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Trang chính Lối Sống

What kind of people



The following is the keynote address of Father Terry Charlton, S.J., Ecclesiastical Assistant of the Christian Life Community in Kenya, given at the International Formation Encounter of English‑ speaking African CLC, in Johannesburg, South Africa in April 1997.

 • • •

My father was a butcher, and he started his own business selling all kinds of meat and other food. Of course, he had to be supplied with the various items he sold, and I remember that one of his business associates who sold my dad chickens was named McFarland. Actually, it was a family business with several brothers involved. Their delivery truck was dark green with yellow lettering which read, "McFarland Poultry: the Chicken People". I haven't thought of the McFarlands, the Chicken People, for years until I was planning this Keynote. I realized that what I wanted to do was to discover and describe us CLCers: What kind of People are we? 

Nearly a year ago, in preparation for this keynote, I began thinking and reading about what characterizes us most fundamentally and perhaps uniquely in CLC. I thought of the obvious elements that make up our way of life: first, our relationship to God in Jesus and our spirituality; second, our commitment of mission; and, third, our emphasis on living as community. I came up with too many descriptions. We are the Jesus People ‑ nothing too original there ‑ or the Ignatian People, CLC, the Community People or the Mission People. I was stuck regarding what really grounds us.

Then, a thought occurred to me. Our theme for this International Formation Encounter for English Speaking Africa is "CLC Mission in Africa: Living Our Ignatian Identity," and we wanted to focus on our identity as discovered through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I realized that we have an excellent resource in Kenya for discovering our identity, for recognizing what kind of people we are. There are some 20 CLCers in Kenya who have made the full Spiritual Exercises, or are making them, mostly in daily life. Why not ask them? I sent each a letter with some questions about each one's experience of the Spiritual Exercises as connected with spirituality, community and mission and also an "any other comments" question.

When I began to read the responses, what kind of people we are just seemed to jump off the pages; the word itself wasn't used so frequently, but the reality of who we are as formed by the Exercises was manifest. Can you guess what I found? CLC: we are the Discernment People.

What I would like to do during the next few minutes is reflect on responses which I received from these Kenyan CLCers and share some reflections on what I think they are saying to us about our identity: CLC, the Discernment People.

As we listen, I ask that we do not listen passively but listen attentively: not just attentive to my words but attentive to what is being said about your own personal experience of the Exercises and your personal and national experience of CLC. Let us listen with minds and with hearts and see if we discover something of our CLC identity.

I said that the word, discernment, was not used so frequently by my respondents; but one member, in summarizing what the Exercises did for her, said, "The Exercises helped me to make decisions in life ". The word here is discernment. She said that she learned to stay with the process, to give it time and to seek the Lord's will, whatever the outcome. I am going to quote another Exercitant quite at length on his central purpose for making the Exercises and what he discovered:

The Spiritual Exercises have been described as "an infallible way of knowing God's will for a person". That is what initially attracted me to them. "Aha!" I thought, "An automatic, certain way of knowing what God wants me to do. How convenient!" And I have found that it is an "infallible way of knowing God's will for me". But not in the way I expected. On retreat in 1993 and in the years since then, I have grown in realizing that God's will is that I realize how much I am loved by God and then that I respond, freely and generously to this love. In responding, I have grown in seeing how God loves us all and all creation and works in it and through it to bring it to fulfillment. My response to God's love invites me also to work (and prepare myself to work more effectively) in my specific life situation so that God's glory may be seen and magnified.

The Spiritual Exercises were a powerful means for me to grow in knowing and loving Christ. They were also a strong invitation to show this love through serving God and my fellow humans in the specific circumstances of my daily life and social situation. But the growth started then did not end with the 30th day of the retreat. Even now 4 years later, I continue to deepen what I experienced then. Each new day, I continue to be invited to know Christ better, to love Christ more, to serve more faithfully.

The Exercises have been a doorway, opening me to an ever‑greater experience of God and of invitation to response through service.

In this reflection we hear from someone who wanted to make the Exercises "to discover God's will infallibly". And he discovered that to do so was not principally in making one concrete choice which would determine the whole course of his life. Rather, the infallibility was in discovering God's love for him and a relationship with Jesus and in experiencing the call to make a return in living for the greater glory of God. It is this vision that he is to continue to apply with discernment in the way he responds in the concrete, developing situations in which he finds himself.

