[Dear Brothers here in we present two articles of Br. Kees Thönissen Ofm Cap., a Franciscan Scholar from South Africa, who makes a fraternal call to return to Contemplation to renew our Capuchin Life. You would find the Second Part in our Website: www.sgfcap.org We hope these articles and other ones found in our blog will inspire us to re-root ourselves.]
Part1 Embracing our enduring unresolved crisis - yearning for deeper transformation
This article is born out of my own over 40 year disquiet that our founding charism, the fountain of all other charisms, that is contemplation, is not deeply instilled enough or lived in the order.
(I include my own struggles). A concern is that our new Ratio will not be able to widely convince of either the richness, or the critical state, of our unique contemplation. Then too recent General Chapters have noted with alarm the increase of dispensations from temporary profession. We must reflect to what extent regular personal prayer is essential to sustain and ‘grow’ a vocation.
It’s certain that all would enjoy a smooth trouble-free winding down of this sexennium into the General Chapter. But after brewing for a long time, our biggest weakness is impeding the growth of the order. We have to face a decline caused by the slow evaporation of our primary charism of contemplation. I write this hoping that it will stir enough to get this ‘emergency’ on the Chapter agenda so that leadership may again take up our greatest challenge. ‘When our grasp of our charism is uncertain’ and ‘confusing’ (Jöhri, Prot.N.00766/082) we can’t carry on as usual. This article is about loss of our primary charism - we can no longer overlook our Achilles heel.
We face a crisis. Our Minister General reminds us of our deep spirit of contemplation (C544-6); our roots from the beginning (C556). His wide oversight challenges us for in his visits to circumscriptions he sees ‘...with disappointment that the practice of mental prayer has become weak and little practiced in our fraternities and is losing the meaning and importance that it represents to our identity...(Prot.N.00800/164). It is sad that ‘Prayer is not loved, and is little lived and practiced!’(PN.8/161). ‘When the relationship with God becomes weak and is no longer the fundamental reference point of our existence, we run the risk of...hypocrisy’ (PN.8/162). But have these strong words of forewarning jolted us into ‘urgent review’ of the order? Each jurisdiction too has a sense of whether deeper contemplation is really growing, or, regressing.
Be sure, ‘slackening’ and loss of contemplative relationship as ‘closeness with God’, will degrade our entire spiritual thrust, undermine our essential identity, and derail our very viability ahead. Surely depletion at such very foundational levels threatens a crisis for the order?
We can positively embrace our ‘crisis’ if it is defined as ‘a turning point of decisive importance’.
We have to ask ourselves the unsettling questions: Is our order losing its inner spirit? Are we Capuchins disturbed enough to respond to such a crisis? There seems not to be enough alarm about the slow deterioration of our lived foundation of spirituality? We remain indebted that the order has always laboured much at growth and renewal through its fine Generals, and Councils, Secretariats, PCOs, meetings, trainings and visitations. But our ‘long unresolved challenge’ lies deeper. We have arrived at a crossroad between our past (ascetic, rote) tradition and future potentialities (affective, human-fraternal, involved). The meeting of two ‘Capuchin epochs’ past and present, calls for an entire revisioning by the order as a whole over years, including formation and ongoing formation (beyond a Ratio). This means much more than ‘rehashing’ our characteristics as they have been formulated in PCO’s and letters. It needs dynamics that ‘fire’ our call and grounding mystery so that we are re-energised at depth. (Let Us Fan the Flame of our Charism! is prophetic!). Sound research can unravel the shifts in our order and open vistas but the catalyst for change is a return to prayer (Corriveau, Circ.L.N183.3;4.6).
We are well aware that we come from an eremitical heritage so that our contemplative tradition needs to be preserved and promoted (PN.8/163). Our Albacina ‘constitutions’ stipulated that the ‘tepid or lazy’ brothers could pray four hours a day while the ‘fervent’ brothers should spend all their time in prayer. My pastor friend is visiting Mount Athos to pray 3hrs morning and afternoon. That’s not realistic. But we Capuchins need to ask ourselves if we are still known to be exemplary bearers of our profound contemplative tradition? As we painfully self-examine, we must ask if we will slowly become ‘hollow men’ in famous habits – mere ‘shadows’ of our former prayerful selves? Holy Pope Paul VI already in 1974 at our Special General Chapter exhorted us to revive our prayer. He told us that prayer is ‘absolutely necessary’ for ‘recovering’ (note!) our ‘special treasure’ of contemplation - which we must ‘now promote and incorporate’ (note!) into ‘our way of life’. He saw all ‘general renewal’ of our order as a ‘flow from a living and life-giving source, that is, prayer.’ He has well grasped, and shown us the path to true reform.
We either contemplate or we deteriorate. Losing the foundation of contemplation will weaken every other charism. Do we recognise that it is the Spirit as infused in us in prayer that must ‘fire’ our spirits to ‘release’, and ‘drive’ all other charisms? Reflect on the source of each charism: Brotherhood is ‘given to us’ and is borne up by prayer that makes of us a ‘mystical/contemplative fraternity’ (Evan.Gaud.92) and isn’t something we can ‘build’ by our efforts. Fruitfulness in Mission comes through our closeness with God as holiness - our strategies and efforts are not ‘the dynamo’ producing the end-results. Peace-Making is carried by prayerful ‘socially orientated internal renewal’ (EG18) as seen in Francis, so that God can open unimagined new avenues (e.g. with the Sultan in Damietta), so, Peace-Making is never our Franciscan ‘success story’. Governance is never just a task, but is uplifted into transparency and generosity through an expansion of heart that is gained through praying. So all personal transformation, all fraternity, every fertile activity, all renewal, springs out of a deeper return to God through prayer (Bonaventure’s reditus). We don’t generate any results - when we pray, we are regenerated so that good outcomes unfold effortlessly ‘in the Spirit’ – as Francis discovered.
Do we sense that we may be ‘losing our soul’? We can all too easily quash any prayer that is too demanding of oneself. What if there isn’t even any desire to pray? (PCOII3a,11).
The answer is that ‘doing’ contemplation has to move each brother into a felt experience of love. Only one’s own vibrant experience of being loved will convince that one’s prayer is worth looking forward to and setting time aside for. Only in the experiencing of it, will we steadily start enjoying ‘its touch’. It is then that we will want to go back for more.
But are we sure of, and confident in, the benefits and joys of contemplation?
So as to encourage, we do well to describe these consolations. What happens to one? You savour that your spirit is elevated, vitalised, exulted. His presence penetrates your deepest self. You are filled, softened and balmed. You feel total forgiveness, again and again. He enables you to befriend your very ‘self’, your inner child, the ‘you’ with your glaring weaknesses. God in his ‘coming to you’ embraces that ‘true self’, the ‘real you inside you’. Here ‘Godself’ meets ‘oneself’ so that ‘one’s self’ is again restored to fresh youthfulness - that original ‘you’ that you were always created to be (Ps 139). You move from anonymity to a ‘coming home’ in him - to ‘move out’ with him to serve. You are delighted - his unconditional love enfolds, and upholds your identity. It integrates all sexuality. You’re so transformed that you won’t recognise yourself.
[Thanks to Br. Kees Thönissen Ofm Cap]
To be continued in www.sgfcap.org