Divine Word Missionaries
Significance of Canonization
Anthony Poruthur, SVD
As Arnold Janssen has been declared a saint it is an indication that the Universal Church acknowledges the holiness of his life, his spiritual legacy and missionary vision. This event has certain significance for his family. It provides the three congregations with an opportunity to delve deeply into his multi-faceted life and draw inspiration for their mission. His contemplation of the Triune God, love for the Word and devotion to the Spirit form the corner stone of his commitment. Drawing from the wellsprings of his great vision the members of Arnoldus Family need to rediscover the holistic understanding of mission he had and it needs to be passed on faithfully to the future generations.
A couple of months before the event of canonization of Sts. Arnold Janssen and Joseph Freinademetz a lady in Europe asked me why make a fuss about canonizing the Founder and the First Missionary to China. She was still more direct in her interrogation. "Should the congregation spend so much money on this? Does it make any difference for those two great men?" I was bowled over by these questions as the person concerned was not a stranger to SVD and has contributed substantially to the welfare of the Society through prayers, sacrifices as well as financial assistance.
My immediate response to the question was that this event gave an opportunity to renew the missionary commitment and also it is an occasion to rediscover the charism of the Founder.1 My answer allayed the fears of the lady quite much. I kept on asking myself whether I have been honest with my response or I was dishing out a stock answer. "No it was not a pious cover-up; the response had came straight from my heart.", was the gut level feeling in me.
I continued pondering over the question and came to realise that canonization of the Founder is perhaps the most important event in the history of any religious institute. It is an occasion when the Church officially recognises the spirituality and charism of this Father who raised three congregations to continue with the mission of the Church entrusted by Jesus. So October 5th 2003 is a red-letter day for the whole Arnoldus Family.2 Naturally it is appropriate to reflect upon the implications for this great life for the society and its mission.
1. Implicit Approval of Charism and Spirituality
During the celebration of canonization in Bhopal (India) Archbishop Paschal Topno said: "Now Arnold Janssen and Joseph Freinademetz are no longer a part of SVD society alone. In fact they belong to the whole church and they will be venerated by the universal Church." By raising them to the altar the Official Church has endorsed the arduous spiritual path Father Arnold pursued. The Gospel passage assigned for the Eucharist on his feast day is none other than the Prologue of John's Gospel which Gerhard Janssen used to recite daily by heart during the evening family prayer. It is a sign of further confirmation of the recognition accorded to his sound Trinitarian spirituality.
1.1. Affirmation of His Spiritual Legacy
Father Arnold told his spiritual daughters in the cloister the following on the Christmas Day in 1898: "Saints are not born but gradually formed by grace."3 This piece of wisdom is typical of Arnold's basic spiritual orientation and conviction. He had his feet always firmly on the ground. He fully believed in what he told the sisters then and lived by it with a tenacity of purpose. William Gier (SVD Superior General from 1920-32) once said: "If we compare Arnold Janssen in 1880 or with the Founder of 1900 and afterwards, we can not recognise him any more."
Co-operation with the Divine grace given daily in small measures is of greater significance than constantly grumbling that God did not show Himself through an extraordinary mystical experience. Arnold did not make any claim of this kind whereas many of the founders of religious congregations anchored their lives and mission on such captivating events in their lives. So the members of Arnoldus family are called to live by the ordinary way, where too, one can tread the path of grace given in small measure. Many a religious/priest is yet to realise the import of this simple truth in their daily lives.
1.2. Contemplation of the Trinity
Father Arnold's spiritual legacy is solidly founded on this fountainhead of John's Prologue where creation, incarnation and redemption are so well woven together in a concise manner. His profound love for the Trinity sprang from this source. Delving deeply into the Divine Mystery he was blessed with a remarkable insight: "The Father gazes on his image in the Son, and the Son on his reflection in the Father, and in this vision both are aware of the infinite fullness and perfection of the Godhead; from this awareness springs a marvelously deep, ineffable love of the Father. From this love proceeds the Holy Spirit."4 Hence the theological basis of his spirituality is quite sound and it has lasting relevance not only for the congregation but also for the church as a whole.
