MESSAGE OF THE PRIOR GENERAL
TO ALL YOUNG AUGUSTINIANS
" See, I am doing something new!
Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"
Dear brothers and sisters:
At this time when the Church reflects on young people (The Synod of the Bishops, World Youth Day), I would like to address you, our brothers and sisters of the Order of St. Augustine who are in this stage of life, and who make up a significant part of the Order, and have a very important perspective and responsibility. In your hands is the future of the Order.
We are preparing the Augustinian Youth Encounter, and recently I addressed a letter to the youth who participate in our schools, parishes and other Augustinian youth groups. However, I would also like to be in special contact with you, our young Augustinian brothers and sisters. I write to you from my heart with a desire to continue the dialogue already begun in various encounters and visits where I was able to meet you and come to know you better. I sincerely believe that your contribution is essential and, therefore, should not be addressed from complacent flattery, but from trust, necessity and clarity, and always in a spirit of friendship.
1. The courage to be young
Our Order, already in its origins, was an effective engine of renewal in the Church and must continue to be so. The Augustinians are in five continents developing many activities and pastoral services, attentive to the needs of the Church. We know how to integrate various cultures and sensitivities, keeping alive our special charism, the gift inspired by the Spirit, as we live at a particular time and in certainly complex circumstances. The Order is changing rapidly and will soon have a profile diverse from that which we are familiar. This demands from all of us, now and in the coming years, a profound and serene reflection. Together we will find the most appropriate ways to "be" in the world, to live the Augustinian charism at the present time. We remember the words of the Second Vatican Council: "The adaptation and renewal of the religious life includes 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.".
Our era is characterized by great contrasts and enormous challenges. Being aware of the difficulties should not separate us from a hopeful attitude towards the future while communicating enthusiasm. That is why I ask you to abandon all pessimism. Do not listen to the negative and destructive voices, eternally sad, that look to the past as a false refuge of fear and selfishness. Do not support them. It is terrible to find young people spiritually aged. Fossilized mentalities, hardened hearts, and selfish behaviors are signs of death and should not characterize any young person. Always be creators of the future, apostles of a new era, communicators of enthusiasm. Yes, you, our young people find yourselves with a broad horizon of problems but also of opportunities. There is no room for conformism or sterile lament. You have to dream together of a horizon of possibilities and put your hands and hearts together to achieve it. Passivity for fear of being wrong and resigning yourselves to accept things instead of being protagonists of the transformation that the signs of our time demand, may be more comfortable, but it is also the least constructive attitude. The biggest mistake is to avoid risk, to watch as passive spectators the problems of the Church and the Order. Such an attitude supposes betraying our faith and our vocation and leads us to disenchantment.
We need answers and options. And it is up to you to have initiative. I know that sometimes it is difficult. There are internal struggles, centered on the temptation of remaining comfortable, of remaining tranquil. The loss of a first love results in a search, as an absolute priority, for a safe haven in which to live without complications. This is nothing but a surrender, an abandonment of religious life in practice. Every choice of selfishness is inevitably a death option. It is very sad to find people who have lost their dynamism, who have no ideals, who do not live our charism with hope, who have lost their vocation. Never listen to the voices of bitterness, negativity and conformism. To follow and live for Christ in the Augustinian charism is a grace and a wonder that fills our life with light and our soul with joy.
But there are also external difficulties: the rejection of newness, being anchored in the past, the routine that involves many of our realities. Critical voices disturb; the alternatives baffle; the prophets are silenced. The "we have always done it that way" attitude appears as an evil motto that blocks us and that we must overcome. Do not be afraid to “stir things up” and do not resign yourself to silence and insignificance. Do not give up being protagonists. Yes, be relevant. Be the first to embody the novelty that you seek and that you demand. The novelty of Christ who calls and who offers us to follow him.
What is our response to Christ's invitation to follow him in the Augustinian way? It is not a response of phrases, or theories, however beautiful, but the authentic testimony of one's life. I believe that, in order to respond as Augustinians to the needs of the Church and the world, we must prepare ourselves well and concentrate in our studies, especially those that lead us to know in depth the thoughts of Saint Augustine and other figures of the Order. Not only in our initial formation, but throughout life. Be aware of the importance of meeting with Saint Augustine, with his thought and spirituality. It is truly essential to be able to live our vocation with a clear identity. However, we must not forget that a true Augustinian is not one who repeats phrases of St. Augustine, or who quotes the saints or writers of the Order, but rather one who embodies his spirituality in daily life, which shows the features of the charism in one's existence.
