Fr General and Easter 2013...
CONGREGATIO SS REDEMPTORIS
Prot. N. 0000 070/2013
Rome, March 31, 2013
Dear Confreres, Sisters and Lay Associates,
On this Easter 2013, I greet you with the words of the Risen Jesus to his disciples: “Peace be with you!”
As we celebrate the power of the Resurrection this Easter, we listen again to the words of the angels to Mary Magdalene and the other women at the empty tomb: “Why look among the dead for someone who is alive? He is not here, he has risen” (Luke 24:5b).
This message from the Easter Vigil finds an echo in our Constitutions and Statutes: Redemptorist Missionaries “must, therefore, become signs and witnesses before people of the power of his Resurrection, proclaiming the new and eternal life” (C. 51). As St. Paul makes clear, the power of the resurrection is experienced and witnessed in the new life which we live and proclaim. As Jesus himself proclaimed: “I have come that they may have Life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).
As followers of Jesus the Redeemer, we are called to experience first of all the power of his Resurrection in our own lives. This experience transforms us so that we too may live more fully in the power of the Spirit. As we experience the power of the Resurrection and are transformed by it, we invite others to share this experience in “simplicity of life and language” (C. 20).
I believe that this is the great attraction of Pope Francis I to the people of today. The mystery of the Resurrection is primarily the mystery of Life. During the first weeks of his Petrine ministry, Pope Francis has returned to this theme more than once, affirming the value and meaning of daily life with all the joys and sufferings, hopes and crosses we experience. He speaks to us of a Church of the poor and for the poor. He preaches about friendship and tenderness, hope and mercy, simplicity and care for one another. His way of being, the signs that he gives, the human gestures – these seem to speak even more powerfully than his words alone to proclaim the Gospel anew ‘in simplicity of life and language’.
“Why look among the dead for someone who is alive?” The message of those two angels seems logical enough. But often we can forget its importance for us today. It can become too easy to look back on the past with nostalgia. It is often more comfortable to rely on methods which we have used for generations. We resist change.
As Redemptorist Missionaries and those who share this Charism, we are called and sent to preach the Gospel ever anew (St. Clement). It is not enough to rely on methods which have been successful in the past, no matter how venerable they might be, but which might not reach the people of today (Cc 14-16). It is insufficient to hold on to buildings and places, or “to settle down in surroundings and structures in which our work would no longer be missionary” (C. 15). The power of the Resurrection impels us to read the signs of the times, to take risks, and to pioneer bold initiatives.
My brothers and sisters, our annual celebration of Easter is a constant call to renewal – a call to renew our hope and to renew our hearts. Jesus calls us to go with him to Galilee, wherever that ‘Galilee’ might actually be found today. The Synod on New Evangelization suggested that ‘Galilee’ might be a symbol, like the court of the Gentiles, for those places where different cultures and nations gather and have an impact one upon the other.
During these fifty days of Easter, guided by the Holy Spirit, may the Redeemer continue to breathe new Life into us and into our Congregation! Gathered in prayer with Mary, our Mother of Perpetual Help, may we experience ever more deeply the power and challenge of the Resurrection today! In the power of the Resurrection, may we preach the Gospel ever anew with courage and with hope!
Your brother in the Redeemer,
Michael Brehl C.Ss.R
COPIOSA APUD EUM VITA!
Fr General's Letter - March 2013...
CONGREGATIO SS. REDEMPTORIS
LETTER FOR THE FEAST OF ST. CLEMENT MARY HOFBAUER
Prot. N. 0000 064/2013 Rome,
March 15, 2013
Dear Confreres, Sisters, Associates and Friends,
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Clement Mary Hofbauer, often referred to as our 'second founder' as well as the Patron Saint of Vienna. His life as a Redemptorist Missionary tells an amazing story. It is always relevant to us, but never more so than in this sexennium when the XXIV General Chapter chose our theme inspired by his words and his life.
"To Preach the Gospel Ever Anew:
Renewed Hope, Renewed Hearts, Renewed Structures
I would like to begin this reflection on St. Clement with the following quote from the biography of St. Alphonsus by Fr. Antonio Maria Tannoia:
These good Germans [Clement Hofbauer and Thaddeus Hiibl] burned with a holy zeal, and ardently wished to see a house of the Congregation established in Vienna. The ardor of their zeal was so great that they could perceive no difficulties in the way, and looked upon the thing as if already accomplished. This projected German house was laughed at amongst the fathers. But when Alphonsus heard the pious object of these fervent novices he thought differently, and it caused him extreme joy: "God," said he, "will not fail to spread his glory in that country by their means. The suppression of the Jesuits has caused those populations to be nearly abandoned. The missions, however, ought not to be like ours; instructions are more useful there than sermons, as the people are living among Lutherans and Calvinists. At the commencement they should be made to say the Credo, and then the faithful should be prepared to abandon sin. These priests will do good, but they will require greater lights than they have. I would write to them, but God does will that I should have anything to do with it. My Jesus! Humble me more and more, and reap there from thy glory."