Reliance on the power of the Spirit was almost total. So he dedicated himself to the Third Person of the Trinity without any reservation. "I give myself completely to Him in body and soul as an offering, and I have asked Him for the grace to know the greatness of His love, to live and die for him alone."5 In the heart of Father Arnold a spring of love for the Holy Spirit kept on following constantly: "As the Eternal God united Himself to the Son, he loves, sanctifies and unites us with Himself in the Holy Spirit. Therefore let us venerate and love the Holy Spirit above all, venerate and love Him especially in the Sacred Heart of Jesus…"6
His love and devotion to the Spirit welled up in his heart also as a supplication: "O Sublime Spirit proceeding from the love of the Father and the Son sent by Them in love of the world, You love us not because we are worthy of love but because of the fullness of Your own love… You come to melt the frozen, warm the chill, purify the sinful and transform the children of sin and misery into children of light and love."7
1.3. Journeying with Faith Alone
When a close look at Father Arnold's spiritual legacy is taken it can be found that his life was a journey of faith. During a conference to the sisters he had once said: "It is necessary to let ourselves constantly be led by God's hand like a little child. It is impossible for God to disappoint our confidence."8 He was a man of meagre personal resources and talents. Further, without any bank balance he accomplished all these great tasks trusting in the providence of the Almighty. His total trust in the Divine Providence enabled him to be available to the Triune God to act in and through him. It was like Mary's 'fiat' at the solemn moment of Annunciation (Lk. 1:38).
His deep faith sprang from the profound contemplation of the Triune God that was almost flowing through his veins. He translated it into a regular spiritual activity by first composing the Quarter Hour Prayer and reciting it faithfully every 15 minutes when the clock struck. He could not conceive of a mission without deeply being in touch with the Divine. For him, that which we have touched and experienced (I Jn.1) only can be shared or proclaimed as Good News.
It is the power emerging from deep prayer that helps us overcome our weaknesses both of body and soul and through this ongoing conversion we are made better persons. It enables us to be more effective in our mission. So there is a double movement in contemplating the Divine mystery, viz., we move closer to the Triune God day by day and more will be accomplished as missionary service.
Meditation of the Word of Scripture continually reinforced his childlike trust and faith in the Triune God. Father Arnold could say like Prophet Jeremiah: "Thy words were found, and I ate them, and thy words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart." (Jer. 15. 16). He easily connected the Word with the Eucharist as the Word-made-Flesh becomes the Living Bread in the Gospel of John. "The Eternal Word was not content to love us as God. He wanted to love us also in an assumed humanity in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This great love manifested continually in the Blessed Sacrament and enduring for all eternity is the sun of the spiritual life."9
2. Missionary Vision
Canonization is an act of the universal Church by which the spirituality of Father Arnold is accepted and at the same time his missionary vision is also affirmed. It had been his heart's desire that the Incarnate Word reaches every human heart in every corner of the earth. So proclamation of the Word was given top priority in his missionary vision.
2.1. Mission of the Word
The love of Scripture has come down from Janssen family to Arnoldus Family. Gerhard Janssen used to give a discourse now and then on the Prologue of John's Gospel, as Arnold's brother William reminisced about their father. He used to pray the same passage fervently when a crisis arose in family life. His love for the Letters of Paul was something very special and often held sessions to explain some of those difficult passages.10
Naturally Father Arnold inherited the love for the Word of God and he imparted it to his sons by initiating them into in-depth study of the Sacred Scripture. During the first year novitiate the novices were introduced into exegesis.11 (This was practically unheard of in those days. He contended that the purpose of the society "is to spread the word of God".12 The training of the Missionary sisters too included the study of Bible history and classes on the content and explanation of various books of the Sacred Scripture.13
As years passed by he grew in his deep devotion to the Word of God. Towards the end of his live he exhorted the members of the society in the following words: "How profound are the words of the Holy Scripture. May our confreres hold it in high esteem, especially those sections which, if one may say so - are most spirit-filled… The members of the Society of the Divine Word must particularly venerate Holy Scripture and spread abroad its truths. The four gospels and their writers are to be specially honoured, as should be the Apocalypse and the entire New Testament."14
Vatican II showed special interest in acknowledging the role of the Word of God in Christian life the and how vital a component it is in Church's mission.15 The renewal that followed in many parts of the Church is centred around and drawing inspiration from the Sacred Scripture, be it Charismatic Movement or Small Christian Community or theology of Liberation. The People of God show great zeal to drink from this source. Now one gets an insight into the mind of Father Arnold and deeply appreciate his farsighted vision.
