, how do the older Brothers in Europe and the United States mentor and stand with our Brothers in Congo and Kenya as they look to extend their mission? How do the younger Brothers of Congo and Kenya not only support the older Brothers but also challenge them to deepen in their mission to the end of their days?

Growth and change in consciousness requires great commitment and effort. Every person lives in his own culture as the fish in the fishbowl. It influences everything we perceive, think, feel, and say, and yet we are usually not aware of it. In the Working Paper on Xaverian Life Form, Regj writes:

As Xaverian culture was lived out in Belgium, England, and the United States for a very long time, it consequently had a very Western guise. Brothers from these three countries would typify Xaverian culture to the brothers from Africa and Asia. At times, unfortunately, what was conveyed to the non-Western brothers was that Xaverian culture was solely oriented toward the northern hemisphere and that it cannot be recast in any other reality. We have to move away from this mentality . . . . 

A pervasive mentality cannot be “moved away from” by sheer dint of will. It rather requires a profound act of detachment, a listening, not in order merely to be of help to the other, but rather to attempt truly to understand. The Xaverian Charism, if it is to continue to live for the world, needs to find its roots, which transcend any particular cultural manifestation of them. As an older American brother, I wonder if what is being asked of us all might not, in some ways, be more difficult and challenging for us who have “typified” the Xaverian identity in the past. To really begin to share our brotherhood, might we not need to abandon our taken for granted dominance of it? Do we not find ourselves in the place which Jesus describes to Peter in the Gospel of John: “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (Jn 21:18)?

 

One Comment

  1. William P. Griffin says:

    I find that this is a very enriching and “consciousness” raising reflection! Thank you John! It helps me to reflect on my lived experience for three years in Africa and even more years since 2011 in Haiti searching for more cultural “consciousness” beyond my north American identity.
    Our English word, “consciousness” has multiple meanings, one of which seems to suggest an “Ah Ha!” moment in our lives when something we do not know suddenly dawns in us and into our conscious life. I wonder if the reality of planting the seed of our Xaverian charism in African, Bolivian or Haitian cultures is less akin to our experience of “knowing” something intellectually and more resembles our experience of “loving” something so much that we share ever more deeply day by day. This suggests to me that the process involves less “detaching” from our cultural bias and its pervasive hold on our lives and life-styles and more our “connecting” and expanding our hearts and minds into another culture resulting in a new one. I sense an emerging embodiment of our Xaverian charism where all of our graced and sin history are contributing and enlivening us in “unconscious” ways but slowly unfolding as a long love story.

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