Monday, July 16, 2018

WHO is the General Chapter?

In the previous post, I wrote about WHAT the General Chapter is.  Perhaps more interesting is WHO is the General Chapter.  (Make sure to read to the end...or just skip ahead...because YOU also are part of the Chapter.  How do you like that for a teaser?)

The Rule of Life (remember that's our Marianist guide book) has very specific procedures about how members to the General Chapter are selected.  First, all members of the General Administration (that's our international leadership team) must attend.  Then, some members of national leadership teams attend "by right" because of the office they hold.  In the US Province, for example, Fr. Marty and Bro. Joe attend because they are our number 1 and number 2 guys in leadership.  Finally, other members are elected.  Because of our size, the US Province was able to elect four additional members - Fr. Oscar, Bro. Bernie, Bro. Dennis and myself.  (This is a general overview.  It can actually get a little complicated, but luckily we have people that understand all the technical mumbo jumbo.)

So this year, there are a total of 33 Capitulants (i.e. delegates) both "by right" and those elected.  Of the 32 countries where male Marianist Religious are present, this year's Capitulants come from 18 countries.  (You might think that is a little odd, but a place like Ireland is part of the US Province and Cuba is part of the Spain Province.  So, there is some overlap).  Among these members, there is a mix of both Brothers and Priests, and 14 of us are here at the Chapter for the first time.

What a good looking group, right?

Everyone at the Chapter is able to speak one of the 3 official languages of the Society of Mary - French, English and Spanish.  Some are able to do all three.  Yours truly can only manage English (and that's only on a good day).  So, we rely heavily on translators.  We have four Marianists (3 vowed religious and one layman) who sit in boxes during our meetings and provide simultaneous translation for us when the speaker is using a language we don't know.  Each of the Capitulants is given a headset and transponder through which the translation can (magically) be heard.  The translators really are amazing in that they are able to switch among languages with relative ease.

It's the very rare Headphone Tree.

The translation booths.
Perico - translator extraordinaire!

Listening intently.

Of course, you have to be comfortable.

Along with the translators, there are other "auxiliary personnel" who help out.  There are two secretaries (one who is taking minutes and one who is in charge of communications.)  And then there is the staff of the house which makes sure that we are well fed (more about the food later) and that the normal day-to-day tasks are taken care of.  They really allow us to focus on our work.

Bro. Peter, our recording secretary.
Fr. Dani, in charge of communications.

So, you might say that it really takes a village (maybe in the Marianist world we would say a "community") to pull off the General Chapter.


 If you skipped you go.....

While they may not be in Rome, the General Chapter cannot happen without many other people around the world.  And that includes YOU.  Yes YOU reading this right now and  other Marianists and partners in our apostolic works.  The task of the Chapter relies heavily on YOUR prayers.  And so we ask that you say a prayer for all of us gathered in Rome the next few weeks.  Pray that the Holy Spirit might guide us and that the spirit of our Blessed Founder - Fr. Chaminade - might animate all that we do.

Now, if you are techno-savvy, you can also get involved by following @smromasm on Twitter and by liking SMRoma18 on Facebook.  Here you can find updates about what is going on each day.  And of course, check back here :)

Until next time....Ciao!

Monday, July 9, 2018

The General Chapter

Some of you who follow social media, may have noticed that I am back in Rome.  The other day, I posted some pictures as I re-explored one of the cities that I have been privileged to call  "home."

Along with this, many of you have asked, "What are you doing back in Rome?"  And I can give you an easy answer: "I'm attending the 35th General Chapter of the Society of Mary."  So that settles it, right?

Some of you may now be scratching your heads even more, rolling your eyes at me, and asking, "That's nice, Bob, but what's a General Chapter?"  Well, I'm glad you asked.

According to the Rule of Life of the Society of Mary (Marianists) - by the way, Rule of Life is like the  constitution of our religious order - we learn that....

      The General Chapter,
held at least once every six years,
is the highest authority of the Society.
It determines policies and objectives
for the entire Society
and elects the Superior General
and the members of the General Council.
Its purpose is to ensure fidelity
to the spirit of our foundation,
as well as continuing adaptation
to the needs of each age.
Its decisions are binding
on all members, communities, and Provinces. (#93)

Put another way, the General Chapter is kind of a big deal and important moment in the history of the Order since the Chapter elects the international leadership team, sets goals and objectives for the next 6 years, and discerns where we need to be more faithful to the charism of Blessed Chaminade, our Founder.  Whew!  Easy stuff, right?  At the outset, it definitely seems like a daunting task and a great responsibility.  And it is.  But it is also a time of grace because we trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding us, and we believe that Blessed Chaminade's spirit is with us during our time of deliberations and discernment.

The Chapter officially opened this morning, and our work is now underway.

In the days ahead, I hope to give a little more insight into what I'll be doing for the next three weeks.  And yes, it is three weeks of meetings (okay, we do get Sundays off).  Until then, let me assure you that while the meetings have begun and even though I'm not here on vacation, there's always room for un caffe and il dolce!


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Remembering a Dear Friend: Maureen Farnan

Words of Remembrance for Patricia Maureen Farnan
3 January 2018 
St. Henry Catholic Church
Maureen (right) with two of her best friends.
Denny, Sean and Stephanie and their families asked me to say a few words about our friend Maureen.  I have known Maureen most of my life, ever since Sean and I were in pre-school together.  Since then, Maureen has always been present in my life.  A presence that all of us gathered here today, will surely miss.

I remember the day my own father passed away.  Maureen came running through our front door with a look of concern on her face.  All she wanted to do was to be with us and take care of us in our time of grief.  Denny, Sean and Stephanie and family: as Maureen was there for us, know that we – all of us gathered today - are here for you with our love, support and presence.  Because, after all, we learned how to do it from Maureen.

