Bishop Varghese asks the confreres “Detach from your own preconceived ideas and engage your capacity to think, reflect, discuss, listen, speak, and deliberate in the Spirit of Christ so that the Lord can think, speak and act through you.”
This conference offers many practical suggestions toward becoming “An Assembly united in the mind of Christ”
D I S C E R N M E N T – Second Conference
An Assembly united in the mind of Christ
“I am the Vine; you are the branches. If you live in me, you will bear much fruit.” Jn 15: 1-8
My dear confreres,
Having discussed with you some principles of discernment, I will suggest some contemporary areas of discernment for the Congregation as a whole. As members of the 2016 General Assembly of the Congregation of the Mission, you have assumed a grave responsibility. You are tasked with participating in a communal discernment process for the good of the Congregation. The worldwide Congregation, the Church, and God’s poor are all looking to see how you will respond to this great call and responsibility. You can and will rise to the occasion. In so doing, you will fulfil then mandate given you by God, the Church, and the confreres in your provinces.
Jesus, our Master and Vincent, our Holy Founder and Father of the Congregation, want this Assembly to be conducted after the mind of Christ so that it may be a fruitful moment of grace for the Church, the Congregation, and the poor who are our portion. Remember that we have no existence and identity apart from Christ. You are at this assembly, because the Holy Spirit has led you here. Remain attached to Jesus; seek his mind and His will. Allow the life giving love of Christ to flow into and through you. Allow the person of Jesus to think, reflect, speak, and listen through you so you can produce the “fruit that endures” that Christ wants from you.
Detach from your own preconceived ideas and engage your capacity to think, reflect, discuss, listen, speak, and deliberate in the Spirit of Christ so that the Lord can think, speak and act through you. Do not give your capacities to the evil spirit as seen in one who sows division and discord; nor to the human spirit, which shows itself in egoism, selfishness and self-glorification; nor to the worldly spirit of blind imitation of prevailing culture including hedonism and utilitarianism. All of these things will distract you from your concerns and duties.
Listen to the voice of the Lord speaking in your conscience. Do not listen to other voices that will block you from listening to God’s voice, discerning and giving yourself over to His will. Recall the grave responsibility entrusted to each of you as members of the General Assembly.
As members of the General Assembly, you serve the Lord, the confreres, and the poor, so:
- With deep faith in God, ask what God wants from you.
- Maintain a spirit of prayer and discernment.
- Allow God to guide and challenge you.
- Be ready to accept and surrender to God’s will, let his glory be your main goal
As members of the General Assembly, you represent the church and so :
- Ask what the church wants from you.
- Maintain a spirit of obedience to the church authorities and their teachings.
- Seek how to promote dialogue, respect, and response to the needs of local ordinaries
- Study and look for guidance in the church documents.
As members of the General Assembly, you represent our Congregation and so:
- Study and discern the mind and spirit of the founder.
- Pray and discern what your confreres want from you.
- Look for new ways to preserve and promote the Vincentian charism.
- Maintain the spirit of our Constitutions and look for practical ways to fulfil them.
You are the representative of the poor and so :
- Discover who are the poor you and your confreres serve and find out what their needs are
- Strategize on new ways to serve and evangelize them
- Let the real good of the poor be your motive.
As people who are filled with the Holy Spirit, and who represent the Church, the Congregation and the poor, and above all as good Christians:
- Put aside any inclination to seek selfish and worldly ways of engagement
- Allow your discussions be led by the Holy Spirit and elevated to where discernment of God’s will is your primary concern.
- Let there be respect for everyone’s freedom, right and dignity.
- Listen patiently to one another, and make sure you speak what is good and useful for all
- Seek to understand both the advantages and disadvantages of each argument or option. Avoid adapting pre-determined ideas that will impede true openness to the Holy Spirit.
My dear confreres may I encourage you humbly, if you want to do exactly what God wants from you, before making any important decisions please do the following both as individuals and as a group:
- Pray to God to enlighten you.
- Observe all details.
- Free yourself from all pre-conceived ideas, emotions and attitudes that might influence your observation and decision.
- Be able to distinguish between God’s will and your impressions and your desires
Some Practical points for Reflection and discernment!
I offer these practical points to assist in your reflection and discernment. These are some ideas of mine, and of course, you may draw from similar questions of contemporary relevance for your reflection and discernment.