There are various ways of praying and meditating the Word of God in vogue today. Bible sharing has become a common practice in many religious and lay communities. But one should not forget the fact that there is still a deeper method. Many of the treasures hidden in the Scripture are revealed when it is meditated upon with a light or empty stomach as the Muslims do every year during the month of Ramadan. This practice can be spiritually very rewarding as the Word will begin to find roots as a seed would do in humid soil.
Thirst for the living Word particularly among the People of God is very much on the increase. It has become the Living Word in the lives of many. A former SVD reads and meditates on Scripture every morning for one hour, before he starts for his office. Another lay man gives his testimony that every day praying personally a part of the Bible for half an hour helps him keep his alcoholic tendency under check.
Proclamation of the Word is an essential component of Arnold's missionary vision. Acknowledging his sainthood implies that his family members restates the importance of the Word of God in their personal spirituality and in all their missionary endeavours particularly to help people as well as communities discover the power embedded in the Living Word.
2.2. Mission in a Secular World
Industrial Revolution, developments in Science and technology and such other modern trends echoed in the missionary vision of Father Arnold. So he envisaged a very modern type of mission where science and reason will not be the antithesis of religion and faith. Promotion of sciences then is an logical extension of the mission of the Word as He is in the World.16 His farsighted vision albeit opposition from some of his first companions, saw its articulation when the secondary objective of starting the congregation was clearly spelled out.
Science and technology provide a mission frontier today. Quite often scientists have picked up a feeling that the Church is opposed to their toil and sweat in the labs and trying to pour cold water on their efforts at exploring the mysteries of the Planet Earth and the universe at large. On the other hand religious inclination is being ridiculed as superstition by many a rationalist. Even in the scientists' fraternity there is a neat division categorising them as theistic and atheistic. In this scenario there is space to get back to the original vision of Arnold and pursue it with the same zeal as the mission to the Aborigines in distant land.
The understanding of this mission does not mean that now we sing paeans to whatever is being presented under the banner of scientific development. Scientific progress without a humane face can turn out to be a monster. So developing a critique of science is quite in place in order to guide the future course of human life. Further issues concerning ecology are being discussed all over the world today as the integrity of creation is at stake. This task requires gathering of proper scientific data and it is vitally linked with the endeavours in the area of JPIC.
There is also a totally different world where the younger generation is operating at present. Information Technology has brought the whole world literally on one's fingertips. Modern generation spends much time and energy on the activities of the cyber space to gather information, to interact with people, to enter into relationship, to do business, etc. Just like those times when availing print, audio and visual media were hailed as great opportunities to get the Good News across to millions of readers, listeners and viewers, today there is a mission in the virtual world of a chat room, a website and an e-mail connectivity.
3. Implications for Formation
If by canonization, the Church has recognised the life and charism of Father Arnold it is appropriate to incorporate his spirituality into personal formation. Further the time has come to pose questions about the usefulness and relevance with regard to some areas of academic training. Now is the opportune moment to stream line the formation programme according to the needs and realities of missionary situation.
