The Christmas gift of our Founder

Author: Paulus Budi Kleden and the General Leadership
Subject: Christmas Message
Language: English, Spanish
Publisher: Arnoldus Nota, December
Year: 2021
European Nativity Scene
European Nativity Scene

With the liturgical season of Advent, we are preparing for the celebration of Christmas, the feast of the Nativity of Christ, the Divine Word that became flesh and dwelt among us (cf. John 1,14). Christmas is for many a thrilling time associated with various traditions and customs like buying and exchanging gifts, inviting relatives and friends to celebrate, decorating homes, preparing special food, listening to and singing Christmas carols, attending solemn liturgies, among others. It is also a feast inviting to show and share the goodness and generosity of one’s heart. Therefore, many think about themselves during this time and try to engage in charitable activities, e.g., helping the poor, lonely, elderly, children on the street, homeless people, prisoners, and the like. For the second time, the celebration of Christmas is affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This brings about many new challenges and questions like “Who are the high-risk members in our families, in our society, and how to keep them safe during Christmas? How to show love, closeness, and affection to those who suffer from social and physical distancing restrictions? What could be a real help to all those who mourn their loved ones or are severely affected by coronavirus-related job loss or pay cuts?” These and many other questions keep us immersed in the reality of this world, plagued not only by the pandemic but also by many other modern evils. Divine Word Missionaries are on the path of renewal and transformation, outlined by the 18th General Chapter. Christmas is another formative moment. We let ourselves be “recharged” and experience the truth anew that from the fullness of the Word, “we have all received, grace after grace” (cf. John 1,16). We are called to rediscover how we are blessed and enriched by the gift of the Word Incarnate to be messengers of light and signs of hope for the world. A great example of this discovery is our Founder, St. Arnold Janssen. First, of course, we know about his devotion to the Infant Jesus, which was a characteristic expression of his extraordinarily great love for the Incarnation of the Word of God. This devotion was introduced to his three congregations, and it is still being practiced in many communities. Sr. Francisca Carolina Rehbein SSpS, in her book Gripped by the Mystery, describes it in a more detailed way. “All who took part in the Christmas night Mass gathered in a festively decorated room, representing heaven where the Infant Jesus was lying. With great warmth and dedication, the founder-led the responsorial prayers composed by himself. They began with the acclamation: ‘The goodness and kindness of God our loving Savior have appeared!’ At the end of the liturgy of the Word, the figure of the Divine Infant was borne in a solemn procession to the church while Christmas carols were sung. In the church, the Infant Jesus was laid in the crib. To Arnold, this was no mere external act. He felt a need to give vital expression to the mystery that moved the depths of his heart and thus to express his love and lead others to the same love and veneration.” Fr. Herman Fischer reports on the impression this celebration made on those present: “Anyone who saw him (Arnold) at that hour, kneeling on the floor before the Christ Child on its bed of straw, anyone who The Christmas gift of our Founder Arnoldus Nota News Service Watch online Word From The Leadership Team 2 December 2021 heard his fervent prayers and looked at his face, radiant with devotion and holy joy, could never again forget the hallowed impression.” This devotion is undoubtedly a part of the heritage of our Founder. It could be considered as his great Christmas gift to us. The 18th General Chapter invites us to “commit ourselves to rediscover and renew our commitment to our SVD spiritual heritage (devotions, prayers, feasts, and celebrations, etc.) so that it may help us to cultivate an intimate relationship with the Word and to animate us in our mission” (GC 2018, # 25). In this regard, this particular devotion and other spiritual activities may serve as a stimulus for deepening this relationship, or in other words: our rootedness in the Word. The mystery of Incarnation celebrated at Christmas is a missionary event par excellence at its core. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” we read in John 3,16. Through sending His Son, God reached out to humanity to bring it and the whole of creation back. In this event, giving and mission are inseparable, and they cannot exist without each other. Giving means sending or reaching out. Since the life of the Word is our life and his mission is our mission (cf. Prologue), we are to imitate the Word in his sending and reaching out. St. Arnold says in this regard: “The perfect example for us is the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ Our Lord, who surrendered himself in generous love” (Fischer). In this way, Christmas is also a call to commit ourselves to the mission, i.e., to reach out. What could be some concrete implications of it? The mission of generosity. Generosity is an attitude of giving willingly and abundantly, without counting the costs. The Incarnation is the fruit of God’s generosity. We may even say that generosity lies in the heart of the Gospel since there we find God’s boundless and immense love, which overflows into giving. While the general visitations resumed this year in the fall, we had a chance to experience many good examples of our confreres’ generosity and our lay partners. Yet, there is still something more to be done. The Circular letter of the Superior General P01/2021 is in this regard a call to renew this generous spirit among us. There we read: “In the last few years, we find it more and more difficult to equitably assign and distribute confreres to SVD global missions because hardly anyone now applies for certain PRMs where missionary work is perceived to be tough and difficult.” Of course, this is meant for those who apply for their first assignment. Yet, the essential attitude shall be the same for all confreres: willingness and readiness to go wherever the Society needs us. This could refer to applying for difficult missions and our enthusiasm in assuming various responsibilities in our PRMs. One of the best examples in this regard is our ministry among Gypsies in Kӧrӧm in Hungary. If somebody asked us: ‘Why are we there?’ one of the answers would be: “Nobody wanted to go there and do this important mission of putting the last first.” So Christmas indeed is an invitation to renew in us this generous spirit. The mission of compassion. Contemplating the profound mystery of Incarnation led our Founder to this knowledge: “The Christ Child is the gift of the compassionate love of the Most Holy Trinity.” This aspect is crucial precisely in this time of COVID-19 pandemic, as could be seen from Pope Francis’s Message for World Mission Day 2021: “In these days of the pandemic, when there is a temptation to disguise and justify indifference and apathy in the name of healthy social distancing, there is an urgent need for the mission of compassion, which can make that necessary distancing an opportunity for encounter, care, and promotion… It is important to grow in our daily ability to widen our circle, to reach out to others who, albeit physically close to us, are not immediately part of our’ circle of interests’ (cf. Fratelli Tutti, 97). To be on mission is to be willing to think as Christ does, to believe with him that those around us are also my brothers and sisters.” Pope Francis finishes this encouragement with a wish so fitting for Christmas: “May his compassionate love touch our hearts and make us all true missionary disciples.” Celebration of Christmas could therefore be a call for us to commit ourselves to mission with generosity and compassion. As we are approaching the end of this calendar year, let us thank you for your efforts in fulfilling the mission entrusted to us. We pray that on the intercession of our Founder St. Arnold Janssen, the celebration of Advent and Christmas may be a time of our spiritual enrichment, inner transformation, and renewed commitment.

Published in Arnoldus Nota, December 2021

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Fr. Paulus Budi Kleden, SVD
Fr. Paulus Budi Kleden, SVD

Father Kleden was born in Indonesia in 1965. He joined the Society of the Divine Word in 1985. He made his first profession of vows in 1987 and perpetual vows in 1992. He was ordained a priest in 1993. He studied theology in San Gabriel, Austria. He was first assigned to Switzerland from 1993 to 1996, then in a formation house in Ledalero, Indonesia. He was member of the Provincial Council in the ENDE (Indonesia) Province from 2005 to 2008. In 2012, he was elected general councillor. He was elected superior general in 2018.

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