THE CHALLENGE OF “APOSTOLIC SIMPLICITY”
No 12, February 2012
Bishop deBrésillac was a missionary in India for twelve years in an area where the challenges for doing mission were numerous and demanding. He felt strongly the need to look at the experience of Jesus’ Apostles and the early Christians. In his youth he had been marked by the reading of a book on sacred history that outlined this experience. In 1843 he wrote to Bishop Bonnand: “I would like that we employ all possible means at once and especially that we do not neglect those means that come closest to the simple evangelical preaching of the Gospel of the Apostles … “(December 1843).
At the same time, he wrote to his friend Father Luquet, and wondered why the missions were far from their “natural state”: “In my opinion, it is that one does act like the apostles in the apostolic ministry” and then adds: “My whole thought can be summarized in these two words: To do what the Apostles did and as the Apostles did it, only this, but nothing less than this. So I would like an institution that is absolutely, purely and truly apostolic” (December 3, 1843). He understands that to achieve this objective he must take into consideration the real situation: “My ideas will probably undergo many changes before they are formed. The main thing is they come as close as possible to the Apostles” (ibid.). He also thinks of the twelve holy and devout scholarly bishops who, sent by the Pope, like the ancient apostolic vicars, would march on foot in the various continents, dressed evangelically and who would preach the folly of the Cross, ″thus renewing the time of Peter and Paul.″
Why this reminder of our Founder’s thoughts on a simple and apostolic mission? Because today there is an important and urgent need for simplicity in our own way of being and acting as missionaries of a “Society of Apostolic Life” and there is a need for a courageous choice, in ways that are not impossible, to return to what is essential in the mission that Jesus has given to us.
If you look at the course of history and the geography of the Christian faith we realize that we could have proclaimed the Good News to the peoples of every continent more fully and we could have done it better. The same is true for the building of authentic local Churches.
It is worth recalling the rapid advance of the Christian movement in the first five centuries in the West and the East (the mission during this period in the East was rich in instruction and is almost unknown to us), when we were closer to the simplicity of the Apostles (the institutional aspect was minimized) and to see that, following this period, the number of difficulties, both theoretical and practical which, for centuries, have slowed and sometimes stopped, the movement and reception of the preaching of the gospel. Indeed, the more the Christian movement became “Christianity” and the more it became more structured, the less ‘mission’ had momentum as the commitment of all the baptized.
To come to our own time, the simplicity of the Apostolic era would help us to be more incisive and efficient, more essential, more capable of performing a task which by its nature, should be contextual; more open to the changes of our time (the digital age) that requires ever more speed, efficiency and a freedom of spirit that does not mean that we do what we want but we do it for the best reasons: “what God wants, as he wants, and nothing more” (From Brésillac, Retreat to Missionaries, 245). This would reduce the wide dispersion of energy that is part and parcel of missionary institutions: this dispersion is caused by, among other things, the weight of very heavy structures, by individualism seeking the promotion of personal projects only, by the too frequent tendency to shun to the sidelines the laity who were, for centuries, the great craftsmen of the Christian way and the guardians of the Christian faith in several countries.
To return to our founder, his dream as a young missionary was to improve the situation of mission: could the depth of his thought not help us today?
– Our spiritual progress, which is both necessary and constant, draws us closer to God: he is an infinitely simple being and he shares his simplicity with the disciples of his Son Jesus in what they are and in what they do.
– This grace of God helps us in our interpersonal relationships: intellectualism, the inability to break free from ideological points of view, wild opinions, disturbing subjectivism extended into every sphere, devious behavior and twisted and ambiguous discourse, the anxious attention to the structure and pettiness of everyday life, make it difficult for Apostolic communities and for Apostolic work. Missionary activity demands clear choices, which are concerted, disinterested, and in full harmony with ecclesial options, if they exist…
– Jesus tells us: “When you speak, say ”Yes” or ”No”; the rest comes from the evil one” (Mt 5: 37). We are at ease when we meet someone who says “Yes” and means yes and when he says “No” and means no!
The Episcopal motto of our founder was “Lumen Rectis“: light for the upright. This is one of the fruits of the simplicity of the Apostles. It is a guarantee for today’s mission in a world where it is ever more urgent to present ourselves as missionaries who know what they are (an identity that is clear and precise), who know for whom they live and act (Jesus Christ the missionary of the Father and the only Saviour), who know who they wish to have their first contact with (every category of the poor and oppressed) and who know what news they announce (the Gospel and the whole Gospel).
If we keep this focus, we are just to those who meet us and to those whom we want to meet as messengers of Jesus Christ, the missionary of the Father.
Fr Bruno Semplicio SMA
Postulator for the Cause of Melchior de Marion Brésillac