In our current and daily experience of Camillian life, it seems to me that the theme of ‘synodality’, with the paradigms and images that are proposed to us, today, by the broader ecclesial reflection, has not been widely thematised.
However, not thematising certain attitudes or lifestyles does not necessarily mean not living them.
Pope Francis, at the conclusion of his address to the members (consecrated and lay) of the Camillian charismatic family, during the audience granted, now almost four years ago, on 18 March 2019, offered this happy summary on the synodal theme “I encourage you to always cultivate communion among yourselves, in that synodal style that I have proposed to the whole Church, listening to one another and all of you listening to the Holy Spirit, in order to enhance the contribution that each individual reality offers to the one Family, so as to express more fully the multiple potentialities that the charism contains. Be ever more aware that “it is in communion, even if it costs effort, that a charism reveals itself authentically and mysteriously fruitful” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 130). In fidelity to the initial inspiration of the Founder and the Founders, and in listening to the many forms of suffering and poverty of humanity today, you will thus know how to make the gift you have received shine with an ever new light; and many and many young people throughout the world will be able to feel drawn by it and to join with you, to continue to bear witness to the tenderness of God“.
The term ‘synodality’ has its roots in the Greek word synodos, an ancient word in the tradition of the Church. Composed of the preposition σύν, ‘with’, and the noun ὁδός, way, ‘synod’ indicates the ‘journey’ made together by the people of God and recalls the commitment and participation of the entire people of God in the life and mission of the Church.
It is about walking in the same direction, promoting convergence of ideas and actions and cultivating unity in diversity, unity of spirit in the bond of peace (cf. Eph 4:3).
If we allow ourselves to be accompanied by the image of the ‘synod’ as an experience of walking together along the same road, as Camillians, we must ask ourselves some very concrete questions.
- Along which road should we walk together?
The main road to take remains our constitutional magna charta. In the Constitution and in the General Dispositions of the Order some terms – in their different lexical and grammatical nuances – that can help us to decline the Camillian synodal specificity are insistently repeated: ‘together’ recurs 17 times; ‘communion’ 9 times; ‘collaboration’ 9 times; ‘mission’ 10 times; ‘sharing’ 8 times; ‘listening’ 5 times; ‘discernment’ 3 times; ‘sharing’ 3 times.
The coordinates for a Camillian life emerge with great clarity: to live a common life oriented towards charity; to share the one charism; to assume together the identical mission, according to the gifts proper to each one and the service required by the Order (cf. Const. 14); to deal all together with the problems of greater importance concerning the life and activities of the community (cf. Const. 19); with openness and trust towards all, to facilitate dialogue with individual religious, to discover together the will of God and stimulate fidelity to the commitments of religious life (cf. Const 23); to insert our activities in those of the universal Church and the local Churches, in coordination and collaboration with other religious institutes, with the diocesan clergy, with the laity and apostolic associations (Const. 57); to seek fidelity to the charism and the renewal of the ministry, in harmony with the spirit of the Founder and the instances of inculturation (Const. 58).
If synodality is understood and lived not so much as a more or less democratic method or a current fashion, but as the dynamic dimension, the historical dimension of ecclesial communion, then it is also easy to see what personal and institutional limits are fracturing the common path and slowing it down to the point of sedentariness. First of all, the search for a spirituality of wellbeing or individual comfort, in which God may still be mentioned, but reduced to something intimate, to an impersonal representation of the beyond… It is a spirituality without a community or even ecclesial dimension, without the need for concrete fraternal relationships and commitments, which feeds instead on faceless subjective experiences, privileging an interior and/or formative and/or narcissistic ministerial search.
Paraphrasing God’s command to Abraham, the one from which every story of salvation originates, “Get out of your land, your kinship and your father’s house” (Gen 12:1), God’s word asks him to go out, to leave everything around him, to move towards other lands, other horizons; and in this going out also from himself, he is called to go among the nations, to bring blessing to all. Instead, the centripetal movement of the inner journey ended up absorbing and neutralising the decisive message: “Go, get out of yourself!”.
