Divine Word Missionaries
Peace and Justice Issues
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In this manual, we have been speaking of JPIC as a way of life and not just as a ministry - one among others. We have also tried to re-define justice as right relationships seen from the biblical perspective. Religious Life can be understood and appreciated best from the perspective of radical discipleship in view of the Reign of God.
To be a disciple means to be, to do and to say what Jesus was, did and said, with the same attitudes. A disciple is essentially a witness to the resurrection. Following Jesus, and sharing in his mission go together. The call to discipleship enlists the disciple in the service of God’s reign. The essence of being a disciple is biblically expressed in the phrase to be with him. Discipleship was well known in Israel. Rabbis had their disciples whom they trained, but the following chart shows the main differences between the two. John Fuellenbach makes the following distinctions:2
|Jesus - Disciples||Rabbi - Disciples|
|1. Jesus himself chooses his disciples (Jn 15:16; Mk 3:13; Lk 9:59 etc.)||1. The disciples choose their respective rabbis.|
|2. Jesus binds his disciples to his own person (Mk 3:14)||2. The disciples are committed to the Torah.|
|3. The community of life with Jesus is an end in itself (Mt 10:24-25)||3. Discipleship is only a step towards becoming an ordained rabbi oneself (“semikah”).|
|4. Jesus sends his disciples to proclaim the Kingdom (Lk 9:60; Mk 3:14).||4. The duty of the disciple is to learn the Law and the Traditions and become an expert in interpreting them.|
|5. Jesus calls any and everyone to become his disciple (Mk 1:167-20; 2:14; Lk 6:15).||5. The choice of the disciples is based on differences in grade and rank.|
|6. Jesus needs no ordination to be a rabbi; he is simply named rabbi (Mk 9:5; 14:45)||6. One acquires the title rabbi by ordination.|
|7. Jesus has not studied under any rabbi (Jn 7:15).||7. Rabbis have become so by learning from another rabbi.|
|8. Jesus exhorts his disciples to humility and service (Mt 23:5-12).||8. Rabbis teach their disciples to acquire rank and excellence.|
|9. The disciples in turn do not form their own disciples (Mt 5:19; Mk 6:30).||9. After their training the disciples in turn form other disciples (cf. School of Rabbi so and so)|
If we accept religious life as radical discipleship, the inevitable questions that follow are about our Vows, Community Life, Prayer Life, etc.: concretely, how do we live discipleship in a relevant manner, in today’s context, seen from the perspective of JPIC? Below are some reflections on this theme.
A brief history
Looking At the Present and the Future
However, through all of this, we need to acknowledge that the call to religious life contains an element of mystery.
The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) are loaded with examples on the one hand, of the people’s infidelity, injustices and violence, and on the other hand, of God’s unfailing and persevering love, compassion and saving justice. These scriptures include several texts which speak of God’s continuing invitation and call to a change of heart. One of the most powerful among these is found in Micah 6.
Micah 6 is a court scene: Yahweh calls his people to judgement for their infidelity: (i) injustices false measure, short bushel, rigged scales, fraudulent weights: Ch 6. vv. 10,11; in Ch.2, Micah enumerates other injustices: seizing the fields that they covet, they take over houses: in Ch.7, Micah speaks of the official who makes his demands, of the judge who gives judgement for a bribe, of the man in power who pronounces as he pleases; (ii) violence (Mic.6:12 and 7:2). Having listened to Yahweh, the people want to appease the "anger" of Yahweh, and are ready to offer several types of sacrifices: burnt offerings, calves one year old, rams by the thousands, ten thousand streams of oil, and are even ready to offer their first-born! What they want to offer is "external" in nature. Yahweh is clear about what he wants: a complete change of heart and attitudes; what the Lord wants from them touches every fibre of their being. It is a whole way of life:
I ask you this, and only this:
Walk humbly with your God.
