Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Redemptoristine Contemplative Insight

New Book Published by Redemptorists

Congregation of the Most Holy

(from the back cover)

Redemptorists have a common language. There are words, however, make us sometimes ask: "I wonder how that is understood in our history and tradition?" The Lexicon focuses on key words and concepts...in Redemptorist history, tradition and spirituality...It is not meant to be just an academic addition to the bookshelf. 'Reflection Questions' at the end of each entry are designed to stimulate internal contemplation and external discussion...A resource for ongoing formation.

This book has been along time in coming. Rather than being a dictionary of key words and concepts , it is a far more informative and useful collection of brief essays on key people, topics, and spiritual concepts in the Redemptorist tradition. As example, these topics fall under the letter 'r': recollection, reconciliation, Redeemer Jesus Christ, Redemptorist family, Redemptoristines, restrusturing, resurrection, review of life, revivalism.

One of the editors and author of many of the Lexicon's entries is Father Dennis Billy. Over htree years ago he asked me to write the entry for the key concept of Redemptoristine spirituality "viva memoria" or living memory. The inspiration for this insight into the mystical life was received by our foundress Ven. Maria Celeste Croastarosa. Her insights and her Rule of Life preceeded that of St. Alphonsus Liguori. Since they were friends during the ciritical days of the founding of our Order and less than two years later the beginning of his congregation, they influenced each other. Each saw the need to live so much in the virutes of Jesus Christ that one is transformed into a "viva memoria" a living memory of Jesus the Redeemer. Maria Celeste's way was through solitude, silence, and contemplation and that of Alphonsus through pastoral and ministerial devotion to the poor and most abandoned.

The following is the full text the of the entry "VIVA MEMORIA" , p.289

               The words “viva memoria”, commonly translated as “living memory” or “living memorial”, are both the core and general theme of the charism or spiritual mission of the Redemptoristine Nuns (Order of the Most Holy Redeemer). These words are product of the mystical inspirations of the Venerable Maria Celeste Crostarosa. When Maria Celeste (1696-1755) and St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) met in 1730 each was at a critical point in life and spiritual development. Alphonsus became a supporter of Maria Celeste and, in turn, her mystical inspirations influenced his effort to found the Redemptorist Congregation. Key elements of her inspired Rule were adapted and appear in various versions of the Redemptorist Rule.

                The words “living memory” first appeared in the rule for contemplative religious life revealed to Maria Celeste. Following her reception of the Eucharist on April 25, 1725, she ‘heard’ these words in her mystical prayer: “…I have been pleased to choose this Institute to be a living memory and image of the works of salvation and love accomplished by my Only-Begotten Son during the thirty-three years he lived as man in this world.” The dynamic concept of “living memory” is a variation on the theme of imitation of Christ as a means of attaining holiness of life and union with God. However, “living memory” moves beyond imitation into personal transformation in Christ. It is a constant and dynamic process by which one is changed interiorly, gradually stripped of the false self, so as to reveal the Christ dwelling within. In accord with the intention of God the Father, this is the Jesus in whose life we were intended to participate by virtue of his Incarnation as a human being. Gradual revelation of the dynamic life of Jesus within the soul makes present in our world and time the person and works of Jesus Christ. According to Maria Celeste, the constant and dynamic personal spiritual process of transformation is accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit in an environment born of virtue and availability to God in times of silence and solitude.

             Maria Celeste Crostarosa, like St. Alphonsus Liguori, was born in Naples. At the time of these revelations, she was living in Scala, a hill town outside the city, among a community of contemplative nuns following the rule of the Order of the Visitation but not officially attached to them. Maria Celeste’s spiritual director and co-founder of the monastery, Bishop Tommaso Falcoia, was also an advisor to Alphonsus.  In 1730, Bishop Falcoia, uncertain about the reliability and soundness of Maria Celeste’s inspiration for a new institute, requested that Alphonsus visit the monastery, investigate the situation and present his recommendations. After interviewing Maria Celeste and all the sisters who were considering adoption of the rule she proposed, Alphonsus concluded that Maria Celeste’s project was divinely inspired. In further discussions with the nuns he persuaded them to accept the new rule. On the Feast of Pentecost in May 13, 1731 the community began living contemplative monastic life as the Order of the Most Holy Savior (eventually changed to Holy Redeemer). However, the exact text of the rule they would follow remained in dispute.    

              For almost two years the friendship between Maria Celeste and Alphonsus developed. He shared with her his inspiration to found a congregation of priests to serve the poor and most abandoned. His vacillation in the matter seems to have come to an end only when Maria Celeste reported her mystical vision of him as a founder. Alphonsus gathered a few confreres around him and the Congregation of the Most Holy Savior came into being in the guest house of the Scala monastery on November 9, 1732.

             During this period controversy about the exact points of the rule for the new Order was escalating. The principle conflict arose between Maria Celeste and Bishop Falcoia; she favored the original rule as inspired while he proposed changes according to his own views. Alphonsus, wedged between two strong personalities, each of whom called for his allegiance, began to support the Bishop and soundly scolded Celeste. The situation, further complicated by factions within the community of nuns, came to a head in May, 1733 when the Bishop presented an ultimatum to Marie Celeste. She agreed to accept the altered rule and to live by it within community, but she could not agree to accept the Bishop as her spiritual director for life. She was expelled from the monastery, eventually creating a new foundation in the city of Foggia in 1738.
For Maria Celeste, the realization of the living memory of Christ in each nun would be accomplished through development of nine virtues (later increased to twelve by Bishop Falcoia who added faith, hope and love of God): union of hearts and mutual charity, poverty, purity, obedience, humility and meekness of heart, mortification, recollection and silence, prayer, self-denial and love of the cross.