This attitude, contradicting in this way the biblical message, according to which one seeks God if one seeks man, one believes in God if one also believes in others, one loves the God one cannot see if one also loves others one sees (cf. 1 Jn 4:20), also risks compromising our ministry of mercy towards the suffering. What is today, the spirit of St. Camillus that should animate and motivate our personal and community vocation; what is the mystical intensity, the high temperature of the soul that in St. Camillus enabled him to cure – by touching the sick person and not exclusively delegating the ‘touch’ of the sick person to others – truly ‘every’ man and ‘the whole’ man?
What was the intimate motivation that allowed him to touch a weak, frail, sick, dying body but at the same time touch that person’s soul?
- With which style to walk together?
The person who wishes to walk agilely, long stretches of road realises that walking with light luggage, or rather, with ‘hand luggage’ only, is the most efficient strategy. If, then, this agile style is assumed by all walking companions, the stages to be organised, the climbs to be faced, the hiccups to be resolved will be an opportunity to grow in pliability and resilience.
With this lightness, above all of things and structures, it will be more immediate – because it is less over-structured – to identify needs, to descend into the needs of others, and those who are more fatigued or trudging will be able to rely confidently on others.
Meditating on St. Camillus’ letter testament can offer some strong insights into a basic element for building Camillian synodality and for not watering down our journey begun as ‘pilgrims of the Absolute’, reducing it to a typical journey of ‘tourists of the sacred’: “…we must with all exact diligence and spirit maintain the purity of our poverty… because our institute will be maintained to the extent that poverty is observed ad unguem (to the nail=to perfection)“.
The poverty so insisted upon by St. Camillus, turns out to be an incomparable indicator of the spiritual state, not only in the history of the Church, but also in the individual history of each one of us, particularly as Camillians. What are, in the concrete of our lives, the elements that show whether or not we live in the spirit of this first beatitude? In what does living as “poor” consist?
The poor in spirit accept that God penetrates him and disrupts his existence, ready to re-plan his life to follow God’s proposals. We become poor when we free ourselves from the egocentric mentality, from the spirit of omnipotence, when we unite our energies with those of others and accept to work for a project even if it is not of our own making; when we aspire to values and not to things; when we know how to possess and give without creating dependencies.
It is in fidelity to caring for the poor that the future of us Camillians is built. But we cannot be on their side if we do not have a heart set free by God. It is necessary to be free to take the side of those who have no voice to be heard; it is necessary not to be bound by any reality, to be free from forms of blackmail or seduction; free to love in a liberating way; free to allow ourselves to be continually challenged by the voice of God, who announces liberation with the coming of his Kingdom.
Today’s society challenges the life of following Jesus, in particular, with “a materialism greedy for possessions, inattentive to the needs and sufferings of the weakest” (Vita consecrata 89). We are called to respond with the challenge of evangelical poverty “often accompanied by an active commitment to the promotion of solidarity, justice and charity” (Ibid., 89).
This synodal style says the very style of God: it is a sign of a presence that does not impose itself, it is a shadow that caresses and does not overwhelm, it is a shelter that protects but does not divide or separate.
It is therefore prophecy! To stand beside one’s ‘poor’ neighbour, especially the frail and the sick, shows the beauty of an existence without walls or bolts, which close and prevent confidence, and assures that in suffering it is good to pause by sharing rather than manipulating.
- Who are our fellow travellers and ‘recipients’?
Our charismatic origins are synodal. The first and springing Camillian prophecy lies in St. Camillus’ intuition to gather a company of pious and good men who, for the love of God, would serve the sick. It is around this charismatic and spiritually incandescent nucleus that the Order over the centuries has responded to the centrifugal fibrillations of history, reaffirming the value of unity and walking together.
