Historical Memory

Historical Memory of Evangelization through the Order Servants of Mary

22. From the very beginning of their evangelical- penitential life outside the walls of Florence the Seven Founders practiced evangelization through their life witness. It was the apostolate of attraction. Later, when they withdrew to Monte Senario out of a desire for greater solitude, they continued to exercise this attraction on the people. Speaking of Monte Senario and giving a mystical interpretation of its name as “Mount Sound”, the Legenda de origine says: The Seven “were to make themselves heard by the world through their sound, i.e. through their word and example, so as to lead the world to follow Christ” (n. 43). For this reason “many people, attracted by the sound from the mount and by the odor of their sanctity and virtue, followed with deep devotion and hurried to the place from which the sound and odor were coming … They said to one another: Come, let us go up to this sweet sounding mount” (n.45).

23. The Servite Order was born of this evangelizing witness: “Many, attracted by the sweet odor, decided to go and live with them… and not ever give up their company” (n. 47). This element, which belongs to the origins of the Order, became part of all its later evangelizing activity. The Order has always preferred in its pastoral work the method of attraction over showy and institutionalized methods – in other words, it prefers the way of the lowly and free. “Apostolic life”, more than preaching, is the way of communion for the Order. Evangelical at traction comes to life through the witness of prayer, fraternity, self-denial and solitude.

24. The lives of the Order’s saints give the same message. These holy men and, women evangelize with their lives: a simple and hidden fraternal life enriched with a special witness of joy, human delicacy and mercy, as is seen in Blessed Francis of Siena ; or a life of prophetic courage and love for the oppressed, as exemplified in the life of Blessed James of Citta’ della Pieve. In all of them shines forth a deep love for the Mother of Jesus. The service they render to Our Lady is filled with nobility and finds expression in multiple “acts of reverence”.

25. The Servants of Mary carry on this humble kind of apostolic service in their sanctuaries, parishes and other social and cultural works. In this re spect the figure of St. Anthony Pucci, the centenary of whose death (1892) we are celebrating this year, takes on special significance. As parish priest in Viareggio for forty-five years he dedicated himself totally to preaching, catechizing, caring for the poor and organizing the Christian community. And in his method of evangelization we see again the way of luminous attraction through the witness of an evangelical life that was poor, fraternal and nourished with devotion to the Mother of Jesus and to our Lord in the Eucharist. All this makes of St. Anthony the perfect pastoral model of the evangelizing Servant.

26. We can see how throughout history the life of the Order moves ahead in movements of concentration and dilation, of which Monte Senario and Florence are symbols. It is with this rhythm that the Servants of Mary live and grow, individually and in community, and with which they mature their discipleship and carry out their apostolate yesterday and today.

27. At the midpoint of the last century the Order, until that time limited to Europe, widened its evangelizing service to include North America for the sake of the immigrants they are in need of pastoral care. Already at the time of the “discovery” of the Americas by Europeans the Order had thought seriously about sending missionaries to these areas, but nothing came of it. At the beginning of this century, in a context of missionary fervor and under urging of the 1901 general chapter, the Order committed itself decisively “to renew as soon as possible the mission among the infidels”. It inaugurated a number of foundations “ad gentes”, first in Canada, then in South Africa and Latin America, and finally in the 1970s in Asia and other African countries. The general chapters followed the Order’s missionary expansion with growing interest and suggested opportune directives.

28. We can ask why our Order, with respect to others, became aware of the urgency of missionary work remarkably late. Is it perhaps to be ascribed to the prevalently contemplative orientation of the Order and to the value attached to witnessing? Or is it the sign of a group that lived closed in upon itself throughout history? We can examine ourselves on this point in order to learn humbly the lessons that the Spirit teaches through history.

29. Let us recall with gratitude the great number of Servite women who not only shared in the Order’s missionary work but also advanced on their own to new frontiers of evangelization in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

Questions for community reflection
1. What is the most important lesson you have learned from the historical memory of the evangelizing activity of the Order?
2. What can our community learn from the “way of attraction’ characteristic of the Order’s evangelization method? Which evangelical values do most to attract men and women today? How is the CC way of attraction’ related to the mission “ad gentes”?
3. Can you speak of a member of the Order that re presents for you a living witness of dedication to the evangelization mission?