by Deacon Charles Rohrbacher
The Year of Faith began on October 11 with the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These momentous events in the life of the church will be the source of much necessary study and reflection during this upcoming year.
Coinciding with the commencement of the Year of Faith, bishops from around the world began their General Synod in Rome on the New Evangelization. As the Synod began, one of the Protestant observers at the Synod, Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the head of the Anglican Communion, was invited to address the Holy Father in the assembled bishops.
His talk, entitled “Letting the Reality of Jesus Come Alive in Us,” reflected on the indispensable role contemplation plays in our witness to Christ. Without in any way downplaying the importance of carefully studying the Council documents and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Dr. Williams spoke on the necessity of loving Jesus and listening to his voice, which for Christians is both the heart of our faith and of the practice of Christian contemplation.
As I reflected on his talk I was reminded of an experience I had in the fall of 1981 while visiting a friend of mine who was at that time a member of Sojourners Fellowship in inner-city Washington DC. During my time there, I was invited one morning to Mass at the house of the Little Sisters of Jesus. It was still dark outside when we arrived for Mass on that cold autumn day. My friends and I took our places in their tiny chapel alongside the sisters and some of the people they lived among in the neighborhood.
Because they lived in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the city, the heat was intermittent and the sisters had put on sweaters over their habits to stay warm. But the cold didn’t bother me – I was warmed inside by that Mass with the sisters, who obviously loved Jesus with all their hearts. Their simplicity and joy was so beautiful.
After we had spent time together in adoration and gratitude before the Blessed Sacrament after Mass, the sisters invited all who were able to join them in the dining room for breakfast. We helped to set the tables as more people from the neighborhood began to arrive. Soon every seat was taken.
Breakfast was simplicity itself: oatmeal, hot coffee for the grown-ups and milk for the children. The sisters and some of their neighbors served up the oatmeal and went around the tables pouring coffee. I particularly remember the atmosphere of quiet and recollection as we ate. Even the children spoke and ate quietly. The same charity and joy we had experienced in our celebration of the Eucharist suffused the clinking of silverware and the low murmur of friendly conversation during this simple meal that we shared.
In a way that is difficult to describe adequately, Jesus was present and visible that morning in an unforgettable way as we gathered at the altar and then as we ate together. In a manner and in a place I did not expect, I had been given a glimpse of the kingdom announced by Jesus in the gospels.
Thinking back to that mass and meal so many years ago, has reminded me of the simple but profound way of discipleship which the followers of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus and their lay associates, have been following since their founding in the years just before the Second Vatican Council.
For me, their way of life is at once deeply contemplative and profoundly evangelizing and is a model for discipleship.* What follows is a paraphrase of their rule.
The rule begins with their commitment to constantly search for and welcome the carpenter’s son, Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. Their way of life is intended to proclaim the good news by example, especially by living in solidarity with the poor, who are the living presence of Christ in the midst of the world.
The Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus strive to pattern their lives on the example of Jesus: by adoring and receiving him in the Eucharist which is the real presence of Christ among us; by welcoming him in his word especially in the gospel; by searching for him in personal prayer; and, by meeting him, loving him, and serving him in all people.
The Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus promise to live a simple life as an alternative to the consumer society. They seek to recognize in all people, particularly in the neighbor, a brother or sister to love, especially those who are in need of material, spiritual or moral support.
This way of love and friendship with Jesus and meeting him, loving him and serving him in all people especially the poor, is only accomplished by a true conversion of heart, where in community, they evaluate how well they have lived out the demands of the gospel in their personal and public actions and attitudes.
For me, their way of life is the essence of the New Evangelization. Evangelization begins with the search for Jesus and faith in him. When the reality of Jesus comes alive in us and we become his friends and disciples, we discover our deepest meaning and fulfillment. As the friends of Jesus we are each called to invite everyone we know to meet him, to become his friend and to love him and serve him in every person.
*See: “A Way of Unity with the Charles de Foucauld Community,” http://www.jesuscaritas.info/jcd/en/system/files/A+WAY+OF+UNITY+colour2008.pdf
Deacon Charles Rohrbacher is the Office of Ministries Director for the Diocese of Juneau.
Phone: 907-586-2227 ext. 23