The following is the
keynote address of Father Terry Charlton, S.J., Ecclesiastical Assistant
of the Christian Life Community in Kenya, given at the International
Formation Encounter of English‑ speaking African CLC, in Johannesburg,
South Africa in April 1997.
• • •
My father was a butcher, and he started his own business selling all
kinds of meat and other food. Of course, he had to be supplied with
the various items he sold, and I remember that one of his business
associates who sold my dad chickens was named McFarland. Actually,
it was a family business with several brothers involved. Their
delivery truck was dark green with yellow lettering which read,
"McFarland Poultry: the Chicken People". I haven't thought of the
McFarlands, the Chicken People, for years until I was planning this
Keynote. I realized that what I wanted to do was to discover and
describe us CLCers: What kind of People are we?
Nearly a year ago, in preparation for this keynote, I began thinking and
reading about what characterizes us most fundamentally and perhaps
uniquely in CLC. I thought of the obvious elements that make up our way
of life: first, our relationship to God in Jesus and our spirituality;
second, our commitment of mission; and, third, our emphasis on living as
community. I came up with too many descriptions. We are the Jesus People
‑ nothing too original there ‑ or the Ignatian People, CLC, the
Community People or the Mission People. I was stuck regarding what
really grounds us.
Then, a thought occurred to me. Our theme for this International
Formation Encounter for English Speaking Africa is "CLC Mission in
Africa: Living Our Ignatian Identity," and we wanted to focus on our
identity as discovered through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
I realized that we have an excellent resource in Kenya for discovering
our identity, for recognizing what kind of people we are. There are some
20 CLCers in Kenya who have made the full Spiritual Exercises, or are
making them, mostly in daily life. Why not ask them? I sent each a
letter with some questions about each one's experience of the Spiritual
Exercises as connected with spirituality, community and mission and also
an "any other comments" question.
I began to read the responses, what kind of people we are just seemed to
jump off the pages; the word itself wasn't used so frequently, but the
reality of who we are as formed by the Exercises was manifest. Can you
guess what I found? CLC: we are the Discernment People.
I would like to do during the next few minutes is reflect on responses
which I received from these Kenyan CLCers and share some reflections on
what I think they are saying to us about our identity: CLC, the
we listen, I ask that we do not listen passively but listen attentively:
not just attentive to my words but attentive to what is being said about
your own personal experience of the Exercises and your personal and
national experience of CLC. Let us listen with minds and with hearts and
see if we discover something of our CLC identity.
said that the word, discernment, was not used so frequently by my
respondents; but one member, in summarizing what the Exercises did for
her, said, "The Exercises helped me to make decisions in life ".
The word here is discernment. She said that she learned to stay with the
process, to give it time and to seek the Lord's will, whatever the
outcome. I am going to quote another Exercitant quite at length on his
central purpose for making the Exercises and what he discovered:
The Spiritual Exercises have been described as "an infallible way of
knowing God's will for a person". That is what initially attracted me to
them. "Aha!" I thought, "An automatic, certain way of knowing what God
wants me to do. How convenient!" And I have found that it is an
"infallible way of knowing God's will for me". But not in the way I
expected. On retreat in 1993 and in the years since then, I have grown
in realizing that God's will is that I realize how much I am loved by
God and then that I respond, freely and generously to this love. In
responding, I have grown in seeing how God loves us all and all creation
and works in it and through it to bring it to fulfillment. My response
to God's love invites me also to work (and prepare myself to work more
effectively) in my specific life situation so that God's glory may be
seen and magnified.
The Spiritual Exercises were a powerful means for me to grow in knowing
and loving Christ. They were also a strong invitation to show this love
through serving God and my fellow humans in the specific circumstances
of my daily life and social situation. But the growth started then did
not end with the 30th day of the retreat. Even now 4 years later, I
continue to deepen what I experienced then. Each new day, I continue to
be invited to know Christ better, to love Christ more, to serve more
The Exercises have been a doorway, opening me to an ever‑greater
experience of God and of invitation to response through service.
this reflection we hear from someone who wanted to make the Exercises
"to discover God's will infallibly". And he discovered that to do so was
not principally in making one concrete choice which would determine the
whole course of his life. Rather, the infallibility was in discovering
God's love for him and a relationship with Jesus and in experiencing the
call to make a return in living for the greater glory of God. It is this
vision that he is to continue to apply with discernment in the way he
responds in the concrete, developing situations in which he finds
Redeemed in Love
this man just quoted, so many CLCers spoke of how foundational the
realization of God's love was for their life vision. One woman spoke
about how there came to her "an image of God the Father with a little
child being tossed in the air and the child laughing and looking so
satisfied with itself and with the Father. " Deep in me I recognize
that is what my relationship with the Father should be, so simple, so
loving and so trusting! "
tied their deep realization of Gold's love with how God treats them as
sinners. This same woman also said, "The Exercises enable me to know
that I am known, loved and accepted by God. I need not ever have a
defense lawyer! For he is no prosecutor! He understands, he accepts, he
forgives and he loves!"
