Eucharist and the Spirituality of the Arnoldus’ Family

Author: Xavier Thirukudumbam, SVD
Subject: Eucharist
Language: English, Spanish
A Reflective Interpretation of the Founder’s Eucharistic Insights

Introduction

When we speak of the spirituality of saint Arnold Janssen, the focus is often on the more explicit and striking elements, such as the Holy Trinity, Word of God, Holy Spirit, including his pious devotions to the Blessed Sacrament, Sacred Heart, Blessed Virgin Mary and our special patron saints, in terms of their significance to the religious, contemplative-missionary life and mission of the Arnoldian charismatic family.  The regular communitarian celebration of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, which is very fundamental and overarching element of our Founder’s spirituality is perhaps presumed or taken for granted.

This article is a personal reflective interpretation of the insights of Arnold’s Eucharistic vision and mission, and their significance to our contemporary context. Therefore, the purpose and perspective of this paper are not to offer a theological treatise or seek constitutional legitimation or provide historical substantiation to Arnold’s understanding of the sacrament of the Eucharist but to reinstate its centrality in the mission and manner of life for the SVD-SSpS-SSpSAP congregations. It is an interpretative persuasion to the members to see the Eucharistic mission as the core of Arnold’s missionary legacy.

Before we go into the symbolism of the sacrament of the Eucharist as conceived by Arnold, it’s important to understand what it means to interpreting his Eucharistic insights. An exercise of interpretation is a semantic interplay between the symbol and the context of the person who tries to make sense out of the symbol. In this process, what ultimately matters is the significance of the message of the symbol and its ability to evoke a transformative response. Every understanding is an interpretation when it leads to the conversion of the interpreter. In a dialogical conversation between the worldview of the symbol and that of the interpreter, the latter is able to enter into the worldview of the symbol and appropriates it.

This article seeks to highlight how the Founder’s appropriation of the evocative, vibrant and living ‘world’ of the symbol of the sacrament of the Eucharist transformed his life, and keep transforming the life and mission of the three congregations he founded.

  1. The Contemporary Context: A Cause for Concern

We are already confronted with harsh realities of shrinking, sinking and extinct Eucharistic communities. Empty churches and aging devotees are disheartening developments. Even in religious communities, Eucharistic celebrations are not seen as regular phenomenon! Adding fuel to the fire, we have gotten ourselves into dangerous and uncertain times when the regular church services are restricted and physical participation is prohibited. Online masses and virtual attendances keep widening the social distance. While the outdated liturgical services are unappealing to the youth, the Church that is steadfast in conserving some of its glorious traditions resents creative practices and fears losing its identity. The young religious missionaries who come into this scenario, both men and women, struggle to reconstruct their identity and role so as to make sense of their life and mission. Our congregations are no exceptions to it.

A welcome shift in the pastoral-missionary paradigm, prompted by the changing times and situations, has come with its cost. Moving from the sender to the sent and acknowledging the pluralistic worldviews and polycentric mission, the Church’s sense of sacramentality has assumed a new and progressive understanding. Engagement with creative and unconventional ministries, constituting human communities, caring for our common home through sustainable developments and promoting an ecological ecclesiology are some of the heartwarming outcomes of the shift.

At the same time, these changes have rung the alarm bells, threatening to dislodge some of the traditional and communitarian pious practices, devotions and even some sacramental celebrations. The ad extra ‘reach-out’ approach tends to keep some of the ad intra communitarian activities ‘out of reach’ of its ‘out-going’ members! This outreach augmentation seems to pose a potential threat to the congregations that boast of their communitarian charism.

Delinking the Eucharist from some of the regular and significant celebrations, or substituting it with para liturgical service, or replacing it entirely with secular celebrations is fast becoming a common trend. Various jubilees, important events, initiation ceremonies, inaugurations, anniversaries, feasts, joyous occasions, milestone achievements, commemorations, etc. which were celebrated traditionally in the context of the holy Eucharist are becoming increasingly secularized celebrations.

Revitalizing the relevance of the sacramental Eucharistic celebrations and rejuvenating the various devotional practices related to the holy Eucharist that marked the essential aspects of the spirituality of the Founder and the founding generation is a challenging task. It is an indispensable task because the sacrament of the holy Eucharist is the foundation to the life and mission, not only of the Arnoldian family but of the entire Church.  What does it take to achieve this onerous task? The pious devotional practices may appear unattractive. But behind these exercises, there are profound insights that go beyond the present, surpassing every context and culture. Interpreting the insights inherent in the Eucharistic practices of our Founder is the intent of this article.

