In his letter to young people, Christus vivit (CV) no.35, Pope Francis invites the Church to be open to renewal. And this ecclesial renovation is not without affecting the renewal of the institutes of consecrated life. Among the possible considerations on this subject, one question arises for many of us. In these times of transition through which our communities must live, what space do we give to the word and action of younger people in the challenges to be met to enter into a “new” youthfulness?
This question brings us first to a clarification regarding the term “youth.” Youth is more than simply a period of time, says Pope Francis, it is a state of mind (CV 34). To speak of “young people” is to recognize those who have a vision, who are capable of challenging the community and embarking on a path whose route can only be traced out by walking it.
A community that questions itself
That having been said, do we believe that — in the process of transition that is currently ours — we can journey towards a renewal of the institute? Of course, several external and internal
factors are contributing to the decline we are currently experiencing. In addition, answering this question requires us to take a position with respect to our management of the decline and the opening up or not towards a possible regeneration… In what spirit are we living this passage?
What about this passage to a still open future? How can it be envisaged? The passage is a transitional stage during which the community must accept to see its reality lucidly, without denying it, and must learn to read its behaviour in the face of this same reality, listen to the discordant voices opposing a culture of maintenance and act in the face of end-of-life stagnation. When there is no one left with the capacity to react, so be it! But so long as voices are still being heard to think and dare the mission and/or the community life differently, let us bless the Lord and welcome the Breath of his Spirit!
If there are such people in our institutes, is it not a first step to recognize them and listen to them? To bring them together rather than dispersing them? Can we go beyond what is “reasonable” to hear these voices crying out their hope in the desert, proposing more suitable ways of living the mission, who are asking that we welcome those wishing to journey with us?
A community that hears
Hearing therefore involves listening without shutting ourselves off, dropping defensive walls and converting ourselves. Hearing commits us to refusing to sink into structures of mental rigidity (CV 65) that prevent us from listening, that do not allow us to question and that ultimately lead the community to turn into a museum (CV 41).
Hearing is an act of faith. It is believing that nothing is impossible to God (Lk 1:37). The current state of our institutes can confuse our listening, block our vision of a possible future, lead us to a form of resignation and settle us in a satisfying status quo. Faith disturbs and obliges to go out! It opens up to hope and sets out towards an elsewhere, a place other than the one we have known. It listens, it uses the eyes and the heart. No escape possible. Faith lets questions emerge in their newness.
Do we believe that the community can renew itself? Do we accept to recognize in our midst the “bearers of a promise” (CV 44) who do not want to be paralyzed by the fear of risk just because not everything is clear, nor assured in advance? Do we dare to trust them, believe in their capacities to be available to make changes, to pick themselves up, to let themselves be educated by life (CV 13) and not to be robbed of hope (CV 15)?
A Community That Dares
Hearing, believing and making room for the young and the not-so-young who have a calling to invest in the renewal of the institute, that is what drives us to walk together on the road to an uncertain future, full of pitfalls but bearing promises. That is our responsibility! Whatever the outcome of our journey, we have to let ourselves be destabilized and enlightened by the words of one another and by the Word of God. We have to listen and make ourselves available to the unexpected of the Spirit who blows where he wants.
“I have appointed you as watchman for the House of Israel” (Ezek 33:7) challenges the Spirit! With regard to our response, it is up to us to be farsighted to find the little flame that continues to burn and gives the ability to discern pathways where others only see walls. It is up to us to develop the ability to recognize potential where others see only peril (CV 67).
To trust in the Spirit is to recognize that we are still “in labour pains” (Rom 8:22). Even in deprivation and at an advanced age, the wisdom of the elders must summon the youth of those who have the courage to express themselves to open up new horizons by returning to the sources of the institute. The institute’s authorities have a duty to facilitate the word and encourage creativity in order to proclaim the Gospel in new spaces, in the welcoming and respecting of cultures. Together, we must create new proximities in dialogue and witness of renewed fraternity. Finally, let us remember, formation is essential for training missionary disciples, on their way out, capable of rethinking the community in a logic of intergenerational and intercultural communion, at the heart of the charism of the institute.
Confidence in the voice of younger people is essential. They are the “now” of God (CV 63). They are “mission” at the heart of the community, just as we ourselves are “mission” until our last day. Thus, may we be, for our world, watchmen and watchwomen of the dawn, prophets of the future, sowers of hope.
Gaétane Guillemette, NDPS
This text is taken from the Winter 2020 issue of the ad vitam webzine “A Communion that Generates Mission”.