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Dámaso Zuazua, ocd, General Secretary for Missions

Meeting of the missionary animators or zealators Amorebieta-Larrea Centre of Spirituality
(Navare Province, Spain)

- February 26 - March 1, 2007 -
 

THE MISSIONARIES
OF ST TERESA TODAY: SENSE, ACTUALITY, MEANS

                                

Luis Arostegui, ocd,Superior General


Larrea: Casa de Epiritualidad

 

1.  St. Teresa’s missionaries

 

Fr. Juan Vicente saw and understood the Teresian Carmelite vocation in this way: “The sons of Saint Teresa are truly the fruit of the cries and tears of our Mother, grieving and concerned for the salvation of millions of infidel souls who in far off countries are lost for want of preaching and missionaries. So, here is what the discalced carmelites are ‘de ventre matris meae’, from the same womb as our mother. Saint Teresa conceived us in the hermitage in the garden of her first convent, which means that we are essentially hermits, like the ancient Fathers on Mt. Carmel, hermits like the best of them. But she conceived us amidst anxieties and tears for the salvation of the infidel, which means that we are essentially missionaries. In the intimate connection between these two ways of life, the eremitical and apostolic, both of them leading to the highest perfection, consists the core, the characteristic, and the peculiar naturalness of the children of that Mother who, like no one else, caught within herself, for her sisters, the sublime contemplative life of Mary, with the activity and care of Martha” (Sermon, 30 May 1918, in Obras del P. Juan Vincente… Original in “La Obra Máxima”, San Sebastian).

“The sons of St. Teresa have understood and professed always, that a discalced carmelite must, before all else, be profoundly contemplative, but must be decidedly active. That is to say, he must try, in all sincerity, to burn with the fire of contemplation with that love of God which is as strong as death, and from there proceed to love his neighbour for God, until he makes himself all things for all men, in order to win them all for ever. This is what makes the true carmelite missionary. Action without contemplation would not be carmelite; contemplation without action, would not be teresian” (The St. Joaquin of Navare Province in its Paris exposition, Monte Carmelo, n. 426, 1918, 367).

These clear and vigorous statements of the author (Fr.Juan Vincente) strike us even today. We can hardly express more energetically, or more beautifully, the thought contained in the first sentence above: The sons of Saint Teresa are truly the fruit of the cries and tears of our Mother, grieving and concerned for the salvation of millions of souls. We are the children of St. Teresa, the fruit of her apostolic cries and tears. The sentences already quoted can be studied in different ways: for example, how did Fr. Juan Vicente arrive at such robust certainty, how did he understand the unity of the two aspects of contemplative and apostolic life in a way that it seemed for him that all doubts disappeared, not to mention the conflict, present in others, including the entire tradition of our Order. How did he live this unity himself, in such a way that his very life is an exegesis of his doctrinal understanding. Without doubt there is a history, a process, which led to his perception of the charism; he did not encounter this formulation in the legal expressions of the Order. In fact, he began from his own direct knowledge of St. Teresa. It is there he finds his criterion and proof. In any case, it is at the height of his maturity that we encounter this result.

I believe that today we would change some terms. For example, that the carmelites are “hermits”, alluding to our primitive history, and also other expressions that St. Teresa used herself. What I want to say is that the apostolic life, lived and conceived so intensely by Fr. Juan Vicente, strictly speaking, cannot be reconciled with the eremitical life. It is clear that, deep down, the eremitical life refers more to a life of prayer, of contemplation. The eremitical life is a specific way of life, which is different from an active way of life. Juan Vicente also felt called to an eremitical vocation; none the less, being parish priest of Chattiath and director of St. Albert’s college, and travelling throughout the cities of Spain to make others aware of the missions, dedicating himself to this through the “Obra Maxima” and other initiatives, it cannot be said, strictly speaking, that he lived any kind of eremitical life.

On the other hand, in the context of today’s theology, and the way we see in faith the Church today, we have to understand and explain mission in a different way, as we shall see briefly in the second part of this conference.