I am sure you all know this story of the reaction of St. Alphonsus when he heard about these novices - Clement and Thaddeus. Tannoia tells us that in Pagani, the confreres were laughing about these two strange Germans with big plans! Surely they were just naive dreamers! But Alphonsus, filled with great joy at the news, stilled their laughter with what appeared to be a prophetic quote: "God will not fail to spread his glory by their means... their missions however ought not to be like ours... These priests will do good, but they need greater lights ..." Alphonsus himself understood the need to adapt and change according to the context in which the Redemptorist missionary lives and works. It seems that the way to the first restructuring of the Congregation - inspired by the dreams of two German novices - was prepared with the blessing of St. Alphonsus himself!
Clement was convinced that we need to learn to preach the Gospel ever anew. This quote, which he repeated in different ways many times, has become the inspiration for our sexennial theme as we enter more deeply into a process of restructuring for the sake of our Mission. The XXIV Chapter took place at the end of the Centenary year of the Canonization of St. Clement, and perhaps this also influenced our choice of theme. However, I believe that this theme was chosen in continuity with the last three General Chapters. And it is a direct consequence of the experience shared during the XXIV General Chapter about our missionary vocation today. It was not just a sentimental appreciation of St. Clement during his jubilee year.
As Alphonsus prophetically announced when he blessed the dreams and hopes of Clement and Thaddeus, the changing context in which the Congregation lives requires a new approach to evangelization, and a renewal and restructuring of our Vita Apostolica, always in line with the Constitutions and Statutes. Of course, as the first reading for the feast of St. Clement insists, the foundation is still and must always be Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:6-11). Like Clement, we are builders continuing the work already well begun. The foundation remains our personal and communal encounter and mutual relationship with Jesus Christ. This was also underlined by the Synod on New Evangelization which was celebrated in October, 2012.
The preface for the Mass of St. Clement underlines three important aspects of St. Clement Hofbauer which make him especially appropriate for Redemptorist missionaries today as we continue the process of restructuring not only our external structures, but also renewing our hope and our hearts. The preface tells us that Clement's life is an example for us, that he is our friend, and that he is a man of prayer who continues to help us.
The example of his life: reading the signs of the times
Clement lived at a time which was not much different from our own age. He established the Congregation in Poland in the tumultuous days just two years before the French Revolution. It was a time of massive change on the European continent -in politics and religion, in society and education, in economics and communication. Boundaries and borders were shifting. Nationalism, secularization and the movements which led to militant atheism were taking root. There was a massive movement of peoples, with the kind of reactions and xenophobia, often violent, which migration often brings. In this context, Clement faced challenges, and at times persecution, from both civil and church authorities - especially in the Diocesan Church structure, often infected with nationalism.
Clement not only remained personally faithful to his vocation, but invited others to similar fidelity. Through his commitment to the abandoned and the poor, as well as to Jesus Christ and j the Redemptorist apostolic community, he established the Congregation in the soil of Northern Europe. All the communities he established were international, bringing together members of different languages and cultures - Polish and French, German and Bohemian, Austrian, Swiss and Belgian. He dreamed of still more distant and diverse missionary activity - in Romania and Yugoslavia, in the Russian Empire, and even in Canada. Big dreams? Certainly. I wonder how those confreres in Pagani would have laughed if they had known just how big his dreams really were! The example of his life is still relevant for our experience today.
The experience of his friendship: stability in the midst of chaos
The preface for his feastday reminds us that Clement is our friend. He had a remarkable gift for friendship. During his lifetime it was not possible to successfully establish the Congregation in northern Europe with the canonical structures which would ensure its survival. Because of this situation, it was primarily friendship with Clement which gathered and held together a remarkable group of men and gave them identity: Thaddeus Hubl, Emmanuel Kunzmann, Martin Stark, and so many others who would become Redemptorist missionaries themselves. Friendship with Clement gave this nascent community stability even when the future of that community could not be assured by a common Rule and official recognition by both Church and State. Clement's gift of friendship challenges us today to live more authentically the Gospel friendship to which we are called (Const. 34).
