We celebrate the Foundation Day in the midst of the pandemic virus, which is perhaps in the second stage marked by great improvement in the countries of Europe that were hit badly by the virus during its early phase, and the growing contagion in other continents with less mortality rates. We have more Claretians who are infected by the virus now than before. It calls for a responsible and prudent way of going about our life and mission. I like to offer some reflections as we celebrate the 171 years of the foundation of our Congregation. On this occasion I invite you to reflect on the theme of responsibility which we, as individuals and as a charismatic community, should assume for our vocation and mission in the Church.
On this 150th year of the death of our Founder, we shall contemplate the beauty of his life and learn the art of responsible collaboration with God’s project of evangelization, which he did by tuning his life and apostolic activities to it. Aided by grace and guided by the signs that he received from the Lord, he abandoned the project of the textile business and joined the seminary as a young man. As a priest, he gave up the security of a parish to embrace the insecurity of an itinerant preacher. One after the other, he chose to forsake what was more secure and comfortable to accept what the Lord was asking of him. His ‘response-ability’ is evident in the way he lived up to the trust that God had placed on him when he was called to be an apostolic missionary. Indeed, Saint Claret responded to God’s call to the best of his ability.
Assuming responsibility for one’s vocation and mission in response to God’s call is not a journey on a red carpet. It involves carrying one’s cross and following the Lord, facing moments of misunderstanding, ridicule, or persecution, and remaining faithful even when others give up. We know how our Founder kept on his mission and remained true to his missionary vocation amidst persecutions, attempts on his life, calumnies and false propaganda about his person, which pursued him even to the exile in France. I believe that our Founder could stand up to these ordeals because he held on the finger of God like a child and walked forward by the side of his beloved Lord and his heavenly mother.
Responsibility implies a relation to a higher authority to whom one is answerable and accountable regarding the obligations proper to one’s vocation and assigned mission. A disciple is not a hired servant, a son is not a slave. Hence, a disciple or a son should honour his identity by acting responsibly as a disciple or a son. Our charismatic identity as sons of the heart of Mary affects the way we assume responsibility for our vocation and mission. The clearer we are about our missionary identity in the Church, the more responsibly would we fulfill our mission in the Church.
Responsibility is better understood in relation to irresponsible attitudes and behaviours in mutual relationships, in economic administration, in the exercise of authority and leadership, in teamwork in mission, and in spiritual life. They do tremendous harm to themselves and others. The allies of irresponsibility are blaming others for one’s choices, justification of what is done, and rationalization of irresponsible actions. The antidote for irresponsibility is to create a culture of accountability and transparency before God, one’s conscience, and the community. We know that our Founder was not only very compassionate but also demanding on himself and others regarding the fulfillment of duties and obligations.
The story of a population paying tribute to their king has an interesting point to make. The tribute was to be paid in kind. After a good harvest, each farmer though for himself: “after all, a little chaff will not make a difference in the big royal granary.” They fell for the temptation to mix the grain with some chaff to measure up to the required quantity so that they could have more grain for themselves. When the king finally opened the granary, there was more chaff than grain for the needs of the Kingdom! The gifts which each of us withholds from being placed at the disposition of others impoverish us as a missionary Congregation.
The life and mission of our Congregation is a collective responsibility which each of us should assume according to one’s roles, functions, and gifts. I invite you to take some time and ask yourself how you hold yourself accountable for living the demands of your vocation, and the fraternity, and the missionary dedication of your community. How do you contribute towards the mediocrity that we often lament about consecrated life today and how willing are you to contribute to rendering our Congregation a credible witness of the joy of the Gospel?
The Congregation is re-founded in the life of each Claretian and in the mission of each community. The best jubilee homage we can offer to our Founder is to assume responsibility for our vocation and mission and contribute generously to enrich the people of God from our charismatic heritage. In this time of pandemic virus, let us celebrate the foundation day of our Congregation in simplicity and depth by imbibing the spirit of Saint Anthony Claret who gave up his life joyfully for the cause of the Gospel.
Wish you a meaningful celebration of the Foundation Day on July 16.
Fr. Mathew Vattamattam CMF