The 33rd general chapter of the Augustinians of the Assumption underscored the significant changes experienced by our Congregation and the world. Times have changed and we have a pressing duty not only to adapt as communities to our new reality, but also for each one of us personally, in the depths of our hearts, to demonstrate our openness to the Spirit who “makes all things new” (Rev 21:5).
There are two fundamental requirements that need to be put in place in order to implement the Chapter’s orientations. The first is fidelity to the spirit of the Gospel, such as it was lived by Fr. Emmanuel d’Alzon. Once an apostle has put his hand to the plough, he must not turn back, all the while remaining faithful to history. If we are moving toward the Kingdom, it is God himself who has set us in motion. And this motion began with Emmanuel d’Alzon, was pursued by his sons and is being extended by us today. Fidelity is a force that has been placed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The more apostolic that the Assumption is, the more the Gospel penetrates the depth of each religious’ heart. No apostolic activity will bear fruit unless the worker himself be transformed by grace. Fidelity, therefore, is a call to never-ending conversion.
The second requirement goes hand in hand with the first. Changing times demand new responses. Emmanuel Mounier, a Christian philosopher, said that “the event is our interior master”. There can be no apostles without the desire to respond to the needs of the world as it is today. It is a question of contemplating the world, God’s work, in order to love it and transform it. “Paying attention to the event” means being able to respond to the new II needs of the world with innovative answers that prayer and discernment allow us to invent.
The Chapter Acts begin with an updated presentation of our charism. We often have a hard time articulating the essential elements of our spirituality and of our Congregation. We hem and haw. Why? I don’t think the reason is lack of knowledge of the charism—even if a deeper appreciation of it remains a priority—, I think rather that we’re afraid of giving a definition that might too severely limit something meant to give life and movement. The charism has been particularly well studied since the aggiornamento requested by the Second Vatican Council. The Rule of Life presents it in a profound and lively fashion. The 1999 Chapter took a rather good approach to it. But the richness of the charism cannot be exhausted by texts. It is to be regularly examined afresh so as to be presented to the men and women of one’s time. The effort for us to clarify and deepen it remains crucial.
So we said that we are “at the service of unity in a divided world”. Not long ago we spoke of ourselves as men of communion. We must take this definition up once again in order to develop it and implement it concretely in our lives, our communities, and our apostolic works. The world is divided and communion is difficult to bring about. The Assumption desires to contribute to reconciliation and peace by working for unity… unity in our hearts, unity in our communities, unity in the Church, unity in society.
Internationality and interculturality were also the object of extensive reflection during the Chapter. Division exists wherever human beings put their own personal interests before the common good. I believe that this notion of the “common good” needs III to be deepened so that each one of us might live it ever more intensely. And it begins above all with a strong prayer life.
The transformation that the Assumption is experiencing as a result of its development in Africa and Asia requires that we go further still in our openness to cultural diversity. Every culture and every language has its place at the Assumption. It is the Spirit of Pentecost that must be alive and not that of Babel.
The Assumption will contribute with all its might to this desire for unity. We reiterated how high a priority the cause of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue has been. But unity also means working with all goodwill for the defense of Creation. Our “common house” is suffering and we cannot remain indifferent to this distress.
The Chapter outlined the other priorities flowing from our commitment to unity. We recalled the urgency of an Assumptionist formation that prepares men to be apostles of the Kingdom, men of unity and reconciliation. We expressed our conviction that our involvement in education and teaching is a major priority. The Assumption must invest in schools at all levels in order to contribute to the formation of responsible men and women, capable of commitments in Church and society. But the Assumption must also pursue its effort to pass on the Lord’s call to come and work with him. It is essential that we promote vocations… priestly, religious, and lay. Unity also includes the lay-Religious Alliance. The presence of our lay friends at the Chapter contributed to reinforcing the conviction that nothing enduring can be accomplished without them. They are our partners in the proclamation of the IV Kingdom. The road that we shall follow with them is that of friendship and respect for our different vocations. Lay-religious complementarity is a real resource for the Assumption.
If the 2011 Chapter spent a lot of time and effort working on community organization, that of 2017 was not to be outdone. We reinforced our desire for greater coresponsibility between provinces as well as the need for improved pooling of our resources, human and financial. The creation of Vicariates satisfied the desire that recent foundations be initiated into greater autonomy and more effective involvement in the life of the Congregation, especially at the level of the Plenary General Council. Coresponsibility, subsidiarity and the pooling of resources will not be possible unless everyone commits himself to living catholicity to the full. It means toppling the parochial concerns that confine and oppose diversity.
In conclusion, let me say that the Chapter’s main goal was not the publication of beautiful texts. It took place to give new life to the Congregation… to its spiritual life with a renewal of our religious commitment, to its apostolic life with renewed apostolic zeal, to its community life that it might bear witness to the primacy of the Kingdom in us and around us. I pray that all of us, religious and lay, take ownership of the texts so that we might be led by the Spirit who “renews the face of the earth” (Ps 103:30).
Very Rev. Benoît GRIÈRE, A.A. Superior general