2. Intimacy with Jesus.
A true religious life is not possible except in the encounter with Christ. Saint Augustine reminds us of it magnificently: "This alone I know, that without you all to me is misery, not only outside myself but also within, all wealth is but penury, if it is not my God." A vocation must be ratified every day. The invitation of the Lord is reaffirmed at every moment and the response must always be updated. Do not let your vocation die from lack of care, for not renewing your daily encounter with the Lord.
We need you to make the care of your spiritual life a priority, without falling into empty activism or passivity. Be vigilant to prevent worldliness from infiltrating you and leading you to the abandonment of prayer and the weakening of the interior life. Neglecting Christ within will then be filled by other gods that enslave the human being. The result will be unhappiness: not only will you not be happy but you will inevitably transmit bitterness to others. Young people: be men and women of prayer. This is essential and it is absolutely indispensable. Pay attention to your personal and community prayer, the celebration of the Eucharist, the instruments of spiritual renewal.
Be attentive to the times and, above all, to the quality of your lives. Some people seek assurances in formalism and appearances. That is not the way. Security is not found in empty ritualism, but in the conversion of the heart to Christ in the encounter with him. Do not be young people who are mundane, sick from secularism, or vain people and self-sufficient formalists. Be friends of Christ and, therefore, members of the family of God.
Yes, our challenge today is the achievement of a living spiritual experience, sustained by a healthy and intense life of personal and community prayer. Only then will we be relevant and, therefore, credible. It may be necessary to change structures and programs to take better advantage of the means offered to us. Allow this truly renovating option to lead you.
3. The identity of true love.
The Augustinian religious life is defined by our discovery of the communitarian dimension of faith and the recognition of the presence of Christ in the midst of those who meet in his name (Mt 18, 20). Although friction, differences of opinion and even discrepancies are inevitable, there is no doubt that friendship and coexistence are possible. The price of love is understanding and forgiveness. From there, we travel the path together, in the joy of being brothers and sisters, sharing what we have and, above all, who we are. We have gathered together, above all, "to have one soul and one heart on the way to God."  Always keep this in mind.
I am concerned about the weakening of community life. Communities should not be too large, but also not too small. There is the paradox that in an Order like ours, which has common life as a special point of reference, there are nevertheless a large number of communities with only two or three members. I think this should be an exception and not a usual practice.
In any case, however, no structure will be adequate if each of us does not take care of our personal relationships and community experience. Pay attention that your work and duties do not prevent you from "being" in the community to share your life. Pay attention that the groups, the logical friendships, the management of ministerial activities, the meetings with collaborators are not an escape and a justification to flee from your community. May this misunderstood generosity not lead you to lose your way and obscure your vocation. Dedicate time to the community because the brothers and sisters need you as you need them. We do not profess the Augustinian religious life to be always away from home, witnessing absence instead of inclusion. Each member of the community should feel encouraged and sustained by the community, but also the community should feel encouraged and sustained by each individual. A predecessor of mine wrote that the Augustinian community is our first apostolate.
Another theme on which I want to comment is the need we have to strengthen the sense of the Order, overcoming localism: one is not a professed religious for a particular circumscription, but rather for the Order. Being an Augustinian means being part of a large family. We call ourselves brothers (fratres) and sisters (sorores). And we must be. We seek unity, the union of souls and hearts. That is why I am also surprised that at times some of us raise exclusive barriers because we are born in one country or another, in one region or another. Nationalism is an evil and a scandal. How can we exclude or reject anyone because of their birth, because of their origin? Please, always have a wide, welcoming, integrating view. Love the Order and tear down geographical and ideological barriers and borders. We are a single Order, a single family. The differences must be integrated and thus create a source of wealth.
4. A free heart.
While we have our basic needs covered, even more, many other people, particularly young people, are entrapped in poverty, a lack of culture, loneliness or a long list of those things that enslave us. Additionally, in our environment, the forms of poverty and exclusion have multiplied and demand of us an answer, which cannot come from worldliness, but from living simply, with generosity and mercy. In front of those who move primarily for economic interests; in front of those who accumulate and those who do not share their goods; in front of those who understand religious life as a profession or as an advance up the social scale, you are an example of detachment, of affective and effective poverty, and an example of freedom.
Be the voice of those who have none. St. Augustine does not hesitate to affirm that "Christ is destitute whenever a poor person is destitute". We all run the risk of living in a bubble, oblivious to the needs of today's men and women, without the cry of the poor reaching us. That is why we must abandon our comfort zones, resolve the scandal of poverty which speak to others, of which we even publicly make a vow, without really being poor and without worrying about fighting for justice. For this it is essential to be men and women who are open to welcoming others into our lives, listening to them and showing mercy. Let us never forget that the preferential option for the poor is born of the Gospel and implicit in Christological faith. 