Presupposing this, the most decisive of Fr. Juan Vicente’s statements refers to the essentially carmelite missionary vocation. For this reason I would like to focus primarily on the carmelite missionary vocation “de ventre matris meae”; in other words, from the beginning, essentially from conception; with that totality and spiritual strength of “those cries and tears”.

With regard to the carmelite missionary vocation, an author, who witnesses to the missionary spirit of our Mother, St. Teresa, writes correctly: “About St. Teresa’s missionary spirit and her love for the salvation of the souls of infidels and heretics, we do not need to make conjectures ‘a posteriori’, or the necessary effects which would create in her great heart such a great love for God. She herself, with that transparency which so characterized her writings, makes us see and read this apostolic-missionary spirit in the book of her heart,” (Severino of St. Teresa, Santa Teresa de Jesús por las Misiones, Vitoria 1959, 14).

There are writings about St.Teresa’s vision, opinion and words on the ecclesial and apostolic spirit of her Carmel, and consequently on the apostolic and missionary life of the carmelites in keeping with the general apostolic spiritual ardour of the new carmel. They are well known, have been frequently quoted and have also been the subject of studies.

“At that time news reached me of the harm being done in France and of the havoc the Lutherans had caused (…). The news distressed me greatly, and, as though I could do something or were something, I cried to the Lord and begged Him that I might remedy so much evil. It seemed to me that I would have given a thousand lives to save one soul out of the many that were being lost there …. O my Sisters in Christ, help me beg these things of the Lord. This is why he has gathered you together here. This is your vocation. These must be the business matters you’re engaged in. These must be the things you desire, the things you weep about; these must be the objects of your petitions” (Way of Perfection 1).

“I beg you to strive to be such that we might merit from God two things: First, that among the numerous learned men and religious there be many who will meet these requirements I mentioned that are necessary for this battle, and that the Lord may prepare those who do not meet them; one who is perfect will do much more than many who are not. Second, that after being placed in this combat, which, as I say, is not easy, they may receive protection from the Lord so as to remain free of the many perils there are in the world, and stop their ears in order not to hear the siren’s song on this dangerous sea” (Way of Perfection, 3.5).

“Four years later, or, I think, a little more than that, a Franciscan friar happened to come to see me, whose name was Fray Alonso Maldonado, a great servant of God, who had the same desires for the good of souls as I, but he was able to transfer them into deeds for which I envied him greatly. He had recently come back from the Indies. He began to tell me about the many millions of souls that were being lost there for want of Christian instruction, and before leaving he gave us a sermon, or conference, encouraging us to do pencance. I was so grief stricken over the loss of so many souls that I couldn’t contain myself. I went to a hermitage with many tears. I cried out to the Lord, begging Him that He give me the means to be able to do something to win some souls to His service, since the devil was carrying away so many, and that my prayer would do some good since I wasn’t able to do anything else. I was envious of those who for love of our Lord were able to be engaged in winning souls, though they might suffer a thousand deaths. And thus it happens to me that when we read in the lives of the saints that they converted souls, I feel much greater devotion, tenderness, and envy than over all the martyrdoms they suffered. This is the inclination the Lord has given me, for it seems to me that He prizes a soul that through diligence and prayer we gain for Him, through His mercy, more than all the services we can render Him.” (Foundations 1.7).

In the description of her visit to the house in Duruelo she write that together with a life of prayer, penitence and poverty “they used to go to preach in many of the neighboring towns where the people were left without any instructions in Christian doctrine. On this account also I rejoiced that the house had been founded there. For I had been told that there was no monastery nearby nor any place from which the people could get instructions, which was a great pity” (F 14.8). The final words are revealing: “May it please His Majesty, in His goodness, that I be able to serve somehow for the very many things I owe Him, amen. For, indeed, I understood that this foundation was a much greater grace than the favour He granted me to found houses of nuns” (F 14.12).

The first witnesses in the tradition of Teresa’s missionary spirit are Fr. Gracián and Fr. John of Jesus and Mary. The first, according to our records, was aware of being identified with the teresian spirit, which he also expressly confirms regarding the missions; the second with his explicit defense of the maternity of the charism of St. Teresa, as well as the vital importance he gave to the teresian carmelite mission. These two witnesses were above all, objectively, in line with all that is authentic in our missionary tradition. In fact accepted as a teacher John of Jesus & Mary, was absent in great part from the history of Fr. Gracian. The two had collaborated in the preparation of the beatification of St. Teresa, proclaiming together her missionary spirit.