  1. Foundations to the Foundation of Arnold’s Eucharistic Spirituality

Before we venture into the acts of identifying and interpreting Arnold’s Eucharistic insights, we should ascertain the springboard of his spirituality. His approach and attitude to Eucharist reflect three significant factors that subsequently formed the bases for his spirituality of the Eucharist.

  1. 1. Eucharistic Environment

The boy Arnold drew his inspiration from his familial environment of genuine religiosity. He was fortunate to inherit an environment imbedded with an envious spiritual tradition of  numerous devotional and pious practices such us regular reading and reflecting together on the Word of God, family prayers, frequent and devotional participation in the holy Eucharist, Way of the Cross, etc. Life’s most impressionable lessons are learnt at home. And for Arnold, it proved to be true. His mother, a simple, hardworking, pious, charitable and exceptionally affectionate woman, had a tremendous influence upon her children, especially on Arnold. Her participating in the everyday Holy Mass and sometimes more than once on Sundays and feast days, spending time in devotions to the Blessed Sacrament, etc. had a definite and qualitative impact upon her life and in the life of the family.[1] Arnold was convinced that his biological family’s spiritual legacy would help the global family he would eventually gather.

  1. 2. Eucharistic Experience

Imbibing the Eucharistic spirituality is one thing, experiencing its profound impact in one’s life is another thing. Arnold’s Eucharistic devotions were not isolated routine practices but an inexhaustible source of grace though which he encountered the Triune God. He saw the holy Eucharist, which was so central to his spirituality, as the throne of the Blessed trinity. Through the celebration of the Eucharist, he not only experienced an intimate union with God but also a constant source of strength and transformation in his life.[2] The ineffable joy and loving devotion with which he celebrated the daily holy Mass made lasting impressions on those around him. His daily life that began with the holy Eucharist was marked by the Eucharistic spirit. Emerging from the Eucharistic table, he was serene, gentile, generous, and benevolent that people around him took advantage of this opportune time to obtain favors and permissions from him![3]

  1. 3. Eucharistic Charism

Quite naturally, he wished that the members of the congregations he founded would also strengthen their life of communion and mission through the sacrament of the Eucharist. He wanted all the members of the congregations he founded, to make the daily participation in the Eucharist as a spiritual habit. He knew from his personal experience that Eucharist is the source of strength in fulfilling the missionary task and a sacrament of union with others. He expected and encouraged such habits through his exemplary personal life, orderly observances, exhortations, spiritual writings, and incorporating them into the constitutions and rules of the three congregations, for he believed that their strength, survival, service and solidarity would depend on the sacramental life in the Eucharistic Lord.[4]

 

  1. Incredible Insights Inherent in Arnold’s Eucharistic Practices

No doubt, regular participation in the Eucharistic celebrations and other related devotional spiritual exercises, with deep reverence and religiosity, elevates one’s spirit and enhances his/her affective intimacy with God. But that would be too simplistic an understanding of Arnold’s Eucharistic spirituality. It contains certain significant insights that reflect a profound legacy which transcends these observances and practices.  We will be doing violence to those insights if we don’t interpret them to our context and integrate them in our religious, contemplative-missionary life.

  1. 1. The Sacrament of the Eucharist is not an Institution but an Event

One of the most illuminating insights in Arnold’s understanding of the Eucharist is that it not an institution but an event. It is not a moment restricted to the enactment of the sacrament but a movement that extends beyond the worship, to the experiences and situations of life. Departing from the traditional ritualization and sacramentalization of the Eucharist, Arnold draws our attention to the persistent and pervasive effect of the Eucharist. The Eucharist of Arnold’s conception does not end with the formal sacramental celebration. In fact, it is just the beginning. Making each day an ‘Eucharistic day’, and permitting the whole day of one’s  life and activities to be permeated by  the Eucharistic spirit, amounts to liberating the Eucharist from the limits of the ritual act and extending it to the Eucharist of life.[5]

Emphasizing the memorial and sacrificial aspects of it, Arnold captures the mind and mentality of Jesus manifested in the latter’s life and mission. Jesus’ evocative acts at his last supper with his disciples foreshadowing his self-sacrifice on the cross, and including the washing of the feet of the disciples, with a command to “do it in memory of me”, are exemplifications inviting us to imitate his life and keep alive his memory.[6]

He wished his disciples to keep alive his acts of sensitivity to the social outcasts, his service to the sick and suffering, his ministering the marginalized, his discernment and determination to do the will the Father, his boundless forgiveness, his infinite mercy, his trust in humanity and his self-giving love. The memorial sacrifice that begins at the altar should continue to unfold itself in the everyday events of the life of the disciples. In the same spirit, what Arnold experienced in his personal life, he encouraged his followers also to make it their own. In other words, the followers encounter the same Jesus in the form of bread and wine at the altar of the Eucharistic and in form of flesh and blood in the persons with whom they live and to whom they are sent to serve at the altar of the world.

