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ROME DECEMBER 06, 2008
Centennial Symposium

Response to:
Comedy and Missionary Communion

Sr. Judith Vallimont, SSpS

OVERVIEW

o begin with, I thank you, Fr. Pernia, for your insightful and thought-provoking presentation on Mission as Holy Folly: Comedy and Missionary Communion. Yours was the challenging question: “What wisdom can religious congregations reap from living through the drama of forming multi-cultural communities?” I expand this question to include what wisdom do we share in mission with a multicultural world? The Latin American scheme you used—the basis for liberation theology and for theological reflection—of see, judge, and act creates an order to your presentation. This helps make sense of a topic that otherwise seems rooted in folly: How foolish for us to try to create order (communion) amidst such diversity!

SEE

You spoke to us of the ORDER of the past—particularly the period up until Vatican II. It all seemed so logical, so natural. To be true religious is to be “like me.” You clearly identified ways this happened. I want to point out that this unconscious attitude permeated not only how we understood and lived religious life, but how we understood and lived “being Catholic.” The style of religious life and of being Catholic was rooted in a Western European way of thinking and behaving.

Now, as multi-cultural realities form the substructure of our religious life, we can no longer follow what seemed so natural. We reached your second moment with Vatican II. We began speaking of inculturation, of local church, of enriching and being enriched by others. We acknowledged there is richness in diversity. We sought to incorporate diversity into our way of being. What a holy disorder we created! We no longer have “common food”, common ways of dressing, common music for our liturgies.

You pointed out well the difficulties in understanding vowed life: Poverty in the midst of real poverty or amid plenty; obedience in cultures where the individual makes decisions or where the individual makes no decisions. I add to these chastity in cultures where marriage and having children is the norm or where sexual gratification comes before self discipline. How do we live the holy folly of the vows in these situations.

We also have the diversity of our understanding of mission. You drew our attention to the change we are experiencing in what we call “reverse mission.” Places to which we went as missionaries, are now sending missionaries. Sending countries are receiving; receiving countries are sending. The world is mission. Three dominate themes result from this change.

One is our understanding of what it means to be in mission in community. I emphasize how concern for personal giftedness and personal response to mission competes with our call to live mission in community, to see we are in mission together. It isn’t my mission; it isn’t even SSpS mission. It’s God’s mission as lived and experienced in community—bringing the best I have to offer. We are together in mission.

A second theme is the move away from “CONVERTING” – from making others into “Euro-Catholics” or ROMAN Catholic. We work with the indigenous transforming them and ourselves into true followers of Jesus. We don’t bring to others a Roman Catholic God. We reveal the light of hope. We share experiences of the divine.

In a workshop I was facilitating some years ago, a woman said: “The God I teach in my catechism class is not the God I talk to at home.” I asked her to explain what she said. Her explanation: “The God I teach in catechism is the Catholic God—one who is always watching and judging, one who catches you and punishes you. The God I talk to is one who understands how hard my life is. I can cry to him about my kids on drugs. I know He won’t punish me. He helps me and he’ll help my kids….”

Who have we as missionaries, as Church, told people God is? How do we, together, see God and God’s movements in our different cultures? Yes, we now realize our mission is to proclaim hope, to be hope. It is not to change cultures but to shed the light of the gospel on all.

The third theme is that mission—being a gospel presence—is intimately connected with justice. Mission is recognizing the dignity of all humans, of all creation; it is to be as Jesus is—one who identifies with the marginalized as he recognized their personhood and healed their spirit.

JUDGE

This leads us to the “judging” step you presented, Fr. Tony. As you said, “Disorder allows us to free ourselves from the stagnating weight of the way things are.” Disorder “permits us to see new possibilities….” Disorder lets us wait until something new emerges. Yes, there is wisdom in disorder for it opens us to the surprise of the Spirit, to the folly of God’s love.

