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My dear Brethren,
As I begin this first letter on the eve of the opening of the Council, I am reminded of St. Paul's words to Timothy: "For
which cause I admonish thee that thou stir up the grace of God which is in thee..."(2 Tim,1:6).
I say "this first letter" because the few words which appeared in the first General Bulletin after the Chapter were a kind
of preliminary, an introduction to the letters I intend writing to you.
Yes indeed! I feel unable to resist the desire to speak to all the members of the Congregation, and to all who aspire to
join us, in these last days before the Council, which will be a great event in the life of the Church. In doing so I am
echoing the repeated appeals of our holy Father, the Pope, for a greater generosity in our sanctification of those to
whom we are sent.
"To stir up the grace which is in us", not only by the imposition of hands for the priesthood, but also by the imposition
of hands in religious profession, which is signified by the blessings, and, I will go so far as to add, the grace that is in us
by the laying-on of hands at our baptism and confirmation. For the grace of the priesthood and of the religious life is, in
fact, grafted onto the grace of baptism and confirmation and brings it to perfection. Perhaps we are too forgetful of that.
We who have the happiness of being consecrated in a most special way to the Holy Ghost and to the Immaculate Heart
of Mary, have we not a very special duty to stir up within ourselves that baptism of the Spirit (Jn.1:33) which Our Lord
came to bring most particularly to His disciples and to the Blessed Virgin Mary?
May this renewal of the Spirit be focused on the three following points:
1) Let the Holy Spirit, living in us, make us become ever more keenly aware of belonging to the whole Church, upon
which the wind and the fire of Pentecost are still active, an image and symbol of the light and the heat which illumined
and enkindled the hearts of the Apostles, in union with the Immaculate Heart of Mary. "And suddenly there came a
sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming; and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there
appeared to them parted tongues, as it were of fire..."(Acts 2;2-3)
That Pentecost still continues today, and will become more palpably manifest on the occasion of the Council. We must
be the first to receive this new grace, this new impulse, which will fill our souls with light and generosity.
We are churchmen by our priesthood and by our religious profession. We must insist strongly on this point--our
religious profession binds us to the Church in a special and intimate way. It is the Church that receives our profession,
it is to the service of the Church that we dedicate ourselves, it is to become more like Him Whose Body the Church is,
Our Lord Jesus Christ, that we make our public promises of obedience, of poverty and of chastity.
We seek to be an elite body at the disposal of the Head of the Church, of Peter's successor, for the most difficult
undertakings and the most neglected souls. To that end, to be more fully under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the
Spirit of Our Lord, we strive to free ourselves more completely from the trammels of this world--our whims, our self-
will, personal property, personal satisfactions. Thus we shall belong entirely to Christ and to His Church.
Let it therefore be for us a point of honour and a matter of pride to be perfect servants of the Church, to conform our
minds, our intelligence, to our faith, to the Spirit of Truth which is given us by the Church and by the gifts of the Holy
Spirit, to submit our wills and our hearts perfectly to the Spirit of Life Who will conform us fully to the Heavenly
Father's will, in the image of Our Lord. Let our own ideas find no place, but let all our thinking be that of the Church
and of the Pope; let our will be to conform ourselves to the will of the Church.
Let us be happy to assist our bishops, whoever they may be, in whatever way shall please God. This will be our way of
serving the Church. Indirectly, all that we do in the Congregation is a service rendered to the bishops in their
apostolate. What a consolation for our apostles' hearts, to know that we are all servants of the Church!
There ought never, therefore, to be any opposition or difficulty between the Congregation and the bishops we serve. On
principle there cannot be. We shall therefore strive always, as far as in us lies, to put ourselves at the service of the
bishops, as collaborators with them in the Church's apostolate.
As part and parcel of the integration of our spiritual family in the Church, let us maintain that which is characteristic of
that family: difficult ministries and the most neglected souls. And, I will gladly add, something which has also
distinguished our society since its beginnings and throughout its history: the training of priests. It is by keeping to these
objectives that our congregation will develop and will receive the blessings of the Holy Ghost and of the Heart of Mary.
2) But what missionary out in the field will deny that for ministries like these it takes well-tempered souls, profoundly
attached to Our Lord and to His Spirit? And this is the second point I want to make.
I have heard it said by some of the brethren that they joined the Congregation primarily to be missionaries. Others, on
the other hand, maintain that we are religious first of all and missionaries second. Both these opinions can, and indeed
do, exist. Providence has its ways, which are not the same for everyone. But what is certain is that we are both religious
and apostles, and that being religious, far from hampering us in our apostolate, must, on the contrary, make us more
truly apostolic.
This debate seems to me quite pointless, and shows in some people a lack of understanding both of the religious life
and of the apostolic life.
Surely what is needed to enable us to resolve this apparent contradiction is the perspective of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord
came essentially to give us His Spirit. The first and necessary consequence of this, its primary effect, is to make us
religious beings. To restore in the souls of human creatures the virtue of justice towards God, with the aid of the gift of
piety is to bring to them in the first place the virtue of religion, whose essential acts are adoration, worship and prayer.
