Address to Salesian Missionaries of Mary Immaculate
We seem to believe that the way of salvation, the way to heaven, the spirituality it requires, is getting out of the world. Worldly things distract us from salvation, from heaven. We have to be careful, to be prudent. Occasionally, we must deprive ourselves of worldly things to remind ourselves that they can entrap us. Therefore, our fundamental spiritual law is that the way to heaven, salvation, is getting out of the world. The trouble is that as we are getting out of the world, we meet God on the road coming in the opposite direction. The central doctrine of our faith is the Incarnation, that is, God becoming human.
We often profess with our lips that Jesus is truly human and truly divine. But deep down we feel his humanness cannot be totally ours. This is docetism, that Jesus only had an appearance of being human. There are others among us who say he is God, pure and simply. They do not give credit to his humanity. This is monophysitism. Arius thought of God as so high and so lofty that the infinite God could not unite with a finite being. So Arius found it repugnant that God had to go through the humiliating process of being born of a woman.
The faith of the Church is that Jesus is not only God but that Jesus has given us a radically new definition of God. This is what Incarnation means -- allowing Jesus to reveal God to us -- the truth is Jesus is God’s way of being human. We like to think of God as an abstract notion. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving. We then project those qualities onto Jesus Christ. These are ready-made ideas of God from whatever culture. We then try to make Jesus Christ fit in with that idea of God. Rather we must try to know Jesus of Nazareth, what he says about God. We must take seriously the content of the concrete life and ministry of Jesus -- his preference for the poor, his compassion for the afflicted, his interest in the least, lost, last, etc., his fellowship, his forgiveness. Jesus tells us exactly who God is. Jesus is God’s way of being human. The story of Jesus is God’s own story. Jesus is the human face of God. Jesus has torn away the veil, the purdah, that hid God’s face.
We say in the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer, Jesus “was like us in all things but sin.” He was tempted, tested, cheated, cried, suffered. He loved, laughed, went to the toilet, like the rest of us. This was not play-acting, pretending, putting on a mask -- he was through and through really a human being.
What then really is the Good News? At first sight in Jesus we have a definitive revelation of God, but we also have in Jesus, a definitive revelation of what it is like to be a human being. The really Good News is that Jesus is not only truly human but he is the true human being par excellence. Jesus is the interpreter, the ”exegete” of the mystery of humanity. Jesus, deep within himself reveals the deepest truth about humanity. Jesus spoke of the Kingdom, the rule or reign of God”. This is nothing but a new way of being human, a new way of relating, a new way of community, a new way of being free. The mission of Jesus is, after being dehumanised by sin, by corruption, the humanisation of human beings.
God is not praised, honoured, glorified by a half human being, by a diminished, dehumanised, shrunken person. This is what sin does to us. By sin we choose what damages, diminishes, our humanity. God is glorified by the enhancement, flourishing, growth of those God created. In other words, the more human we are, the more we become, the more God is glorified. The glory of God is the human being fully alive! Therefore, the more human persons become their best possible self, the more they express God. Our freedom does not suppress our distinctive, unique personality. Jesus was close and united to God, in perfect response to God’s will. (This is the heart of all spirituality.)
When we say Jesus is “one in being” with God, one in substance with God and one in substance with humanity, it does not mean a two-layered cake. It does not mean something like oil and water. Jesus is not a mixture, not a hybrid. There is no split personality, no schizophrenia, no two-way switch, divine and human nature, on and off, “no confusion, no division, no separation”. Jesus is thoroughly, thoroughly human, thoroughly divine. The reality of God in Jesus is mediated in and through the humanness of Jesus. The divinity of Jesus is not a higher level of his being. It is not something extra, added to his being. “Being one in God” means precisely being that particular one he was, his divinity was expressed.
The Incarnation is a process, a dynamic process, not just a one-time event, one moment. Mary’s “yes” was not just a single-time action but an on-going process. In other words, it does not take nine months to become a human being. It takes 20, 30, 40 years or more. The Incarnation goes through every phase of the life of Jesus right up to his death and Jesus goes beyond to the Resurrection. Perhaps God’s greatest solidarity with humanity is God’s embracing humanity at the lowest point a human being can sink to, “he descended into hell”.
What exactly was it that Jesus did and calls us to do?? When we look carefully at his life we see that above all else his mission was to cast out fear. Casting out fear is the ultimate human liberation. It brings abut true freedom. When people leave fear behind, they stop hurting themselves and others which is what sin is. When fear is cast out they live their own lives creatively and intervene creatively in the lives of others whose human dignity is at stake. Compassion and justice are the hallmarks of those who are unafraid. They speak the truth in love. They tell people, all people, what they believe they must hear to live their lives intelligently and lovingly. They do not fear what others will think of them. They work relentlessly for compassionate and just structures at every level of existence.
