Fr. José Maria Leite, NDS
On the 28th October 1965, the Second Vatican Council promulgated the decree “Perfectae Caritas” about the renovation and update of Religious (Consecrated) Life. Number 2 of the Conciliar text establish that “The adaptation and renewal of the religious life include both the constant return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original spirit of the institutes and their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time”.
In 1970, the Congregation of the Religious of Sion, responding to the conciliar orientations, started a long and beautiful process of “returning to the sources”, renewing and updating its vocation which resulted in 1998 in the ecclesiastic approval of our current Constitutions.
Which are the inspirational elements of our founders, the brothers Theodore and Alphonse Marie Ratisbonne, that 175 years after the birth of the Congregation, we consider being essential and constitutive of our own identity and vocation?
1. The following of Jesus Christ made man into the Jewish People.
Our Constitutions (II, 1) consider as an essential element from our founders the following of “Jesus Christ as Word of God into the Jewish People for the salvation of the world”. Indeed, since our origins as Christians we state that Jesus “the merciful face of the Father (Misericordiae Vultus), is Jew and member of the Chosen People, whose covenant with God was never revoked “for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Cf. Rm 11: 29).
In 1852 Fr. Theodore Ratisbonne stated: “If God has a preference for this People – the Jewish People – it is because they descended from Abraham, this illustrious patriarch who never hesitated to offer his only son in sacrifice. He deserved to be called a friend of God. Our Lord wanted to be born of his race; and from there comes the love for a people that is, by a fair title and because of Jesus, called of People of God”.
By the way, Fr. Theodore himself (1835) was proud of his Jewish origin: “many of my co-disciples couldn’t forgive me for my origin and my parent religion and so this origin is common for me with the Apostles, the first disciples e with all the Early Church”
2. The particular love of Jesus to Israel
As Congregation of Sion, we are called to “witness in the Church and in the world the particular love of Jesus Christ for his People Israel” (Constitutions II, 1)
During a retreat that Fr. Theodore preached to the Sisters of Sion, he wondered: “What is your (Congregation of Sion) reason of being among this multitude of religious Institutes that are older and more venerable than your own? You will understand me. I said that the various states and feelings of Jesus Christ subsist forever; they are always alive in the Church. Now, among these feelings there is one that you are depository: I want to talk about the love of Jesus Christ for his People Israel. He wanted to be born from this People, his mother was a Daughter of Sion. The holy daughters of Galilee that followed him during his life and comforted him on the day of his death they were all Israelites. How can one doubt about Jesus’ predilection for his People? He made no mysteries while he himself declared in the Gospels that he came above of all for Israel”.
3. The centrality of the Land of Israel and Jerusalem
Jerusalem, the city where “This one and that one were born” (Ps 87: 5), and the Land of Israel of yesterday, of tomorrow and of today – including the State of Israel – are part of our own identity as it says our Constitutions:
“We recognize that the bond with the Land of Israel is part constitutive of the Jewish identity. We understand that the spiritual values of Israel Tradition cannot be separated from their concrete, geographic and politic conditions on which the Jewish People live. Thus, the existence of the State of Israel can’t be exempted of spiritual and religious meaning. This existence raises in our comprehension and sympathy, as well as the wish that it happens in a pacific way between Israel and its Arab neighbors. It invites us to read the signs of our time” (Constitution n. 26). Furthermore, “Along the process of formation, we look for places which favor the experience of Church’s life in contact with the Jewish People. Jerusalem is the privileged place for Judaic studies and our formations demands” (Constitution n. 37).
Both Theodore and Alphonse Ratisbonne were aware of the importance and centrality of Jerusalem to the Congregation.
In 1881, Alphonse wrote to the Sisters in Ecce Homo: “Sion should establish itself first in Paris; be born and then develop itself for later flourish in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the crowning of the work; it is Jerusalem that gives to the Congregation its special stamp. Without Jerusalem Sion has no reason to be because Sion means precisely Jerusalem…”.
And Fr. Theodore wrote in book Rayons de Verité: “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! What an inexplicable magic in this name […] Jerusalem is the place of all the human history, it is the house of the origins and of the genealogy; it is the city of the Patriarchs, of the prophets and of the Apostles; it is the homeland of God and of men; it is cradle of the Catholic Church. Its name summarizes all- time, all the remembrances, all the hopes, it is at the same time the exordium of the past and peroration of the future”.
4. The meditation of the Scriptures enlightened by the Jewish and Christian Tradition
We also receive as an essential element of inspirations from our founders the vocation of daily listening, studying, meditating, praying, living and transmitting the Word of God. What is proper of Sion is that all this process must be enlightened by the Jewish and Christian Tradition to help us to live better our consecrated life in our different apostolates (Cf. Constitutions in various numbers).
5. The Hope of the realization of God’s project to Israel and to the Nations
We receive yet as an essential element of inspiration from our founders the special call for our Religious Congregation and our various apostolates to be “guided to the realization of God’s designs towards Israel and the Nations” (Cf. Constitutions in various numbers).
Translation: Br. Tiago Cardoso, nds