Another says, "The Spiritual Exercises underscore the unconditional
love of God for me. The realization that God continues to love me even
in my state of sin makes it easier for me to reciprocate the same love
and continue to commune with him even at the moment I feel unworthy of
his love. "
third says, "The relationship between me and God is all out of God's
love for us. God has chosen us to be one with him, to be part of his
great work of art in all of creation. Christ is living evidence of the
Father's will to keep this relationship even after we have broken it
with our sins and weakness.... [Christ] loved us so much despite our
poor response, even to that extent of dying painfully on the cross."
These dynamics of the Principle and Foundation and the First Week
provide several important perspectives for the vision out of which we
First, as we recognize God's love for us in the context of God's plan
for creation, we realize that God gives us a part to play, and we want
to take up that part. An Exercitant remarks, "My relationship with
him continues to be one where I am a pot in the potter's hand; every
minute becomes a graced moment to be fashioned and transformed into that
which he can use, and he also does this to keep reminding me I am
special and loved! He fashions me for a purpose that I am yet to
person loved and with a purpose, each of us wants to be open to
discerning always the way which God is calling each to take in order to
realize this purpose.
Secondly, because of God's unconditional love of us, even in our
darkest, most sinful parts, we gradually come to open up every aspect of
ourselves to God. One CLCer states, "The Exercises involve opening
myself up to God and going to explore places within my heart that under
other circumstances I would comfortably ignore. In this process, I tread
paths of deep hurt that have been carefully wrapped and put away. I
invite God to heal me." Thus, the dynamics of the early part
of the Exercises enable us to have the confidence to look at our whole
selves and all our experiences as places to become more free and to grow
and to learn more of God's will; our whole selves are opened up and made
available to God for the sake of discernment.
Finally, as we recognize that God's love is most profoundly manifested
in Jesus Christ and that we are saved in him, the way is prepared for
the latter part of the Exercises where we are bound more deeply to
living in conformity with the way of Christ.
us turn now to these dynamics of the latter parts of the Exercises in
order to see how they contribute to our becoming discerning persons.
Experiencing Christ is so central to the Exercises. I quote at length
one Exercitant who captures this well:
experience of the Exercises, I have come to experience Christ, not
anymore as a person written about and spoken of by others, but as
someone who is real and concerned and present in my everyday life.
Someone to pray to but also someone to share a very personal joke with.
Someone who challenges me to the discomfort of going beyond my perceived
limits, but someone who is always present and supporting me. Because of
the experiences of the Exercises, following Christ is no longer a matter
of imitating only Christ's external actions but of seeking to grow in
having the heart and mind and love of Christ, from which his actions
sprang. By growing in [this way], I am (and will be!) better able to
respond to the situations of my life and act in a more Christian,
fundamental way, Christ is the principle of discernment by which we
decide how to live our lives. Another CLCer reiterates the same point:
"I am able to recognize that, by being a Christian, I claim to be a
follower of Christ, to share his opinions, values, orientations, etc,
which means that all my life's actions should be geared towards the love
of God and my neighbour. "
members recognize that their following of Christ is about living
according to his values and not the values of the world, the values of
Satan. One Exercitant puts it succinctly:
"The difference the
Exercises make in my life is that I stop measuring my performance (i.e.,
how I live my life) against others or against outside references and
begin measuring my performance according to my inner self and what I
truly believe and value." Another
speaks more at length:
"I realize my mission
is to be like Jesus: humble, to choose everything according to the will
of our Father, to be poor, mocked, and to opt for the poor, to speak
openly and honestly, to help the social outcast and imprisoned, to heal
and clothe [those in need], and above all to love as Jesus did. My
mission is not one where I should seek riches, esteem, power but simply
service for the betterment of those around me. This is what counts."
lives of response, then, are about mission. To follow Christ is to be on
mission. So our discernment is always directed toward being on mission.