We can highlight a difference in approach: Gracian, in responding to a circular letter from the Consulta in 1589, reasoned: “To this we reply that it does not have the same sense, because the same carmelite rule states: ‘if not engaged in other activities’; and the experience and history of our saints and the entire Order has shown that our vocation is not to go out much nor to busy ourselves with external work like other Orders, but we are not to be as enclosed as the carthusians; and thus, there is no need for anything new” (MHCT 3, p. 477-478). In the polemic it seems that Gracian makes a concession here. In his patent to the first missionaries to the Congo he had written, being provincial, during the lifetime of St. Teresa: “Regarding the Orders’s rules for clothing and food and other things which our Constitutions lay down let them be conformed to the time and place where they find themselves, attending principally to the conversion of souls” (MHCT 3, doc 260). Within his own lifetime he showed this openness and freedom when it was a question of the apostolate.

John of Jesus & Mary, commissioned by the 1605 chapter, to edit the Instructions for missions, wrote: “The religious who are destined for the salvation of the infidels should exercise their minstry in remaining in fixed stations, without going from one place to another, and procuring where they can to found priories, with permission from their superiors, to where they can withdraw as in a fort to recover their strength, in order to go out again with greater determination to conquer souls”(ch.9).

We, today, understand what these reservations mean, but in any case they should not be understood in a way that diminishes the Order’s missionary spirit. John of Jesus & Mary ends the paragraph by explaining “in order to go out again with greater determination to conquer souls”.

In effect, the tradition of the “potior pars” and the “pars posterior” seems to have carried weight creating some doubts or reservations and, in fact, restoring the missionary spirit of the Order. For this reason, we can emphasize that Fr. Juan Vicente, who supported this tradition, and personally also loved the eremitical life, to the point where he felt called, experienced and formulated the Order’s missionary spirit in a robust way and without any doubts whatsoever: “A discalced carmelite must be, above all, profoundly contemplative, but must be decidedly active” (Monte Carmelo, 426, 1918, p. 367). “Be contemplative until you reach the very heights, be apostolic until you can do no more”, “the carmelite must be a contemplative who is totally apostolic and an apostle who is totally contemplative” (Way of meditating as taught by our Venerable Fr. St. John of the Cross. “Mensajero de Santa Teresa”, 1924-1925). This double totality was shown clearly by Juan Vicente . We have to be totally contemplative, men of prayer, and totally apostolic and active. Not only did he have a great appreciation of the missions, but also his life and his writings on the Order’s missionary spirit, clearly proved to be original in the context of this tradition.

I have not made any mention here of the very important and thorough studies of our missionary spirit, from its beginning and throughout its history. I am going to refer now to an offical reception, approved by the church, as moulded in our Constitutions and Norms.

Our renewed laws after Vatican II recognize and transmit the missionary spirit of the teresian carmel: “The evangelization of the world, so intimately part of the very nature of the Church, in as much as it is to be accomplished primarly through love and prayer, has always been a priority in our Order’s apostolic work. Our Holy Mother St Teresa passed on to the Order the ardent missionary zeal that burned within her heart, and it was her wish that her friars should also undertake missionary activity. This missionary zeal should be faithfully fostered, all should have the missions very much at heart, and vocations to the missions should be encouraged throughout the Order.

All our communities and provinces should sustain our missionaries by their brotherly concern, by their prayers and also with financial aid; and all should contribute to the best of their ability to promoting the growth and expansion of our Order in mission lands as well” (C 94).

This is what the Constitutions stated. In the Norms some basic means are prescribed:

“That our family may fulfil its missionary task as it should, suitable projects should be thought of in every province and followed up. The result will be that the missionary vocation will flourish and grow among us” (N 58).

A zelator for the missions is to be appointed in every province and semi-province, who, “under the direction of the provincial, will foster union between the province and the missions, he will promote the missionary spirit and will obtain personnel and material resources for our missions” (N 65).

