At the beginning of the new year 2016, the Superior General, Alessandro Moroni Llabrés, addressed an extensive message to the members of the Sodalitium.
In this very special time we have celebrated the Birth of the Son of God, who comes to reconcile us, and we begin a new year under the protection and care of Holy Mary, who encourages us in faith and hope. It seemed like an opportune moment to share some reflections with you, which I hope can be a broad framework to understand and approach in the best possible way this stage that as a community we have called review, reconciliation and renewal. That is why I ask that this message be accepted and reflected upon both personally and in community.
With my prayers,
Message from Sodalitium Christianae Vitae’s Superior General at the beginning of the new year 2016
Lima, January 4th, 2016
Dear brothers and friends all in the Lord:
We begin this year 2016 holding the hand of Mary, Mother of God and our Mother. She shows us the way to go to the Lord Jesus. And as much as these words may sound trite, because I have repeated them many times, I am convinced that to cross the threshold of this new time there must be a solid foundation of spiritual life. If there is no proper spiritual life, we will lose ourselves soon, very easily.
Only from her real and intense spiritual life can we understand how our Mother can have the docility to welcome God’s ways that are always mysterious. She, after hearing the angelic greeting and God’s proposal for the incarnation of the Eternal Word in her womb, responds with amazing simplicity and generosity. It is the same humility that is expressed in a pristine way in the Magnificat after he hears from Elizabeth’s lips: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42). Mary gives us the key: only those who have God as their center in their lives can approach the mysteries that life itself never tires of presenting to us.
The events and what God allows will always be, to some extent, unintelligible to us. That is why the compass of existence must be supported by a really intense spiritual background, which feeds our faith. And one of the things that I discover in a very profound way is that this land, this spiritual “humus”, has not been sufficiently prepared in our community.
We are many times like those disciples of Emmaus (see Lk 24:13-35) who sadly walk along the road, with hearts dull from the experience of passion, pain, disappointed expectations, with cloudy vision. And we stop seeing how the Lord Jesus accompanies us along the way. The disciples come out of the mist to the extent that they open up to contact with the Word of God. That is key: contact with the Word. We must read and meditate on the Word every day, allowing it to work little by little within us. That Word will prepare the soil of our hearts so that faith grows and becomes robust. The Word is what trains us so that we can recognize the Lord in all circumstances: in the brother who suffers, in the pain and confusion that surrounds us, in the doubts and suspicions that often torment us. She prepares us in a special way to recognize Him in the Eucharist: there Jesus himself gives himself to me as food, nourishing my heart and my life with his real presence.
Therefore, as a first point I want to insist once again that we redouble our efforts to grow in our spiritual life. Let us allow a look to be forged in us that manages to see God in the midst of the circumstances of life. That spiritual gaze will grow in our personal and communal prayer, which I ask you to cultivate with particular dedication at this time.
As a second point we must deepen and live the virtue of humility. It is something that has worried me since I became Superior General, and that is why I share with you again parts of a letter from 2014:
There are not a few times that in our own lives we try to measure things between two antinomies: success vs. failure. And it is certainly legitimate to try to evaluate our actions, to ask ourselves how we are doing, but we cannot approach ourselves, our spiritual, community or apostolic life through canons that have reductive and worldly flavors.
How many times have I heard brothers saying to themselves and others “I’m doing it” or “I’m not doing it”. The Christian life is something more complex than this, and in whom we truly find the measure of things and of ourselves is in the Lord Jesus.
This antinomy in life (success-failure) is solved by living and understanding humility. Humility should not be confused with modesty, since the modest is the one who knows his own value and does not exceed his limits; he is aware of what he knows and what he can, he does not appear wiser than he really is. The modest one “is located”, he knows what corresponds to him and what does not, that is why he does not intend to go where he cannot, nor does he live on illusions. The modest knows what he is capable of doing and does it, he does not limit himself. The one who lives modestly is located properly, it is a kind of golden mean between the one who believes the best and the one who thinks that nothing can. Humility is much more than this.
Humility is not situated in a kind of golden mean between success and failure. The humble one was Jesus, and that humility has been reflected in the lives of many saints who lived it in an exemplary way. Saint Augustine speaks in some of his writings of humility like a tree that grows upwards because at the same time it takes deep roots in the earth. In the pilgrimage of the saint of Hippo we see how miseries and greatness occur throughout his life; how he experienced sin and weakness, at the same time as the closeness and love of God that gave him the strength so that in the midst of his struggles he would get closer to Him; how he experienced the wonder of his own calling and vocation, which, like ours, is totally undeserved and a gift from God.