3.1. Personal Formation
Until the beatification in 1975 very little about the personal spirituality of Father Arnold was passed on during formation. With the starting of Arnold Janssen Spirituality Centre in 1988 at Steyl (Holland) a new era commenced in getting to know about this man and his mission through various programmes like retreats, seminars and symposia. Now the time has come to transmit his way of praying, meditating, discerning the will of God, way of celebrating liturgy, etc., during basic as well as ongoing formation. Something of Father Arnold's spiritual life has to become a part of each member's personal spirituality.
3.2. Academic Formation
As the horizon of knowledge is ever widening there is a great challenge before those who chart out formation programmes for priesthood and religious life. Obviously one can not catch every crow that flies in the sky. There is a feeling gaining currency in ecclesiastical circles that courses upon courses are stacked at the expense of depth and sacrificing the identity of the congregation. So the most sensible course will be to make a wise selection that will be faithful to the charism of the Founder both in letter and spirit.
Keeping in mind the legacy of the founder during the years of philosophical training philosophy of science, communication and study of culture needs to receive greater emphasis. So also the philosophy underlying the great religions needs to be integrated into this stage of formation, not by books alone but in the way it is lived by people today.
As there is a natural expectation from every SVD that by their very name they should be quite knowledgeable in Sacred Scripture, during theological formation special stress should be laid in knowing Biblical background and exegesis. Besides having solid academic foundation in the Bible learning to pray the Word of God and making it the living Word by applying it to one's personal morality and spirituality will help in being an authentic missionary.
In his copious correspondence and some of his writings Father Arnold in his own simple way, has dwelt on the nature and working of the Holy Spirit. This dimension of his life stands out especially since he was almost a century ahead of his times. After all the society continues the mission of the Word-Incarnate and this task is powered by the Spirit. The future members of Arnoldus Family need to drink from this source and integrate this vital dimension of the Spirit into their personal lives and mission during their religious and theological formation.
Church's encounter with the World religions in recent decades has increased her awareness about the mystical spirituality that sustains them. It is a well acknowledged fact that many from the Christian fold are attracted to these religions. In this context future missionaries will have to develop greater openness to other faiths and look for the 'seeds of the Word' quietly germinating there.
The spiritual legacy and charism of Father Arnold have some special features. His original vision of mission has been much wider than what it was thought to be. An important component of it viz., promotion of sciences which is relevant for our times has been practically forgotten. His love for the Word of God and devotion to the Holy Spirit are exceptional features of his days and on this score he was ahead of his times. They are the core areas that provide identity for Arnoldus family and should be nurtured as guiding lights for our mission.
The event of canonization has availed the Arnoldus Family to take a close look at his great journey of faith under the guidance of the Spirit. As the universal Church has raised him to the altar the three congregations need to recapture the salient features of his vision and faithfully transmit his rich legacy through effective formation to the next generation.
Anthony Poruthur, SVD
1 The publication of Josef Alt's latest biography of Arnold Janssen prior to the canonization has helped in making the members of the congregation aware of several details about his vision of mission.
2 Mission Sunday would have been more appropriate a day to hold the celebration at Vatican. Coincidentally in 2003 Mission Sunday came on 19th Oct. as it happened in 1975 when the two saints were beatified.
3 Mary Corine, 'Contemplative Dimension of Bl. Arnold Janssen's Spirituality' in Arnold Janssen's Spirituality for Our Times, Sat Prakashan, Indore, 2002, p. 176.
4 Ibid. p. 177.
5 J. Alt, 'The Role of the Holy Spirit in Arnold Janssen's Life', The Holy Spirit in Our Missionary Life, 1998, p. 12.
8 Conference dated, April 14, 1894.
9 Corine, Art. Cit., p.183.
10 Augustine, 'The Word of God and the Spirituality of Bl. Arnold Janssen', Arnold Janssen's Spirituality for Our Times, p. 30
11 Ibid., p. 39.
12 Statutes of 1876.
13 J. Alt, Journey in Faith, p. 354.
14 Augustine, Art. Cit., p. 38
15 The Decree Dei Verbum in the Document of Vatican II, has stated it clearly.
16 J. Alt, Journey in Faith, p. 136.