Created and Redeemed in Love

Like this man just quoted, so many CLCers spoke of how foundational the realization of God's love was for their life vision. One woman spoke about how there came to her "an image of God the Father with a little child being tossed in the air and the child laughing and looking so satisfied with itself and with the Father. " Deep in me I recognize that is what my relationship with the Father should be, so simple, so loving and so trusting! "

Many tied their deep realization of Gold's love with how God treats them as sinners. This same woman also said, "The Exercises enable me to know that I am known, loved and accepted by God. I need not ever have a defense lawyer! For he is no prosecutor! He understands, he accepts, he forgives and he loves!"

Another says, "The Spiritual Exercises underscore the unconditional love of God for me. The realization that God continues to love me even in my state of sin makes it easier for me to reciprocate the same love and continue to commune with him even at the moment I feel unworthy of his love. "

A third says, "The relationship between me and God is all out of God's love for us. God has chosen us to be one with him, to be part of his great work of art in all of creation. Christ is living evidence of the Father's will to keep this relationship even after we have broken it with our sins and weakness.... [Christ] loved us so much despite our poor response, even to that extent of dying painfully on the cross."

These dynamics of the Principle and Foundation and the First Week provide several important perspectives for the vision out of which we discern.

First, as we recognize God's love for us in the context of God's plan for creation, we realize that God gives us a part to play, and we want to take up that part. An Exercitant remarks, "My relationship with him continues to be one where I am a pot in the potter's hand; every minute becomes a graced moment to be fashioned and transformed into that which he can use, and he also does this to keep reminding me I am special and loved! He fashions me for a purpose that I am yet to discover!"

As a person loved and with a purpose, each of us wants to be open to discerning always the way which God is calling each to take in order to realize this purpose.

Secondly, because of God's unconditional love of us, even in our darkest, most sinful parts, we gradually come to open up every aspect of ourselves to God. One CLCer states, "The Exercises involve opening myself up to God and going to explore places within my heart that under other circumstances I would comfortably ignore. In this process, I tread paths of deep hurt that have been carefully wrapped and put away. I invite God to heal me."  Thus, the dynamics of the early part of the Exercises enable us to have the confidence to look at our whole selves and all our experiences as places to become more free and to grow and to learn more of God's will; our whole selves are opened up and made available to God for the sake of discernment.

Finally, as we recognize that God's love is most profoundly manifested in Jesus Christ and that we are saved in him, the way is prepared for the latter part of the Exercises where we are bound more deeply to living in conformity with the way of Christ.

Following Christ on Mission

Let us turn now to these dynamics of the latter parts of the Exercises in order to see how they contribute to our becoming discerning persons. Experiencing Christ is so central to the Exercises. I quote at length one Exercitant who captures this well: 

Through the experience of the Exercises, I have come to experience Christ, not anymore as a person written about and spoken of by others, but as someone who is real and concerned and present in my everyday life. Someone to pray to but also someone to share a very personal joke with. Someone who challenges me to the discomfort of going beyond my perceived limits, but someone who is always present and supporting me. Because of the experiences of the Exercises, following Christ is no longer a matter of imitating only Christ's external actions but of seeking to grow in having the heart and mind and love of Christ, from which his actions sprang. By growing in [this way], I am (and will be!) better able to respond to the situations of my life and act in a more Christian, Christ‑like way. 

In a fundamental way, Christ is the principle of discernment by which we decide how to live our lives. Another CLCer reiterates the same point: "I am able to recognize that, by being a Christian, I claim to be a follower of Christ, to share his opinions, values, orientations, etc, which means that all my life's actions should be geared towards the love of God and my neighbour. " 

CLC members recognize that their following of Christ is about living according to his values and not the values of the world, the values of Satan. One Exercitant puts it succinctly: 

"The difference the Exercises make in my life is that I stop measuring my performance (i.e., how I live my life) against others or against outside references and begin measuring my performance according to my inner self and what I truly believe and value." Another speaks more at length: 

"I realize my mission is to be like Jesus: humble, to choose everything according to the will of our Father, to be poor, mocked, and to opt for the poor, to speak openly and honestly, to help the social outcast and imprisoned, to heal and clothe [those in need], and above all to love as Jesus did. My mission is not one where I should seek riches, esteem, power but simply service for the betterment of those around me. This is what counts." 