It is necessary to leave our comfort and security: "Go out from your land, your country, and your father's house, to the land that I will show you" (Gn 12,1). Is not this the story of every vocation? Certainly. It is about listening to the call and responding to it with generosity and trust. The experience of God moves us to leave spiritual and personal tranquility, to put ourselves back on track. Get close to people, be empathetic, know their needs, do not create a separate elite status that is empty and false. Each of us is God's response to the needs of today's society. That is our responsibility. And you, with your generosity, can and must give a magnificent testimony of divine mercy, always active and always concrete.
5. The time for prophets.
The faith that we have received, the vocation to which we have been called, presupposes a type of unique friendship with God, which has been revealed to us in Christ. It is the loving caress of God, a source of joy and action of the Spirit that broadens and fills our life with meaning. Today, more than ever, we need prophets rooted in the experience of God. Not activists, but rather, witnesses who speak to us about their existence; not sellers of words or entertainers, but relevant Christians who clearly express the enormous beauty of the Gospel, the truth of Christ, his joyful attractiveness. The future is for those who risk their lives, breaking the narrow limits of selfishness. Even going against the current. "Contemporary humanity," wrote Paul VI, "listens more easily to those who give testimony than to those who teach or if they listen to those who teach, it is because they give testimony." It is the time of witnesses. It is the hour of the prophets.
If our elders dare to dream and our young people to prophesy (Joel 3,1), we will be cultivating a seed of hope that will undoubtedly flourish and bear fruit. In a world in which the face of God seems to have been lost, an audacious prophetic witness is urgent on the part of consecrated persons. We know that true prophecy is born of God and that authentic evangelization consists in announcing the Word of God, the work of God. God is in us and what Jesus Christ does through us. Christ is always new; the eternal novelty that does not grow old. He "can also break through the dull categories with which we would enclose him and he constantly amazes us by his divine creativity. 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 are open with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world".
Now is also the proper occasion to strengthen vocation ministry, to meet other young people, inviting them to listen and reflect so that they can respond generously to a possible call. Do not hesitate to present the identity of the Augustinian religious life clearly to young people, showing how our spirituality, inspired by the fruitful thought of St. Augustine and of so many brothers and sisters throughout history, has been a powerful beacon in the Church through the centuries and must remain so today. The past does not have to be a weight to carry, but a stimulus. And never forget that your personal story is the best vocational propaganda. It is not in ideas, but lives lived; it is not programs, but in our witness.
Many of you have also told me of your desire for greater enthusiasm and creativity in our Order, so that we know how to anticipate the current challenges, renewing obsolete structures, recovering the missionary position in the Church, opening ourselves to other mentalities and other cultures no longer predominantly Western. Yes, as I said at the beginning, we must prepare the Order of St. Augustine for a new time, rediscovering the essential beauty and joy of being Augustinians. Now, we need a profound renewal to live radically the charism inspired by the Spirit. We must shake off routineness and resignation, be creative, get involved, take risks. Moving forward always from truth, which is reached by conversion of the heart. Young people: be protagonists of this essential renewal process. The Order needs you. Renewal will only be possible from personal choices and the vitality of small groups. Hopefully in Chapters, in encounters, in meetings, the voice of young people will burst forth like a torrent of life and newness. I hope your testimony will shake us and provoke us, as you truly live as communicators of enthusiasm. I offer to you my availability and that of the General Council to respond to your concerns.
Thank you very much, dear brothers and sisters, for your work and, above all, for your lives. I write to you with sincerity, with full confidence and, also, with demands that spring from affection. I hope we can continue this dialogue. I hope that the ideas that I have expressed to you in this message will find an echo in you and you will develop them, reaching to conclusions and proposals. I commend myself to your prayers as I assure you of mine and I ask our Mother of Good Counsel to protect and accompany our common journey.
May God bless you always.
Rome, April 24, 2018
Fr. Alejandro Moral Antón,
Prior General OSA
 Cf. Letter of the Prior General to Young People, March 19, 2018
 Perfectae caritatis, 2.
 Cf. Sermon 346 C.
 Cf. Letter of the Prior General on the Solemnity of Saint Augustine, August 28, 2017: Acta OSA 70 (2018) 54-55.
 Conf. 13,8,9.
 The Holy Father reminds us that holiness must be a requirement, a necessity, for every Christian. He states: “Do not be afraid to set your sights higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God. Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Holiness does not make you less human, since it is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace”: Francis, Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, 34.
