Monday, May 7, 2007

Back to Work - May 7, 2007

This place was like a ghost town yesterday - everyone found ways to re-energize either individually or in groups - and today, like those purveyors of fine time jewelry and fashion handbags purveying their wares on the street next to the Vatican yesterday, the whole group returned in a flash to the business at hand. There was one major difference that was noticable; we were all much more at ease. You could tell by the level of noise in the room (softer) and the demeanor of the moderators (relatively relaxed). People have settled in and ready to move ahead. The image of a milk-horse comes to mind, except that it neither conveys the high energy that remains nor is it very flattering, so I won't use it.

This morning we were addressed by the last person on the list of outside speakers who had been invited to help us understand the reality of today in the world, in the church, and in religious life. She was Sister Mary Sujita, SND, who is the Superior General (I don't know if they call her that) of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. She is a calm, articulate, and an evidently forward-thinking woman whose comments to us centered around, to my ears, our life of faith as religious and the key role that working with the poor has in finding out where God wants us to be. Key phrases that I wrote down included:
  • Sometimes our communities provide for us so well that God has a hard time to find a chance to provide for us.
  • A little smell and touch of poverty helps us to keep our perspective right.
  • Jesus and his mission are the only reason for consecrated life.
  • What are the spiritual disciplines that mark our ministry?
  • If there is no threat to us, we have co-opted to the values of the world.
  • Mission is not only about what is and was but also about what might be.
  • We must live a "spirituality of sufficiency" within our ministries (where you can say "Enough is enough"); where I'm able to find joy when I don't have everything.
  • The Gospel challenges us to be more and to have less. "Being more" is a loving more within ourselves - a rootedness based on interiority (my word) that radiates peace and cannot be shaken by outside factors, in ministry or community or elsewhere.
  • Re vocations: Why do we want vocations is a key question? We should be concerned about creating islands of hope rather than kingdoms (as in the past, or for maintaining what we have).
  • There is no way of doing the mission of Jesus except in how he did it.
  • "Simplicity" she defines as an outstanding inner freedom.
  • We're so busy working for the Lord that we don't have time to be with the Lord.
  • Creating an asceticism in our lives is to find time to be, and having the audacity to say "No, this is enough."
  • Be men of spiritual stamina, with a passion for spiritual depth; share deeply one's faith experiences, one's inner fire.
  • Don't die before you die (regarding "retired members"). Some people are just waiting to be buried.
  • Don't wait for everyone to move. Here a litte, there a little; it will catch fire
Those are in no particular order, but you can see the consistent themes. The text of her talk is in a PDF document at this link.

As with the other speakers, while her talk was excellent, it was during the question-and-answer period that some of the real nuances and applications to the Chapter's work over the next few weeks began to become evident. Earlier on, the Central Commission had decided to be less formal with these questions (where groups had to come up with several, then have their linguistic secretaries combine them into several key questions, then have a spokesperson ask them in the hall) and to have discussion groups submit a couple of questions directly before opening it up to the whole chapter hall. Her answers were all insightful and direct. I believe that she had a very positive impact. She remained with us for lunch and there were many who spoke with her at the table and afterwards.

After lunch, I went to the room where the Region of Latin America would have their "presentation" tonight, in order to let them use my guitar and speaker setup. The guitar was fine, but the speaker system, a 70 lbs. portable Peavey Escort 2000 system that I had dragged here from Sacramento, didn't cooperate. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that I failed to make the 110 - 220 Volt fuse switch on the unit. All I remember is that I plugged it in, turned it on, and then saw the lights come on for a couple of seconds and then fade out. No matter what fiddling I did with it afterwards, it didn't do a thing. Hopefully, it was just a fuse and I can figure out how to replace it. It would be a shame to find that out that I fried it when I plugged it in. In any case, the room's speaker system did a fine job of amplifying the sound, so it wasn't even needed after all.

This afternoon, it seemed like no time at all before we were back in the Aula Magna for the afternoon's session on the Rules of Procedure - actually it's called the "Handbook" of the Members of the Chapter. In any case, there were a number of details that had to be straightened out, and if nothing else, the Brothers at the Chapter are into details as an occupational necessity and are very good at it. It was fascinating to simply follow along and say "Yes, that's right - good insight" followed by another intervention on the same point, perhaps an opposite view, and say again "Oh Yeah, that works too." Finally, when on one of the points it was clear that there was no consensus, a couple of strategic questions to the assembly on the topic by the moderators, followed by indicative votes, made clear where people wanted to go. As I said, fascinating how this may be done with a multi-lingual, multi-cultural group.

However, at some point I was drooping and reaching that point where closing one's eyes for even ten seconds immediately lauches the brain into an alpha state and it's only with the most deliberative of efforts that you force yourself to at least open your eyes in the hope of again reaching the "in between" stage before your head thumps on the desk. And so prudently I went up to my room for a little nap - the perogative of "staff" during long sessions like this that apply only to the Capitulants.

A couple of hours later I was right as rain - and it was raining and thundering outside. The Brothers were gathered in linguistic groups to choose a language representative for the Central Commission, to provide an evaluation of the Chapter thus far, according to an evaluation sheet that the Facilitators created this morning (that's a pictue of the facilitators up above, putting the evaluation together), to prepare questions for the meetings with Brother Superior and his Councillors tomorrow, and to close with a common prayer, for which I had given the prayer leaders some ideas and suggestions.

Most of the groups finished their work a bit before dinner, so that they could have a break. Towards the end of dinner, there was a nagging sense in the back of my head, and then I remembered that of course we would have a Central Commission meeting tonight to talk about tomorrow. Off I went to the meeting, which now included three new people, one each from each of the language groups. We took the full 45 minutes to work out details for the next day and then adjourned to the RELAL (Latin American Region) for their evening of sharing and fiesta. Earlier, they had sent around representative to personally invite every person to attend the festivities.

It was another evening of singing and dancing, this time directed towards an appreciation of the Latin American culture. There were videos, there was loud singing by everyone, there were acclamations for those celebrating birthdays today, and there was a lot of fun. One of the highlights was one of the Brothers dancing a traditional dance with one of the Guadulapanas Sisters, although this time she was dressed in a traditional Latin American costume. It was all quite enjoyable and a celebration of fraternity. One of the Brothers remarked how great it was that we could be very serious one part of the day and later on have a tremendous amount of fun together. I would agree.

More pictures may be found at