Like any good teacher, Jesus gave us guidelines. He gave indications of what was required in the new society but gave it to us to work them out. Only you know the injustices and lack of compassion in your own community at large and in your own institutions. To deny that there are any would be the ultimate sin. To deny that there are others to whom you must reach out with the liberating message of Jesus would be the ultimate sin. But there are guidelines for whatever it is that you must do individually and collectively. What are these guidelines?
1. Violence may never be used. And I am not talking about physical violence only. Emotional blackmail of any kind is violence. We must avoid this.
2. There may be no discrimination. Sometimes we talk of the discrimination of others when those others are in fact us.
3. Our speech is to be simple and transparent. And perhaps we must also remember that our silence gives consent. How can we change structures if we sin by omission of the words and deeds that will bring about the changes we need?
4. We may never take revenge. We must accept all. Acceptance of all others across barriers of caste, class, creed, culture must be the norm.
5. Money and its abuse must be out of our ken. Sometimes I ponder how much more work we seemed to do when we had far less money especially via grants at our disposal, how far more inventive we were, how much less time we spent filling out reports and gathering statistics, how much more time we were with people giving power to them, rather than lording it over them.
6. Along that line of power Jesus made clear to us that authority is service and ministry. Titles and places of honour were frowned upon by him.
The vision of Jesus is a monumental challenge and an unfinished task. That is why I say we know we are engaged in it if there is within us a divine discontent to see things better than they are at any given moment, a gut wrenching commitment to consistently seek different ways to better purposes, to give people their humanity.
We can be so simple as to think that any good we do is good enough. I experienced this first-hand at the Latour earthquake. People, sisters and priests, were coming with things people could not use, making more work rather than helping. In some cases superiors sent their personnel for an “experience” when what we needed were people who were willing to come to stay with the people in the traumas with which they were dealing.
Take another example. No doubt we are committed massively in India to the field of education. We have been questioning Catholic education in India over the years. Some of these questionings to our mind are harsh, unfair, unappreciative. Just now we have a law saying that children must come into our schools by lot. Can you begin to imagine why this is the case?
We are hurt because we feel these questionings arrant taking into account our self-sacrifice, generosity, etc. But the point is missed that it is not the quality of our education that is being questioned but the system itself. What is the origin of our system of education? Surely we have inherited it. By entering into the system have we unwittingly supported its value system? The Church in India accepted the system believing that if we educated the upper classes the benefits would trickle down to the masses. Have we given any thought to the fact that instead of having benefits trickle down to the masses we have in fact been keeping people apart, supporting the upper classes and not the others? “Catholic education awakens the critical sense in order to reflect on society and its values.” Is that what our Catholic schools are doing? Do we know the winds of change are sweeping the world not just our own country? Are our Catholic schools critical of the society at large or sinking into a materialistic pit?
We may think that the educational apostolate is non-committal, uninvolved, non-political. There is no such thing as a neutral educational process. “Schools tend to produce carbon copies of persons whom the established order wants produced in its own image -- a far cry from the new person of the Gospel.” “The system of education predominantly for the wealthier classes has contributed to continuing to favour a society which is unjust.” Can we possibly say the same thing about our other institutions?
Forgive me if I am sounding hard on you and ungrateful for your efforts here in Nagpur and elsewhere. The questions I ask you are the same I ask myself every day. I must be at least as committed to the human rights of the servant who cleans the floor of my rooms as I am to my own. I must work to end the alcoholism and illegal enterprises of the people of Peti Chua where I minister each weekend, or I am unfaithful to my vocation. I must find ways to help the poorest of our poor, persons on the margins of our economic, political, and social lives, to achieve their human dignity, or I am a fraud. I must speak the truth in love whether that makes me popular or not and I must hear the truth, not what people think I want to hear. Whenever, wherever I become conscious of any violation of human dignity, I must stand against it. And I may not do that with doling out hand-outs which creates different kinds of ma-bap relationships.
I must encourage people to take their destinies into their own hands and not depend on anyone but themselves to make their own lives happen.
My hope and prayer for you, and for myself, always and in all ways, is that you will look long and hard at everything in which you and your congregation is engaged and that you will ask, is what I am doing, what we are doing, promoting the dignity of God’s creation, and thus of God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, promoting the cause of the incarnate one, Jesus? And if in any instance the answer is no, I pray that you will have the courage, wisdom, and grace to root that out of your lives, even as Jesus did in his.