We are like that, and we always will be, at the same time great and miserable: worthy of the greatest love, of the greatest reverence and care, and bearers of miseries ever imagined. Between the opposites joy-pain, greatness-misery, our history and that of our own community is being woven. We can’t forget it! Let’s get away from all Puritan or Manichaean temptation that sometimes seeps into us and does us great harm.
Pope Saint John XXIII in his book “Diary of the soul”, in one of his thoughts when he was a seminarian in Rome (1903) says: “man is never as great as when he is on his knees”. In that simple gesture of adoration we express who we are and in front of whom we are, in the simplicity of that act we show how wonderful life, of existence, of God, in front of whom we kneel. Those knees touching the ground are what help us take root so that the tree of our existence rises up towards God. The more kneeling, the more roots, and the more roots, the taller the tree. Leafy and green, and under its shadow so many tired people will find rest, they will find God. On our knees every day, on our knees before Him, on our knees in our daily strong moments of prayer, on our knees before our brothers to wash their feet, to serve and help them, they are another Christ, on our knees we are great, we are humble, we are sodalits, we are men of God.
It is the gesture of the “men of God”, and that is why the sodalit who is called to be one has to live from this greatness. How many times is this gesture manifested in the Gospel before the Lord: Peter, the leper and many others fell on their knees before Him. Thus on our knees we discover who God is and who we are, thus on our knees we express the greatness of who we are flame, our identity that is discovered in the encounter with Him.
We obtain victory through the humility that Jesus shows us. The victorious is the humble, the victorious is the one who enters Jerusalem sitting on a colt, on a donkey, a pack animal, simple, noble. He does not enter on horseback like the powerful of the world, with the animal that the conquerors carried. Jesus wants to conquer us with his simplicity, with his humility, with his donkey. The victorious and humble is the one who conforms to Jesus, loving and serving others.
Let us not forget, dear brothers and friends, victory is linked to humility, humility makes us enter the path that leads to the cross and to Easter. Humility makes us live reconciled, makes us capable of reconciling the paradox that occurs in our life of misery and greatness, of sin and grace, it makes us kneel down to put down deep roots and thus the tree of our Sodalit life will rise high according to God’s measure.
May the virtue of humility be the foundation for the difficult spiritual journey of this time in which we live, in which Mary takes us by the hand and leads us to the Lord Jesus, crucified and risen.
This new stage must be marked, therefore, by a profound and sincere review. It will help us a lot to allow ourselves to be encouraged by the exhortation of the Apostle Saint Paul: “Examine everything and hold on to what is good” (1Thess 5:21).
The “examine” that we must perform at this time of review does not mean losing all reference points or starting from scratch. Nothing can be done without Jesus and without the truth that He points out to us. As we have repeated many times, it is He who shows me who I am and in the light of Him and His ways (which are not ours) is that I can and must examine everything: without fear, with authentic evangelical freedom. It is not a capricious and capricious questioning, but rather starts from an identity, personal and community, well anchored in our Lord.
This “everything” implies asking ourselves with total evangelical openness: What has happened between us? Why? How have we allowed it? Let us be able to look at our faults and sins from the mercy of God, along with the distinction of historical or sociological realities of which God could have used many times, as well as to accept that today, in many cases, they may be outdated expressions that must be corrected. It is not easy to answer these questions, and I certainly do not intend to do so now, but I do want to invite you to take on this challenge together. It is a personal and community task.
The plausibility of many of the accusations that have been made public, added to the investigations that I was responsible for carrying out and that motivated the measures that I communicated to you last year, lead us to recognize that historically Luis Fernando Figari is our founder, but that today he is not we can consider it a spiritual reference. For this reason, in the dialogue we had on December 19th, I told them the following: “The disposition was made to take the photos of Luis Fernando from public places, web pages or other places where it could be implied that he is a spiritual reference. Those photos, and placed as they were, spoke that not only is our founder historically, but that he was a spiritual reference. Today we clearly understand that it cannot continue to be so. No one takes away his contributions, nor the good things he may have done, but we understand in light of everything that has happened that those photos should not be there. That is why not only the photos should not be in those places, but their texts cannot and should not be disseminated, nor be mentioned in talks, homilies, in training and meditations. That does not mean that there are objective elements of truth, and that they can be used privately, and that they can be a work element for the new stage that we are experiencing. But it must be understood that there is such a contradiction between what is said and the credible elements that are public today that they cannot be proposed or disseminated. It is not just any inconsistency like any member of the Church who is a sinner has. But we are talking about the founder, and how we understood him as a spiritual reference for the work, but today he cannot be any more“.
