J M J
THE MISSIONARIES OF CHARITY - CONTEMPLATIVE
We are a Community of Brothers and Priests in the family of the Missionaries of Charity, called by the Lord Jesus to devote ourselves especially to prayer, penance and wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor. Founded on the Charism given to Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and in very close cooperation with her, we came into being as a separate branch of the Missionaries of Charity on March 19, 1979; however, several of our senior members have had more than twenty-five years of experience living and working in different parts of the Society.We currently have one house in Rome, two in Albania, one of which is our noviciate, and one in India (near New Delhi).
Prayer and Penance
The life of prayer is central to our vocation, in fact it is our desire and aim that our whole life should become a profound prayer to God, in which we remain united with Him whilst engaged in all our various activities, both inside our houses and beyond them during periods of apostolate.
As a help towards reaching such a level of union with God (which of course is primarily His work and not attained or merited by any of our own efforts), we are supported by a solid daily programme of community prayer, including Holy Mass celebrated by one of our priests, at least two hours of Eucharistic Adoration, the Liturgy of the Hours - of which we always sing Lauds and Vespers - the Rosary, daily Litanies etc. There is also time set aside each day for spiritual reading and there is always some time for further private prayer if this is desired. We also have the opportunity for a day of profound prayer in complete silence and solitude once a month.
Penance also plays a special part in our life in order to make reparation both for our own sins and for the whole world. We have opportunities to receive the sacrament of reconciliation very regularly, and our daily life is characterised by a spirit of reparation. We are not a strictly silent order - our apostolic works forbid this - but outside periods of prescribed recreation we observe a spirit of silence and prayerfulness which respects the need of each Brother for intimate and personal communion with God. Our daily life includes a number of specific forms of penance, but more important than all these is the underlying trend of our life in which we aspire to daily conversion to the Gospel by accepting with joy all the crosses which God sends us, often unexpectedly, and which are never lacking.
The three nails by which we are joined to the cross which we have freely chosen, and which God chose for us before time began, are these: the Eucharist; Our Lady; the presence of Jesus in the poorest of the poor.
In the Eucharist we find the centre of our life; the spiritual food that nourishes and sustains us on our pilgrimage through the joys and difficulties of this earthly life towards the eternal glory that awaits us. We rejoice to have God Himself truly present in our midst under the forms of bread and wine, and we recognise in the Blessed Sacrament the centre not only of our community life but of the Church's whole global activity.
Every good Christian has a deep devotion to Our Lady, but as Missionaries of Charity we believe that we have a special patrimony in this respect, and we rejoice to be fondly loved by the Blessed Mother whom we honour particularly under the title of "Cause of our Joy". We are rewarded by finding much joy in our lives of sacrifice offered to the Father through and with Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross and in the Mass. Mary is the one who always keeps us close to Jesus and who will guide us through all the storms and difficulties of life to a happy conclusion for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls.
The poorest of the poor are all around us. Before we can see them, we have to discover our own material and spiritual poverty in front of Jesus, who is Himself poor to the point of annihilation, hidden under the form of simple bread. This poverty is both liberating and life-giving, and the path by which we can truly learn to love our Brothers, first of all those in community, and then all the needy ones with whom our work brings us into contact, as well as all of our many lay helpers.
As we have already suggested, the first mission-field for us is our own hearts, and the second one our own Brothers in community who have special need to find God's tender love reflected in us. However, according to our Constitutions we are also actively engaged with many needy people in the outside world; who these are depends, of course, on the special needs of the places where we live. In Rome, visiting the slums, hospitals and gypsy encampments, a night ministry to the homeless and sacramental services in prisons are all part of the apostolate: we also have a night shelter for about sixty homeless men, who are provided with a bed, clothing, washing and medical facilities as well as two meals a day and, most important of all, a family to belong to. In Albania we have been meeting a very wide spectrum of spiritual and material needs amongst people who have suffered from 45 years severe state repression including the attempted total annihilation of religion: in particular, we are now hoping to expand our ministry to the prisons and hospitals as well as doing as much catechism as we can in the local villages. In India, our house and Church is in a completely non-Christian area, and we try to give significant witness by living an authentically contemplative Christian life, at the same time as providing loving care and shelter for some sixty handicapped boys - irespective, of course, or their religious or cultural background. As we find ourselves in new situations, we are always ready to adapt, with God's help, to any new work that the Lord may show us amongst those who are truly the poorest.
Customs and Community Life
An important feature of our life is the wearing of a habit - grey for professed Brothers and white for novices - with a shoulder crucifix; we also normally use sandals for footwear.
Our community morning prayer usually begins at five o'clock, and we are free to retire after Compline some time after nine in the evening. We are careful to preserve material poverty in the simplicity of our food and in keeping such things as washing arrangements as simple as possible; all of our personal washing is done by the Brothers by hand. In union with the poverty of the Holy Family we freely choose not to have such things as televisions, radios and washing machines, although we do own a number of vans as these are essential for our work in the service of those in need. We usually live in dormitories or shared rooms and eat all meals in common, some of which are in silence. On most days at lunch time and after supper we have the chance to relax and to share with each other the joys and sorrows of life, as well as combining any artistic, musical or theatrical talents we may have in various community projects.Our community language is always English, though there is no absolute prohibition of the use of other languages to facilitate communication in the early stages of formation.
Our first priority is to be obedient, not only in letter but also in spirit, to the mind of the Church in our formation. In this respect her magisterial documents are of fundamental importance in our formation, which continues all through our religious life, although it is of course more concentrated during noviciate and other specified periods of our development. The simplicity and power of the Gospel is also an important characteristic of this aspect of our life, and we are careful not to become involved in studies for their own sake: much of our formation is based on an intelligent and sensitive understanding of the Bible, applying the Truths we have learnt to our own lives and to the world in which we live, always in the service of the poorest of the poor. "A man has as much knowledge as he puts into practice" (St. Francis).
Candidates to our Society can come from very different backgrounds, cultures and educational levels, and during their formation it is important that they should learn to love one another truly as Brothers in Christ. For this reason the formation must be based at a level which everybody can understand without difficulty. Brothers who show the aptitude for higher studies may be able to exercise this later on, but the noviciate particularly is the "School of the Heart".
Brothers and Priests
We believe that one of God's greatest gifts to our congregation is the opportunity to live a common life in mixed communities of priests and lay brothers. Each have their special and indispensable tasks to perform to complement one another in the building up of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and of judicious superiors (who are not necessarily priests).
The choice of the candidates for training for the priesthood rests with our superiors and is only made after the completion of the noviciate; it is therefore important that each Brother should entrust his state of life entirely to the hands of God and be happy always to remain in the lowest place, as well as humbly to accept any appointments given to him. Whatever our status with respect to clerical ordination, we all remain Brothers, and call one another "Brother",
with the sole exception of the Father General.
Our vocation as Missionaries of Charity is to be Contemplatives in the heart of the world; that is, to be closely in touch with the realities of modern life, especially in so far as they are experienced by the poorest and the weakest of our brothers and sisters, while remaining intimately in communion with Jesus in prayer and in the Eucharist. We are not Contemplatives in the sense that our life is perpetually silent and strictly enclosed within the cloister, but, as our Constitutions state, our life is essentially contemplative, apostolic and missionary - a life in which contemplation underlies all true activity, but rather than excluding us from works in the outside world, it impels us to them for limited periods of time. However, in relation to the other male branches of the Missionaries of Charity ( there are both "active" Brothers and Fathers ) our life is characterised by a greater emphasis on prayer as the true basis of all spiritually fruitful activity. God bless you.
Fr. Sebastian Vazhakala M.C.