When I was on mission in Taiwan four or five years ago, we were invited to the house of the Jesuits on mission in Taipei. They wanted to know who we were and familiarize themselves with our history and the charism from which we came. The attention with which these wise, older priests listened to the story of us three young priests, each not more than 30 years old, left an impression on me. Then we had mass together, celebrated by a 94-year-old Spanish priest. The vitality and enthusiasm with which he said the following also left an impression on me: “We are happy to welcome you and the new charism you bring into the history of the Church’s mission in Taiwan and China.” And then he began to passionately tell us about their own history in China, a history that began in 1500 with Matteo Ricci and his missionary companions.
That episode helped me understand the meaning of the word “tradition,” and what it means that our Fraternity is called to be a school wherein the richness of experience, judgments, and faith are communicated from one generation to the next. Each of our houses is called to be a place where these riches are communicated, a school where each one of us is nurtured by this education. But even more fundamentally, each house is called to look at the experiences shared by the entire Fraternity.
This is a valid law for everyone: without a home, without a physical place where life can be really shared, it is impossible to know with certainty. This is also what a child experiences, as he slowly but surely learns to name the things around him through familiar faces, places, and gestures that introduce him to what things are, and to the mystery present in all of reality. This is how the exciting journey of education begins, and which at times takes a concrete form through specific and precise teachings, or through an osmotic process in which a child assimilates the tastes, judgments, and experiences of his parents, siblings, and grandparents. This is the experience of tradition. The family and the home therefore comprise the first school, where each one of us is taken by the hand and helped to discover the beauty of all that exists, and to seek its ultimate meaning.
Our houses are called to resemble brothers within the same family: despite differences in temperament and character traits, each one carries an unmistakable common sign of their parents. In the same way, entering in each of our houses, participating in the gestures our missions propose, one should easily recognize the same sense for things, the same care for particulars, the same attention for that which is the foundation of our life.
This year was the 30th anniversary of our founding: we may not have a 500 year long history like the Jesuits, yet we are nonetheless called like them to draw from the same richness that the whole history of the Church offers us.
A few months ago, our community was given the grace to meet Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. When speaking about our seminary, he advised us to look at the great traditions of the monastic schools and draw from their intelligent way of judging the past and the present. He also recommended the study of the Church Fathers, who lived in an analogous situation to that in which we find we are living today when civilization was seen to be in decline. At the same time, he told us not to forget the teachers we have come to know and love, starting with Giussani, Balthasar, and de Lubac.
Also the pope emeritus has entrusted us with the task to which all of these things are oriented. That task is to bring to all mankind the most beautiful gift which each one of them awaits: coming to know what is true, which is possible only through accepting the good news the Gospel announces.
Norman Rockwell, «Looking out to sea», 1919.