Mission is confirmed as a favorite work of the Order. The charismatic reason is established in St. Teresa no less, who spread the flame of the Order’s missionary zeal within her family, the entire family, and said explicitly that she “wants the friars to work also in missionary activity”. The “also” should not be understood as a kind of dimuition. Within the entire carmelite family, all are to be apostolic and missionari; the friars are active missionaries.

As in the Constitutions generally, when they approach the fundamental aspects of the life and mission of the Order, the part relating to the missions is well formulated and moderate. We can ask ourselves if this admission of the missionary spirit in the Constitutions is assumed effectively in the sociological and spiritual reality of the Order today. In an overall assessment we would have to say that there are differences. In some pastoral visits I have asked in interviews and discussions with religious about their understanding of this matter. We can say that in general the missionary spirit is not present sufficiently in the Order. It seems to me that many of those whom I spoke to in different provinces would agree that with respect to their regions, that they know them better.

First of all, and in general, and also refering to our carmelite nuns, for what ecclesial and missionary reasons of a St. Therese of Lisieux, or an Elizabeth of the Trinity would young people approach carmel? And for what same reasons, at the very source, in the charismatic proclamation of the Way of Perfection? Accordingly, what image or inspiration of family do masculine vocations respond to? Do they see already from the beginning the missionary spirit of the teresian carmel, together with a life of prayer and fraternity?

In formation, above all in the novitiate, there is a correct insistence on personal and community prayer, on fraternal life, and on certain activities that serve the house. Is the whole of St. Teresa’s charism truthfully developed in the novitiate, are those cries and tears converted into acts and dedication? How much is taught of the history of our missions, and the present day situation of our missions? And, above all, how is carmel communicated, what is the charismatic criterion, is it St. Teresa or is it the previous tradition, is it the mediaeval Rule which began being eremitical then transformed into being mendicant, preserving its rather eremitical structure and mentality?

We certainly do not need to enter into arguments about more or less apostolate, as was often done in the past. But the Order’s vocations and formation have to assimilate the ecclesial character of the Order as it is to be found in the Constitutions, in a balanced way and with a force that should inspire.

The missionary awareness which our laws speak of cannot only refer to the faithful. They should be directed, no less than for prayer and evangelical denial, to ourselves.

It is true that today many provinces have a direct relationship with a mission, or have some missionary presence, sometimes with a small number of religious. We consider this to be a very positive sign in each case for the provinces. Not only because mission in itself is important, but also because the presence of a mission in a province can transform the awareness of the province. First of all, to open it up to the dimensions of mission, to something beyond itself. Never the less, the simple fact of having a mission is good, and always positive, but, that alone does not transform the awareness of the province. There are missionaries who feel more or less left to themselves, with the impression that the mission is something only for them; it is something that they like, it is their vocation, but without the province, as such, being involved. Something changes in this feeling when there is a vocations animator who helps with material resources in the province. This rather ambiguous situation can happen in our provinces.

 

II. Sense and actuality of mission

 

The expressions which we have heard, for example, from Saint Teresa about the many souls which are being lost, reveal, as is known, the theology and the piety which are at the basis of our missionary and apostolic charity, and are generally the basis of the missionary activity of the church. This theology necessarily generates a special urgency in people, such as in the case of St. Francio Xavier, or our missionaires who in the Congo in the space of a few years baptized 40,000 people. Not only this, within this theology it is surprising and even incomprehensible that religious who are aware of it do not feel called to a missionary awareness, in the way that Gracian and John of Jesus & Mary did.

For our object here, I want to try to indicate analytically the position of mission in our ecclesial awareness today.

 

Vatican II stated “those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience-those too may achieve eternal salvation” (LG 16, cf. AG 7).

This is a sign of the optimism of the Second Vatican Council, which redeemed misson from a hopeless darkness that had dominated for centuries, and opened us to new horizons of revelation and evangelization.

Among these new horizons I would like to mention two in particular: the relationship between evangelization and mission, and moreover with the historical and earthly reality of man, and the relationship between christian faith and other religions.