I already have enough information and clarity to take this step as Superior General, although I am aware that we are still awaiting a pronouncement from the Holy See on this and other related matters. We must also recognize that, despite not having been aware of many of these things, nor aware of the seriousness or depth of their inconsistencies, many of us have witnessed their attitudes or conduct that are foreign to what a consecrated person, and even more so a founder, must testify. And that for various reasons — ranging from immaturity, human respect, the wrong or distorted understanding of what a founder is and its importance for the life of a community, and surely others — we did not know how to recognize or weigh reality, reacting as needed. And all this has had consequences of suffering for many people.
All this fills us with pain and confusion because it places us before the mystery of iniquity, but also before the mystery that God can use unworthy instruments to carry out his works. A well-known priest specializing in the theology of charisms says: “The Spirit gives the charisms, but whoever receives them can exploit them to their advantage and not exercise them according to God’s will, but this does not mean that the gift of the Spirit was not authentic in its origins“. After making various references to Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church, he also says: “Gratia gratis data, exceeding natural faculties and going beyond personal merits, does not require preliminary dispositions, and even a sinner can receive it and not lose it through his faults. […] Saint Thomas differentiates when a free grace is given together with sanctifying grace, for the benefit of the one who receives it together with that of others, producing friends of God and prophets at the same time; and when a grace is given for the good of others, for which the person is only an instrument of God“. It is something that we have to deepen by allowing ourselves to be enlightened by the faith and the teachings of the Church.
Today we also have the fundamental task of discerning the authentic elements of the gift received in the Sodalit charism in order to be able to put it at the service of building up the Church and its mission, according to the heart of God, seeking to purify it of those elements that may be distortions proper to the road we have traveled. Some of them will come from the founder’s inconsistencies, sins, and distortions, as well as from our own personal faults and sins. For this task, the participation of all is essential, as well as the help of pastors and specialized people, but, mainly, seek the help of God and the guidance of our Mother.
We must open ourselves to the action of God. Only in this way can we recognize as a community, and also each one of us personally, our own mistakes and sins. As a community and as apostles we are called to serve people, to bring them closer to God. But sometimes, instead of that, we have caused injuries, scandal. We have followed models of the world before those of the Gospel, seeking to be effective, competitive, demanding, but leaving aside humility and charity. Many times we have prioritized numbers, image, and a distorted vision of the apostolic mission —even of the vocation as a loving call from God—, forgetting that the work of God, his Kingdom, grows in the small and simple as a “mustard seed”. (Mt 13,31).
We have received a spirituality that is a precious gift that God has given us so that we can offer it to the world, but we have had attitudes or practices contrary to what it inspires: lack of reverence and effective centrality of the person; insufficient integration of inner life and active life; insufficient understanding of our identity as Sodalites of full apostolic availability, which has sometimes given rise to an uncritical approach to the world; controlisms that contradict trust and maturation in freedom that correspond to an eminently positive anthropological vision, together with voluntarism that do not reflect awareness of the primacy of grace; authoritarianism in community life and in the apostolate that contradict the spirit of service that is essential to our call. We have let pride and arrogance make us blind to our mistakes, deaf to fraternal corrections and to the legitimate claims of those we have offended or damaged; permeable to the absurd idea of believing ourselves “better” or “special”, and that has led us to many lacks of charity.
Therefore, first of all, we must address our request for forgiveness to all the people who have suffered because of our faults and sins, to the victims of our inconsistencies with the Gospel and with our sodalit call, to all those who have been affected directly or indirectly by our lack of testimony. We have to assume in justice the duty to repair the damage they have suffered. First of all with our prayer, also with the offer of our efforts to convert us more and more, and especially with the renewed commitment to go out to meet them, welcome them, comfort them and bring them closer to the Lord. It is our responsibility to create adequate spaces and means for this. I also want to ask you that in this year of Mercy we give due place to penance, with the means and offerings that best help us to do so.
Indeed, “examining everything” implies that we must look with eyes of faith at how we have welcomed, lived, reflected in a spirituality, in a lifestyle, in an apostolic mission, the gift of our charism. We have to review freely how we have lived the letter and spirit of our Constitutions, our ways and customs, our way of living authority and obedience, our way of understanding and accompanying the vocational experience, our fraternal and ecclesial relationships. Nothing should be excluded from that profound and evangelical gaze, in harmony with the living tradition of the Church and its teachings, as well as openness to the genuine novelties that the Spirit arouses.
It is with this same disposition that each one can make his own examination of conscience: recognize his own faults and sins, avail himself of God’s mercy that heals and reconciles, and with the freedom that the Holy Spirit gives, examine on what he has based his own call and response, your suitability and willingness to live it, your generosity to serve.
