Pope Francis named 2015 as “The Year of Religious Consecration”, in order to help religious and others reflect on the life, charism and gift that is religious life for the Church.
And as I personally approach my fiftieth year of religious profession as a La Salette Missionary, I can testify that that I have been asked countless times several questions:
• What is a charism?
• What is the charism of La Salettes?
• How can we – laity and religious alike – live and make known the message of La Salette?
The following questions are given in a catechism format with accompanying reflection questions in order to explain the often-unknown topic our La Salette charism of reconciliation.
a) What is the meaning of the word “charism”?
Many of us are quite familiar with the Greek word, charisma, meaning a special magnetic charm or appeal. From this same root comes the word, charism, describing an extraordinary gift flowing from God’s love to human beings. We will discuss the basics of charism as recognized in the life and ministry of the La Salette Missionaries and those which whom they minister and share this charism.
Reflection Question: Whom do you consider as a person with true charisma? And why?
b) Where did the word “charism” first enter into the life and ministry of the Church?
It was Saint Paul who took the Greek word, charisma, meaning free gift or favor, and introduced it into a religious context, using it to mean a free gift of grace. It is a supernatural gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit on an individual who is to use it for the benefit of the community.
“So there are many different kinds of charisms which are related to various forms of service and functions within the Christian community, and the classic text is found in 1 Corinthians 12:7: “The particular manifestation of the Spirit granted to each one is to be used for the general good” (1).
c) Why do we only find it primarily in St. Paul’s letters?
Perhaps due to Paul’s quite challenging pastoral ministry with the Christians at Corinth, he developed a theology of gifts, trying to dislodge the early Church's understanding of "charism" from the realm of sensational phenomena and miracles and instead place "charism" in the ordered life of the community (2).
“St. Paul's guiding principle is that the gifts which build up and strengthen the whole body are to be preferred to the more personal gifts… All gifts, however, are subject to genuine charity and are counted as worthless without love… Paul places charity at the basis of all charisms. Actually "charity" and "love" describe the same reality” (3). He concludes by saying, “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13).
Therefore some of the important characteristics of "charism" are:
1) Charisms are gifts of the Holy Spirit;
2) The gifts of the Holy Spirit play a vital role in the "constitution and daily life of the Church";
3) All believers by virtue of their baptism are recipients of charisms;
4) Charisms are given to individuals primarily for the building up of the Body of Christ (4). As Paul says, “So with yourselves: since you strive eagerly for spirits, seek to have an abundance of them for building up the church” (1 Cor 14:12).
Reflection Question: Whom do you know who evidently has one of the gifts listed by St. Paul (namely, patience, kindness, one who is merciful; one who serves, teachers, evangelizes, heals, leads, helps, speaks, prophecies – that is, speaks the truth; one who has faith, hope or love)?
d) More recently, how has “charism” become connected with religious life?
“It was Pope Paul VI who first used the word ‘charisms’ officially in the context of consecrated life. He did so in his apostolic exhortation of 29 June 1971, Evangelica testification, #11, where, in writing about ‘the charisms of founders,’ he echoed the teachings of chapter 5 of Lumen Gentium and those of Perfectae Caritatis and, in doing so, challenged consecrated women and men to focus on their unique gifts to the church. Even the most casual observer of the history of consecrated life notices that, since the Second Vatican Council, the vocabulary of consecrated religious is far more conscious and respectful of particular charisms…” (5).
e) Why is an exploration and understanding of a community’s charism so important since Vatican II?
For both women and men religious, Vatican II substantially reinforced the role of laity in the church (through its emphases on the universal call to holiness and to evangelization), but did not clarify for religious the unique contribution of their vocation” (6).
With this change in understanding also came other challenges for religious:
1) “…the old definition of religious life as a state of perfection or privileged way to holiness was discarded and the traditional understanding of the vows and community life eroded or replaced.
2) At the same time a new, internally consistent alternative definition was proposed by theologians and writers, namely, religious life as prophetic witness” (7).
Reflection Questions: Do you remember any aspects of “the old definition of religious life” in your experience as a child? For example, change in habits, rules, etc.? How is it different today? In what ways do you see religious life as a “prophetic witness”?
f) In exploring the charism of the La Salette Missionaries, since they were founded by a one-time decision of the local bishop with no specific desired spirituality for their mission, how do they explore their charism?
Sandra Schneiders answers this question by saying:
“(T)he Council (of Vatican II) was especially concerned… that… the particular order or congregation… return to the "charism of their founder” (8).
