Holiness, A Journey Made Together
St. Thérèse of Lisieux recommends that we periodically call to mind in prayer times when we felt the grace of God touching us deeply, particularly when we are going through periods of dryness or darkness, so that we can draw life and inspiration anew from such experiences to help carry us through present difficulties and once again “fan into a flame that gift of God which is in” us (2 Tim 1:6). Towards the beginning of Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis speaks about the importance of the “testimonies that encourage us” (GE 3), including “the signs of holiness that the Lord shows us through the humblest members” of His people (GE 8).
When I was a Pallottine seminarian in Dublin, the then newly-elected Rector General, Fr. Seamus Freeman SAC, came to speak to us about the Pallottine charism. I don’t remember all the details of what he said, but I do remember having the sense of a fire being kindled in me, of feeling that ‘this is something to which and for which I could happily give my life’. He presented a wonderful vision of Christian life and community, of all being called as apostles, sisters and brothers in different vocations yet equal in dignity, to contribute our particular talents and gifts in communion and practical collaboration with others to help build the kingdom of God. A vision even reaching beyond the community of followers of Christ, also seeking to build collaboration with people of good will of all faiths and none.
While that mysterious fire has varied in intensity over the years, at times even resembling more a “dimly burning wick” (Is 42:3), it has never really left me. And it has been and continues to be nourished and rekindled by that initial experience and by other experiences, including the simple yet profound witness of word and of life of so many other people of all vocations, both within and beyond the Pallottine family, who seek to live their lives with deep faith, humanity, integrity and solidarity in a spirit of communion and corresponsibility, in generous and humble service particularly of the most needy and vulnerable.
The Union has so much to offer our Church and our world. Like life itself, it is fundamentally rooted in and built upon healthy relationships.
The most fundamental relationship for each of us is of course our relationship with God. We are each drawn mysteriously into a relationship of love with Christ and, through him, with the Father and the Spirit. In these fundamental relationships, we are invited to ‘taste’ the infinite love which is God, to let that love increasingly penetrate and transform every dimension of our being and every aspect of our person and humanity, becoming the driving force of all that we are and do, even if it can be a long and sometimes painful process, each in his or her own way seeking to discern the path which the Lord is calling us to follow (GE 11).
This unique individual path, if it is to be truly human and Christian, cannot be individualistic, but is always situated within a wider web of human relationships, since “growth in holiness is a journey in community, side by side with others” (GE 141). Just as “no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual”, so also no one is sanctified alone. “Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in a human community” (GE 6).
As members of the Union of Catholic Apostolate, this is true for us in a very particular way. Our human relationships are to be permeated concretely by the love which is the very life and being of the Trinity (cf. GSt 18), as we become more and more the embodiment of the love described by St. Paul in his wonderful hymn: patient, kind, forgiving; free from jealousy, arrogance, self-importance, rudeness, self-seeking, irritability and resentfulness. This love is so essential that, where it is lacking, the Union ceases to exist, no matter what external structures or works might be in place (cf. OOCC III, 137-138).
The General Statutes of our Union and the basic structures outlined in them aim to guide the functioning of a community which in a very real sense gives concrete expression to these characteristics of love: humility, openness and dialogue; deep respect for and graciousness towards others; full participation of all as apostles in their own right; patience and generosity of spirit; simplicity, transparency and integrity; collaboration from the beginning and co-responsibility; shared discernment and passion for mission, tenderness and faithfulness. A community which recognises, embodies and promotes the fundamental dignity and equality of all the members (GSt 7, cf. GSt 70), irrespective of vocation or state of life, not ignoring the distinctions between them but, properly understood and lived, placing each in a broad, healthy, stable and fruitful context of mutual openness and service which calls each to a new way of relating to the others.
