Rome, December 25, 2011
Solemnity of the Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ
To all the brothers of our Order
My dear brothers,
The whole General Council and I send you our heartfelt greetings on this day of light and peace. “In which the great and eternal day came from its great and eternal time into our so short temporal day” (St. Augustine) by becoming flesh in the most pure womb of Mary.
To assure the contribution of every friar to the 2013 General Chapter I sent a letter dated June 5, 2011 (Prot. 219/2011) to each friar of the Order. It was a preliminary survey that included six questions:
1. In your opinion what are the two most important subjects to be addressed at the next General Chapter?
2. Do you believe the subject of evangelical poverty that came up in the 2007 General Chapter has been sufficiently discussed, internalized and translated into action?
3. What aspects of our life on the provincial and general level do you think make living our life fully as Servants of Mary difficult, impossible or hopeless?
4. The Church’s appeal for “a new evangelization to transmit the faith” will be the subject of the next Synod of Bishops in October, 2012; how can we, with our charism, contribute to this “new evangelization?”
5. For years now we have been discussing a global personnel plan for the Order. Changes in our legislation now allow decisions previously not permitted (e.g. the authority to open or close communities transferred from chapters to councils). Do you see any was collaboration between the jurisdictions of our Order (on all levels) could be further promoted?
6. How can we support those institutions linked to the General Communities (Curia, Marianum Faculty, Monte Senario, St. Alexis Community) that are part of the Order’s heritage and are highly esteemed by the Church at large?
Participation in the survey was positive: we received ninety-seven responses. Three came from Provincial Councils, twenty-nine from conventual chapters and sixty-five from individual friars, five of whom were Priors Provincial.
Not all responses answered all six questions. Each friar’s response was based on his own reaction, interest and religious experience and manifested a genuine desire to contribute to the 2013 General Chapter. For this I, and the members of the General Council thank you from our heart.
Before proposing a second stage in this process I would like to present a synthesis of those responses. It is necessarily brief and therefore does not do full justice to the wealth of insight the responses contain. All the same I hope it will contribute to further discussion.
Answers to the first question can be broken down into three large areas of focus: Identity and Charism (seventy-four responses); Organization of the Order (fifty-two); and Formation (twenty-two).
Greatest interest was shown in the Identity and Charism of the Order, specifically: fraternal life, fraternity, a life of sharing, fraternal correction, the place of Our Lady, service, a rediscovery of the lay dimension of our life and how these elements respond to new situations in the Church (New Evangelization) and the rapidly changing world – a world suffering from individualism and selfishness.
This interest in identity and charism is closely linked to the second most favored area of concentration: the Organization of the Order. Several items were of particular interest: an overall personnel plan; increased collaboration between jurisdiction on the regional level; new foundations (personnel - especially formation personnel - and financial assistance); revised financial arrangements; more international communities; discussion on the ideal community and a possible revision of the Constitutions.
The third area of greatest interest was formation on all levels including training formation personnel and collaboration with other branches of the Servite Family.
Fifty-nine responses cited other areas of interest: the Evangelical Counsels, the role of the conventual prior, the apostolate, finances, prayer and spiritual life, ecology and the broader Servite Family.
The vast majority of responses to the second question consider discussion of evangelical poverty absolutely fundamental. The discussion has been supported by good texts. Apart from clearly positive and negative responses it is apparent that there is need for further study, internalization and translation of the concept into action. Finally several suggested that we review all that has been accomplished in the last six years.
Responses to the third question sometimes reflected a very narrow point of view. More often, though, they revealed a deep and genuine desire to live our vocation and the structural problems that make this difficult in practice. Suggestions fell into two categories: deeper spiritual understanding or the need to revise structures (even the Constitutions), and the enforcement of existing norms by those in charge.
Responses to the fourth question (our part in the Church’s New Evangelization) reveal widespread confidence that the Order can contribute to a renewed proclamation of the Christian Faith through its specific charism (fraternity, service, Marian inspiration). Basically this is closely linked to the first area mentioned in responses to the first question.
Responses to the fifth question (collaboration in apostolic work – this is closely linked to the Order’s structure) reveal a desire for greater collaboration and offer suggestions how to achieve it by fostering a greater awareness of the Order’s international nature. Friars should be made aware of and sensitive to the fact that the Order is an international community. A more specific and deliberate plan of collaboration possibly involving the whole Servite Family could foster this awareness. More forceful leadership from the Order’s central government (leadership that made an impact on the communities) would be helpful. We could “internationalize” initial formation programs and simplify current structures by devising an “overall plan” governed by specific priorities.
In spite of some criticism responses to the sixth question reveal widespread respect for the work and service provided by the General Communities. Several have asked for more detailed information about the needs of these communities. If friars and communities were more sensitive their response to these needs would be spontaneous and voluntary. There were also detailed and specific suggestions for the financial support of each of the General Communities.
The encouraging results of this first phase clearly indicate the benefit of continuing this process. We must continue to discuss, study and pray in preparation for the 2013 General Chapter; it will be a crucial moment in our lives as friar Servants of Mary.