  1. 2. The Sacrament of the Eucharist is the Communion of Communions

Perhaps the most sublime insight of the Founder is his conception of the sacrament of the holy Eucharist as the foundation for the Trinitarian spirituality, which he bequeathed to the three congregations as the fundamental spiritual legacy.  Envisioning the Eucharist as the throne of the triune God,[7] Arnold idealizes three-fold relationships that culminate in the communion of communions.

First, there is the intrinsic divine communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the sacrament of the holy Eucharist. It is an event of the sacrifice of Jesus to the Father in the Spirit.  Arnold’s indubitable experience is that the Divine Word comes together with the Blessed Trinity in the holy Eucharist. In a reflective understanding of the words of consecration in the Holy Eucharist, the Founder expresses his conviction that the sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus Christ is prepared for us by the Holy Spirit at the direction of the Father and the Son in holy Mass.[8]

Second, through sanctifying grace of the Eucharist, the holy Trinity lives in us and shares their divine life. According to him, the function of the holy Eucharist is the nourishment and sustenance of the indwelling of the three divine persons in us. That is why he was able to envision the life of the one and triune God in our hearts and in the hearts of all people as the very mission of his followers.[9]

Third, those united through the Eucharist in the holy Trinity, cannot but promote and expand this unity so that the holy Triune God lives in the hearts of all. Strengthened by the vertical union experienced in the Eucharist, the followers of Arnold venture in their everyday life to reflect and bear witness to this unity in the communion ad intra, and proclaim and promote communion ad extra among all brothers and sisters in the world, thus making Eucharist the foundation, source and sustenance of the mission. This was the vision that moved Arnold Janssen to found three congregations whose mission is precisely to live and work in such a way that all peoples may be led to fullness of life and share in the communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  1. 3. The Sacrament of the Eucharistic is a Sacrament of Communion Ad Extra

More than ever before, in the Church and among the religious congregations and organizations, the concepts of ‘collaboration’ and ‘networking’ are gaining currency today. Shortage of personnel and depleting resources on the one hand, the urgency and complexity of the issues of the mission on the other, have compelled these institutions to think of inter-congregational and inter-organizational, concerted and collaborative efforts to address those issues.

Proclamation of the gospel, establishment of the Reign of God,  evangelizations of cultures, ecological conversion, caring for our common home, promotion of human rights, pursuing sustainable developmental goals etc. are missionary endeavors that need concerted efforts. Realizing this necessity, various religious congregations with their specific charisms and apostolates have begun to join hands to contribute their expertise and resources to promote causes of common concern and foster projects of shared interests.

Arnold anticipated this idea two centuries before when he founded the three congregations and blessed them with the Trinitarian spirituality founded on the Eucharist. He was well aware that mission is a collaborative enterprise. In Arnold’s vision, mission ad extra is inevitably connected to communion ad intra.

Primarily, the two coincide with one another. The mission ad extra of making the holy Triune God live in all people is achieved by realizing the twofold union of communion ad intra, that is, the communion with the Triune God experienced in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and the communion among the members of the community, congregation,  Arnoldian family, lay partners and the Church at large.

Secondarily, the communion ad extra is the result of the powerful witness value of the communion ad intra, and the communion that we promote by building communities. The three congregations working unitedly for this evangelical cause and networking with other religious congregations, organizations, institutions and agencies, is a visible sign of our faithfulness to our Founder’s vision of making the heart of Jesus live in the hearts of all people.   He must be pleased to see us expanding his vision to assume another dimension of organizing and animating communities of lay partners, whose communion and collaboration extend the legacy to another level.

The collaborative projects of VIVAT International, Arnold Janssen Spirituality Network (AJSN) and other combined ventures that we carry out with various congregations and organizations are significant signs of the expanding communion. Such movements can have contagious and constructive impact in making the Triune God live in the hearts of all.

  1. 4. The Sacrament of the Eucharist is the Vision of Missio Dei

His understanding of the Eucharist encapsulates his missionary vision. As the memorial sacrifice, the holy Eucharist makes present the memory of Jesus’ life and ministry with the marginalized, social outcasts, Samaritans, publicans and the poor, breaching the Jewish  boundaries and frontiers to proclaim the love and reconciliation of God to the ‘gentile world’. The memorial of the Eucharist evokes Jesus’ mission ad gentes, that is, his preferential option for the least, last and the lost.