These surprises or new possibilities do not lie in our making a perfect and orderly universe. They lie in our accepting fully the beauty of each other, the beauty of created being. This is the gospel message: “And the light came into the world and the world did not comprehend it.” (John 1:5) The world is still in chaos. It is folly to think we can bring together diverse peoples, create a new order, simply by accepting the differences.

God became fully other, fully human, but did not lose the identity of being God. Ours is to bring gospel hope and joy. Ours is to BE gospel hope and joy by truly changing, without losing our true identity. To be in mission is to change our way of seeing the world; to understand there are many ways of experiencing God. It is to recognize there are many languages and symbols through which God-experiences can be shared.

Ours is the challenge of hope, of being a gospel presence of justice. We are well aware that we cannot preach love with words alone. It is done by our integrity as persons. In the well-known saying, it is for us to “practice (LIVE) what we preach.” And it is this integrity that ties us to social justice, to our commitment to respect life in all its forms, to our commitment to work for justice at the individual and systemic levels.

Vowed poverty, chastity, and obedience are truly incongruous in a world that values power, possessions, and freedom from interpersonal commitment. In your words, Fr. Tony, consecrated life has a “destabilizing character, a capacity for disorder” for it is counter to so much that seems to be valued in so many cultures. And the cross cultural character we give to the vows through our intercultural communities is seen by many as the ultimate of foolishness. In a time when commitment is taken so lightly, it is hard for others to see that we CAN live together in peace and love.

ACT

This brings us to the third perspective of the Latin American scheme: Act. You made it very clear that we form international or intercultural communities INTENTIONALLY for a theological purpose. We do this to provide witness to the unity and diversity of the kingdom of God, not just to have something to brag about. We are witness to God’s love for all at the real level of community, of daily rubbing together. We cannot simply be many faces. We are to work at being one heart. THIS is our charism.

I declare our challenge is to go beyond recognition of other cultures, respect for cultural differences, and the promotion of healthy interaction. Ours is to see deeply into the reality of God present everywhere, to contemplate this presence and to know that each of us—you, me, you present here—are as beautiful and good as we can possibly be at this moment. And each of us—you, me, you present here—is called to unfold our inner beauty, who is God, to one another. St. Paul calls us to “put on the mind of Christ.” This includes putting on the mind of each other, of looking at creation through the eyes of the other, of valuing life through the experiences and longings of the other.

Gerald Arbuckle, a well-known anthropologist said during a workshop in the U.S. that “culture is insidious.” We can absorb aspects of it that are counter gospel without realizing it. Consumerism and narcissism and other undesirable qualities—we could sum these up in what is called the comfort culture—are becoming more and more part of everyone’s culture including that of our missionary communities. What does the gospel we proclaim say to all of this? What does our life in intercultural community say?

CONCLUSION

Seeking to be one heart, one spirit, with many faces may seem folly, a silly ideal. Yet we know it is not impossible because God became totally other. God became human. In your concluding comments, Fr. Tony, you mention the “tinge of humor which relativizes their (our) self-importance in the awareness that it is God who is in control.” So we dress different, talk funny, eat weird foods, look different. Yet we seek to be of one heart. God is in control.

Missionary communion goes deep. It is love of the other as she/he is. It is transforming and being transformed. It is knowing and accepting the reality that living real community is living in the struggle. It is living at peace in the chaos of differences. It is respecting with love the reality that all are different yet all bear the markings of the one Spirit. It is growing through the struggle to realize in the words of Scripture: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female” (Gal 3:28). “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made one in the Spirit” (1Cor 12:13). “In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!” (Col 3: 11)

So I return to your initial question, Fr. Tony: “What wisdom can religious congregations reap from living through the drama of forming multi-cultural communities?” It is the wisdom that living our oneness in the Spirit is a struggle of imperfections, of creation groaning to become all it can be. It is the wisdom of living in peace amidst the chaos of being different: Many faces, one heart.