In that same spirit and in docility to divine pedagogy, I think it is opportune to also review the attitudes held in recent times. ¿How have we reacted to pain? ¿Have we known how to welcome the Cross? ¿How have we reacted to sin and evil? ¿Have we allowed ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit, whose fruits are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, self-control”, or by the world and old man, whose works are “impurity, licentiousness, hatred, discord, jealousy, anger, quarrels, divisions, dissensions and the like” (see Ga 5,19-23)? Our measure has to be the Gospel, our look and our heart have to be those of Jesus, always those of Jesus. The sincere desire to help, the right intention, the legitimate desire for transparency, if they are not guided by an evangelical gaze and supported by the teaching of the Church, which always invites us to prudence, reverence and charity with all people , they can end up causing or increasing the damage they are intended to combat.
But Saint Paul also exhorts us to “stay with the good” We know that everything good comes from God, and for this reason we raise our thanksgiving to Him. But let us not forget that gratitude implies, first of all, acknowledging the generosity with which He has blessed us and has blessed many through the poor clay pots that we are. It implies recognizing the genuine goods that we have received from Him, and taking care of them, making them grow, putting them more and more and better at the service of others.
It is also fair to thank the efforts of many brothers and sisters in the faith who, as “good and faithful servants”, have worked and continue to work to multiply the gifts received from the Lord (see Mt 25:14ff). May all this help us to give ourselves generously, trying to keep in mind “that neither the one who plants is something, nor the one who waters, but God who makes it grow. And he who plants and he who waters are the same thing; although each one will receive the salary according to his own work, since we are collaborators with God” (1Co 3,7-9).
A little over a year ago I shared with you a reflection, which today I would like to bring back to memory and heart: “The saint John Paul II prophetically called us “craftsmen of reconciliation”. Do we not have the spiritual key to face what we live? An artisan knows the material, with its benefits and its limits; he is someone who is committed, who gets his hands dirty; he is someone who has to work with patience, serenity, integrating even the imperfections of the material to achieve a beautiful work. Reconciliation craftsmen. And reconciliation has been brought to us by Jesus. He is the Reconciler and, as the Apostle says, he has entrusted us with the ministry of reconciliation. For this reason, brothers and sisters, I am convinced that today we must accept with particular commitment Saint Paul’s exhortation: ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, we beseech you, let yourselves be reconciled with God’ (2Cor 5:20)“.
Yes, this has to be a strong time of reconciliation, of walking in truth and charity to strengthen our communion and our service. At the superiors’ meeting in 2015 we had a very edifying experience, which today I want to propose that we all do and deepen: each one was freely sharing what experiences he had to forgive and reconcile in his sodalite life, and what actions or attitudes he had to ask for forgiveness and be reconciled. I believe that creating spaces in our communities and groups to share freely, to open our minds and hearts in truth and charity, to listen and be listened to, is a practice that we must constantly cultivate throughout this year.
As I have been proposing to you, I believe that, along with review and reconciliation, this time must be one of true renewal. It is not about “inventing” something new, much less denying the past or reneging on it, but about allowing ourselves to be purified and renewed by Jesus Christ, the One who “makes all things new” (see Rev 21:5).
We must flee from the temptation of criticism that can be born from the evidence left by our own wounds or those of others. It is about advancing with patience and depth from the perspective of what we are, of what God has given us in the charism approved by the Church.
We must raise our prayer like the psalmist, to ask: “Create in me, O God, a pure heart, renew within me a firm spirit” (Ps 50,10) so that we can incarnate, witness and announce what the Lord He has called us to be from all eternity. Also so that we can be open to the changing realities of the world and culture, and make the Lord Jesus and his Gospel present in them in an incarnated and vital way.
Divine Providence has wanted us to begin this new time in the life of our community and our spiritual family, coinciding with the Jubilee of Mercy. It is a very great gift that God has given us, and that we must treasure and live. For this reason, I want to end these reflections with a few words pronounced by Pope Francis on December 21st:
“The resistance, the fatigue and the falls of the people and of the ministers also represent lessons and opportunities for growth and never for dejection. They are opportunities to return to the essential, which means taking into account the awareness we have of ourselves, of God, of our neighbor, of the sensus Ecclesiae and the sensus fidei”.
I would like to speak to you today about this return to essentials, when we are beginning the pilgrimage of the Holy Year of Mercy, opened by the Church a few days ago, and which represents for her and for all of us a strong call to gratitude, to conversion, to renewal, penance and reconciliation.
(…) May it be mercy that guides our steps, inspires our reforms, enlightens our decisions. May it be the master support of our work. Let it be the one that teaches us when we should go forward and when we should take a step back. May it be the one that makes us see the smallness of our actions in God’s great plan of salvation and in the majesty and mystery of his work.
May our Holy Mother Mary help us to keep and meditate all these things in our hearts, and encourage us in the effort to be more and more like her Son.
In the Lord and from the hand of our Mother.