 Cf. Constitutions, 102.
 Rule 1,3.
 Cf. Constitutions, 109.
 Cf. T. Van Bavel, Carisma: comunidad, Madrid 2004, 168-170.
 Cf. T. Tack, The Augustinian Community and the Apostolate. Message of the Prior General: Acta OSA 19 (1974) 27-36.
 Sermon 38,6,8.
 Cf. Benedict XVI, Inaugural Discourse of the V Latin American and Caribbean Episcopal General Conference, Aparecida, May 13, 2007, 3. The same Document of Aparecida (n. 393), reminds us that "the suffering faces of the poor are the suffering face of Christ. These are at the core of the pastoral work of the Church and our Christian attitude".
 Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41.
 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, Vita Consecrata, 84-85. I recall the three essential traits of the prophet, indicated in that synodal document: passion for the truth; intimate union with God; availability to surrender one's life.
 Cf. Tractate on the Gospel of John 15, 30; Sermon 72, 8.
 Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 11.
The video is only in Italian.
The Congress: "Luther and the Reformation: Saint Augustine and the Augustinian Order" is being broadcast on the television service: Telepace (in Italian)
The General Council of the Order, presided by the Prior General, P. Alejandro Moral Antón, met in Rome from November 6 – 16, 2017.
Among other themes discussed were the following:
Chapters: Approval of the Acts of the Chapter and the post-capitular nominations from the Ordinary Provincial Chapter of Nigeria. Approval of the beginning dates and places for the following Ordinary Chapters: Province of Belgium (2 April, 2018 in Gent, Belgium), Province of Michoacán (25 June, 2018 in the Centro de Espiritualidad Agustiniana, “Casa Hipona”, Moroleón).
Personnel: Discussions on various petitions for exclaustration, and other particular circumstances.
Collegio Santa Monica: Approval of renewal of temporary vows of the professed students. Approval of nominations of the “padri student” representatives for the local Chapter.
Houses: The General Council was informed of the request to suppress the house in Benevento (Italy) and the request to erect a house in Mocoa (Colombia). The Prior General has approved both requests.
Circumscriptions and Communities: The General Council discussed various themes regarding our presence in Nigeria, Brazil, Italy, Abbey of Brno, Collegio Santa Monica, Pontifical Sacristy, and Sant’ Anna Parish in the Vatican.
Province of Belgium: The Superior Provincial of the Province of Belgium was invited to meet with the General Council to discuss diverse themes.
Ratio Institutionis: Progress continues to be made regarding the final presentation of the Ratio Institutionis at the General Chapter 2019. A web page has been developed and friars are encouraged to participate and contribute to the Forum section of the web page. There will be a Congress in Rome for Formators and the Ratio July 2-6, 2018.
Structures of the Order: Discussions took place regarding the criteria that need to be considered for a possible revision of the structures of the Order.
Economy: The Economo General shared information regarding various economic themes, works and budgets. The Balance sheet of income and expenses from last year and the proposed budget for the coming year were approved.
Communication: The General Council met with P. Michele Falcone regarding Communications in the Order.
Commissions of the Order: The composition of membership in each commission was reviewed.
Luther Congress: Evaluation of the Congress which took place in Rome, November 9-11, 2017.The next meeting of the General Council will take place in Rome, January 29-February 10, 2018.
The Economic Commission of the Order has just conducted a Congress for the Bursars of our circumscriptions. The aims of the Congress were to
1. prepare the whole Order to discuss how we might better share our resources across the Order in the years to come
2. consider how we might accomplish the first four Acts of the Intermediate General Chapter, including greater transparency and accountability across all levels of the Order
3. review the role of the Econome in light of modern social realities and legal requirements
The tasks that lie ahead for the Order are considerable and the requirements on our Economes are considerable; after the Congress the Bursar’s have departed with significant information for the future, good dialogue among themselves and have left the Economic Commission with guidelines for the preparation of discussion papers to be looked at by all circumscriptions next year and for the preparation of draft documents for reporting by all circumscriptions at future General Chapters.
It was clear to the Economes that they have roles as managers of investments, as caretakers of the Order’s goods, as servants of the Provincial and Council and a special task as watchdogs over the economic reputation of the Order. Thank God for their dedication!
The next Augustinian Youth Encounter will hold in David and Tolé (Panamá) between 15th and 20th January 2019. It will have as a theme: "Heaven and Earth proclaim your glory, Lord!" drawn from Confessions 10, 6.2. This was part of the discussion which the members of the International Youth Commission of the Order had during their meeting recently in Panamá. Other relevant information will be communicated soon.