At the heart of the synodal journey, we must ask ourselves if we are really walking together, synodally with the poor, the sick and the suffering. These brothers and sisters are subjects for us, that is, companions on the path of evangelisation.
Do we really grow in accompanying each other in everyday life? Or are they merely the recipients of our pastoral attention? That is, are we still the ones who generously dispense our goods, convinced of their state of need, and are we not also beggars for attention, reciprocity, companionship, and support?
- Towards what goals does this shared path lead?
This synodal progress should implement and root our awareness through an active co-participation in the reflection and planning of the present and future of the Camillian charism.
We have almost become accustomed to talking about collaboration mainly from our current condition of need and necessity, due to the persistent internal vocational crisis and the progressive reduction of external resources.
Synodality, on the other hand, should animate in us a profound ‘cultural and methodological’ conversion so that our search for cooperation and sharing is not just a search for ‘labour’ but an authentic confrontation with the novelty that otherness always brings.
This path should be structured and intersect at several levels:
- Inter-congregational collaboration (at least between similar charismatic expressions) to grow in our sense of ecclesial belonging;
- Interprovincial collaboration, in the different geographical areas of provinces and delegations, to grow in mutual knowledge and increase the sense of unity in the Order;
- Collaboration with the professional world of health and illness, in order to grow in our training by acquiring skills, finalising an increasingly qualified service for the sick person;
- Sharing structures, resources and projects, overcoming the often short-sighted vision of personal projects or small elites, to free ourselves from personal identifications with such realities that in the end instead of releasing new ideas and healthy energies, force us into increasingly outdated existential and ministerial frameworks.
A Camillian Order, therefore, is synodal:
- grows in love and witness of faith to the extent that it places at the centre of its life and all pastoral action the assiduous listening to the Word of God prayed and lived individually and communally;
- with the ear of his heart he listens – sharing them – to the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of the men and women of today, of the poor above all – who are the flesh of Christ – and of all those who suffer;
- is in an attitude of missionary outreach and, in its various components, walks together, in a sober fraternal style;
- listens to the voice of the laity not by concession, but by right, stimulating and promoting the maturation of the bodies of participation in the choices and ministry of mercy;
- looks at today’s world – especially in the field of health, medicine, bioethics, etc. – with discernment but with sympathy, without fear, without prejudice, with courage, in the manner of God who, feeling the pains, joys and hopes of humanity as his own, “came down” to set it free (Ex 3:7-8);
- It knows how to equip itself with tools and structures that foster dialogue and interaction between all actors, assuming responsibility for proclaiming the Gospel of Life in a new way, more in keeping with a profoundly changed world and culture of life.
I do not really like the image of the “ford” attributed to the Church, and in a translated sense to our Camillian Order, if this means that we are like those who are far from the banks, insecure, perhaps afraid of drowning. Instead, I prefer the expression used by the Second Vatican Council, quoting St Augustine: “The Church “continues her pilgrimage amidst the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God”, proclaiming the passion and death of the Lord until he comes“.
The real “other shore”, the place of landing, is not a new layout, new structures, the assumption of new pastoral strategies: it is the encounter with the Coming One. Our Camillian Order also lives its pilgrimage through time with hope and facing the various passages with confidence, convinced that every passage, and even every difficulty, is an opportunity to grow in fidelity to the Lord and the Gospel, in the concrete mediation offered by our specific charism.
It is difficult to say how we will be in the future. We will probably be less numerous – at least in some geographical contexts that have traditionally been generators of Camillian history! – perhaps even less driven by tradition but more driven by conviction, more concerned with our charismatic coherence than with our assertion in history.
I believe that any true renewal of our Camillian communities stems from a more intense recognition of the centrality of Jesus, the Good Samaritan, in our personal and community life.
Also our Order, a living part of the Church, like every ecclesial reality, is a polyhedron with many faces and the forms it can take over time are different, but everything always comes from Jesus Christ and must always lead to Jesus Christ!
p. Gianfranco Lunardon
(translated in English as DEEPL)