Friendship with Clement was not inward-looking, merely establishing community support for the common search for God. Clement was chiefly concerned with apostolic community, after the example of Jesus (Const. 21-22). In his Gospel friendship and apostolic dedication, we can see incarnated the ideal missionary vocation described in the Gospel for Clement's feastday Mass (Luke 10:1-9). The disciples are sent out two by two. They are sent as a missionary community to bring the Good News to the abandoned and the poor. There is no 'star system', no focus on individual, charismatic personalities, neither in the missionary plan of Jesus, nor of Clement. The disciples are sent as a community, in order to build communities (Const. 12). Together they became "one missionary body" (Const. 2), composed of many members from many lands, cultures, and languages.
This friendship of Clement extended also to lay men and women whom he called to share this missionary vocation. These men and women, many of whom became Oblates, were not only the objects of his apostolic activity. Much more than this, they became partners in his great missionary project: they were "sent as helpers, companions and ministers of Jesus Christ in the great work of Redemption" (Const. 2), and he offered them the formation they required to do this effectively. Through catechesis and publishing, through peer ministry and proclamation, they brought the Gospel to education, health care, politics, youth pastoral ministry and every possible forum in public life.
When I was a young Redemptorist student, the life and personality of St. Clement captivated and inspired me. For me, he made our missionary vocation seem real and possible. He made j it come alive! And Clement had a warm sense of humour and approachability. Perhaps it is enough to remember the story of his response to the man who spat in his face as Clement begged alms for his work in Warsaw: "Thank you. That was for me. Now perhaps something for my orphans?"
His life of prayer: contemplative in action
St. Clement Hofbauer is a man of prayer. My novice master described him as a clear example of a contemplative in action. His contemporary and friend, Fr. Martin Stark, spoke of the "tabernacle" which was Clement's heart. Wherever he went, usually by foot, he carried Jesus with him, and communed with that divine presence he carried within. Completely dedicated to the service of the abandoned and the poor, his deep and permanent communion with God brought them much more than only material relief from their difficulties. The abandoned and the poor recognized that when they encountered Clement, they encountered the living presence of God.
Clement reminds us of the spiritual dimension of our missionary vocation without which we cannot continue the mission of the Redeemer. As Redemptorist missionaries, following the teaching of St. Alphonsus, our call to holiness and our missionary vocation are one and the same invitation to share in the very life of Jesus the Redeemer. Once again, the Liturgy for the Mass of St. Clement reminds us, Jesus Christ is the foundation, and we are merely builders. We walk by faith. All depends on God. To paraphrase words which St. Clement himself prayed, may our faith awake as the sun rises, and never set till all has been accomplished. Perhaps no picture better describes this attitude of Clement than the painting of him knocking on the door of the tabernacle in a moment of great need, certain that his prayer had already been heard.
St. Clement Mary Hofbauer. C.Ss.R.: a man for our times
The example of Clement's life, and his response to the signs of the times, remind us that restructuring arid international communities, challenges and failures - these are not something new for Redemptorist Missionaries. They never have been. Rather, these are an integral part of our missionary vocation. Such dreams and hopes were blessed by St. Alphonsus himself. Oh yes, they require greater lights than our own to bring them about. We understand what Alphonsus meant by that! We will face as many failures as successes, as many challenges as opportunities. This has always been our story - from St. Alphonsus to St. Clement to the present moment. The choice before us is "how" to renew and restructure, not "if we will engage in this process.
Clement's friendship incarnates our apostolic life in real human relationships transformed by gracfe: relationships with one another in apostolic community, with lay associates and collaborators, with the abandoned and the poor. This Gospel friendship calls us to a renewal of heart and a more mature authenticity. It points to the affective dimension of our lives which we must integrate, and which we cannot ignore. This Gospel friendship promises that "whoever follows Christ, the perfect human being, becomes more human" (Const. 19).
Clement's prayer was intimate, concrete and all important. Jesus Christ was indeed the foundation on which he built his life and his ministry. He faced incredible losses and failures, challenges and struggles. We remember that every single foundation he attempted failed. And yet he never lost hope. The source of his hope was the presence of Jesus whom he carried within and with whom he was in constant conversation. He said that prayer was the furnace in which his hope was daily renewed. All depended on God. He knew this in the depths of his being.
Clement said that "we must learn to preach the Gospel ever anew". No wonder the secret police of Napoleon's Empire wrote, "This man's preaching is dangerous". So dangerous that he kindled a fire which continues to burn in Redemptorist missionaries across the globe, in nearly 80 countries, in diverse cultures and nations, all for the sake of the mission, so that the abandoned and the poor might hear the Good News.