A meeting of the young Augustinian friars, residing In Spain and Portugal, of OSAFEP with the Prior General took place 13-15 October at Colegio Mayor Mendel in Madrid. 23 friars participated in the meeting.
The atmosphere was very cordial and fraternal and directed toward a renewed and creative perspective. Three themes were discussed: the creation of the one new Province in Spain out of the four existing provinces; ministry for vocations; the Augustinians in Europe. The worthwhile discussion, both in small-group and plenary sessions produced a number of proposals.
There were also meaningful moments of prayer together. The Prior General, Fr. Alejandro Moral Antón, and the Assistant General, Fr. Luis Marin, presided at the various liturgies.
The General Council of the Order, presided by the Prior General, Fr. Alejandro Moral Antón, OSA met in Rome from September 18-28, 2017.
Among the topics discussed are the following:
Chapters: The Acts of the Chapter and the post-capitular nominations were approved for the following: England/Scotland, Mexico, Colombia, Ireland, Castilla, Brazil, and the Vicariate of Vienna. The beginning date and place was approved for the following Ordinary Chapters: Province of Holland (October 30, Helvoirt, Besinningscentrum); Province of Cebu (19 February, 2018 in the Santo Nino Spirituality Center, Consolacion, Cebu); Province of Spain (24 March, 2018 in the Monastery of Santa Maria de la Vid, Burgos); Province of Malta (First part 4 April 2018 and the second part 23 April, 2018 in the convent of Saint Mark the Evangelist, Rabat); Province of Villanova (10 June, 2018, in the Connelly Center, Villanova University); Province of Australia (2 July in Saint Augustine College, Brookvale); Province of Matritense (9 July, 2018 in Colegio San Agustin, Salamanca); Province of the Philippines (16 of July in Real Colegio Seminario de Valladolid); Vicariate of the Antillas (10 October 2017 in the Seminario de Bayamon, Puerto Rico; afterwards approval was given to transfer the place to the Dominican Republic because of the damage in Puerto Rico caused by the Hurricanes); Intermediate Chapter of the Province of Chile (2 October, 2017, in the Convento de Nuestra Señora de Gracia, Santiago).
Suspended Governance: Approval was given to suspend the ordinary governance of the Province of England/Scotland. The official name will remain, and the Province will be under the governance of the Province of Ireland.
Various Petitions: Diverse requests and petitions were considered and approved for dismissal, exclaustration, dispensation, along with particular cases and situations.
Nominations: Angelo Lemme: Director of the Pre-Novitiate in Brno; Nestor Bandalan as Treasurer of the Community in the Papal Sacristy; Donald Reilly as a member of the International Economic Commission.
Houses: The General Council was informed of the suppression of the following houses: Community house in Dar es Salaam (Delegation of Tanzania), Parish house of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Valencia (Vicariate of Venezuela); parish house of Nuestra Madre del Buen Consejo, León and the residence of San Juan de Sahagún, Madrid (Province of Castilla). The Erection of a new house in Virak, Philippines (Vicariate of the Orient) and of a house in Costa Rica (Vicariate of Panama).
Augustinian Nuns: Various themes were discussed regarding the Augustinian Nuns in diverse Monasteries in the Order.
Decisions of the Intermediate Chapter of 2016: The Council discussed the progress of many of the decisions from the Intermediate General Chapter which was held in Abuja, Nigeria in September 2016.
Meeting of the newly elected major superiors: The General Council met with the newly elected superiors to learn more about the current ministry in these circumscriptions. Those present were: Andrés Rivera (Province of Cebu), Wilson Posligua (Province of Quito) Vicente Valenzuela (Vicariate of Apurimac) and Matthias Schlögl (Vicariate of Vienna).
Economic Themes: Diverse themes were presented by the Economo general: budgets for various maintenance projects, new contracts, scholarships for students at Collegio Santa Monica, other economic themes.
Communications: dialogue with P. Michele Falcone about the area of Communication in the Order and the way of presenting ourselves through the various means of Social Communication. This theme will be treated more profoundly in November.
*Luis Marin: Provincial Chapter of Castilla; themes of the Italian Province and the Province of Malta, information regarding the Spanish Federation; the next course in Augustinian Spirituality organized by the Institute of Augustinian Spirituality will be in English; conclusion of the program of renewal for the Monastery of Lecceto, information about activities in Ecuador (ongoing formation) and Peru (retreat; themes of the Archives.