I recently came across an article that was written on friendship.  Quite fitting, it was published in the Irish Times.  The author wrote: “The quality of your life is determined not only by who you are but who you have come to know and the people you surround yourself with.  That is the essence of friendship.”

If this author is correct, and I believe she is, then each of us gathered here must have a pretty good quality of life  - not because of who we are – but because each of us has known Maureen, and we have been surrounded by Maureen’s love and presence….as wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, coworker and above all as friend.  And if you were to ask anyone who knew Maureen to describe her, I would guess that they would all say that their lives are better because of Maureen’s friendship: her care and compassion; her kindness and ability to make us laugh; her love for each of us. 

Over the past several days, many of us have reminisced and told stories about Maureen.  Each of us has a favorite Maureen story that speaks of who she was and what she meant to us.  Maybe it’s a story about Maureen as a dutiful nurse or hospice volunteer.  Maybe it’s how she lovingly and generously took care of her children and grandchildren, and each of us.  Maybe it involves her sipping white zinfandel or snacking on cheese and crackers.  Maybe it’s about Maureen’s unique way of taking pictures: closing one eye with her finger and the other eye on the view-finder – and being a little confused when she got a digital camera.   Maybe it’s about her love of all things sweet (especially M&Ms and ice cream.)  She may have never finished a whole meal, but she always had room for dessert.  Maybe it’s about her cinnamon rolls or her crescent rolls.  Maybe it’s about her ability to suggest you go shopping and not buy anything herself but convincing you to buy half the store.  Maybe it’s about Maureen’s love of gathering a group of friends around a dinner table.

But no matter what your story is, I’m sure we can all agree on two things.

First, Maureen always had a kind word and a compliment for everyone.   Maureen would always greet us with a smile and say something to lift our spirits.  Maureen took great delight in all her family and friends, and she reminded us of her love for us in every moment by her kind words and beautiful smile.

Second, Maureen always went out of her way to do something for others, and was always willing to lend a helping hand.  This past Thanksgiving, a group of friends gathered.  And even though Maureen was tethered to an oxygen line, she wouldn’t sit still. She insisted on taking care of our needs…clearing the dishes, filling our cups, replenishing the food.  When we suggested that she let the kids take care of things, you could tell that it was difficult for her because helping and taking care of us was just who she was.  In doing so, she showed that each one of was special to her and she reminded us to always take care of each other. 

Perhaps this is all summed up in the Irish concept of (Ah Num Car A) “anam cara.”  While it is best translated as “soul friend” it can also be described as a friendship that is characterized as a compassionate presence.  Maureen embodied this idea of compassionate presence in all moments of her life. A presence that radiated kindness, generosity, gentleness, warmth, and love.

According to Irish poet John O’Donahue, “When you are blessed with an anam cara, the Irish believe, you have arrived at the most sacred place: home.”  Each of us were blessed to have Maureen in our lives because she always made us feel at home by her compassionate presence.  In doing so, I believe she gave us a glimpse of that eternal home where she now dwells.  We know that we will surely miss her compassionate presence on earth, the anam cara, of Maureen.  But our faith reminds us that this presence has not ended, but is only changed.  Maureen is smiling as she looks down upon us, with her parents, siblings and friends who have gone before us.  The love that she showed us and our many memories will remain with us and remind us that one day we will be reunited with her in that most sacred and eternal home.   The quality of our lives are truly better, because they have been touched by our friend, our anam cara, our Maureen. 

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

May you rest in the eternal peace of our gracious God.    

Written by Jennifer Fergus and Robert Jones, SM 

Maureen's Obituary 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Let It Be Done To Me: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Fra Angelico, the 15th century Dominican Friar and artist, painted several Annunciation scenes.  But one, called the Annunciation of Cortona - named after where he painted it - is most interesting.  Like the others, it depicts Mary and Gabrielle conversing in a columned courtyard.  And in this one, the dialogue between the two figures is recorded between them (in Latin, of course.)  The Angel announces that the Holy Spirit will come upon Mary and that the Most High will overshadow her.  Mary responds, "I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word."  Makes sense.  It's almost as if Fra Angelico is giving us the closed-captioning version.

But what is most interesting, is that Mary's response is written upside-down, left to right.  To read it, you would have to stand on your head and read it backwards.  It is said that the artist never explained why he did it this way.  One guess is that it is directed to God, and so God, from heaven above, would not have to stand on God's head!  For us, though, I think there might be a more inviting explanation.

Mary utters her Fiat, her Yes, her "let it be done," and her world is quiet literally turned upside down. She was betrothed, probably making wedding plans and dreaming about her future "ordinary" life with Joseph.  But God had other plans for her (and for the world!)  God would send forth a Son to save and redeem; God would make possible what was impossible before; God would do something totally new.  And this would turn Mary's world upside-down because she was part of that plan, and with those beautiful words she says "YES."  Yes to God's saving plan.  Yes to bringing forth Jesus into the world.  Yes to allowing God to turn her world upside-down.
One writer commenting on this scripture notes that "She spoke not from a position of ability, but of availability."  And here is what I think Mary offers us today in this Gospel passage.  Just as Mary made herself available to God and to God's plans, so should we.  Even if that means we go where we might not choose.  Even if that means we are taken out of our comfort zones.  Even if that means our world is knocked upside-down. 

We are invited, like Mary, to trust that the Holy Spirit will also come upon us.  That the Most High will overshadow us with mercy, with peace, with love.  We are invited, like Mary, to say our own "Fiat," or own "Yes," our own "Let it be done."  May we be available to God so that God can turn our world upside-down.

Blessings on your Advent (even if this last "week" is really short!)