The Church is engaged in an effort to adapt and renew its mission in today’s world. Pope Benedict XVI has decided that the next Synod of Bishops (October 2012) will be devoted to The New Evangelization For the Transmission of the Christian Faith. With the Apostolic Letter Ubicumque et Semper (September 21, 2010) he established a Pontifical Council to promote the New Evangelization and with another Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei (October 11, 2011) he has proclaimed a Year of Faith (October 11, 2012 – November 24, 2013). During this Year of Faith we will be celebrating our 213th General Chapter. On June 13th Pope Benedict said: “Faith is not preserved in the world by itself, it is not automatically passed on to the human heart, but must always be proclaimed. Moreover if the proclamation of faith is to be effective it must stem in turn from a heart that believes and loves, a heart that adores Christ and believes in the power of the Holy Spirit!”
Our Order wants to do its part in this great project of the Church. But before we speak about transmission of the Faith and the need to proclaim anew the Gospel to all nations we must discuss how Friar Servants of Mary can contribute specifically to this great Church enterprise.
Two important subjects have emerged from the responses to our survey: 1. Friar Servants of Mary: Identity and Charism; 2. The Order of Servants of Mary today.
We hope to go deeper into each of these subjects through based on the Word of God and our living tradition. We will include one or two questions. We hope to receive your responses before May 31, 2012, Commemoration of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. Your responses will help us prepare for the General Chapter.
You can follow the progress of our preparation for the 2013 General Chapter on the Order’s revised website: http://servidimaria.net/sitoosm
For the good of the Church and our brothers, the men we serve, may Mary, the Mother of the Savior and the Queen of her Servants be at our side as we prepare for the 2013 General Chapter.
Fra Ángel M. Ruiz Garnica, o.s.m.
Fra Camille M. Jacques, o.s.m.
Secretary of the Order
to continue the reflection
Friar Servants of Mary – Identity and Charism
Many friars long for a deeper understanding of our identity, a rediscovery of the roots of our consecration and the charism of the our Order.
Word of God
‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,* so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17, 20-21).
Cf. also: John 15, 16-17; Matthew 23, 8-9; 11, 29; Luke 6, 36; 17,10; John 19, 26-27.
While Philip and Victor were on the road they met two friars from the Order of Preachers coming from Germany. They were amazed at the habit our friars wore and they started speaking to Blessed Philip; they were eager to know what kind of life they led and what Order the habit represented. The man of God answered them with great humility and deep wisdom: “If you want to know about our origins, we are natives of this region; if you are asking about our status we are called Servants of the Glorious Virgin and wear the habit of her widowhood; our life follows the example of the holy Apostles and we strive to live according to the Rule of the holy Doctor, St. Augustine.” (Legenda of Blessed Philip “vulgata,” no. 8).
The Order of Friar Servants of Mary, which arose as an expression of evangelical apostolic life, is a community of men gathered together in the name of Jesus the Lord. Moved by the Spirit, we commit ourselves, as did our First Fathers, to wtness the gospel in fraternal communion and to be at the service of God and all people, drawing abiding inspiration from Mary, Mother and Servant of the Lord. (Constitutions 1).
1. Many of the responses to our first survey mentioned the need for a deeper understanding of our identity and charism.
To promote updating and a deeper understanding of our Servite religious vocation we have launched several projects (the Secretariat for Permanent Formation, the Servite Pilgrimage, publication of the Fonti storico-spirituali dei Servi di santa Maria [Sources for the History and Spirituality of the Servants of St. Mary].
What other suggestions would you make to meet the need many feel for further updating and a deeper understanding of our Servite vocation?
The Order of Servants of Mary Today
At every General Chapter in recent decades (since the collective revision of our Constitutions) the Order has discussed re-organization. Responses to our survey would indicate the need for still further discussion especially in the area of streamlining our structures and promoting greater collaboration.
Word of God
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20, 25-28).
Cf. Also: Matthew 6, 25-26; 23,2-5.
Ever since they had started to live together there had been numerous signs to assure these godly men who began our Order that the Lord was always taking care of them, and so they were certain that whatever happened to them happened by divine providence. When therefore so many came to them from all sides asking to join them for the love of heaven, they realized that this deep-seated resolve to share a life of penance with them was also of the Lord’s doing. And now for the first time the thought occurred to them that Our Lady in her own quiet way had not brought them together only to acquire and pursue their own personal holiness. (Legenda de Origine 48).
The sharing of life and goals creates among our communities manifold relationships which unites them in a wider fraternity and in respect for persons and local autonomy. Urged on by charity and these mutual bonds, our communities assist each other, collaborate in apostolic activities and organize themselves in such a way that their work is coordinated and effective. They loyally carry out what has been mutually agreed upon. (Constitutions 5).
2. The present Constitutional text describes the charism of the Order, the community and its service, formation on all levels, the organizational structure, sharing and administering possessions and relations between the various branches of the Servite Family.
From your own service to the Order and the Church do those descriptions correspond to what you have experienced? Are there any changes you would make to the Constitutional text (additions, modifications, amplifications, contributions)? What is the motivation for the changes you propose?
3. Responses to our survey indicate a widespread desire for greater collaboration and solidarity between the jurisdictions of the Order in the areas of formation and the sharing/administration of possessions.
What is your opinion of this line of thinking? What structural changes would you suggest to achieve this goal?