                Studies of the various early (18th century) versions of the Rule for the Redemptorist Congregation indicate that key elements, especially personal pursuit of the twelve virtues as the means of spiritual transformation were directly influenced by the original rule received by Maria Celeste. By this participation in the life of Jesus, the individual becomes a living memory of the Savior, the active presence of Christ in the world. From an early rule formulation: “…All those called to this Institute are to esteem highly and rejoice in such a calling and are to strive as much as possible to make themselves living copies of that divine model, becoming like the life of the Savior…(Complesso, 1732) The first sentence of a later formulation of the Rule, “The purpose of the new and least Institute…is none other than to imitate, as much as possible with divine grace, this divine Master and model…” (Compendio of Bovino, 1745). Primitive Rule of the Redemptorists begins, “The purpose of the Institute is that of the closest imitation of the most holy life of our Savior Jesus Christ and of his most adorable virtues.” (Text of Conza, 1747) This is the first text of the Rule approved by the Congregation as a whole.  All of these documents express two ends or purposes for the Congregation: to live as Jesus Christ and to be in missionary service of the poor and most abandoned.  

            Other evidence indicates the extent to which the inspiration of living memory influenced early Redemptorist spirituality. In 1741, Alphonsus wrote that Gioacchino Gaudello, the first to die in the Congregation, “…manifested to all the life of Jesus Christ.”  When Vito Curzio, the first brother in the Congregation died in 1745, Redemptorist Giovanni Mazzini eulogized him saying he had “achieved his objective to become a living copy of Jesus Christ.”   
             Nonetheless, as Alphonsus earnestly labored to obtain approval in Rome for the Rule of his congregation,  texts clearly began to depart from early versions which retained so much of the flavor of the Rule of Maria Celeste as revised by Bishop Falcoia. In order to receive official approbation of the Rule concessions were made in terms of emphasis and format and primary influences were obscured.

             Today, interpretation of “living memory” is appropriating theological understandings of the Eucharist memoria or memorial of the Mass. In the words of consecration (the institution narrative or anamnesis) not only is the Body and Blood of Jesus made present under the appearance of bread and wine, Jesus Christ and all of the Paschal Mystery are also made present and active among us. We are not merely remembering Jesus’ life and death or imitating the last supper with his disciples. Those events are rendered as living and actively working in their redemptive power for the world in our time. By our presence and expression of faith we too become gifts transformed. The level of participation penetrates even more deeply if the community offers itself along with the gifts of bread and wine, uniting itself with the words of the Eucharistic Prayer III, “Father we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your Spirit, that they may become the body and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.”

            The theologian, Johannes Metz (1928 - ) wrote that consecrated religious fulfill an important role in the Church. “…They press for the uncompromising nature of the Gospel and of the imitation of Christ. In this sense they are the institutionalized form of a dangerous memory within the Church.” Proclamation of the memory can be dangerous as it may be threatening to the status quo in any institution and to the norms of the surrounding culture. The living memory spoken of here is the dangerous living reminder of God’s redemptive love, of the desire of God to be incarnated in every human being, of a divine reality open for participation by all humanity.

             For Redemptoristine and Redemptorist religious in our time, transformation into the life of Jesus Christ remains primary. The chief means to this end continues to be the ascetical practice of living the virtues of Jesus, living his life, death and Resurrection, the entire Paschal mystery within the community. In this shared charism, community life, human relationship at every level, is the locus of those who would become “viva memoria,” living memories of the generous love of the Redeemer. The invitation of God, to participate in divine life and divine love in such a way as to become a living memory of Jesus Christ is the missionary message of  everyone who promotes the Redemptorist/Redemptoristine charism.
For Reflection
  1. To what extent is the imitation of Christ a conscious part of your spiritual practice?
  2. How might the ideal of becoming a living memory of Christ be manifest in your own life?
  3. How can the connection between living memory and the Eucharist made here enhance understanding of both the Liturgy and practice of the virtues?
  4. How has your appreciation of the Redemptorist charism and mission been expanded?
Constitutions and Statutes – Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. Rome: General Curia         C.Ss.R., 1982.
Constitutions and Statutes – Order of the Most Holy Redeemer. Rome:1985.
Founding Texts of Redemptorists Early Rules and Allied Documents, edited by Carl Hoegerl.        Rome: Collegio Sant’Alfonso, 1986.
Lage, Emilio. “Suor Maria Celeste Crostarosa e la Congregazione del SS. Redentore,” in La          Spiritualita di Maria Celeste Crostarosa, edited by Sabatino Majorano, 120-131. Materdomini, Italy: Editrice San Gerardo, 1997.
Metz, Johannes. Followers of Christ – Perspectives on the Religious Life. Translated by Thomas    Linton.  Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978.
Oppitz, Joseph. The Mystic Who Remembered – The Life and Message of Maria Celeste     Crostarosa, O.Ss.R. Esopus, NY: Redemptoristine Nuns of New York, 2003.
Pleva, Hildegard Magdalen. “A Charism Illumined: Eucharistic Anamnesis and ‘Viva       Memoria’.” Review for Religious 63.1 (2004): 40-52.
Raponi, Santino. The Charism of the Redemptorists in the Church – A Commentary on the             Constitutions. Rome: The Center for Redemptorist Spirituality, 2003.
                                                                        Sr. Hildegard Magdalen Pleva, O.Ss.R. 12/08

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