*Joseph Farrell: The communities that fall under the General Curia’s care; the visit in Nigeria; the Education Congress in Villanova, USA, together with P. Franz Klein; projects and work of the Commission for Initial Formation; Canonical visitation (part 1) of the Villanova Province; themes related to the Monastery of Augustinian Nuns in Nova Scotia, (Canada) and L’Aquila, (Italy).
*Franz Klein: Chapters in Ireland and the Vicariate of Vienna; Intermediate Chapter of the German Province; Meeting of the Organization of Augustinians in Europe (OAE), together with P. Luis Marin, in Prague; suppression of the community of St. Patrick (Rome); diverse invitations from Dr. Hans-Albert Courtial.
*Patricio Villalba: Ordinary Provincial Chapters of Mexico and Colombia; Canonical visit to the delegation in Central America; visit to the Vicariate of Bolivia; discussion of the agreement between the Province of Chile and the Vicariate of Bolivia; Meeting of the Major Superiors con the novices in the Novitiate in Lima; Congress of the Augustinian Fraternities of Latin America, in Colombia, together with P. Luis Marin; calendar of the process of unification of the Vicariates of Peru and information regarding the statutes.
*Edward Daleng: Themes of the Province of Nigeria and of other circumscriptions in Africa; meeting in San Gimignano organized by the Commission for Evangelization, together with P. Anthony Banks; Camino de Santiago with a group of young people; meeting in Panama in order to prepare for World Youth Day and the Augustinian Youth Encounter in January of 2019.
*Anthony Banks: Themes regarding the circumscriptions in Korea, Japan, West Papua and of the Asia Pacific Regions; reunions of OSAAP and APAC; meeting with Fr. Robert Dueweke, representative to of our NGO at the UN; meeting of the Vocations Commission in Chicago, together with P. Edward Daleng, meeting of the Secretariat for Justice and Peace in New York; update on the document on Poverty, requested by the Intermediate General Chapter.
*Alejandro Moral: Information on the letter sent to the Order commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reform; information on the Congress: “Luther and the Reform: Saint Augustine and the Augustinian Order”, which will take place in Rome, November 9-11, 2017.The next meeting of the council will be November 5-18, 2017 in Rome.
LETTER TO THE BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF THE ORDER
ON THE OCCASION OF THE 500th ANNIVERSARY
OF THE START OF THE LUTHERAN REFORM
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In perhaps a small way, we want to recognize the anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation which started with Martin Luther's public exposition of his 95 theses on indulgences, in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. There is no doubt that Luther promoted a true religious crisis that brought about the rupture of Western Christianity and laid the foundations not only of secularism but also of the process of secularization and the birth of a new Europe. These theses also implied a change in the way Luther understood himself. It was then that he changed his surname, “Luder”, signing it for a time as “Eleutherios” (the free one), and then as “Luther”.
His strong personality, rich and suggestive in its contrasts, the new theology he developed, the consequences of the revolution that he unleashed, all make him a decisive figure in world history and in the history of Christianity. We can affirm that there is clearly a time period before and after Luther.
We cannot forget that Martin Luther (1483-1546) was an Augustinian. He entered our Order in 1505 and was a member of the Congregation of the Observance of Saxony. He belonged to the community of the convent of Erfurt at first and then the community of Wittenberg. He held various positions of government: sub-prior and regent of studies (1512-1515) and vicar provincial of Thuringia and Meissen (1515-1518). He exercised these services with responsibility and wisdom, making decisions when necessary, without ignoring difficulties and seeking the common good. He was a renowned teacher (for him, his most treasured title was that of Doctor of Theology) and he was accredited as a preacher and was available to render his services when required, as happened with respect to the internal issues (conflict between observants and conventuals) that brought about his trip to Rome in 1511-1512. All sources point out that he was a pious, trustworthy and fervent monk. Until 1521 he always used to sign his name "Martin Luther, Augustinian" and used the habit until 1524, conserving until his death much of the “friar” in his piety and style of life.
It is also true that Luther not only abandoned the Order but abhorred religious life with all his might, rejected ascetic practices and piety, rejected praying the breviary and other obligations, radically altered sacramental theology, condemned the vows and promoted the abandonment and the mass exodus of vowed religious. The damage done to the Order and to religious life in Germany was enormous. Luther was our brother for a time and shared our charism, but he himself stood outside the Order with his choices, his initiatives, and his decisions.
The Order of St. Augustine, to which Luther belonged, has no reason to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation but, yes, to commemorate it. And we do it with serenity, highlighting the positive aspects that it brought about: the revalorization of the individual, the reaffirmed confidence in God, the centrality of Sacred Scripture, the bringing of the liturgy closer to the people, the development of a sense of community, a healthy secularity, and the need for reform, understood as a return to the essentials.