- Is there a need to promote a fuller global vision of the Church, the Congregation and the poor whom we serve?
There should be a conscious effort by all at the Assembly to understand that by membership in the Congregation we are members of a global family – the worldwide Congregation of the Mission, sharing the same charism, vision and mission. As St. Paul reminds us, “For in one spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”(1Cor.12: 13). As members of the same family, our love, concern and solidarity should extent to all members of the family that is our Congregation, irrespective of provinces and nationalities. Neither should we make such distinctions with the poor. God’s poor are everywhere, and they need to be served.
Due to historical reasons and circumstances, our Congregation like many others, developed into static compartmentalized provinces which led to a certain indifference and apathy towards one another. As a consequence, provinces located in the same region or country at times had little or no coordination between one another. Due to societal, economic, and social factors, some provinces existed alongside one akin to the parable in Luke’s Gospel of the ‘rich man’ and ‘Lazarus’. Walls between them were built, allowing neither personnel resources nor material resources to flow into one another and create a balance. They became strangers to one another, despite our desire to preach and live in fraternity and solidarity. I do acknowledge that in recent decades much has been done to bridge this gap. Yet, I believe that we as a Congregation still have much to do to catch up with the spirit of the gospel.
Hence may you ask yourself the following questions and pray over:
- Although times and situations have changed, have we evolved in our understanding of the need for collaboration and resource sharing between provinces and regions?
- Where there once were walls between provinces, can we now build bridges of collaboration and community?
- Are we ready and active trying to share our members and our material resources with other provinces for the better service of the poor?
- Can I arise from my own limited perspective of interest in my province and expand my vision to view the Congregation from a global view?
- Do we need a change of perception and approach?
Here I use as an image the parable of the weeds and crop in the Matthew’s Gospel (Mt. 13:24-30). What I mean is that today’s weed may become tomorrow’s crop. Let me provide a current example.
After the development of herbal medicines all over the world, farming and the life of farmers have radically changed. In past times, when a framer cultivated wheat, barley or maze, if other plants were seen growing in the field, they were considered weeds and immediately removed. But after the development of herbal medicines, farmers realized that some of the plants they considered as weeds and had removed from the field actually were precious medicinal plants. This realization made them cultivate these medicinal plants to earn more. Today, when they cultivate these medicinal plants, if wheat or a maze plant is found growing in the field, they consider it a weed and remove it. Surprisingly, the weed has become the crop and the crop has become the weed! So the reply of the master in the gospel parable “Let them grow together …” Yes, let them grow together until the time we realize that they are not weeds but precious medicinal plants.
Here a change of perception has changed the attitude and approach of the farmers. This same is true in many Congregations today. The members from some provinces, along with their ideas, opinions, services and contributions were once considered worthless weeds. Now, they are finding their place in the Congregation as valuable and precious treasures! The right perception, judgment and attitude alone have brought about this change. So I propose the following for your reflection:
- Can I accept the other person, his ideas and visions as a gift to the Congregation? (Jn. 17:24) Or do I see them as weeds to be immediately ignored or even uprooted?
- Can I respect the opinions of others even if I do not agree with them?
- How can I align my ideas about and approach to my confreres to be in line with the mind of Christ and the way of St. Vincent?
- What are the criteria for election?
My dear confreres, in terms of election procedures, allow me to offer some reflections based on my own experience in previous General Assemblies and from my experience of guiding the General and Provincial Chapters of some Religious Congregations in the process of the election of their major superiors. I learned that these ideas were much appreciated as helpful for their election process. Let me speak of this sensitive matter directly and plainly. I believe you my confreres will be able to accept it maturely.
A key function of a General Assembly is election of the Superior General and Council. It is an important moment of discernment, to be done with utmost care and caution to insure you are acting with the mind of Christ and following the way of St. Vincent. Worldly spirits of geo-politics, and human dynamics of power and prestige (for oneself, one’s province, or a Visitor Conference) have no place in this time of discernment of the will of God for the Congregation. Animated by fraternal charity, fortified by prayer and proper discernment, let the Holy Spirit be your guide and elector for the Superior General and Council.