A comparison could be made of the injustices and violence mentioned in Micah, and with what is happening today. As seen in Section I, the world is full of injustices and violence, much more numerous, varied, horrendous, and much more sophisticated than those of the 7th century BC (the epoch of Micah). Through the years, the many norms and practices that were added to help us live the vows were seen as remedies and preventives for human limitations and weaknesses. This certainly has its advantages. But in the process the vows became highly structured and institutionalised. In the Hebrew scriptures, we discover a similar process: the religious leaders, in order to help the people live more fully their religion, progressively introduced laws and practices, but little by little, these became the norm, and a way of life. People began to manifest their relationship with God through external offerings, sacrifices and holocausts. The faith dimension which is the reflection of a true relationship with God was no more evident. In Micah 6, God clearly reminds them that he is not interested in external practices, celebrations and sacrifices: he wants right relationship with God (walking humbly with God), and right relationships with others (tenderness and justice). Applying this text to our context today, (“actualisation of the Bible”), we see an invitation to re-image our religious life and our vows.
We are being called to live radically our religious life basing it on the call: to love tenderly (chastity), to act justly (poverty) and to walk humbly with our God (obedience). It is not the number of norms and practices that will help us to be a relevant SIGN in today’s world, but: (i) the quality of relation-ships manifesting the same tenderness and non-violence of a loving Father, and of Jesus; (ii) the quality of relationships manifesting the biblical concept of justice; (iii) Gospel powerlessness.
The Gospel of Mark is often referred to as the “Gospel of discipleship”. Hence, in our efforts to re-image the vows, the gospel of Mark will be our reference.
Love Tenderly: (Chastity = right relationships)
Jesus' relationships manifested compassion:
In today’s context, implications for our vow of Chastity:
Act Justly: (Poverty = Option for the poor and to live with the minimum)
Jesus lived justly and simply:
In today’s world, implications of the above for our vow of poverty today:
In brief, the significance of our vow of poverty, for today's world, consists in the call to a new way of relating to people and to possessions/goods. Where there is poverty of heart (humility) there is mate-rial poverty.
Walk Humbly with Your God:
(Obedience = right relationships with God and people helps discernment)
Jesus’ principal concern was to carry out the Father’s Plan of love:
In today’s context, implications of the above for our vow of obedience:
Mk 3:13: "He appointed twelve to be with him....
Community is a prophetic sign in today’s world. In a context where individualism, ego-centrism and a strong tendency to independence are sapping up the LIFE that Jesus brought to our world, we are being invited to deepen the concept of community, which is all about right relationships based on a right relationship with God, with others and with self. In the pre-Vatican concept of the vows there was a stress on: (i) dependence; (ii) legalism. This also included a certain negative connotation: chastity is not getting married, poverty is not being able to posses anything as individuals, obedience was not being able to do as one wished, etc. All the above is still valid, but the approach needs to change in order that the vows have a relevant meaning for today. The stress needs to be on interdependence, and the vows as explained above can be lived only in community, as a community, in interdependence.
It is first and foremost in community that we learn progressively to love tenderly, “the sisters/brothers God gives us”, without exclusion. There is a tendency today in certain cultures to want to choose those whom one wants to live with. In other words, we choose to exclude some in the process of choosing some. This tendency to exclude is very strong in our society, and it takes various forms. As committed disciples of Jesus, this is one of the relevant calls of today - the call to inclusion, no matter how difficult or demanding it may be to live with certain persons, nationalities, cultures, mentalities, age groups, etc. It is in community that we learn - and struggle day after day to experience the joy of forgiving and being forgiven. It is in community that we discover progressively to give and receive, to be enriched by the value system of various cultures and regions (when communities are multi-cultural). In community we grow in faith, in community revelation continues, in community our images of God and Jesus are slowly re-imaged, in recognising the images of God and Jesus in others. It is in community, through relationships of tenderness and compassion, that our vow of celibacy takes on a deeper meaning.
A manipulated interdependence at the economic, political and ecological levels has increased economic and ecological injustices, resulting in the worst poverty ever experienced by two-thirds of humanity. The next ten years (1997-2006) have therefore been declared by the United Nations, the International Decade for the Eradication of Poverty. It is in such a world that the option of religious to act justly includes all that the vow of “poverty” implies. It is basically a call to live with the minimum, inspired by a spirituality of sufficiency. In today’s context, this vow needs to include the social justice dimension: Jesus’ whole life reflected simplicity and justice. He opted for a simple life style, and he wanted his apostles to make the same option, (Mk 6:8-9). It is first and foremost in community that we can progressively grow in our search for justice: in our dealings with others, in the way we share, to humbly receive from the community and to willingly give the little we have in a spirit of interdependence. It is only when we live as community with the persons who share the same vision and charism, live certain attitudes and make gestures like putting all in common, sharing, managing within a certain budget, etc. community life takes on meaning. In a world where independence and individualism are thriving, and sapping up LIFE, such options have the power to give LIFE to all. The world is in urgent need of communities that can witness to the biblical concept of justice. Religious life pro-vides this opportunity.