What could the Catholic Church learn from the Lutheran tradition? Pope Francis responds thus: "Two words come to my mind: Reformation and Scripture." That is, the gesture of renewal for a Church that is semper reformanda and always in need of reforming itself, and the step taken to put the Word of God in the hands of the people. We must also learn to avoid that which would be a process of reform and revitalization of the whole Church that leads to a "state" of separation and rupture, and also that approach to Sacred Scripture that leads to subjectivism. For that reason, in the words of the Lutheran theologian, Wolfhart Pannenberg, “the division of the Church in the XVI century cannot be understood as the success of the Reformation, but rather only as the expression of temporal failure; in fact, the Reformation was aiming at the renewal of the entire Church, with reference to its biblical origin”. Moreover, we can say that the breakup of the Church is an expression of failure for all Christians.
Today, in recalling the figure of Martin Luther, we dwell on the man of deep religious intuition, on the herald and preacher of the divine word, on his ingenuity and creativity, on his amazing capacity for work, on the way he used the printing press and the advances of the time at the service of communication, and on his deep piety. "We are all beggars, hoc est verum, this is true," he wrote on February 16, 1546, two days before he died. He was a sincere Christian and a man of prayer, a good husband and father of a family, a simple and hospitable friend, a diligent guide to the people who requested his advice. With a warm and effusive temperament, and despite the worries and ailments that affected him, he was a model of domestic virtues. We also highlight his inner struggles against anguish and temptation, his direct form of expression, the openness of his soul and the confident way of sharing his intimacy with those who were close to him, and his spiritual sensitivity.
However, we cannot avoid another less gracious side: that which refers to his intolerance. Obstinate and inflexible, passionate and vehement, Luther used biting expressions against those who opposed him, becoming abusive and rude. Often, he was vexatious and offensive, leading to slander. The one chosen by God, the "prophet of the end times", he considered himself to have the truth and, therefore, responded in aggressive terms to any discrepancy. For him, retraction was not possible because he did not assume the possibility of mistake or error. His fixation on the figure of the pope is significant, evolving from reverential obedience to animosity and abhorrence, to eventual hatred in his later years. His exaggerated insults and aggressions toward the Church of Rome (papist, according to the particular terminology) are truly sad. Reading those texts fills us with pain. Today, thank God, times have changed: not only are there cordial relations between Lutherans and Catholics but also, on the path of ecumenism, there are meeting points such as the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification signed in 1999, to which the World Communion of Reformed Churches has recently joined.
As for his thought, it is impossible to state it here, or even to summarize it. I shall say only that Luther makes concrete his distrust of reason and his rejection of philosophy in his visceral revulsion of scholasticism, of overly structured theological systems, of aristotelianism, of the games of the intellect, of classifications, of sophistry, and of the subtleties of the various schools of thought of his day. All of that distances us from the encounter with Christ and obstructs the genuine faith that is based on Scripture, the Word. God is not a philosophical hypothesis, but is revealed to us and speaks to us in Christ. That is why it requires greater simplicity, abandoning the artifices to go to the source making the encounter possible. And it also requires bringing the Word of God closer to the people, facilitating personal contact and assimilation. From this approach, we can understand that Luther devotes much time and care to the translation and exegesis of Sacred Scripture and to preaching. He showed excellent handling of his vernacular language. His translation of the Bible is of decisive importance, both in the pastoral and in the philological sense. Luther plays a decisive role in his lexical choice and in his style, in which he reflects the vivacity and spontaneity of the spoken language. He is an innovator of the language, which he endows with great accuracy and realism, to the point of being considered determinant in the unification of the German language and in the fixation of the modern German language. Recognized as a preacher, his sermons always had an enormous resonance. Of simple style, concrete and didactic; very practical. He spoke with deep conviction, concentrating on what he said, without getting lost in gesture or theatrics, but using popular phrases and idioms. He was the "Ecclesiastes of Wittenberg", the preacher and transmitter par excellence of the Word of God.