“Corresponsibility demands a change in mindset … in the Church”, so that no one is seen as a mere collaborator carrying out plans decided by others, but rather all are regarded “as people who are really “co-responsible” for the Church’s being and acting” (cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Message, 10 August 2012). A fundamental aspect of our very charism and mission is to actively work for such a change in mindset in the Church by promoting the co-responsibility of all the baptised (GSt 1).
We are challenged as a Pallottine family at all levels to learn to embrace and live this consistently and profoundly between ourselves in all of our relationships: between individuals of similar and of different vocations and states of life, in the coordination councils of the Union at all levels, and within the many different communities of the Union. It is part of our DNA as Pallottines.
The temptation to treat others in a manner which does not reflect such a spirit of communion and co-responsibility is one that can be faced by any member of the Union. This is true, whether or not we are entrusted with a particular position of responsibility and service. As a member of one of the communities founded by St. Vincent, I think we need to take special care regarding how we understand our specific responsibility in the Union. It is humbling to remember that the first ‘community’ founded by St. Vincent is the entire Union itself, to which all of its members belong, with the particular communities founded by him subsequently. This is to take nothing away from the specific role of these latter in the Union, but does invite us to appreciate and exercise it with a greater sense of common belonging to one original family with all other members of that same family, in which the different vocations are “so interrelated that each helps the other to be solicitous for continuous growth and to offer its own specific service” (GSt 7).
“The members of the entire foundation are, despite their variety, not hierarchically subordinate or superior to one another, but are immediately oriented toward the aim of the Union as its equally entitled bearers. The ordained and the non-ordained, individual members and those incorporated into communities have the same fundamental responsibility in regards to the mission of the Union (GSt. 6, 37) … In [its] structures, the members of the communities founded by Pallotti fundamentally have no claim to a leading position, but are equals among equals (GSt. 29a, 31, 49, 58)” (The Charism of St. Vincent Pallotti. Origin, Development, Identity, pp. 47-49).
This reflects an essential element of the truth about our charism as recognised by the Church. In and through Pope Francis, the Church itself is being called to understand herself in terms that are not so different: “It does us good to remember that the Church is not an elite of priests, of consecrated people, of bishops, but that everyone forms the faithful Holy People of God. The faithful Holy People of God is anointed with the grace of the Holy Spirit, and thus, as we reflect, think, evaluate, discern, we must be very attentive to this anointing”. Those who have a particular responsibility are called always to discern with others and never for or without them (cf. Letter to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, March 19, 2016).
If the Church had been marked by such a profound shared sense of discernment and responsibility, surely more Christ-like responses would have been found to situations which we are seeing once again in these times have resulted in such terrible damage being done, often to the most vulnerable. Pope Francis has invited the entire Church to make reparation and to exercise an authority of service and of love for the good of all. It is clear that the Union has its own important contribution to make in building a healthy Christ-centred Church and a better world. Let us ask God, through the intercession of Mary Queen of Apostles, and St. Vincent, to enlighten the eyes of our hearts so that we can see what hope his call, as Union, holds for us and for the Church and the world. May the fire of the charism entrusted to us through St. Vincent be kindled in us and burn brightly, so that united as one family we may bear witness to the God of infinite love and together commit ourselves to bringing that love in every way, particularly to those who are lost and broken and suffering. May we be delivered from everything in us that undermines love, mutual respect and affection, and that causes division, so that our energies may be freed to work wholeheartedly as individuals and as a family for nothing else but the building up and spreading of God’s Kingdom of goodness and holiness, of mercy and justice and solidarity.
For personal and communal reflection and prayer:
- When have you been particularly touched by a sense of the charism? Pray for the spirit of the charism, which is a gift of God’s Spirit, to be renewed and deepened in you and in your community and in the Union as a whole.
- “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). What weakens this witness between us and how can we it be deepened and strengthened in practice?
- In what ways do I understand and follow my path to holiness in overly individualistic terms? In what ways have I experienced the richness which comes from journeying together with others towards holiness?
Fr. Rory Hanly SAC,
Segretariato Generale, Unione dell’Apostolato Cattolico