The 10% of the world’s population who have economic and political power are depriving 90% of the world’s population of human dignity. History is loaded with stories of people who have misused and abused power. The tendency to dominate has always been a part of human history. Women and children have suffered immensely in the process. It is because of such a history that today people resist humility and humiliations of any kind. The vow of obedience in religious life has its own stories, both positive and negative. The call to walk humbly with our God is addressed to all - to those who have been given authority and to those at the grass roots. To walk humbly with our God includes the call to discern, to search His Will - together with people and through events. It is first and foremost in community, together with persons who have the same charism and the same vision, that we have the opportunity to discern daily, in small things and big, the Lord’s Will. It is as community that we participate in decision-making and collaborate. It is as community that we carry out decisions together, even if it is difficult at times to accept them. It is in community that we grow in the art of dialogue, through daily struggles and misunderstandings. It is in community that we can learn from others the path of humility, the path that was first traced out by Jesus in his experience of community. It is in community that we grow in our efforts to make discernment a way of life. Once this is achieved, humility and discernment become an attitude of life, and this contributes to a healthy interdependence in community. Religious communities can help to re-image authority and power in the world scene.
Prayer as Community and in Community
All that has been said above on the Vows and Community is a process of becoming ... and this process is energised in and through prayer. Personal prayer is indispensable (Mk 1:12,35) and so is prayer as community which helps to deepen relationships with each other, and to discern JPIC activities. We are not able to live as community without a life of faith which is based on an intimate relationship with God and Jesus, through prayer. Community prayer helps us to grow as a community in faith, in hope and in love. A community that adores, praises, thanks and intercedes together, also receives an abundance of graces as community. The WORD shared and broken as community is a source of revelation of the Father and the Son. The BREAD shared and broken in and as community is the source of the LIFE that Jesus promised us. When we pray as community with the persons who share the same charism and vision, we grow as a Eucharistic community, i.e. as community we become bread broken, shared and given for each other, and for the world. Transformed in Christ, we reach out to other communities, and to the planetarian community in view of the transformation of the whole cosmos continuing the mission of Jesus as community.
Inter-connectedness of Community, Prayer and Mission
Jesus needed others to collaborate with him in his mission. The era of individual prophets is being replaced by the witnessing power of a prophetic community. We as religious are being called to collaborate at two levels: within the community (local community, province, congregational community), and with the wider community. The stress on community is not an end in itself: it is in view of mission. The call to love tenderly, act justly, walk humbly with our God as a community is in view of mission. The Gospel values we live in community and as community slowly evangelise us, and in the process, we evangelise others, i.e. we promote the reign of God. New Evangelisation in a certain sense is the reverse of what we did earlier: before when we spoke of Evangelisation we immediately thought of evangelising others: today, we need to begin by asking ourselves, how am I being evangel-ised, i.e. what Gospel values do I reflect in my life/in our life, as community? The Gospel values most evident in our community are the values that will evangelise the wider community. Community is not for personal sanctification but for the transformation of the cosmos. It is as community that we can begin to re-image the church and religious life. Community is the privileged place to begin re-imaging Mission. If we are not willing to accept the challenge of living the Gospel values in community together with people who share the same charism and the same vision, how can we profess to live these values with people who do not have the same vision, and so, how can we promote the Reign of God/Kingdom?
Community is the result of and the breeding ground for a life of love. Community exists where there is justice, where justice is understood as right relationships. Community offers the ground for charisms to be discerned and developed, for people to participate and contribute with the gifts they have been given. Religious both offer an example of community and work with others to build community as the place of justice and of God's revelation. Today, because of the breakdown of relationships, the community is an expression of justice which in turn is the expression of love which makes sense because it is so concrete.
