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Father General, Heinz Kulüke, SVD explains how they are preparing the next General Chapter that will take place in 2018.

Reading the reports of the PRMs sent to the Generalate in preparation for the forthcoming General Chapter,” one of our confreres remarked, “can leave one with a good feeling.” And then he added quickly with a smile, “if PRMs would only do what they propose they and we should do, there might be no need for a chapter anymore.” Is there really a need for change and for new life in our Church, in Religious Congregations and in the SVD?

Knowing the PRMs from visits and visitations, in spite of all the good that is happening, the answer to this question is obvious. The human factor is often much stronger than the spirit and will to change.

The Apostle Paul, missionary of the early Church, observes a similar paradox in his own life: “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (Rom 7:15.18b-19).  But promptly his counsel comes on how to solve such a confusing situation. It is the communion with Jesus Christ and his Spirit. He continues: “The concern of the flesh is death, but the concern of the spirit is life and peace. […] But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom 8:6.9).

The presence of God’s spirit is decisive for life. The month of November puts the topic of death and life on the agenda. We touch and reflect on the deepest essence of our faith, that is, our faith in new life here and also after death. The Word of God reminds us that any genuine encounter with the God of life means new life but this requires openness on the side of the human being. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20) says “the One who lives,” Jesus.

We believe that new life might enter if we become open to its genuine source and let go of our dead habits. Also dead structures can come to life and the Spirit of God’s Life can work again in us and through us. As in Ezekiel’s vision of the valley full of dry bones (Eze 37:1-14): the power of God’s spirit through the prophetic word moves people out of their graves and endows them with hope and new life. This happens again and again for God is on the side of life, he “is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (Luke 20:38).

This is the faith we want to take to the Chapter, the faith that will be guiding us during the Chapter and the faith that confreres will take home guiding us in the years to come. The forthcoming General Chapter envisions changes and probably among them one of the most difficult changes is, namely to change ourselves. How can we change dead habits and in our busy day to day life as individuals and as communities engage more with the Lord (spirituality)?

How can we overcome the habit of individualism and indifference towards others in our communities? How can we get out of our habitual comfort zones as individuals and as communities (community)? How can we overcome the habit of not wanting to take responsibility (leadership)?

How can we address the habit of not wanting to be transparent, of not sharing income and surplus with others in our communities (finances)? How to change the habit of not reading and working on one’s on-going formation (formation)? Or, how can we address the habit of overlooking “the poor in front of our door”? How can we overcome the habit of being satisfied with the minimum?

How can we address the habit of accepting the status quo without continuing our search for new ways and for the whole truth? How can we handle the habit of disinterest in politics and economics pushing millions to the margins? How do we address the habitual lack of interest in advocacy work, the lack of concern for our “common home” our mother earth?

Janssen in a letter of June 9, 1883 to one of his superiors writes “All bad habits of priests/brothers arise because they follow the lead of their own spirits and not the lead of the Holy Spirit. ” This is what the Chapter wants to change and develop a new habit of listening first of all to the Holy Spirit, the giver of Life. This is needed in all our discernment, decisions and actions. However, we also want to confirm what is good, as Fr. Janssen says “One should not simply think of the inadequacies of the confreres but also of the good they do and so I believe that all or almost all mean it well even if here and there they also speak a word of reproach. Most of them only seek to do their duty” but we also want to change what has become deadly routine and what is not good for us as missionary congregation as well as for our partners in mission.

How does this God of Life want to be worshipped? How does he want to be celebrated? How does he want to be served? These questions we are invited to make our own and to reflect on together in our intercultural religious missionary communities prior to and after the Chapter carefully listening to His answers.

Being asked once for a message in this context to the members of the SVD and those who are connected with our mission and apostolates the following thought came to mind: We are invited to learn how to entrust ourselves once again to God’s life-giving Spirit, to align and de-construct our programs, be close to the people, make sure that our infrastructures do not become an obstacle to genuine mission, “put the last first” and make sure that “Jesus has something to do with what we are doing,” that we continue to make a positive difference in the lives particularly of those who are at the margins, that we ourselves experience and bring new life, that we in simple terms “give God a chance” (St. Mother Theresa).

Our hope is that of Pope Francis when he writes: “My hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving …” (EG 49) and earlier in the same Apostolic Exhortation “… whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you.” (EG 3)

May the Holy Triune God become alive in our hearts anew and in the hearts of all people!

Heinz Kulüke and Leadership Team

Published in the newsletter “Arnoldus Nota” – November 2017