PNG PIME missionary reflects on faith as Institute’s General Assembly nears
The next PIME General Assembly (Chapter) is at the door (May 2013). As I have been reflecting about it, several topics came to my mind. While we are getting into a YEAR OF FAITH, I thought of my reflection for the General Assembly along the line of faith, because PIME is a missionary institute with the purpose of reaching out to people for sharing faith and work of evangelization, especially to the non-Christian part of the world. Therefore, while we have been discussing a lot about ‘ad gentes’, internationalization and finances, I have a strong feeling that we are missing the faith perspective. What is faith and evangelization? What is the transmission of faith?
Transmission of faith has at least three basic aspects: Contents, Experience and Acts.
1. The contents of faith are:
• Learning and understanding of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit
• Learning and understanding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus
• Learning and understanding of words and deeds of Jesus
• Learning and understanding of the Bible
• Learning and understanding of the Sacraments in a more concrete way
• Learning and understanding of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
• Learning and understanding of the tradition and history of the Catholic Church
• Learning and understanding of the official teachings of the Church
• Learning and understanding of the social teachings of the Church
• Learning and understanding of the moral and ethical life of a Christian
• Learning and understanding of the history/biography of the saints
The transmission of faith is not just the survival of the community. It is the right of all baptized people to discover the faith into which they have been accepted and to enjoy the means they need to live and grow in the Mystery they have received. Therefore, in a particular way every member of PIME needs to personally assimilate the contents of faith through a regular reading, reflection and learning.
It can easily be understood that the nature of Christian truth is relational and personal, as well as cognitive. Relational refers to one’s own constant contact/touch with the reality of the above mentioned learning and understanding exercise. Personal means one’s own personal interest and commitment in engaging in learning and understanding. The relationship in which and through which Christian truth is mediated and encountered is relevant. Thus, it’s an important task for the PIME members to build up relationships rooted in prayer, spirituality and faith.
2. The experience of faith is:
• Engaging in regular personal prayer
• Engaging in regular reading and reflection of the Word of God
• Engaging in regular community prayer
• Regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation
• Regular and active participation in the liturgy
• An experience of responsibility to the youth group, couple’s group, women/mother’s group, men/father’s group or any devotional group/movements in the Church according to each one’s ministry
• Intergenerational responsibility: this means engaging in the prayer, spirituality and faith experiences with a sense of continuity from one generation to the next.
The experience of faith is basically generated from the assimilation of the content of faith in the personal life, which leads one to discover his vocation to the priestly/brotherly life. Thus the PIME community lives in permanent mission and every member participates in it – that is the experience of faith. Formation is concerned about helping everyone find and understand his vocation, and the mission that flows from it, giving access to the resources that develop and sustain it, and that shape it to the mission of the Church.
Speaking about faith at the final Mass of the World Youth Day, in Madrid, Spain, in August 2011, Pope Benedict said, “Faith starts with God, who opens His heart to us and invites us to share in His own divine life. Faith does not simply provide information about who Christ is; rather, it entails a personal relationship with Christ, a surrender of our whole person, with all our understanding, will and feelings, to God’s self-revelation.”
Therefore one should know that:
• Only prayer roots us in Christ
• Only prayer sustains the dignity and purpose allowing us to experience the reality of God’s presence
• Only prayer produces reverence for all things that are holy
• Only prayer sustains the space and silence our spirits need if we are indeed to be guided and formed by God’s Holy Spirit (Archbishop Vincent Nicholas of Westminster, 20th October 2011).
3. The acts of faith are:
• Deeds of compassion generated from the personal/communitarian prayer and spirituality
• Generosity and sacrifice that nourish faith from the personal/communitarian prayer and spirituality
• Building up the community in a proper and responsible way with the prayer and spirituality where one lives
• Building up the children groups, youth groups, couples groups, women/mothers groups, men/fathers groups with a sense of prayer and spirituality depending on one’s ministry
• Service to others: particularly to the children, young, orphans, physically/mentally handicapped people, socially handicapped people, old and sick with prayer and spiritual motivation.
Therefore, from the content of faith through an experience of faith one becomes naturally an agent of acts of faith by reaching out to others, aiming at the good of the person and society. The papal encyclical by Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), makes clear that the work of the Church and its agencies in the relief of poverty and needs of every kind must always be a work springing from the love of Christ. In actual fact Deus Caritas Est highlights the dire need for “the formation of the heart” of today’s missionaries.
PIME Regional and General Assemblies contribute to the spiritual welfare of the members and are necessary to the flowering of their potentials at each stage of their lives. The Institute’s task, therefore, embraces all educational activities and endeavors. The fullest realization of a person’s capacity not only allows her a richer life, thus realizing the good of creation, but also creates more possibilities for personal service and contribution to society. The fashioning of a listening heart is a crucial part of our desire to engage with society. In this way the common good is furthered. When the content of faith is weak, the experience of faith becomes superficial and acts of faith become a mere social action. And the quality of such person’s life will appear to be something between perfect self-acceptance and total despair. For such people it is very hard to transmit the faith to others and engage in genuine evangelization.
Further implications of genuine faith
The real signs of faith and evangelization ultimately show up in vocations. So, why don't vocation programs seem to work? Because vocation programs need to reveal true disciples. But some may not be there yet. The real remedy to our vocation problem is not a bigger and better vocation program. Rather, the remedy will be found at the most basic level of discipleship, the universal call to holiness: knowing Jesus. Once people come to know Jesus, repent of their sins, experience conversion, and become disciples, they will naturally draw others to follow him too, in whatever vocation they are called.
No matter how well-crafted PIME Constitutions and Directory is, or how well formators have been trained, or how well-developed a program may be, no matter how much time, effort and money was put into formation programs and into the General Assembly; it is all for naught without discipleship based on genuine faith. We may get things done, but that doesn't necessarily mean that things are being done for the sake of the Kingdom.
Disciples beget disciples. If PIME members begin to take discipleship based on a genuine faith and evangelization, there won't be a vocation problem, because ultimately our vocation problem is a lack in discipleship. The solution to this problem is so fundamental that it is often overlooked and misdiagnosed, but the remedy is as old as the Gospel itself. If we, as PIME missionaries, take the call to discipleship and evangelization more seriously, the vocation problem will be lessened.
While the General Assembly is very much concerned about so many things, it would be appropriate to refer our faith and faith practices as members of PIME; much more so considering the fact that the Chapter will be celebrated during the Year of Faith!
Fr. Shanthi Chacko Puthussery PIME
Goroka, 15th August 2012
(CBC Communications 200812 – firstname.lastname@example.org)