Prayer, community and mission are integrally related. Prayer and community without mission in the world will tend to be inward looking and selfish. Community and mission without prayer will tend to be narrow and superficial. Prayer and mission without community will tend to be ideological and narrow. The secret lies in building and cultivating prayer, community and mission together, with a keen eye to the situation and the hopes of the poor in today's world.
A new theology of religious life calls for a new vocabulary. A re-imaging of the vows calls for a re-naming of the vows. We need to proclaim to the world that we are making the vows to love tenderly, to act justly and to walk humbly with God, in community, and in view of mission. Maybe, we may see the need to add another vow, or perhaps to combine the above three into just one. The Spirit is moving ... let us not let institutions and structures curb the freedom of the Spirit ... let us give the Spirit the freedom to act in view of a New Heaven and a New Earth ....
The way of being “in the midst of the people” is a sign and a prophetic witness of new relationships of fraternity and friendship among men and women everywhere. It is a prophetic message of justice and peace in society and among peoples. As an integral part of the Good News, this prophecy must be fulfilled through active commitment to the transformation of sinful systems and structures into grace-filled systems and structures.
It is also an expression of “the choice to share in the lives of ‘the little ones’ (minores) of history, so that we may speak a word of hope and of salvation from their midst - more by our life than by our words.”
This option flows naturally from our profession of poverty in a mendicant fraternity and is in keeping with our allegiance to Christ Jesus, lived out through allegiance to the poor and to those in whom the face of our Lord is reflected in a preferential way.
It is our duty to contribute to the search for an understanding of the causes of these evils; to be in solidarity with the sufferings of those who are marginalised; to share in their struggle for justice and peace; and to fight for their total liberation, helping them to fulfil their desire for a decent life.
The poor, the little ones (minores) constitute the vast majority of the world’s population. Their complex problems are linked and, to a large extent, are caused by current international relations and, more directly, by the economic and political systems which govern our world today. We cannot turn a deaf ear to the cry of the oppressed who plead for justice.
We must hear and interpret really from the perspective of the poor - of those who are oppressed by the economic and political systems which today govern humanity.
Social reality challenges us. Attentive to the cry of the poor, and faithful to the Gospel, we must take our stand with them, making an option for the ‘little ones’. There is a growing desire within the Order to choose solidarity with the ‘little ones’ of history, to bring to our brothers and sisters a word of hope and salvation from their midst, more by our lives than by our words ... We recommend this option for the poor, because it is in keeping with the charism of the Order, which can be summarised as a life of allegiance to Jesus Christ; “allegiance to Jesus Christ” also means allegiance to the poor and to those in whom the face of Christ is mirrored preferentially.
Our Elijan inspiration which our prophetic charism is founded on, calls us to walk with the “little ones” along the paths the prophet travelled in his time - along the path of justice, opposing false ideologies and moving towards a concrete experience of the true living God; along the path of solidarity, defending the victims of injustice and taking their part; along the path of mysticism, struggling to re-store, to the poor, faith in themselves by renewing their awareness that God is on their side.
To prepare and educate ourselves so that we may take on ‘the circumstances of the poor’ in an evangelical manner; we propose:
As we follow Jesus Christ let us be more deeply rooted in God’s Word as we take the part of the impoverished, the workers, the excluded and their families, confronting together with them, the various situations which require us to take a stand and to respond in a concrete manner. Let us therefore unite our energies with theirs
to say YES
to say NO
Let us also continue with social analysis which leads us to take action on the causes of injustice.
Courageously review our life style and economic choices at personal, community and congregational levels, to ensure that they are consistent with our apostolic orientations.
Let us choose to enter into new and life-giving relationships, with a determination to be open to others and sensitive to the cry of the exploited and impoverished.
The Congregation, a public international body, is a dynamic force. Our apostolic commitment with the poor requires that we take a collective stance for justice and peace. It is a prophetic way within society and the Church today.
Little Sisters of the Assumption
Just as religious life needs to be re-imaged, the Church also needs to be re-imaged. Hopefully, re-imaging religious life may result in the re-imaging of Church. Jesus foretold the Kingdom, but gradually a Church was born,4 a Church which became highly institutionalised, hierarchical, clericalised and powerful. Progressively, the community dimension of the early Church became obscure. The Second Vatican Council defined the Church as, “People of God”. Commitment to JPIC includes a commitment to re-image the Church, so that it reflects the community dimension of a people of God, with all that this implies. Being Church, we commit ourselves in partnership to promote God’s reign..