“As all Religious know, a great deal of time and energy has been expended on the attempt to rediscover and reinvigorate the ‘charism of the founder.’ …What was a group to do… if it had no founder other than a bishop or a parish priest who (perhaps)… had little or no understanding of Religious Life itself?... Most threatening of all, what if there does not appear to be a distinct spirituality characteristic of the founder or of the founding period?…
“Recently, some writers on Religious Life, both theologians and historians, have advanced the hypothesis that the "charism" of the particular order (rather than of the founder) is what is significant for the identity and life of the community. In other words, it is not so much a full-blown vision at the moment of initiation that has worked itself out over the history of the group but it is the ongoing "deep narrative" (or “deep story”) developed throughout the community's history with its attendant myths and symbols, outstanding events and persons, struggles and triumphs, projects and challenges,… that has become the inner heritage of each member down through the years, giving them a shared identity…
“I am persuaded that such collective and seemingly non-spectacular charisms are no less authentic, valid, and powerful than the more illustrious individual charisms of the Benedicts or the Teresas… The Church has always claimed that the measure of greatness is not publicity or recognition, nor even theological or literary productivity, but effective charity. The vital question is not, “Who founded us?” but “Who have we become by the grace of God?” (9)
g) How then do we understand the idea of charism in the life and ministry of the La Salette Missionaries?In an attempt to visualize and further explain the idea of “deep story”, we refer to the book, The Beating of Great Wings, by theologian, Dr. Bernard Lee, SM. In it he describes charism not as a “thing” but as a relationship between two things. It is a relationship between the Deep Story of the congregation (all the persons and events that have shaped its life) and the needs of the times.
Dr. Lee teaches that when the Deep Story of a congregation meets the needs of the times in a way that causes an “explosion of grace,” charism happens. Since both the Deep Story and the needs of the times are each evolving, it follows that the relationship between them, the charism, also evolves.
Therefore, Lee suggests that it is not helpful to use the verb “preserve” in relation to the charism as if it were a static reality. He suggests that congregations would be better served by using the verb “reinvent.” In other words, the charism needs to be invented anew in each age as the Deep Story encounters the needs of the times in new ways (10).
h) What are some possible examples of the La Salette Missionary’s “charism moments” (or “explosions of grace”) throughout their history:
o In Mary’s visit at La Salette, God chose two simple, unschooled children to carry out her mandate to “make this message known to all my people.” God helped these children to remain true to this message and mission until they finally went back to the Father.
o Through Mary, in her words and her presence at La Salette, God invites us to be concerned and compassionate ministers of her Son’s message of forgiveness and reconciliation: “Make this message known.” In God’s wisdom, Christ invites us to be co-creators of the Kingdom in this most holy work of evangelization. All who have heard this message are asked to act on it and share it with all they meet.
o God inspired Bishop de Bruillard not only to establish a La Salette Shrine on that Holy Mountain but also to state: “there is something still more important, namely the ministers of religion destined to look after it, to receive the pious pilgrims, to preach the word of God to them, to exercise towards them the ministry of reconciliation, to administer the Holy Sacrament of the altar, and to be, to all, the faithful dispensers of the mysteries of God and the spiritual treasures of the Church. These priests shall be called the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette; their institution and existence shall be, like the Shrine itself, an eternal monument, a perpetual remembrance of Mary's merciful apparition.”
o God gave us strong and inspired men to lead our community in those important beginning years, including Frs. Pierre Archier, Sylvain-Marie Giraud, Auguste Chapuy, Joseph Perrin, and Pierre Pajot. Sharing very humble backgrounds, these men became strong, inspired workers for the kingdom.
o The Holy Spirit guided our initial La Salette community leaders to broaden their vision well beyond their native France, eventually spreading Mary’s message to the four corners of the earth.
o In the following years, God led the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, then recently established in the United States, to reach out to “all her people” by inspiring them to explore and found our community in Canada, Brazil, the Philippines, Myanmar, and more recently Haiti. Supported by Mary’s mandate, our worldwide La Salette Community now ministers in at least twenty-five countries and counting.
o God has strengthened the will of our membership to continue their ministry of reconciliation in countries that were experiencing war and civil strife, even to the point of losing their lives in serving the people of God.
o Our La Salette Community worldwide has welcomed ministry with the La Salette Sisters to make Mary’s message known, and we have recently pledged to work more closely with them on many levels.
o God has enlightened our community to appreciate the gift of laity as co-workers in the mission of reconciliation, begun with Maximin and Melanie. Presently there are thousands of La Salette Laity around the world who have and are continuing to live and share Mary’s message with her people.