So we have to go back to the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our souls on the day of our baptism, and then to
that which we received at confirmation, to understand that our souls, under this divine influence, must become souls
essentially devoted to God, prayerful and adoring. A Christian soul which has not this primary and basic need to adore,
to pray, and to devote itself entirely to God is failing in its essential Christian vocation.
If it were clearly understood that the primary virtue of the human creature and of the baptized soul is to be religious,
and so to practice the essential virtue of justice, there would be less argument about the primacy of the religious over
the missionary life, and vice versa.
And if this is true of all the baptized, what should we say of the exercise of the virtue of religion in the case of a priest,
who by definition, by all his `raison d'être' is `in religion', for it is his role to link men to God through Our Lord. The
priest, then, must be eminently religious, and must manifest this religious character in his whole life and conduct,
which must be an outward expression of what he is inwardly--a soul which is adoring and prayerful and totally devoted
to God. It is because he is a priest, " the things that appertain to God", that he must not involve himself in
worldly affairs (2 Tim. 2;4) and that the Church asks him to remain celibate, to sacrifice his own will, and to have the
spirit of poverty. All these things complete his likeness to the religious `par excellence', Our Lord Jesus Christ.
If, as priests, we have to put into practice in a particular way the gift of piety, which sustains the virtues of justice and
religion, as professed religious we undertake to perfect our imitation of Our Lord, and, in consequence, to be more
priestly still.
For those who are not priests, their religious profession perfects the character they received at baptism and confirmation
in such a way that it helps to assimilate them to Him Whose entire life was one long act of religion. "(Father) I have
glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do". (Jn.17;4). And it is to imitate His
example that religious, drawing nearer to the holiness of the Son of God, imitate also His obedience, His poverty and
His chastity.
Thus understood, the religious life is rich beyond measure in grace, because it has its roots in baptism, in the new birth,
the new life, the new Spirit which is given us when the priest says over us, "Exi, spiritus immunde, et da locum Spiritui
Sancto". (Go forth unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Ghost.")
Thus, a soul deeply marked by the gift of piety, which is given in superabundance in the priesthood and the religious
life, will thirst after religion and religious living, that is, after adoration, worship and prayer. Such a soul will not be
able to get through the day without sighing for those blessed moments when it can be entirely given over to God,
absorbed in Him, living by that virtue of justice, by religion and piety, and expressing its charity and its love toward
Him Who is its all.
I will make so bold as to say that the details of our external acts are of little importance provided that we spend
sufficient time in silence and recollection. Is it not so with prisoners and soldiers, and with the sick who are deprived of
all physical exercise but who find the time and the means to live certain hours, or at least certain prolonged moments,
with God--in other words, to live as religious.
We who can and must organize our time, and submit our schedule to the judgment of our superiors, must have a
wholehearted love of our breviary, our Mass, our meditation, and other prescribed exercises of devotion.
May we thus give a soul and a fundamental unity to various acts which must be but the expression and the sustenance
of an interior and spiritual religion actuated by the Spirit of Our Lord.
3) And so we come naturally and logically to my third point: the spirit of our apostolic life.
What, in fact, is the end, the goal of the apostolate? Our Lord pointed it out by saying: "I am come that they may have
life and have it more abundantly". (John 10:10).
What is that life but a life wholly inspired by religion? The desire of true apostles is to communicate the Spirit of Our
Lord to those to whom they are sent, so that He can give to their lives their true sense, their authentic meaning, their
real purpose, which is that all should abide forever in God. (Apoc.4&7).
The whole of our apostolate is marked by this orientation, which was renewed by Our Lord. Men of every race and
background expect from us by our preaching, our teaching and our conversation--in the scriptural sense of the word--
the proclamation of Christ and His redemption, the proclamation of heaven and of the way which leads to it. To
rekindle in men the virtue of religion under the influence of the virtues of faith and hope and Christian charity is to
bring them into the Church and the heavenly Jerusalem.
The Church gives us the means to attain this goal. Our initiatives can only be set within the framework given by Our
Lord, and these few basic principles must determine our conduct of and in the apostolate. I hope that Providence will
allow me to speak of them at greater length in future letters.
And so there must be no opposition between our religious and our apostolic life. They spring from the same principle,
are nourished at the same sources, and have the same objective. To make a distinction between the contemplative and
the active, the religious and the apostolic life, is inappropriate, for it can truly be said that the contemplative life is
essentially active, active with that supernatural and spiritual activity which, above all, constituted the life of Our Lord.
Likewise it must be said that the priestly and religious life is essentially apostolic. The breviary and the Holy Mass are
acts of the religious and priestly life which are essentially missionary and apostolic; without them an external apostolate
no longer has any meaning or effectiveness.
The difficulties experienced between the demands of the religious life and those of the apostolate often arise from a lack
of understanding, and even ignorance, of these basic truths.
I hope that these few thoughts will bring real comfort and support to all members of the Cogregation in their
attachment to the priestly, religious and apostolic vocation.
During this time of the Council may the Holy Spirit rekindle in us the graces which will make us true religious, true
priests and true apostles. Let us ask this urgently of Our Lord through the Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Letter to members of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost, 11th October, 1962.