Questions about justice often arise in the institutional Church. The Church is called upon to preach liberation and justice for all and to work for that end. In order to do this, the Church needs to be just, and be seen to be just. For the Church to be just, relationships within the Church community need to be just. The Church relies on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to keep it from falling into error in the matter of doctrine. The same help from the Holy Spirit is needed in order that the Church not be in error in its behaviour towards its own members and others. The Church also needs to be attentive to peoples’ feelings about the Church, and to hear the cry of those who believe the Church is not acting justly. Many feel that they are treated unjustly, for example, when deprived of adequate formation or when denied the kind of opportunity to participate fully in what their baptism calls them to. Women today raise their voices to call the institutional Church to account for its oppressive behaviour and attitudes towards them. Though the Church is not a democracy, the magisterium has favoured democracy as the most just form of structure in society. The Church will be credible only if in its own structures the virtues of democracy are adopted and followed in the way most consonant with the nature and vocation of the Church.
In the early Church, the social Gospel was practised not as a stratagem to lure outsiders to the Church but simply as a natural expression of faith in Christ. The invocation, “Maranatha” (Our Lord, come) expressed an intense hope that has not yet been fulfilled. Injustice has not yet vanished, oppression has not yet been eliminated, poverty, hunger, even persecution are still very much the order of the day. With Jesus God’s reign did not come in all its fullness. Each time we pray the Our Father, we pray, Your Kingdom come. This prayer commits us to a re-imaging of the Church so that the Church is credible.
A call to participation, accountability and honesty:
“Surely the Church must practice in its life style, the accountability and honesty it calls for in the public sector. If we make a frank and courageous examination of conscience we must readily admit that there are areas of reform required in our administration of money and other resources destined for our dioceses and for the poor. We often do not open our account books to auditors, let alone share the audited reports with our donors for fear of being caught red handed! In decisions about projects, we hardly involve the very people for whom development aid is intended. Do we really admit our mistakes and take tangible corrective steps to redress the situation?”
Bishop T. Mpundu, Mbala-Mpika, Zambia5
A practical fear of losing control...
“The most sensitive area where community and hierarchy easily clash is money and the reason why many priests are reluctant to get the synod process going is the unspoken fear that the laity is going to take control of the cash box. The message of the synod stressed the need for transparent management (44). Public accountability and financial transparency are expected in a democratic society. If Church leaders continue to shroud the use of church funds in secrecy, they expose themselves to the charge of corruption and discourage people from giving. The self-reliance the Synod demands can only succeed if the community is involved in the administration of its funds. Where priests are accountable and transparent to the community, parish income goes up and in the end they are themselves better off. A democratic culture will increasingly and rightly challenge the way we use church property.”6
Below are some questions for further reflection
and discussion in our efforts to re-image the Church:
1 Our searching has to begin with an appropriate vocabulary: the terms: "religious life", "consecrated life", "evangelical life" etc. are not satisfactory and have their own limitations. Since we all know what we are talking about, for practical purposes, at this stage, we will refer to this form of life as "religious life" although the re-cent Synod referred to it as "consecrated life". Some have difficulties with regard to the term "consecrated life" as all baptised Christians are consecrated; the same can be said of the term "religious life" as in all religions there are people who are deeply religious. The originality and specificity of religious life need to be clear, by whatever name we call it.
2 Throw Fire, (Logos: Manila, 1997), Ch.4
3 Our searching has to begin with an appropriate vocabulary: the terms: "religious life", "consecrated life", "evangelical life" etc. are not satisfactory and have their own limitations. Since we all know what we are talking about, for practical purposes, at this stage, we will refer to this form of life as "religious life" although the recent Synod referred to it as "consecrated life". Some have difficulties with regard to the term "consecrated life" as all baptised Christians are consecrated; the same can be said of the term "religious life" as in all religions there are people who are deeply religious. The originality and specificity of religious life need to be clear, by what-ever name we call it.
4 David Bosch in, Transforming Mission, explains clearly how he sees the difference between a “Movement” and the institutionalised Church. p. 47 -55.
5 AMECEA Documentation Service, (Nairobi, Kenya, February 1, 1997).
6 ibid, p.6