'The Spirit of the Lord
is upon me'
The Elective General Chapter of Providence
10th July 2001
'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has
anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim
release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to
set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable
year of the Lord.'
We have come to Providence from every part of the
world. We represent the brethren who are present in 102 countries.
And so, together with our guests from the Dominican Family, we have
some idea of who are the poor who wait for the good news. Each of
us has witnessed some form of poverty: the poverty of the barrios
of Latin America, or of the bums on the streets in Europe. We know
the poverty of those whose lives are without hope or meaning, the
poverty of those caught in war, the intellectual poverty of so many
in the West.
We have also seen the prisons that human beings build
for each other, prisons of prejudice and ideology, prisons of impotence,
prisons of fear, state penitentiaries here in the States where hundreds
await the death penalty. We know the million forms of oppression
that weigh upon humanity. Will the Spirit of the Lord be upon us
to preach the good news? Will we find a word of grace for the poor?
Will we come away from Providence ready to open the eyes of the
blind and set people free?
When Jesus has read the text, he sits down. The eyes
of all are fixed on him, and he says, 'Today this scripture has
been fulfilled in your hearing'. Today is the day of salvation,
if they open their ears to hear. This is the day of grace, if they
will but listen.
If this Chapter of Providence is for us a moment of
grace, then we shall go from here renewed as preachers, with something
to say to the poor and oppressed. We are not just here to make documents,
to vote amendments, and to change the Constitutions. We are gathered
here so that words of grace may be spoken and heard. Then we will
be able to say, 'Today this Scripture is fulfilled in our hearing'.
A General Chapter should be a time of grace.
This almost happened at Nazareth. It started well;
they praised the words of grace that Jesus spoke. They marvelled
at him. But then it all turned sour. They denounced him as just
the son of Joseph, their neighbour. They knew him too well to hear
what he had to say. They tried to kill him for his presumption.
That will be the first challenge that we have to face.
For a General Chapter is, in a way, the home of the Order. Providence
is, for these few weeks, our Nazareth. We may be tempted to think
that we know each other too well to receive that word of grace.
You may be thinking even now, 'Here is Timothy going on again. It's
the same old stuff. At least in four days time, we will rid of him
at last!' And you are right in this case: It is the same old stuff!
But will we be like the inhabitants of Nazareth, and
let familiarity breed contempt, and close our ears to each other?
When a brother from Latin America stands up to speak, will half
the capitulars turn off their headsets and say, 'There is no need
to listen. It will be the same old liberation theology, the option
for the poor. I have heard it all before'. And if a more conservative
brother speaks, will the other half of the chapter turn off their
headsets and say, 'I know that he will say before he opens his mouth'.
When Jesus begins to preach, they are astonished at his words of
grace. I pray that we may be surprised by each other. We must let
go our preconceptions and be astonished. Then the Scriptures will
be fulfilled in our hearing, and the Chapter will be a moment of
grace. Then we will have something to say to the poor and oppressed
when we go home.
Each of us comes to this Chapter both rich and poor.
We are rich because we each have something to say. When the moderator
hands a brother the microphone, then the eyes of the Chapter will
be upon him, to listen. It is true that there are always some brethren
who are convinced that the Spirit comes upon them with great frequency,
as they hold up their hands to speak again and again and again.
But each of us is also poor. Each of us lives in a
world that too small for God. Each of us inhabits a prison. And
our own brothers and sisters have the key to open the door and let
us out. Each of us in some way blind, myopic. And for each of us,
there is someone here who has the salve to heal our eyes and give
I remember eating supper with two brethren at a congress
on the mission of the Order in Europe, many years ago. One brother
from Eastern Europe had been imprisoned by the communists. The other,
from the West, had been imprisoned for being a communist. Their
political views were utterly opposed. But they opened each other's
eyes. They lead each other into a larger space, the wide-open pastures
of the gospel.
I visited a community in Latin America in which brethren
and sisters lived together. And the brethren said to me, 'We never
knew what it meant to have confidence in God until the sister taught
us. They do not worry where the money will come from.' And the sisters
told me, 'The brethren taught us how to open our minds to the Word
of God as never before'.
For this mutual liberation to happen, then we need
imagination and humility. We need the imagination not only to hear
what the capitulars say, but also to guess why they say it. Iris
Murdoch, the English philosopher, wrote that when you disagree with
anyone, then ask of what they are afraid. What threat do they perceive
to their profoundest convictions? Why do they speak so passionately
about this? How can one understand that fear?
Above all, this Chapter will be an even of grace if
we have the humility to listen. The last written words of Luther
were 'We are beggars. That is the truth'. Veritas is our motto,
so then let us recognise that we come to this Chapter as beggars,
as those who hunger to know more of God. For as St Augustine said:
'God is always more'.
'Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing'.
If we are attentive to the Word of God and to each other, then this
Chapter will be a time of grace, a time of gifts. Then we will go
back home with something to say to all those who suffer from multiple
forms of poverty and oppression. We will be able to open the eyes
of the blind and free the prisoners, because we have opened each
other's eyes and set each other free here. Then we shall indeed
preach an acceptable year of the Lord.