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Bresillac compagnons

As I wrote in the next Rome SMA Bulletin (No 143) this is an expression which de Bresillac used many times to invite his missionaries to follow Jesus together, as had the apostles, and to continue his mission throughout the entire world.

            In the Retreat to Missionaries, the quality and style of the company of the apostles was described many times.

In his text on the State of Religion in India, our Founder affirmed, “I wish that when we are involved with an apostolic ministry that we would keep our eyes on the apostles”.

We find another interesting point when Bresillac wrote to his friend Luquet (Dec. 3, 1843), wondering why the missions are so far from their “natural state” and he responded, “In my opinion, it is because we do not act like the apostles in an apostolic ministr”.  And he adds:  “All of my thoughts come down to these two things:  “do what the apostles did and as the apostles did, nothing but this, but all of this ”.

During the same month, he wrote to his bishop, Msgr. Bonnand:  “I would like (therefore) that we use all the resources possible at once, and above all that we do not neglect those who are closest to the simple and completely evangelical preaching of the apostles” (early December, 1843).

In the Current State of Work of the African Missions, de Bresillac gives a very important witness to us in the SMA, when he affirms:  “It is on the tombs of the Apostles that we have decided to found the Institute of the African Missions.”  He was referring to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul in Rome.

Each year on December 8, we celebrate the anniversary of the founding of SMA:  this day can become an important moment, rich of meaning, of discernment, of balance, of respect for the past, for the present and for the foreseeable future.  The foundation of SMA is never finished and we are all called to work together, as brothers, to continue, so that SMA will respond to what the Lord wants from us today through the voice of the Spirit and of his Church.  This will, furthermore, help us to avoid the temptation of considering our Society as something complete, or rather, at the service of our personal choices.  These choices could to lead to the scattering of our strengths, discomforts, and at times, divisions.

In the same letter to Luquet in December 1843, de Bresillac wrote:  “I would like, therefore, an institution that is absolutely, purely, and truly apostolic.”  He wrote it as a member of the Foreign Missions of Paris, but his words adapt to the SMA which is, also, a society of apostolic life.

At the beginning of our Constitutions, when we present the spirit of the Founder, we affirm that the missionary is the apostle of non-Christians, someone who goes somewhere else and who founds Churches.  In so doing, “a missionary is the heir to the vocation, the mind, the virtues and, to a certain extent, even the methods of the Apostles and especially of St. Paul”.[1]

For societies of apostolic life that are exclusively missionary, the knowledge that facilitates developing among members a way of being and acting which, in formation, animation, action and missionary pastoral work, comes particularly from the apostles, has not been sufficiently researched and deepened.  I am thinking of a truly apostolic spirituality.

In regard to this, we have certainly heard and we continue to listen to the apostles in the teaching of the New Testament, from Tradition and from the Liturgy.  But this happens, rather, through individual initiatives, in response to the demands of academic requirements, or through preaching, animation or personal piety.

In the early days of the Church and throughout the centuries, Apostolic Communities have demonstrated a mission example to be imitated (Cf. Acts of the Apostles, especially 2: 47 and 4:33).  What earned the admiration of some Jews and pagans was their lifestyle, their sharing of goods, their aid to the poor, their deep faith in Jesus Christ’s death and rising, their prayer and the breaking of bread, their courage when faced with persecution and their hope in eternal life.

I believe that the “company of the Apostles” helps us return to simplicity, to the true novelty, to the essential that is found in “the heart of the Gospel,” according to words of Pope Francis in Evangelii gaudium (34-39). He also says: “Whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world.  Every form of authentic evangelization is always ‘new’” (EG 11).

Pope Francis also tells us:

Spirit-filled evangelizers means evangelizers fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit.  At Pentecost, the Spirit made the apostles go forth from themselves and turned them into heralds of God’s wondrous deeds, capable of speaking to each person in his or her own language.  The Holy Spirit also grants the courage to proclaim the newness of the Gospel with boldness (parrhesía) in every time and place, even when it meets with opposition.  Let us call upon him today, firmly rooted in prayer, for without prayer all our activity risks being fruitless and our message empty.  Jesus wants evangelizers who proclaim the good news not only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by God’s presence” (EG 259).

      Happy Feast of December 8, the 158th anniversary of the foundation of the SMA!

Fr Bruno Semplicio SMA