 

6. The soteriological principle

 

The princple which moved the missions throughout our history was that of the salvation of souls, which is to say, their transcendental and eternal salvation. The missionaries certainly had in mind the needs of the individual and the people as a whole, and promoted good works, above all the promotion of education, but the salvation which was most pressing was that of the soul. Charitable works always pertain to christian activity.

The missionary encyclicals are more and more concerned with the themes of poverty, justice, development… Even the decree Ad Gentes does not dedicate much attention to this theme. The Second Vatican Council, with Gaudium et Spes, dedicated an entire document to earthly realities, and with this led to an official appraisal of salvation history. Especially since Evangelii nuntiandi, we accept as natural and obvious that evangelization is something total that affects the individual and society, and that missionary activity must understand the situation of the the poor and their dignity, in spite of the different theological explanations of this general conviction.

Salvation is for us something historical and integral. It is the Kingdom of God, as in the Gospels. Such as Christ himself experienced, first of all in his relationship with the Father, which constituted a transcendent relationship and therefore transcendent salvation. At the same time, and for this same reason, the Father’s relationship with man, such as, for example, with the Blessed, and the good samaritan or those in chapter 25 of Matthew’s gospel; all this being part of the healing work of Jesus, who, annointed by the Spirit, went around doing good. The Kingdom of God is this dual and unique relationship between the Father and humankind.

Therefore, charitable works, which are always necessary, the development of humankind and society, and the making aware of indivudals and societies acquire a special importance. It is the historical and eternal dignity of the children of God. This present and eternal love manifest and fulfils itself as revelation and as something needed and appealing in Jesus Christ.

Regarding the fact of the spread of globalization in today’s world, we can underline different characterisitics. 1. First there is the economic factor, with its obvious profit and competitiveness. How does “political charity” develop as a missionary service of economic intercession? How does the economical aspect of development promote the dignity of individuals and societies? Globalization, though it has its ambiguities and dangers, also offers the chance to know and transfer progress to serve people in distant regions.

Particularly the ability to comunicate opens up new paths which allow people to encounter one another, and which could, in time, dissolve the dangers of conflict between religions and cultures.

Globalization and wellbeing form a new kind of person, who, thanks to technical facilities, can enjoy the goods of the earth, but with a real danger that a religious sense and a sense of solidarity will disappear.

 

7. The value of other religions

 

Another factor which has changed the theology of mission is the Church’s present understanding of the value of other religions. It is an understanding that has gradually progressed since Vatican II: other religions are to be seen as a cultural enrichment, as an expression of the people and as a natural religious aspiration. Other religions as places of salvation. And finally, as vehicles of saving grace. Whatever the concrete understanding and explanation of the relationship between different religions and grace and salvation, today we see the need to dialogue with other religions in order to announce the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“The catholic church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men. Yet she proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Chirst who is the way, the truth an the life (Jn 6:6). In him, in whom God reconciled all things to himself (2 Cor. 5:18-19), men find the fulness of their religious life.

The Church, therefore, “ urges her sons to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions. Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, also their social life and culture” (NA 2).

The missionary urge of past centuries arose from eternal salvation, or, negatively, from eternal damnation, as we have already mentioned. For ourselves, with all the tradition of the gospels, our sense of mission has remained firm. However, without the “despair” of eternal damnation which missionaries in the past used, now, on the other hand, they speak of the salvation of the entire person, with a new importance for the history of salvation of the children of God. But this does not diminish the urgency and the decisive importance of the proclamation of Jesus Christ: to know and love Jesus Christ and the Father in the Spirit is another way of expressing and understanding salvation. This double and unique reality: the loving knowledge of the gift of Jesus Christ and the realization of the historical, present and earthly dignity of the children of God is the meaning of mission. Therefore, it has lost nothing of its present importance and urgency. If people say that the knowledge of Jesus Christ is not important it means to say that Jesus Christ is not important after all …To know Jesus Christ is in itself salvation. Not to know him is an immense loss, independentally of personal responsibility and of eternal salvation. Whoever believes in Jesus Christ (the Church) cannot but proclaim him as the greatest good news for humankind.

