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In the convocation letter of the next General Chapter we wrote: “the objective of this Chapter is to foster a process of a spiritual rekindling, bringing us back to the Word of God as the source of our life, vocation, and mission and our religious missionary commitment.”

The chapter, envisioned to be a spiritual renewal, is a process that has started in our communities, provinces, regions and missions. It will continue in the period of time when the capitulars gather in Nemi, and go on after that period. It is a continuing process of going back to the Word of God as the foundation of our vocation, our intercultural life and mission, and our religious missionary commitment.

Going back to the Word of God, being rooted in the Word, is the way we choose to renew our Life and Mission because this rootedness is the foundation of our Society and our vocation. Our Founder was a man of the Word; his rootedness in the Word inspired, motivated and strengthened him in his religious missionary commitment.  Therefore, going back to the Word invites and encourages us to widen our knowledge and deepen our spiritual bond with Saint Arnold Janssen, our Founder, and the founding generation of our Society. In the last years, almost in every edition of Arnoldus Nota, an article about the heritage of our Society from our Founder has been published.

And in the middle of 2017 an Arnold Janssen Reader was published with quotations from his letters and conferences. We encourage you to read these materials to get inspired by them on the way of our renewal. Fr. Joseph Alt, the writer of “Arnold Janssen: Lebensweg und Lebenswerk des Steyler Ordensgründers”, a more than 1,000 page biography of our Founder which has been translated into different languages, was once asked, what he would say as the principle characteristics of the personality of Saint Arnold Janssen; and he responded: simplicity, deep faith and perseverance. On the way to our General Chapter we want to reflect on these three characteristics.

Simplicity

Simple is a person who knows who he is before God and others. Simplicity is not the caginess to do and to say anything; it is rather the humility to accept oneself and the availability to make use of the talents given to him for the good of all. A simple person does not push himself for a position, but also does not stay back when he realizes it is time and space for him to contribute for the realization of the will of God. He knows that God is the one whose love impels people, but he is also aware that being loved by God empowers him to love others and to help them grow. A simple person acknowledges that the Word to be proclaimed is the Word of God, not his words; but he also recognizes that his words are needed to make the Word of God heard in his time.

A simple person is aware of his strengths and shortcomings. He will not close himself off from criticism and corrections made by others. At the same time, he finds his gentle way to remind others of what they need to improve. A process of renewal is only possible if we keep reflecting over our lives, are open for corrections and have the courage to help each other to grow. It is not always easy. We remember how difficult it was for Arnold Janssen to receive a list of 55 pages containing complaints from his confreres in Sankt Gabriel, presented to him by Fr. Gier. This caused the Founder much suffering, but he accepted it with great humility. In his address to the community, at a feast day celebration on July 19, once again he mentioned his central thought of God’s will: “I greatly need prayers.

The Society is growing fast. It is God’s will that each member dedicates himself to his work… I ask the eternal love of the Holy Spirit to grant me his love more and more… May [the Lord God] establish between us in all respects the relationship that should bind us according to his divine will.” A renewal – changing habitual ways of thinking and doing – is a grace of God and a result of fraternal support to each other, including honest and gentle criticism.  Simplicity of hearts expresses itself in closeness to others. In the spirit of kenosis a person with simplicity of heart is able to cross the borders to encounter others. Sharing the common dignity as a human person is more important than the position one has.

Such persons leave their comfort zones and dare to take the steps to the periphery. We can only be true inter gentes missionaries who put the last first if we are persons with simplicity of hearts. Simplicity of heart is manifest in a simple life style. This is a life which does not define itself by what one consumes, but defines what one consumes from the meaning one gives to oneself. Our being as religious missionaries should be the determining element in deciding how we live. Here we talk about solidarity. Our life style should demonstrate that we belong to a worldwide family with members who have to struggle to meet their daily needs. Our missionary commitment to collaborate in building the Kingdom of God obliges us to help improve the quality of life of the poor and marginalized. And we do this in a credible way only if our life style is a simple one.

