Our Founder Today – 7

Having the “Spirit of our state”

Melchior de Brésillac was a priest for only a few months when he was curate of St Michel Parish in Castelnaudary. Writing to his friend Victorin Vian on March 21st 1839 he wondered: « But what holiness it would require to exercise the priestly functions worthily? The life of a priest in ministry is only a continual exercise of what there exists of the holiest ». He prayed and added: « Fortunately, I have under my eyes, good examples of virtuous confreres; may you obtain, through your prayers, that I may be able to imitate them ». He also suggests to him that he asks the Virgin Mary to pray for him to have « the spirit of his state » and he underlines these words.  

Melchior de Brésillac prepared himself well for priesthood. He says that he thought of both priesthood and missions, « as soon as He (God) gave me the full use of my reason » (Souvenirs1, 17). To fulfil this idea, he used spirituals means to accomplish it, and particularly organised retreats and less organised ones to dedicate his life to the service of the Lord and his mission. He did this mainly through prayer and contemplation. Many prayers in Souvenirs are all « at the heart of life ». Moreover, everything in him was geared towards « his spiritual advancement », an expression he used many times. He knew that the spiritual life, by its nature, is meant to progress forward.

In our Servant of God, both priesthood and commitment to mission went together and grew together; they sustained each other, complemented each other. They both grew together, with one not neglecting the other. On the contrary, they contributed to the moulding of a personality that found its human and spiritual fulfilment in the configuration to Christ, the unique and supreme Priest, who was different from all others, « worthy of faith and merciful » (Heb 2:17); a missionary of the Father to the world. This strengthened in de Brésillac the deep and interior harmony that comes from the Holy Spirit and its gifts and inspirations. And it also amplified and intensified « the spirit of his state » as a priest and a missionary.

Priesthood and mission allowed our Founder to face, in a creative and intelligent way, the great challenges of mission in India, and not to be discouraged in the face of the temporary failure of this apostolic experience and to have the light and the strength from the Spirit to undertake another mission in Africa and the founding of the SMA.

In the retreat to Missionaries of Pondicherry, in 1849, our Founder invited each one to be fully « at his work », God’s work, to make good use of his time, to strive for the qualities of the good shepherd, to possess apostolic zeal, joy and courage: « Not illusions, but courage! ».

Today, we priests and missionaries are at the end of the Year of the Priest, which had as its theme: « Faithfulness of Christ, faithfulness of the priest ». Our faithfulness comes from that of Christ, who dedicated all his life to the work of his Father; Jesus thought, spoke, and acted in each circumstance according to the demands of « his hour »; according to the spirit of his state as Word incarnate for us, whose priesthood was not like that of the « priests » of his time and like that of those who, up to today, imitate them. Jesus was anointed « to announce the Good News to the poor […], to proclaim freedom to captives and sight to the blind and to set the downtrodden free » (Lk 4:18; Is 58:6).

These past months a lot has been said and written in the media about some long standing priestly infidelities. The word « abuse » has reoccurred often, abuses that not only offended sexuality and chastity but also, seriously, justice.

About the direct and indirect, psychological and spiritual reasons, often at the origin of these painful events, it would be desirable and useful that we give a reflection, not only individually, but also as a community, since we are called to a «common response » to the missionary call from the Lord (Cf. Constitutions SMA, 1).

Even though the vast majority of priests are faithful, often, at times, in very difficult and dangerous situations, and missionaries dedicate themselves to their mission every day with generosity, we must also consider the many types of abuses that we can commit: Abuses against chastity, truth, and justice towards Jesus Christ and his Church, towards those who are most vulnerable among the people of God – the little ones, the poor, the simple, the humble and against those weak in faith.

Studies by experts and experience teach us that grave infidelity almost never occurs out of the blue. They are often fostered by omissions related to « the spirit of our state », behavioural patterns and life styles that are not compatible with the commitment to perfection of love that our missionary oath and priesthood demand from us.

As missionaries and priests, «the spirit of our state» is strengthened when the two realities that characterise us find the most favourable conditions to develop and enable us to respond well to our vocation.

Our priestly state, configured to Christ, the unique priest, different from all others, “worthy of faith and merciful’, is more fulfilled when all its great and often unknown and neglected possibilities are put at the service of our mission.

Our mission, which comes from Christ and which leads to Him, is fully accomplished when, at every moment, we remember Him, who is at its source, who gives it meaning, and is its model and final goal. In His name and following in His footsteps, we can minister to various people in the most favourable conditions.

Finally, during an address to an assembly of priests, Timothy Radcliffe, former Prior General of the Dominicans, affirmed that « it is through crises that we can draw nearer to God »; and that from our failures « God can draw some good if we live through them in faith ». And I would add, if we live them as brothers according to « the spirit of our state » and its demands.

Bruno Semplicio SMA, Postulator for the Cause of Bishop de Brésillac