Today we had a very fruitful day of recollection that was directed by Bishop Varghese Thottamkara, CM who invited us to experience in an intense manner the proceedings of this General Assembly as a privileged moment to discern the will of God for the Congregation

[1] After morning prayers, we listened attentively to the first reflection on the theme of discernment.  Faithful to our spiritual tradition we began to contemplate the example of Jesus Christ as engaged in a process of discernment in order to fulfill the will of the Father who sent him forth.  We also contemplated the person of Vincent de Paul: his trust in divine providence and his continual effort to fulfill the will of God.  We were encouraged to understand and engage in the process of discernment by probing our inner experiences (thoughts, emotions and desires) in order to sense the direction in which they are leading us, to sense the decisions, choices and commitments that are being inspired and to also sense to origin of all of this. What are the impulses that sanctify us and what trends are causing us to experience disintegration and as a result are leading us away from God’s plans, whose will is the full realization of the children of this God of love. Bishop offered us some prerequisites for discernment, such as:

  1. A commitment to look for God’s will in the details of life;
  2. Faith in a God who is loving, self-revealing and concerned about us and our world;
  3. A relationship with God that we call prayer;
  4. An awareness of our inner movements;
  5. An awareness of social reality;
  6. Growth in inner freedom from fears and anxieties;
  7. Fraternal love;
  8. One who develops the courage to take risks.

In addition to these eight general prerequisites the Bishop added two other dispositions of a more Vincentian character: [1] along with our Vincentian virtues of simplicity, mortification, meekness and zeal for souls, one needs a certain degree of that other Vincentian virtue, namely, humility; [2] Vincentian identity: love for our charism, our spirit, and the mission of the Congregation.  As we engage in such a process with all the above characteristics, we will avoid the temptation to live superficial, scattered lives; in other words, we will live our lives and act with a sense of faith, a sense of dynamic hope and tireless love and as a result, we will seek to please God by fulfilling the mission that has been entrusted to us.

The movements that we discover in our interior must then be related to the perception that we have of the social and ecclesial reality that surrounds us, signs of the time that we contemplate with the eyes of Jesus, a contemplation that leads us to be compassionate toward the infirm, and indignant toward sin, selfishness and injustice.  Only contemplation that is enlightened by faith and by reality can lead us to a commitment on behalf of the kingdom of God and make us more generous, creative and bold in our responses to the cries of the poor and the needs of the Church.

The discernment which we are called to engage in during this General Assembly is collective by nature.  In this process, our own personal dispositions as well as the dispositions of the community become involved in seeking to discover what God desires for the Congregation at this moment in its history.  This means that we must guarantee some basic criteria, for example, mutual respect, a willingness to learn from one another, an openness to search for the truth, a non-judgmental attitude, simplicity in sharing what one thinks and feels, listening to others attentively and empathetically, giving sufficient time to discuss and deliberate without undue hurry or rigid deadlines, working toward a gradual consensus, trusting that the Spirit gives us the wisdom to discern and the strength to engage in the practical application of that process.

[2] The second reflection focused on the discernment that is required of this 2016 General Assembly.  On this point, the Bishop reflected on his experience and knowledge that was acquired during the time that he was a member of the Congregation of the Mission and the service that he was able to provide to his province of origin as well as to the General Council.  He presented some areas of contemporary discernment for the Congregation, encouraging us to clothe ourselves in the attitudes of Jesus Christ so that the Assembly might respond to the legitimate expectations of the Church, the poor and the confreres.  Allow the person of Jesus to think, reflect, speak and listen through you so you can produce the “fruit that endures”, the fruit that Christ wants from you.  He then presented some guidelines, such as:

(a) Ask yourselves what is the will of God for the Congregation in this Assembly, maintaining an attitude of prayer, allowing the Lord to guide you and challenge you and being willing to accept and surrender to God’s will.

(b) Ask yourselves what do the poor expect of you as missionaries and as servants; what are their most pressing needs, hopes and desires.

(c) Ask yourselves what does the Church expect of you; thus, maintain a spirit of obedience to the church authorities and their teachings; seek to promote dialogue and respect for the needs of the local ordinaries.

(d) Ask yourselves what does the Congregation need; seek then to penetrate the heart of Saint Vincent; listen to the confreres; seek new ways to preserve and promote the charism, thus developing and giving life to the spirit of our Constitutions.

The Bishop proposed some attitudes that would promote a fruitful participation in the General Assembly: [1] broaden your vision of the church, the poor and the Congregation, and be mindful of the universality of the mission, the different faces of poverty and the international character of the Congregation; [2] purify ideas and concepts that we have of the confreres in order to choose in faith, animate in fidelity, and stimulate them for the mission; [3] reject anything that appears to be opposed to discernment: thoughts, manipulation, imprudent words, self-interest, unilateral procedures and harmful influences.

Finally, we were encouraged to choose the new Superior General and his Council and to do so in light of the challenges, needs and priorities of Congregation of the Mission, resisting the worldly spirit of seeking personal or collective interest. The question we have to ask is this: from the information available, which of the CONFRERES is most suitable to encourage us to confront the challenges that the Congregation is facing and to continue to develop a vitality with regard to our missionary charism? In this regard it is necessary to return to the criteria listed in yesterday’s afternoon session. It is important that the new Superior General, the Vicar and the assistants, value complementarity in order to ensure the exchange of gifts and the sharing of skills and talents.

  1. We concluded the day of recollection with the celebration of Eucharist in the parish of St. Vincent de Paul. The gospel invites us to go forth on mission with the characteristics described by the Lord as he sent froth the seventy-two disciples … yes, the gospel invites us to go forth on mission in order to encounter the people that Jesus himself liked to meet: the poor, our lords and masters.

Written by Sergio Plana, CM and

translated by Charles Plock, CM