Obviously, our Founder allowed this memorial aspect of the Eucharist to shape his vision of the frontier mission of proclaiming the Word at the international, intercultural, and interreligious frontiers. The challenge for us today is to expand this Eucharistic mission and transform it as inter gentes, actualizing it in the new frontier situations and issues that are emerging from the enormous changes taking place today, and the uncertainties associated with such developments.

In the complex contemporary context, we cannot afford to adhere to our traditional approaches. Adopting creative, unconventional, inter-congregational, ecological, prophetic and dialogical approaches elicit better responses. For instance, the effectiveness of our approaches to the frontier situation of the pandemic, especially reaching out to the poor, migrant and displaced people, and attending to their various needs were incredible. The people’s response, both as benefactors and beneficiaries, were was amazing. We were able to mobilize resources in excess and the expression of solidarity was exceptional. Churches were locked up but the services continued. Surprisingly the donations, offerings and Mass intentions increased comparatively!

  1. 5. The Sacrament of Eucharist is Symbol of Fellowship and Rightly Ordered Relationships

We know that the Reign of God is the central theme of Jesus’ public ministry, his teachings, preaching, parables, miracles and healings. For him, Reign of God consists in restoring the rightly ordered relationship with God and one another. The Sacrament of the Eucharist, which is the anticipation of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, originates from his dramatic table fellowship with the poor, sinners and social outcasts. It is an extraordinary expression of communion symbolically indicating the nature of the new community he envisaged.[10]

A few years ago, I encountered a religious brother, who was a visiting lecturer to our philosophate in India. This brother had a very good reputation in his congregation and occupied several significant positions of leadership. He was also known for social developmental activities in south India. What was disturbing me about this brother was that he was conspicuous in his absence for the daily Eucharist. Didn’t he believe in the efficacy of the holy Mass? I was curious to know the reason but was hesitant to ask him as it would amount to poking my nose into his personal life.

However, since he was teaching in a formation house, which was under my care, I thought I had the responsibility to deal with this “scandalous” behavior. One morning, I gathered up my courage and raised the issue with him. I was not prepared for an angry outburst from him. He yelled at me saying, “You, priests, play politics when you celebrate Mass. You take advantage of your position to look down upon us and discriminate us!” I was helpless to counter his arguments. Perhaps there was truth in what he said. He might have emotionally articulated the sentiments of many religious who feel that way.

The holy Eucharist, which is a powerful symbol of fellowship and communion, is seen to be an avenue of resentment and division. Clericalism, inadequate preparations to celebrate the holy Eucharist, inappropriate breaking of the Word, abuse of the pulpit for ulterior motives, etc. have made people feel alienated, insecure, uncomfortable and out of place in the Eucharistic community. Conservative and cultic approach to the living symbol of the Eucharist can kill the very life and spirit of the Eucharist as envisaged by our Founder.

Our mission ad gentes, with its preferential option for the people of the periphery can cause inadvertent dissention and division in the very community we intent to build. In our mission work, we have moved from charity based approach to restoring the rights of the people. Now we have come to realize that mere restoring of rights does not set things right. So we began to focus on the healthy environment that would sustain the dignity, freedom and rights of the people. But unless and until our approach is oriented ultimately to promoting harmonious communion, we fall short of achieving the Eucharistic union envisioned by the Founder.

  1. 6. The Eucharistic Community is an Intercultural Communion

As we have dealt already with little doubt that for Arnold, the Eucharistic communities are missionary communities in terms of their witnessing to the three levels of communion, namely, the community that celebrates the profound manifestation of the divine communion of the holy Trinity in the Eucharist, the lived experience and exemplification of that communion in those religious communities, and the consistent commitment to promote such communion by constituting harmonious human communities. But did he intend that the local communities of the three religious congregations he founded to be intercultural in nature?

I tend to agree with Fr. Anthony Pernia, who, interpreting the mind and spirit of the Founder, says that interculturality is a heritage we inherited from our Founder.[11]  True to the spirit of the Founder, we have embraced interculturality as our distinguishing mark and prioritized it as the essential aspect of our life and mission. We have come to be recognized and admired for being so intercultural and proclaiming the intercultural mission.

This intercultural communion that we proclaim draws its inspiration and strength from the Eucharistic communion. Thanks to our Founder, whose vision of intercultural mission had gained for us in the Church today relevance, acknowledgment and appreciation. In an age marked by increasing divisive and disturbing tendencies of racism, xenophobia, neo nationalism, narrow communalism, casteism, ethnocentrism and tribalism, our communion ad intra has a tremendous prophetic character. It denounces these tendencies and announces the intercultural mission ad extra by giving witness and visibility to the Reign of God.

