When the Second Vatican Council issued its call for the renewal of religious life (Perfectae Caritatis), it set into motion a process in which religious institutes were asked to return to their founders and rediscover what it was that gave birth to their institute. The founder(s) of a religious institute embodied a particular insight into the Gospel, the person of Jesus, and/or the church, and so was drawn to a particular course of action (caring for the poor, educating children, attending to the dying, retiring to the desert to pray, and so on) on behalf of others. This particular slant (insight and action) was called charism, following a term Saint Paul used in his letters [see, e.g., 1Cor 12:4]. Saint Paul refers to gifts (charisms) or graces given to individuals for the upbuilding of the church. Returning to their founders put religious in touch with the particular charism at their foundation.
We La Salettes, although acknowledging the role of the Bishop of Grenoble (Msgr. De Bruillard) in calling the Missionaries into existence, actually return to the event of the apparition of Our Lady on the mountain in order to understand what we are called to be and to do. Our Lady's message at La Salette certainly echoes that of Saint Paul in saying, "Be reconciled to God... Now is the acceptable time [2Cor 20b and 6:2]." While the Blessed Mother never used the word "reconciliation" in her message to the children, it is inherent in the call to conversion she so eloquently spoke. It was shortly after the apparition that she began to be referred to in prayer as "reconciler of sinners."
We La Salettes therefore claim reconciliation as our charism. It does not replace the Gospel or the Church for us, but it provides the lens through which we read the Scriptures, as well as the impetus for the ministry in which we engage. We know Jesus as the one who gave his life so that we might be reconciled to the Father. We engage in many kinds of ministerial activity, but we pay special attention to the need of reconciliation in people's lives. We are not the only religious community to claim this charism, and it is not meant to set us apart. Rather, coupled with the story of the apparition, our charism provides both motivation and focus for our lives and ministry.
(jgb)
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