Seminar – A call to make Religious life as an experience of the joy of the Gospel

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Regional CRI Executive Team West Bengal Sikkim Region organised a seminar for CRI members of the region on Saturday 18th February 2017 at Archbishop’s House, Kolkata.  A large assembly of 103 priests, brothers and predominated by sisters participated in the meet.  The event commenced with the welcome rendered to all by the Sr. Anita M Braganza IBVM, the Provincial of Loreto Sisters, Kolkata and president of RCRI.  The Divine presence was invoked through a bhajan ‘Pavan Atmaah Javo Dil me mere” melodiously intoned by Sr. Jasmine FC and  devoutly chanted by all present.  Sr. Anita Braganza presented the Executive team of the Regional CRI headed by her as president, the vice president, Fr.V. Lawrence the delegate superior of the claretians  in the north,  treasurer Fr.Attley Gomes SFX, provincial of  Pillar fathers, members  Sr. Regina Kottackal FC, Provincial of the Daughters of the cross, Sr. Anselm Alunkal SJC, Provincial ,Cluny sisters Kolkata Province, and secretary Sr. Stella Davis FMA.

Sr. Anselm SJC then encapsulated   the National CRI meet held at St. Joseph Vaz Spirituality Centre, Old Goa from 19-22 January 2017 highlighting the  Theme ‘Call to be women  of Contemplation, Compassion and communion” expounded by  eminent speakers. Sr. Maria Anto CMC  spoke on contemplation and her talk could be synthesised as, to be worthy  of the name Religious one is supposed to be in constant dialogue of love with God and people.  The great challenge faced by  consecrated persons  is  to persevere in seeking God “with the eyes of faith in a world which ignores His presence”. Sr. Inigo Joachim SSA, elucidated the theme compassion recommending ‘We are encouraged to bring about a “mercy revolution” by undertaking spiritual and corporal works of Mercy and making it a way of Life. To conclude she left a stimulating question “What should we do so that our institutions and communities are islands of mercy as Pope Francis wants them to be?” Can we answer this question frankly and honestly?  Sr. Ananda Amritamahal RSCJ  explicated how the religious could be women of communion specifying that in a world where communion and relationships are reduced to screens machines we are called to build genuine relationships like that of the Trinity.

Rev. Fr. Lawrence CMF the resource person of the day took the stage to decode the topic of the day “Consecrated life’as experience of the joy of the Gospel and announcing it in our multi- faith Context”.  The prelude,“The whole universe is mystical and we need to keep in touch with this connectivity’, triggered enthusiasm and attention.  He said that the religious life could be summated into 4Cs, Consecration, communion, contemplation and commitment.

He further stated that the 4Cs  are very well incorporated in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. The bread and wine are consecrated into the body and blood of Jesus, we receive in communion, contemplate his presence in our hearts and then we go out and live the commitment of serving God in our neighbour.  The consecration is intrinsic in the fabric of Jewish background as prophets, priests and kings were consecrated for service.  People of Israel experienced his personal presence  in the cloud during the day and in the  Fire at night. In the old Testament altar represented the presence of God and poured blood as symbol of Israel’s blood relationship with Yahweh.  This real presence was an object of contemplation and various psalms express these sentiments,” I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.’ (Ps. 16.8) People of Israel were joyful for they were consecrated to God.  In the old testament writings joy was  differentiated “Samah” ordinary joy and ‘Alas” as exuberant joy.  In John 15:11 speaks of exuberant joy , the joy of Christ. This joy is the outcome of deep contemplation of the ever abiding presence of God which is a continuous 24 hours process or flow.

He then presented the present scenario of Religious life where there is a sharp decline in the numbers due to various factors. Every year there is phenomenon of  3000 or more leaving the religious life due to religious formalism, individualism and subjectivism.  We can re-instate religious life only when religious can become real contemplatives and mystics.

Fr. Lawrence  took the audience way back to the Desert Fathers of the 4th  Century early Christian hermits, ascetics, and monks who lived mainly in the desert of Egypt beginning around the third century AD. They lived at a transitional period a shift from  Diocletianic Persecution to the freedom and legalisation of Christian religion by   Diocletian’s successor Constantine. The Church moved away from the centrality of the cross. Those who wanted to live Christian life   radically   left for the desert and formed an alternate Christian society, at a time when it was no longer a risk to be a Christian. The solitude, austerity, and sacrifice of the desert were seen   as an alternative to martyrdom, which was formerly seen by many Christians as the highest form of sacrifice. They chose a life of extreme asceticism, renouncing all the pleasures of the senses and anything that made them comfortable to live core values of Christ. They instead focused their energies on praying, singing psalms, fasting, giving alms to the needy, and preserving love and harmony with one another while keeping their thoughts and desires for God alone.    In order to achieve contemplation and mysticism they spelt out triple goals and method used to achieve goals – Communion with God, Communion with humans and Communion with the cosmos.

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Many of the monks and nuns developed a reputation for holiness and wisdom, with the small communities following a particularly holy or wise elder, who was their spiritual father (abba) or mother (amma).  Slowly they developed a mystical tradition the practice of “interior silence and continual prayer.” ‘Prayer of the heart or Jesus’ prayer” “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner”. Continuous repeating of the prayer first verbally, then mentally and then in the heart enabled them to reach mysticism. The quote from the desert fathers is a sure indication of the communion they lived with God.

Mor Aphrem: “I have built a church in my soul, and I have offered up to the Lord the tra-vail of my body as incense and fragrance.  My spirit became the altar, my will the priest, and like a lamb without blemish I sacrificed myself.”

Abba Lucius, “I willshow you how, while doing my manual  work, I pray  without interruption. I sitdown with God, soaking my  reeds and plaiting  my ropes, and  I say “God, havemercy on me, according  to your great goodness and  according to the multitudeof your mercies,  save me from my sins.”  ‘ So he  asked them if this were notprayer and they replied it was. Then he said  to them, ‘So  when I shave spendthe whole  day working and praying, making  thirteen  pieces of money  more orless,  I put two pieces of  money outside the door and  I pay for my food withthe rest of the money. He who takes the two pieces of money prays for me when Iam eating and when I  am sleeping; so   , by the  grace of  God, I fulfil  theprecept to pray without ceasing.’ Abba Lucius in these words manifest how the monks lived this threefold communion with God, humans and nature living in natural set up.  They had intimate connection with the surroundings, they called themselves as the sand on the desert.

He concluded saying, we also should try expanding this consciousness of the communion we have with the cosmos.   If one truly love God then they will love humans and the cosmos.

What is important is not saying or reciting prayers but prayerfulness that is praying 24 hours, being  in touch with God’s presence, interiorly speaking to him and dialoguing with him.”

Reported by Sr. Stella D. FMA

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