Reflection Questions: In this listing of “charism moments”, are there any which you find especially notable? Can you personally add any other “charism moments” which you (or someone you know) may have experienced in the history of the La Salette Community?
i) How have the teachings of Vatican II encouraged a connection between religious and laity connected with them – such as our own La Salette Laity?
Many (groups) stated that the teachings of the church (from Vatican II) on communion and the fundamental equality of all persons enabled them to recognize the members of the religious (community) and the members of their lay associates as belonging to the one family in Christ. Both share in the charism or spirituality and the mission of the (community), yet the religious and their associates live and express the charism in distinct ways (11).
j) What are some possibilities for education and participation of La Salette Laity in the life and ministry of the La Salette Missionaries?
Many of the programs formed (for associated laity) since Vatican Council II… are closely bonded to the religious and the (community) to which they are joined, experiencing, learning, and integrating the (community's) charism and spirituality. The religious (communities) place great emphasis and invest much of their members' time, talent, and effort in forming the associated laity in the spirit of (their community).
The programs for associated laity are often directed by an experienced religious... At times other members assist the director, acting as mentors to the associates. The associates (may) join the religious for communal prayer and social occasions at local, regional, provincial, and general levels of the (Community). Some associates have participated in the general or provincial chapters (12).
k) How can La Salette Laity share in this La Salette charism of reconciliation?
In his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata in 1996, Pope St. John Paul II said:
“Today, often as a result of new situations, many institutes have come to the conclusion that their charism can be shared with the laity. The laity are therefore invited to share more intensely in the spirituality and mission of these (communities). We may say that, in the light of certain historical experiences…, a new chapter, rich in hope, has begun in the history of relations between consecrated persons and the laity” (VC, #54) (13).
Reflection Questions: Do you agree with the statement: “…in the light of certain historical experiences…, a new chapter, rich in hope, has begun in the history of relations between consecrated persons and the laity”? And why? How do you feel about what we have discussed about the La Salette charism of reconciliation? Has it been helpful? How?
(1) Charism, a talk by Fr. Wilfred Harrington, S.J.
(2) Fraternal Life in Community, #45.
(3) Charism, Glenmary Missioners
(5) Regis J. Armstrong, OFMCap., “Francis’s Charism, Tree-Huggers and the Eucharist” in Review For Religious, no. 65-2, 2006, pg. 138
(6) David J. Nygren, CM, and Miriam D. Ukeritis, CSJ., The Future of Religious Orders in the United States, Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993, “Affiliative Decline and Role Clarity,” pgs. 248-249.
(7) Doris Gottmoeller, RSM, “Religious Life: Where does it fit in today’s Church?” in Review for Religious, vol. 57:2, March-April, 1998, pg. 150, italics added.
(8) cf. Perfectae Caritatis (Renewal of Religious Life), #2, followed by Evangelica Testificatio (Apostolic Exhortation on the Renewal of Religious Life), #11)…
(9) Schneiders, Finding the Teasure: Locating Religious Life in a new Ecclesial and Cultural Context, Paulist Press, Mahweh, NJ, pgs. 286-288, bold italics added.
(10) diagram of deep story
(11) Rose McDermott, SSJ, “Identity, Purpose, Organization: Ongoing Associate Programs” in Review For Religious, vol. 58:5, Sept-Oct., 1999, pg. 529, italics added.
(12) Rose McDermott, SSJ, “Identity, Purpose, Organization: Ongoing Associate Programs” in Review For Religious, vol. 58:5, Sept-Oct., 1999, pg. 531.
(13) Deborah M. Cerullo, SSND, “Charism and membership: Surpassing the Institutional Limits of Religious Life” in Review For Religious, vol. 58:5, Sept.-Oct., 1999, pgs. 519-520, italics added.
Prayer of Thanksgiving to Jesus through Our Lady of La Salette
Loving Mother of La Salette,
how can we ever express sufficient thanks to your Son
for the many blessings he has showered upon us
through his loving concern for all his children.
As Mother of the Church,
you teach us by word and example
how to praise and give thanks to God not only in moments of joy,
but also in the more difficult events of life.
We do give thanks to your Son
for the mighty power of God's Spirit living within us,
showing forth even in our weakness.
May Jesus make us worthy, most gracious Lady,
of these precious gifts, until we can thank him
one day with you in Paradise. Amen.
Our Lady of La Salette, Reconciler of sinners,
Pray without ceasing for us who have recourse to you.