Another essential point in his thinking, in an Augustinian way, is the reality of grace in reference, above all, to justification. In this world of the triumph of indifference, in which we often live as if God does not exist, in which God is reduced to a concept or a norm, Luther returns us to the God revealed in Christ, who is Love and who is concretized in Love. The center of his life and his reflection was undoubtedly the question of God. Tormented in his youth by the theme of salvation, he found his tranquility and joy in the principle of justification by faith (cf. Rom 1:17). Therefore, the Justice of God should not be understood in an active or vindictive sense (a just God who punishes sinners), but in a passive or justifying sense (God who makes us righteous and gives us sanctification). It is not works, however good they are, that obtain salvation, but trust in Christ, the only Redeemer, who is communicated to us by faith. Solus Christus, soli Deo Gloria. The terrible God thus becomes the Father of mercies, and the righteous Christ becomes the unique Savior by way of the cross. Luther feels the inability of human forces, without grace, but radicalizes this doctrine to the extreme. For him it is impossible that the human being can collaborate actively in salvation, because sin remains. Only, by the merits of Christ, are we not held guilty.
Sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide. The consequences of the Lutheran perception lead to the denial of free will, to the dogmatic innovation of the sacraments, to the rejection of the Mass as a sacrifice, to the denial of the ministerial priesthood, to the demolition of the magisterium and of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and to the demonization of the papacy. However, Luther is surprisingly servile to the protestant princes and a passionate defender of the legitimate social and political order, even at a high price. His position in the War of the Peasants (1524-1525) offers a good example of this and is one of the most discussed features of the reformer, as are also two other aspects, present in Luther, which have cast their black shadow on the history of the last centuries: nationalism and anti-Semitism.
The figure of Luther is not easy, but fascinating. It is full of contrasts that hinder objectivity and equanimity, but it offers enormously novel features and is undoubtedly very up-to-date. In spite of the five centuries that have passed, he continues to arouse extreme passions, adhesions and visceral rejections. And in our Augustinian milieu, unfortunately, he remains quite unknown. In the Order, we need specialists in Luther, both in the historical and theological fields. I hope that this commemoration of the Lutheran Reformation will be a wake-up call and boost the studies in this line.
I am grateful for the interest shown and the initiatives that have been taken in the various circumscriptions of the Order, especially in the academic field, with the organization of excellent congresses, study days and publications. The General Council has wished to be involved in this respect and has encouraged the holding of the Congress, entitled "Luther and the Reformation: Augustine and the Augustinian Order", to be held in Rome from 9 to 11 November. I hope this is a starting point.
I want to end with the words of Pope Benedict XVI, pronounced in the Augustinerkloster of Erfurt, during his trip to Germany: "For Luther, theology was no mere academic pursuit, but the struggle for oneself, which in turn was a struggle for and with God. ‘How do I receive the grace of God?’ The fact that this question was the driving force of his whole life never ceases to make a deep impression on me. For who is actually concerned about this today – even among Christians? What does the question of God mean in our lives? In our preaching? Most people today, even Christians, set out from the presupposition that God is not fundamentally interested in our sins and virtues. He knows that we are all mere flesh. And insofar as people believe in an afterlife and a divine judgment at all, nearly everyone presumes for all practical purposes that God is bound to be magnanimous and that ultimately he mercifully overlooks our small failings. The question no longer troubles us. But are they really so small, our failings? Is not the world laid waste through the corruption of the great, but also of the small, who think only of their own advantage? Is it not laid waste through the power of drugs, which thrives on the one hand on greed and avarice, and on the other hand on the craving for pleasure of those who become addicted? Is the world not threatened by the growing readiness to use violence, frequently masking itself with claims to religious motivation? Could hunger and poverty so devastate parts of the world if love for God and godly love of neighbor – of his creatures, of men and women – were more alive in us? I could go on. No, evil is no small matter. Were we truly to place God at the centre of our lives, it could not be so powerful. The question: what is God’s position towards me, where do I stand before God? – Luther’s burning question must once more, doubtless in a new form, become our question too, not an academic question, but a real one. In my view, this is the first summons we should attend to in our encounter with Martin Luther".
May our Lady of Grace accompany us with her love.
Rome, 28 September 2017
P. Alejandro Moral Antón
Prior General OSA
 Cf. " Intervista a papa Francesco in occasione del viaggio apostolico in Svezia": La Civiltà Cattolica 2016-IV, 313-324.
 W. PANNENBERG, "Die Augsburger Konfession und die Einheit der Kirche": Ökumenische Rundschau 28 (1979) 113.
 Cf. LUTHER, Weimarer Ausgabe (WA) 48,241.
 Cf. Tischreden (WATr) 5,23,27-24,6.
 Cf. WA 10,2
 Encounter with the representatives of the Evangelical Church of Germany, Erfurt 23 September 2011
On 23 September 2017, our brother, Helizandro Terán Bermúdez, was ordained in Caracas, Venezuela, as the new bishop of Ciudad Guayana. May the Holy Spirit assist him in his ministry and always accompany him with His grace and His love.