To think it all began with the dreams of two German novices in Italy! As we celebrate the feast of St. Clement this year, I pray that we may dare to dream such big dreams, work together in Gospel Friendship, and renew our hope in the furnace of prayer. Perhaps then our preaching will just as dangerous as his!
As we follow the Redeemer in the spirit of St. Alphonsus, may St Clement accompany and inspire us today. May our renewal and our restructuring continue to build on the one sure foundation with faith, friendship and prayer.
I wish you all many blessings and much happiness on this feast.
Your brother in the Redeemer,
Michael Brehl, C.Ss.R.,
Fr General writes 16/xii/12...
December 16, 2012
Dear Confreres, Sisters and friends,
As you receive this December edition of Scala, we are more than halfway through Advent and about to begin the Novena for Christmas. I would like to take this opportunity to reflect with you on the meaning of this season. For St. Alphonsus, the Incarnation that we celebrate at Christmas is the first ‘Mystery of Redemption’. During the Season of Advent, and especially during the Novena, we wait in joyful hope, praying that God will increase our appetite for the great feast to come.
For Alphonsus, the Incarnation is a celebration and affirmation of life. He writes, “Justly does the Apostle call Jesus Christ our life. Behold our Redeemer, clothed with flesh becomes an Infant, and he says to us: ‘I have come that you may have life’.” We celebrate this life in our families and in our parishes. The bright lights and decorations, the hymns we sing, the joy of our liturgies, and the welcome we share with others – all these are signs of the life God shares with us. Alphonsus continues: “From the first moment of the Incarnation, Jesus embraced our redemption with enthusiasm. He rejoices like a stag to run his course, and he comes leaping over the mountains and skipping over the hills.”
And why such joy? Alphonsus writes that God became human so that he might converse with us as a friend. He longs that we converse with him, and that we find him in the manger - that we recognize him in the world among the poor and the abandoned – and that we welcome him and all those he brings with him. It is a mystery of friendship.
May you experience all the joy and blessings of Christmas! May the mystery of the Incarnation draw you more deeply into the mystery of friendship with Jesus the Redeemer as well as communion with the least of his brothers and sisters. I wish you a Merry and Blessed Christmas.
In Jesus our Redeemer,
Michael Brehl, C.Ss.R.
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Fr General writes...
November 16, 2012
Dear Confreres, Sisters, Associates, and friends,
Last week, on November 9, 2012, we celebrated the 280th Anniversary of the Foundation of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. Once again, we gave thanks to God for the audacious hope and courage of St. Alphonsus. In the spirit of distacco that brought freedom to his whole life, he left Naples, family, comfort, reputation, and a fruitful ministry to give his life for copiosa redemptio as a missionary and evangelist. From the small seeds planted in November 1732, God has brought forth our Congregation. And what a gift it is to be a Redemptorist Missionary!
In this Spirit, I wrote a letter which I hope that every Confrere has received. All of us are called to give our lives for copiosa redemptio as Redemptorist Missionaries. The theme of this Sexennium calls us to the renewal of our apostolic life and our Congregation so that, in the words of St. Clement Hofbauer, “we may preach the Gospel ever anew”. It is my heartfelt prayer that as we remember our first beginnings 280 years ago, this call will resonate ever more deeply in our own hearts and lives.
Last week, we also finished the last of the five Mid-Sexennial Meetings. Over the past five months, I attended each meeting, in each of the five Conferences:
· July – Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean in Alajuela, Costa Rica;
· August – Conference of Africa and Madagascar near Antananarivo, Madagascar;
· September – Conference of Asia-Oceania in Minburi and Pattaya, Thailand;
· October – Conference of North America in West End, New Jersey;
· November – Conference of Europe in Krakow, Poland.
These meetings were important opportunities to review the progress we have made since the XXIV General Chapter three years ago (October-November, 2009). More information will be communicated to you through the Conference Coordinators and your (V) Provincial and Regional Superiors. After prayerful reflection on these mid-term meetings, some decisions will be taken at the General Council in December, 2012 – and these will also be shared with the Congregation in early 2013.
I wish you every blessing and grace necessary for our missionary vocation. May we joyfully follow Jesus the Redeemer, accompanied by Mary of Perpetual Help, and inspired by the example of St. Alphonsus. May the privilege of our vocation as Redemptorist Missionaries continue to be a source of hope and courage not only for us, but especially for the abandoned and the poor to whom we are sent.
Your brother in the Redeemer,
Michael Brehl, C.Ss.R.
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