Our lives of response, then, are about mission. To follow Christ is to be on mission. So our discernment is always directed toward being on mission. One CLCer says, "The challenge in Christian life is in mission, and the Exercises bring this home by making me focus totally and, as companion, on Christ whose life was all mission, thereby making it easy, almost automatic, to keep saying yes to his call." Another suggests what all this means concretely: 

As a working lay Christian, I am able to understand what mission means and to work towards living that out. In all my daily undertakings, I am to put Christ first and to relate to his values and make a conscious effort to act as I should as a Christian. This I understand as my first mission; if I am a parent, I should be a responsible parent. In my work, as I supervise those below me, I should see the image of Christ Jesus in them and treat them so. As a Christian, I am called to be of service to others. In this way I am following Christ's words of how he came to set captives free and to give sight to the blind. I am to seek and find what service God is calling me to do. 

We can summarize by saying that our discerning lives are founded in our following of Jesus Christ whose values and way of life serve as a basis for our discernment. As we grow, our discernment concentrates more and more on our living lives of mission, which implies that we become discerning with regard to every aspect of our lives in order to become more effective in our service. 

Lived in Community 

As the Discernment People, we CLCers need to emphasize the community dimension of our lives. One Exercitant says "In the Exercises, I am able to meditate on the life of Christ Jesus while here on earth, his relationships and community with the disciples as well as personal friends like Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary. This emphasizes to me the importance of those who help me in my journey of faith. My community is there to share my joys and sorrows with, to give a listening ear and to understand what I want to communicate. " 

In our CLC community, we find people who share the same Ignatian vision which founds our discerning lives. We find others who inspire us by living out the vision to which we aspire; we realize, as one says, "that as people who live and believe in the same way, [we] can make a difference in society today." We find a home with Christians who support us in trying to live our vision; another speaks of how her CLC experience "creates in me a desire for closeness and sharing with other people sharing common values". The give and take of our CLC communities provides the environment which energizes us to keep discerning in order to live our CLC vision more completely. 

Living a Charism 

Through the reflections of CLC members, I have described some aspects of how I believe we as CLC are challenged to be the Discernment People. This is true in our vision, received through the experience of the Exercises, whereby we become grounded in God's unconditional love which enables us progressively to become more and more free so that we may follow Christ in mission with the support of our CLC community. 

My own discernment about CLC as the Discernment People has led me to begin considering discernment as our special CLC charism. It is a gift of God by which we live our lives and give ourselves to mission. Yet it is something broader. If discernment is truly our charism, it is meant to be a gift of service for the wider Church. 

In addition to the ways, about which I have already spoken, that we use our gift of discernment in our mission way of life, I am now suggesting that we are being called to make ourselves available to serve as a leaven in the Church, to help the Church, at various levels where we have input, become more discerning as it is called upon to make decisions in our challenging times. Whether it be in our small Christian Communities, on a parish council, on some diocesan committee, or in just giving support to another Christian living through a difficult period, we are called to see how we can bring our charism of discernment to bear. Perhaps, it will be to recognize a group dynamic which is interfering with a group's making a free decision. Perhaps, in a discussion, it will be to raise an important Christian value to which the group has not been attending. Perhaps, it will be to call for a few minutes of prayer where there is danger of a hasty decision. Let us be sensitive about how the Discernment People is called to exercise its charism in the wider Church. 

As I bring my words to a close, I call us to keep before us during these ten days the question of what it means to our CLC identity to be the Discernment People. Let us stay sensitive to how for ourselves and for all the CLCers in our various countries, we can deepen and expand our CLC vision so that we become more committed to living discerning lives. Let us better discover how we can allow God's grace more effectively to set us free. Let us see how we can give ourselves to implementing our mission more completely. Let us pray for enlightenment concerning how we can be CLC: the Discernment People.


PROGRESSIO  - Nos 1 and 2 1997
Publication of the World Christian Life Community


Center of Our Hearts

O God, what will you do to conquer the fearful hardness of our hearts?
Lord, you must give us new hearts, tender hearts,
sensitive hearts,
to replace hearts that are made of marble and of bronze.

You must give us your own Heart, Jesus.
Come, lovable Heart of Jesus. Place your heart deep in the center of our hearts
and enkindle in each heart a flame of love
as strong, as great, as the sum of all the reasons
that I have for loving you, my God.

O holy Heart of Jesus,
dwell hidden in my heart,
so that I may live only in you and only for you,
so that, in the end, I may live with  you eternally in heaven

St Claude La Colombiere SJ

• • •

"It is only because he became like us that we can become like him. It is only because we are identified with him that we can become like him. By being transformed into his image, we are enabled to model our lives on his."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer - The Cost of Discipleship


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