Unifying people, fostering communion, building bridges, and promoting peace and reconciliation are visible signs of the Reign of God. Our communities can truly become prophetic only when the dialogue ad intra becomes their daily dynamics. Our intercultural mission will be incomplete without prophetic dialogue. They are inextricably interconnected that we cannot achieve one without the other. We need to be constantly on the watch that we do not succumb to the above mentioned unchristian tendencies, yielding to the temptations from within or pressures from outside.[12]

In our community living, when there are personal conflicts, the temptation is to give a cultural coloring to our personality differences in order to gain some benefits. In times of tensions, the history of cultural hegemony and the colonial past may also tend to prop up. Transition of leadership becomes a painful experience when the young and emerging generation of leadership in the communities is perceived as threats to the traditional ways of doing mission.  Giving up the control over the community’s hard earned resources becomes a struggle. When one’s personal interests and desires are denied or unfulfilled, one tends to interpret certain genuine individual exceptions or access to certain personal privileges in the community as discriminatory or acts of partiality.

Lack of tolerance towards others’ shortcomings and being intimidated by the genuine personal differences can hinder the demonstration of mutual concern and appreciation in the community. Such occasions can pose potential threats to peace or ferment conflicts and discord in the community. Methods and mechanisms to promptly address such eventualities and providing avenues for periodic enhancement of intercultural competence of the members are to be part of regular community dynamics.

Conclusion

In the light of the contemporary situation, when the human society is fragmented by various forces for nefarious motives, what can be more relevant a mission than promoting intercultural mission envisioned in the spirituality of sacrament of the Eucharist? This is the legacy that should make all the members of the Arnold’s family proud and zealous as religious contemplative missionaries. By attempting to interpret the Founder’s insights into the symbol of the sacrament of the Eucharist, I intended to convey a message that we need to revive the significance of the sacrament of the Eucharist for the Arnoldus family, for the Eucharist is the source of our spirituality and charism, it sustains us and motivates us to work for the global communion.

[1]Franziska Carolina Rehbein, Gripped by the Mystery: Arnold Janssen – Man of Prayer (Steyler Verlag, 2014), pp.19-22.

[2] “The Eucharist and Our Mission,” Following the Word 7 (December-1996), p. 18

[3] Fritz Bornemann (ed.) Remembering Arnold Janssen: A Book of Reminiscences, Analecta SVD-42 (Rome: 1978), pp. 321-324.

[4] Ibid., p. 100.

[5] Peter McHugh, The Spirituality of Our Society: A Theological Appreciation (Manila: 1975), pp. 119-125.

[6] Lk 22:19-20; Jn 6:54-57; 13:1-17; 1Cor 11:23-26.

[7] Paul La Forge, Divine Word Spirituality: An Ascent Through the Human Word (Indore: Satprakashan Sanchar Kendra 2005), pp. 28-29.

[8] Peter McHugh, The Spirituality of Our Society, p. 118.

[9] Ibid., pp. 126-136.

[10]The Eucharist and Our Mission,”  p. 28

[11] Antonio M. Pernia, “Interculturality in the SVD,” Arnoldus Nota (June-July 2012), p. 1.

[12] In Dialogue with the Word, 30 (Rome: 2012), p. 25.

———–

Xavier Thirukudumbam SVD
Xavier Thirukudumbam SVD

Fr. Xavier Thirukudumbam was born in 1958 at Sithurvadi, Tamil Nadu, India. He joined the SVD in 1980 and was ordained priest in 1987. From 1987 to 1989 he worked in a parish, from 1989 to 1991 as Formator and Professor in Bhopal. After studying his masters in Philosophy in 1993, he worked from 1994 to 1996 as Dean in Bhopal. From 1996 to 2000 he did his doctoral studies at the Catholic University of America, Washington D.C.. From 2000 to 2002 he worked again as Dean in Bhopal, from 2002 to 2008 as Rector and Professor. From 2008 to 2014 he was the National Formation Secretary and Provincial Counsellor. In 2014 he was elected Provincial Superior. In 2018 he was elected General Councilor.

2 Responses

  1. Dear Xavier,
    The above article is well written, reflective and in our context of online Masses during the pandemic. We need to move from ritual daily celebration to creative life giving moments of fellowship and communion. Our Founder lived the grace of the Eucharist during the rest day. Congratulations.
    Fr.Gregory Arockiam.

  2. The Eucharist is the very source and the summit of Christian identity. Genuine faith in the real presence of Christ in the tabernacle and incessant prayer. According to my opinion everything else arises as a resullt.Thanks for the very interesting article.

    Mrs. Isabella Gargiulo Pandimiglio

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