 

III. Means

 

8. In Novo Millennio Ineunte John Paul II makes this admission and this urgent invitation: “Even in countries evangelized many centuries ago, the reality of a "Christian society" which, amid all the frailties which have always marked human life, measured itself explicitly on Gospel values, is now gone. Today we must courageously face a situation which is becoming increasingly diversified and demanding, in the context of "globalization" and of the consequent new and uncertain mingling of peoples and cultures” (n.40). As a result the Pope calls for a new missionary activity, in which four aspects can be highlighted: a) it requires a revival of the original impulse, the ardour of Pentecost, b) it cannot be the task of a few “specialists” but rather the responsibility of all the members of the people of God: c) inculturation must characterize the “multiform face” of the Church; d) working for young people becomes something of the utmost importance, because they are going to be the protagonists of the future.

In Redemptoris Missio, 1990, the Pope called attention to this fact: “The number of those who do not know Christ and do not belong to the Church is constantly on the increase. Indeed, since the end of the Council it has almost doubled” (n.3). But at the same time he indicated other reasons for an urgent and and new misssionary ardour: the collapse of oppressive ideologies; the opening of frontiers and the formation of a more united world; the affirmation among peoples of the gospel values (peace, justice, brotherhood, concern for the most needy); and a kind of soulless economic and technical development (n.3). After all this it can be optimistically confirmed that: “God is opening before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel” (ib).

 

9. Human resources

 

Regarding the resources, we must highlight the statement that missionary activity cannot be the task of a few specialists. This presents itself with urgency to the Church’s conscience, because of the missionary nature of the Church, all the local churches and all christians are called to be evangelizers; and because of the immensity of the task in itself, and because of the knowledge and opportunties which the means of communication offer.

However, the missionary activity in question has two aspects: to make all christians aware from the beginning and the activity aimed ad gentes.

The first resources are human, and according to the idea rightly stressed by the Pope, these human resources must involve the whole church. Evangelization, catechesis, theological formation must be informed by the missionary character of the church. The value of information is underligned through printing and audiovisual means.

In number 82 of the encyclical new ways of missionary cooperation are highlighted: international tourism has now become a mass phenomenon. This is a positive development if tourists maintain an attitude of respect and a desire for mutual cultural enrichment, and seeking contact with other people. The encyclical praises visits to the missions, above all by young people, who go there to serve and to gain an intense experience of the Christian life.The migration of christian workers to non christian countries. These circumstances are certainly an opportunity to live the faith and to bear witness to it. More numerous are the citizens of mission countries and followers of non-Christian religions who settle in other nations. The presence of these brothers and sisters in traditionally Christian countries is a challenge for the ecclesial communities, and a stimulus to hospitality, dialogue, service, sharing, witness and direct proclamation. Missionary cooperation can also involve leaders in politics, economics, culture and journalism, as well as experts of the various international bodies. In the modern world it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine geographical or cultural boundaries. There is an increasing interdependence between peoples, and this constitutes a stimulus for Christian witness and evangelization.

 

10. Material resources

 

Material resources which we can collect in the ambit of the Church, will never be enough, and will always be insufficient to meet the needs. They should be used above all for ecclesial or religious goals, such as the building of churches or chapels, religious houses; or the formation of christian communities, the formation of priestly and religious vocations, and of christian leaders… Moreover, today in western countries we have at our disposal economic opportunities which from at least the colonial times we have not had. Different civil entities and public institutions have become aware of the need and offer support in the form of projects for the well being and promotion of peoples. However these same offers of support are but a drop in the ocean of world poverty, which generally coincide with the ad gentes countries. I believe that we are not making good use of these supports and that we are only at the beginning of, what, today, should be a well worked out activity. I believe that this same collaboration with these entities can help us draw attention to public bodies of the fundamental problems of the so called world order.

For this reason, this limited activity which thanks to these resources we can fulfil, does not weaken the perception of the need to transform this world’s order according to the spirit of the gospel and the requirements of justice, which alone will allow people to live together in peace.

 

 

     
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Updated 12 mar 2007  by OCD General House
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