Deep faith

Arnold Janssen was a man of deep faith. For him, faith is primarily trust in the triune God who calls him to participate in His mission. To this God he surrenders himself as the son; who lets himself be guided by the Spirit to do the will of the Father. The trust is a loving relationship. Arnold experienced the love of God and wanted to share this love with others. God as love is the image Arnold had, as expressed in his special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Spirit of Love. Indeed, the love of the Trinitarian God was the focus of the meditation of our Founder.

“The love of God is poured into our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 5:5) was one of the five texts of the New Testament most quoted by Arnold Janssen, for it is the basis of all mission work. The OT text he quoted most is Jer 31:3, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” Faith, in the Christian understanding, has three dimensions. Pope Francis reminds us again of these dimensions in his exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. Faith has an intellectual dimension (credere Deum) which needs to be deepened and reflected on.

This is not done just by a slavish repetition of orthodox phrases (EG 41) but by continuous studies and reflection. This intellectual reflection must be nourished by and go into a personal relation with God. Here we speak of the affective dimension of faith (credere Deo) (EG 3, 7). However, faith is not just about formulas and sentiments. It has to bring us into a transformation (credere in Deum). This aspect of faith changes our behavior and drives us to the service of the poor and of justice. Our renewal has its spring in faith. We need to ask ourselves whether the image of God we have inspires us to such a renewal. As religious missionaries our renewal has to affect our relation with God and our commitment in the transformation of the world.

Perseverance

Simplicity of heart and deep faith lead to perseverance in vocation and ministry. A person perseveres in his vocation and ministry despite the many difficulties because he firmly believes that God himself calls him to such a way of life and ministry, and because he is convinced of the meaning of his life and his ministry for him and others.

To Johannes Anzer, the Founder wrote in July 1879: “Above all else patiently do your duty as a good soldier wherever Divine Providence puts you! He knows why you are there. So don’t fall into the temptation of impatience. Formerly, I myself used to think when I was in Bocholt, “Why should I be teaching here? Why not somewhere else, where I could be doing much more for God?”  But my bishop told me, “You are under Divine Providence.” And so I did not complain but just did my duty. And later on when I was building the mission house it became clear to me that I had been in just the right place to prepare for my future. So surrender yourself to the Divine Providence.” The Divine Providence is the will of God for which he dedicated his life.

Perseverance is the way to grow in our vocation and ministry. Patience in facing the inconveniences and endurance in experiencing the unexpected will transform us into persons more honest with ourselves and more understanding of others. We will be more honest because the confrontation with problems helps us realize our strength and limitations. It makes us more understanding towards those who are going through the same process. Perseverance is not possible without the spirit of sacrifice. What our Constitutions say about formation is valid for all: “Early in his formation, each confrere is to learn to develop initiative within the framework of obedience and search out new paths. He should also become accustomed to self-sacrifice and to bearing failure with patience and courage.” (Const. 503)

In December 1905 Arnold Janssen wrote to Josef Freinademetz: “Please trust in God and meanwhile endure what you cannot change.” Such an advice was given to an experienced missionary, after 26 years in the mission. Perseverance is not a matter of age. All of us need to be encouraged to persist in our vocation and ministry. Saint Arnold Janssen was known for his search for the will of God. Oftentimes he took a lot of time and therefore seemed to others as uncertain. However, for Arnold Janssen, waiting for the right time to take an important decision was a sign of respect for the people affected by such a decision. Patience serves the realization of the good more than a hurry-up decision. He wrote to Freinademetz in 1899, “When you put your hand to a difficult matter when the time is not right, you will do more harm than good.”

Dear confreres, renewal is not done with one course, meeting, or recollection. It takes time and therefore requires patience and perseverance. Arnold Janssen already reminds H. Neunhofen in July 1897: “Spiritual changes come slowly”. Let us help each other in this process.


Fr. Heinz Kulüke and the Leadership Team