It is not enough to be passers-by on the digital highways, simply ‘connected’ : connections need to grow into true encounters.
The theme for today is Gathering, Encountering, Reaching Out. We begin with stimulus and reflection, with Fr. Brendan on the ‘Francis Effect’. Francis’ challenge to create what he calls a ‘culture of encounter’, encounter both as spiritual dialogue and as reaching out, moving to the outskirts, the margins in accompaniment, service, and advocacy …….. encounter as a kind of sacrament in which we find Christ present.
We know that the ‘Francis Effect’ is really the ‘Jesus Effect’ and also, for us, the ‘Edmund Effect’, the spirit of our movement, chiming with Edmund’s special Gospel – inspired mix of kenosis, encounter and outreach …. a vision we express in shorthand as the 3 pillars giving shape and purpose to any authentic expression of the Edmund Rice Network here and now: SPIRITUAL SEARCH, COMPASSIONATE ACTION, AUTHENTIC COMMUNITY.
Francis, it seems to us, encourages and endorses what we are at, makes our Network part of finding new ways, the outgoing, he is calling for in the Church.
Beyond reflecting, witnessing and bonding, what do we hope for from today? Gatherings like this always end with a feelgood glow, a warm positivity induced by congenial sharing and inspired witness. Usually we end feeling that the Network has really come to life for us today, that we have heard inspiring stuff we never knew about, and we ask how we can sustain and develop this. But we seem to get no further than agreeing a need for websites and improved connectivity. We’ve been here so many times before it’s become a bit of a ritual. The truth is that e-networking is thin networking. It makes connections but shallow connections. Francis says it too: It is not enough to be passers-by on the digital highways, simply ‘connected’; connections need to grow into true encounters. We need something deeper, more physically associational than database connectivity. Something more permanent, or at least regular, than these also-necessary gatherings. We need ongoing forums for face-to-face encounters, conversations and action. So the hope is that by the end of the day there will be people willing to come forward and say I’ll take a lead, I’ll make a move, I’ll help create a local ER group in my neck of the woods around the 3 pillars or that’s old hat, we’ve already got a committed group in our own fashion, so we’ll work to develop all 3 elements into what we do and we’ll agree to affiliate and connect under the ER Network banner.
No one template….. maybe groups of 10 or 12. It might be a camp leaders group, a youth group, a teacher group, a university student group, a spiritual conversation group, an ERI group, a Timirí group, a Micah group, a God in the Now group, a faith and justice or SVP group, a ministry or immersion support group. Let a hundred flowers bloom…… a grassroots federation of local encounter groups, different expressions of one charism, not only coming together on days like today to share experiences and draw mutual inspiration but in continuous connection and synergy.
Loosely speaking we are all members of the generic global, European, Irish or English Edmund Rice Network because we are in some way connected to the charism, to the Brothers and to each other. But we also need something less loose, more committed, more focused and more active. The Munnar Chapter called it a more intentional relationship with the charism of Edmund Rice and the Nairobi Chapter intentional commitment of members of our movement.
We think the way forward is local hubs for Edmund Rice people to express ‘intentionality’ and share their personal commitment to spiritual search and compassionate action. That’s after all what Edmund was sharing, long before the big leap of 1802, with like-minded friends in Waterford. Friends he worked with, prayed with, reflected with and friends he reached out with in the street around them. So the hope is that today ways of becoming more ‘intentional’ will emerge.