When the General Assembly deliberates on the election of the Superior General, the first question to be asked is not whom shall we elect as the Superior General. Before that takes place, you need to define the challenges, needs and priorities of the Congregation over the next 6 years. Once you have faced this important question you may then ask who is the right person to guide the Congregation now, and to address the challenges, needs and priorities you have recognized and set as the standard and direction of the Congregation for the next six years. Once you have identified the “What”, the answer as to “Who” will become much clearer to the assembly.
- So the first duty of this General Assembly is to discern, spell out and prioritize the challenges and needs of the Congregation today. In this course you may ask,
- What are the needs of the hour, and the main challenges facing the Congregation?
- What areas need special attention, reinforcement, and strengthening?
- What direction should the Congregation take during the coming years specifically in the fields of vocation, mission, fraternal life, living out the spirit and charism? (As you discern the future direction of the Congregation, do not forget the future is where there are young members and where there are vocations.)
- Election: Having identified the above matters, the Assembly may proceed to identify the person and the team most apt to accomplish it.
- Who is the right person to address the above challenges and needs?
- What are the qualities and strengths needed in a Superior General to address those challenges and needs?
- What motivates me to suggest a specific name of a candidate for election as Superior General or member of the Council? Is this desire of God?
When speaking about the qualities needed of a Superior General, one may consider some key qualities required such as love for the Mission, the poor, and the Congregation; that of a person attuned to discerning the will of God, and demonstrated wisdom in following it; a readiness to face challenges; the prudence to challenge others; and courage to make decisions, be they ordinary or extraordinary. Of course, it is understandable to seek leadership in a confrere with some known qualities to address the specific needs and challenges identified by the Assembly. And finally, you should consider the need for good physical health, psychological balance, spiritual strength and missionary maturity needed for one in a ministry of responsible leadership.
Once the Superior General is elected, the assembly proceeds elect the Vicar General. Here too the primary consideration should not be nationality, language, or ethnicity, but to find a confrere who can complement and enhance the gifts, talents and limitations of the newly-elected Superior General. The election of the Vicar General will make clear to the Assembly the qualities and strengths needed in confreres who will serve as members of the General Council as a collaborative team. The most important point is that they should complement one another as a perfect collaborative team.
I hope this process can assist you as members of the General Assembly to reflect on those who can complement the newly elected Superior General in his strengths and limits, because all of us here share the same human reality. We are all gifted people, but also people who have human limitations that we must acknowledge. That is why gathering as a graced community actively discerning the will of God, and a readiness to promote the continuance of our charism must be your main focus in electing a Superior General, Vicar General and Council members. I pray that you be guided by the Holy Spirit and do what exactly God wants you to do.
This is a review of what I have discussed in the two conferences to assist you in discernment.
Signs of being in the right track of discernment:
When you make a decision according to God’s plan:
- You will enjoy peace, serenity, happiness.
- You are willing to let go your ideas and hold on to the insight given by God.
- You are willing to take responsibility for decisions made and to make responsible initiatives to fulfil them.
- You feel God has worked through you and you thank God for this privilege.
- You are ready to surrender to God’s plan, even if it was contrary to your desire.
Signs of being out of God’s plan
- Inner restlessness: This may mean God is trying to get your attention.
- Feeling perplexed: If this occurs, wait quietly, trust God will make his will clear.
- Disappointment: This may indicate God is trying to speak to your heart and redirect it from a way that is not in keeping with His will.
- Confusion: This may indicate you have not yet fully discerned God’s will or surrendered to it.
- Obsession or Factionalism: Both these behaviours can indicate that you are allowing yourself to be drawn into ways of thinking or associations that will not benefit promotion of the charism of the Congregation or the good of its members..
- Spiritual Coolness: This can be a sign of God’s presence being withdrawn
- Unwise or imprudent speech or actions: A sign of missing God’s will in the concrete reality of the workings of the General Assembly.
If you cannot find God’s will ask yourself:
- Is some personal sin or spiritual obstacle blocking me?
- Do I have a mixed motive, or am I making it difficult for God to get my attention?
- Am I truly led by the Holy Spirit, or am I depending too much on myself?
- Is my mind already made up about what I want to do?
- Is bias or some type of hidden prejudice hindering me from seeking the truth?
- Are my desires so strong that discerning God’s will is difficult?
- Am I trying to bargain with God? Do I tend to act prematurely
- Do I depend too much on the opinion of others?
- Am I overly influenced by my emotions or those of others around me?