PERSONAL CONSIDERATIONS ON RELIGIOUS LIFE
I want to thank God that, in these last years in Sierra Leone, has called me to deepen the reality of our consecrated life for the mission; this is because of my involvement with postulants and novices. This situation has given me more time and opportunity for reflection on the subject.
In Sierra Leone we cannot find many books on R. L. and therefore the main reference is the same as that of the old seamen: the pole-star. For us the Pole-star is the Bible; through it I have kept reflecting about and explaining vocation and consecration to those I have been called to accompany in their formation growth. I have been wondering which is the correct order of importance of the three vows and I have come to the conclusion - confirmed also by the history of consecrated life - that the first is the vow of
The Word of God enjoins many times the command: “Listen”. This same word “obedience” comes exactly from “ob-audire” and so repeats the same command: “Listen!”. From all this I got the clear message of the importance of the Lectio in my spiritual life and in the life of those preparing for consecration, considering also the many rich biblical texts on vocation, like the story of Samuel and his answer to the Lord: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”. In Sierra Leone there is more time than in the North of the world and fewer books, commentaries etc.; they can help the Lectio, but they can make of us those new scribes about whom Enzo Bianchi writes: “They hide the key of knowledge” (Fasc. 35 “Meditazioni Com. Bose, p.2).
So I saw and still see everywhere in the Bible the importance of obeying both the Word and the life’s circumstances, i.e. listening and seeing what is happening around us like Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary, Martha’s sister, who chose the better part. This basic obedience leads us to reciprocal obedience, while privileging the words of the brothers called to exercise the service of authority. An evident consideration emerges here: God chooses the poor, the humble for his saving word and action.
This helps me to live and better understand POVERTY: the vow to which the goodness of the Lord has called me. The origin of all this I see it in my infancy, when my father was lifting me to his shoulders so that I could see a nest of little sparrows with their beaks open and waiting for food (God provides for them, too); or my admiration for a poor old lady, who was having some chickens and when there was an egg available, she was saying to me: “This is for such and such a person”, and she was sending me - at that time an altar server - to the house of a poor person nearby.
When growing and reading the Gospel, I saw the poverty of Christ and of those who followed him, but also the refusal of those who could not or would not follow him. The vocation to follow Christ is a vocation to be poor: “Go, sell all your possessions”. How many times I came across texts like this! This always creates in me deeply felt gratitude because the Master never lets us down, but gives us what is necessary and more. This creates in me a great joy; I think this comes from the fact that I see myself too much loved by the Lord, and I would never entertain any idea of complaining about anything that may be lacking, especially when considering the conditions of so many around us here in Sierra Leone.
As a consequence, in my missionary activity I appreciate small things, small steps and the presence of the poor as a resource. It is not easy also because temptations are always there: we are immersed in a world that lives in a totally different dimension. It is important to wash every day, and to wipe off the dust or the mud of our roads. But to avoid the temptations that are not evangelical, I think that it is important to undergo the purification that may be done every day when confronting the Word.
The vow of CHASTITY is the last one: it asks for openness to love more. This is evident from the texts of Holy Scripture, especially in the N.T., where the commandment is not to avoid sexual relations, but to love God and love your neighbour; and “ love one another as I have loved you”.Here the fact of feeling loved by God helps me much; I think old age is a privileged time because many memories come to my mind: one instance or the other, in which I can see the tender love of the Father, this makes me happy in the awareness of the presence of God in my life. And continuing every day to meet the Word and the poor, I see the presence of God all around me, and this widens the ambit of love and makes it grow. In this way every material or spiritual moment is a meeting with the Lord, who asks me to love him first in the persons of the community, the family He created for me. This is Chastity as the joy to be able to give more because free from other bonds.
Is the vow of MISSION missing from my list? I would say no. If I consider what happens to me in my reading and praying the Word, I perceive a change in me, a change linked to what I have chosen to be: an obedient missionary because listening to God and to the brothers, and to God in the smaller brothers; a missionary who is poor because only the humble one is in tune with the poor of the Lord, those of the first beatitude, the only ones who have, with the persecuted for what is right, the beatitude in the present: they already possess now the kingdom of God.
All this creates an overflow of joy that keeps me from looking for other types of satisfaction. These realities are easy to describe but with me there are moments when I am taken up with the spirit, like when I am overtaken by loudspeakers chanting the quranic suras early in the morning and I say to God: “ Can you hear how many of us are praising you?” And there are moments when I feel low and I forget every conformity with Christ. Fortunately, sorrow for sins may follow, and Jesus, who is always with us, saves us also through our inconsistencies.
Servi inutiles sumus.