One CLCer says, "The challenge in Christian life is in mission, and
the Exercises bring this home by making me focus totally and, as
companion, on Christ whose life was all mission, thereby making it easy,
almost automatic, to keep saying yes to his call." Another suggests
what all this means concretely:
As a working lay
Christian, I am able to understand what mission means and to work
towards living that out. In all my daily undertakings, I am to put
Christ first and to relate to his values and make a conscious effort to
act as I should as a Christian. This I understand as my first mission;
if I am a parent, I should be a responsible parent. In my work, as I
supervise those below me, I should see the image of Christ Jesus in them
and treat them so. As a Christian, I am called to be of service to
others. In this way I am following Christ's words of how he came to set
captives free and to give sight to the blind. I am to seek and find what
service God is calling me to do.
can summarize by saying that our discerning lives are founded in our
following of Jesus Christ whose values and way of life serve as a basis
for our discernment. As we grow, our discernment concentrates more and
more on our living lives of mission, which implies that we become
discerning with regard to every aspect of our lives in order to become
more effective in our service.
the Discernment People, we CLCers need to emphasize the community
dimension of our lives. One Exercitant says "In the Exercises, I am
able to meditate on the life of Christ Jesus while here on earth, his
relationships and community with the disciples as well as personal
friends like Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary. This emphasizes
to me the importance of those who help me in my journey of faith. My
community is there to share my joys and sorrows with, to give a
listening ear and to understand what I want to communicate. "
our CLC community, we find people who share the same Ignatian vision
which founds our discerning lives. We find others who inspire us by
living out the vision to which we aspire; we realize, as one says, "that
as people who live and believe in the same way, [we] can make a
difference in society today." We find a home with Christians who support
us in trying to live our vision; another speaks of how her CLC
experience "creates in me a desire for closeness and sharing with other
people sharing common values". The give and take of our CLC communities
provides the environment which energizes us to keep discerning in order
to live our CLC vision more completely.
Living a Charism
Through the reflections of CLC members, I have described some aspects of
how I believe we as CLC are challenged to be the Discernment People.
This is true in our vision, received through the experience of the
Exercises, whereby we become grounded in God's unconditional love which
enables us progressively to become more and more free so that we may
follow Christ in mission with the support of our CLC community.
own discernment about CLC as the Discernment People has led me to begin
considering discernment as our special CLC charism. It is a gift of God
by which we live our lives and give ourselves to mission. Yet it is
something broader. If discernment is truly our charism, it is meant to
be a gift of service for the wider Church.
addition to the ways, about which I have already spoken, that we use our
gift of discernment in our mission way of life, I am now suggesting that
we are being called to make ourselves available to serve as a leaven in
the Church, to help the Church, at various levels where we have input,
become more discerning as it is called upon to make decisions in our
challenging times. Whether it be in our small Christian Communities, on
a parish council, on some diocesan committee, or in just giving support
to another Christian living through a difficult period, we are called to
see how we can bring our charism of discernment to bear. Perhaps, it
will be to recognize a group dynamic which is interfering with a group's
making a free decision. Perhaps, in a discussion, it will be to raise an
important Christian value to which the group has not been attending.
Perhaps, it will be to call for a few minutes of prayer where there is
danger of a hasty decision. Let us be sensitive about how the
Discernment People is called to exercise its charism in the wider
bring my words to a close, I call us to keep before us during these ten
days the question of what it means to our CLC identity to be the
Discernment People. Let us stay sensitive to how for ourselves and for
all the CLCers in our various countries, we can deepen and expand our
CLC vision so that we become more committed to living discerning lives.
Let us better discover how we can allow God's grace more effectively to
set us free. Let us see how we can give ourselves to implementing our
mission more completely. Let us pray for enlightenment concerning how we
can be CLC: the Discernment People.
PROGRESSIO - Nos 1 and 2 1997
Publication of the World Christian Life Community
Center of Our Hearts
O God, what will you do to conquer the fearful hardness of our
Lord, you must give us new hearts, tender hearts,
to replace hearts that are made of marble and of bronze.
You must give us your own Heart, Jesus.
Come, lovable Heart of Jesus. Place your heart deep in the
center of our hearts
and enkindle in each heart a flame of love
as strong, as great, as the sum of all the reasons
that I have for loving you, my God.
O holy Heart of Jesus,
dwell hidden in my heart,
so that I may live only in you and only for you,
so that, in the end, I may live with you eternally in
St Claude La
• • •
"It is only because he became like
us that we can become like him. It is only because we are
identified with him that we can become like him. By being
transformed into his image, we are enabled to model our lives on
Dietrich Bonhoeffer - The Cost of Discipleship