Perfecta Laetitia

One of the joys of living in Rome is the ability to travel to the birthplace and central locales of so many great saints. These last couple days, I have had the grace to make a retreat of sorts in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi.

I have been to Assisi several times, but it has always been in haste–this time, we were able to spend a day and a night there. What struck me most during this pilgrimage was the idea of Francis’ perfect joy. It is well documented that the merchant son long yearned for the life of the troubadour–a traveling songster. He was known to have the ability to brighten any situation, as he did, for example, when he and several companions were taken prisoner after a local battle (with indomitable spirit, he lifted his fellow prisoners’ hearts with song even while in chains).

Well I suppose I am not surprised to see this joy as a characteristic of the saints. It’s just that he lived with this joy under rather remarkable circumstances.

I often wonder about the bus driver on these tours. I mean, the ones who usually go on these types of trips aren’t usually the ones on greatest spiritual need. During the ride, we pray and sing, and perhaps Father directs a few words exhorting us to a greater faith and trust in God. All the while, the driver has to listen to all of it and who knows what he is dealing with at work, at home…He hears Father’s assurance that all things work towards the good for those who love God, and brushes it off: what does this guy know of hardships? What does he know of really having to trust?

Here’s where I turn back to our Friar. This morning, we drove to La Verna, a mountaintop property which a benefactor donated to St Francis. It was here that the Beggar lived for two years towards the end of his life, and it was here that he received the stigmata. Stepping off the bus, a wall of frozen summit air practically crushed us–it wasn’t like this at Assisi. I walked over to a quiet cave where the saint stayed while he was there. It was very damp and humid, full of puddles, hardly inhabitable even for one of Francis’ dear brother creatures. It was not far from here that he received Christ’s wounds in his own flesh. I certainly didn’t feel Christ’s wounds, but all the same, I could no longer feel my toes either (and I’m guessing shoeless Francis often dealt with this).

Amid all of this, I remembered St Francis’ ideal of perfctae laetitiae. And I remembered the bus driver. And I am sure that for all his troubles, he is devoted to the Joyful Beggar, who continues to brighten hearts even today.


Second Impressions…

Last night, the Chapter Fathers came over to our house (the Center for Higher Studies) for mass. Originally, we had planned on celebrating the 49th anniversary of the Legion’s Decretum Laudis–the Decree of Praise, issued under Paul VI, which declared the Legion a congregation of Pontifical Right (i.e. having the potential to benefit more than just the diocese where the Legion was founded). Fr Eduardo was the principal celebrant, and in his homily, he mentioned that earlier that morning, the fathers hadn’t known that they would receive news from the Holy See regarding the confirmation of the election. In some way then, it was an interesting fact that the confirmation of the election coincided with this anniversary.

Prior to yesterday, I had only seen Fr Eduardo once or twice. Since he gave the homily, directed a few words of gratitude after the mass, and then made the rounds during dinner offering more personal greetings, I was able to define something of a first impression. He seems personable, like Fr Alvaro, yet slightly more reserved. He has a deliberate choice of words. At least from what I could see yesterday, I couldn’t discern whether he has much of a projecting vision for the Legion’s future. On the other hand, he clearly values the Legion’s collaboration with the lay movement, Regnum Christi: while describing the significance of the Decretum Laudis, he asserted that it applied not only to the Legion, but to Regnum Christi (inchoate at the time of the Decree). I don’t yet see him as an expert in communications, but on the other hand he will benefit from the current practices of Fr Sylvester Heereman, our ad-hoc general director during Fr Alvaro’s convalescence (Fr Sylvester seemed to bring a generally more straightforward approach to communication). I couldn’t form an impression regarding his style of governance, but given the favorable opinion of many fathers and brothers who have served under him in Mexico, it is likely to be respectful yet firm.

Later, I wondered if he is something of a compromise candidate. I know a fair number of Legionaries who wanted to place our apostolic charism at the forefront of this general chapter; Fr Eduardo (as yet–of course it is still early) doesn’t seem to represent that view. In particular, his election seems like a compromise in that rather than electing towards a rupture with the Legion’s oft-confusing past, the fathers elected someone who was a major superior for years under the founder, and has continued to be so afterwards. Nevertheless, the Holy See reserved the right to name the vicar general (Fr Jose Arrieta) and one of the general counselors (Fr Juan Sabadell), both of whom seem more inclined towards a charism-reform view. Naturally here again, time will have more to say on the matter.

Overall, I am glad that the Legion has elected a new government, and we continue to move forward in the rebuilding process.

First Reactions on the Election of Fr Eduardo

I posted a couple first reactions to Facebook yesterday:

With the election of Fr Eduardo Robles Gil, the chapter fathers are sending a message that the key to the Legion’s continuation is the faithful living of religious life.

Fr Eduardo Robles Gil has been Territorial Director of Mexico for about six months. Prior to that, he was the Assistant to the Territorial Director for Religious Life. In other words, his task was to assist the religious in his territory to persevere in living the basic commitments we all have undertaken: our life of poverty, chastity and obedience. Notably, he helped several members of his territory to weather the storm of the recent revelations regarding the founder, and the subsequent fallout.

In my opinion, this choice sends a particular message. The fathers could have chosen an apostle par excellence, someone who would help define the Legion in terms of its contribution to the Church and the world. The choice instead highlights the fact that above all, we are disciples, and before we go out and win the world, we’ve got to shore up our personal relationship with the Risen Christ.

It is also a deliberate attempt to fix the Legion’s decline in membership by renewing the very foundations of our day to day life.

Given these points, my first impression is favorable. Time will tell.