Charism of Divine Word Missionaries

10/12/2008 20:23


The word “charism” is derived from the Greek word charis, meaning grace. We often think of God’s grace as our unmerited gift of salvation. As Christians, we share this grace by using our own particular gifts for the good of others to help spread the Word of God.

As Divine Word Missionaries, our charism has continued to grow in the spirit of our founder, St. Arnold Janssen. An ordinary diocesan priest from Germany, St. Arnold envisioned a missionary order of priests and Brothers who would go wherever the Gospel had yet to be proclaimed. He was a man of prayer who had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, the Archangels, the Holy Trinity and in particular, to the Holy Spirit, who represents the Divine Word as expressed in the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word...” Our Society of the Divine Word derives its name and mission from this favorite passage of St. Arnold.

Our international community life and ministry is a special charism of our society. Today, there are more than 6,000 of us fulfilling St. Arnold Janssen’s dream. We have evolved from the fledgling German mission society begun in 1875 to a global missionary congregation comprised of members from many nations who live, work and minister together in an intercultural environment. Serving in the far-reaching missions of the Catholic Church, we preach the Word where it has yet to be proclaimed.

Our SVD members profess vows of consecrated chastity, evangelical poverty and apostolic obedience. We learn the languages and cultures of those whom we serve, and are open to leaving our home countries to minister in any one of our society’s global missions. Utilizing our particular gifts, we minister as pastors, teachers and administrators – or we may use our talents in areas like science, technology and practical skills, living and working side by side with those we serve.

Many people ask: “What is the difference between a religious priest and a diocesan priest?”

A religious priest belongs to a particular religious order, such as the Franciscans, Jesuits, Benedictines or Divine Word Missionaries. Each religious order is founded to fulfill a particular need in the Church through various ministries like teaching, monastic prayer and missionary service. Brothers belong to these religious orders as “lay religious,” and take the same vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.

A diocesan priest is one who is responsible primarily to the bishop of his particular diocese – a specific geographical region of the Church governed by the bishop. Within this region, the priest usually serves in a parish, though he may also be involved in other ministries like administration, communications, teaching and hospital or prison chaplaincy. Diocesan priests do not take any vows, but promise chastity and obedience to their bishops.

As SVDs, we live out St. Arnold’s visionary approach to proclaiming God’s Kingdom through our generosity of spirit, our openness to God’s Word and the strength we derive from our prayer and spiritual life, enabling us to: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit...(Matt. 28: 16-20).”

In discerning your own unique call to God’s service, you may seek out the religious order or diocese that is the best fit for you, coordinating your own special gifts with particular spiritual and ministerial goals. Wherever there is a need in the missionary endeavors of the Church, there is a need for a Divine Word Missionary.

A short prayer composed by St. Arnold summarizes the charism of the Society of the Divine Word:

"May the darkness of sin and night of unbelief vanish before the light of the Word and the spirit of grace, and may the heart of Jesus live in the hearts of all. Amen"

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