Weaving the New Creation
Archbishop Emeritus of Nagpur
When I ponder what we are all about as human beings, and especially as members of the Church which proposes herself as offering the most gracious and humane way of being human, a way willed by God for all humanity, I think that it is all about weaving the new creation.
The words are not mine. They are taken from a 1991 book by James W. Fowler. You will recognize his name from all the work he has done on stages of faith development and the implication of those stages for authentic Christian life.
Let me pursue this for just a moment. Some years ago I visited the Tibetan Camp near Itadoh. Among other things I had a chance to see their weavers at work. Many of them were young people, very young people. They had traditional patterns in front of them but they were weaving most of them in their own patterns and colours. And they were weaving a varieties of sizes and shapes, things that could be used as a cushion for a chair to 9 feet x 12 feet area rugs. They were superb.
While they were doing this they laughed and they joked and some of them sang. They were thoroughly enjoying themselves and so were the numbers of tourists who were visiting their workshop. Later I went to visit the doctor in the community who before his transfer used to come now and then to the office in the cathedral compound in Nagpur. All around his home were the weavings that I had seen in the workshop, as wall hangings, as cushions, one was even decorating the cot of their newborn baby girl, just about two weeks old. I remember thinking, “This work is not just for export.”
I know that all analogies limp but think of this in terms of what we are for. The old adage “nemo dat quod non habet” or as our American friends like to say, “nemo dat quod non got”, holds so true. The Tibetans know how they can market their weaving to others precisely because it plays so important and so natural a role in their own living. Whatever we are about as church we will not “export” well to others what we do not have ourselves. But this kind of “having” is like two sides of one coin; it involves learning from and learning with.
I think we know that and I think that is what is truly at the root of efforts such as yours, of the Lumko method, of the small Christian communities as devised in Latin America, of the Christian Life Communities emerging from the Jesuit Sodalities of old, of Renew, and of the YCS and YCW movements among others promoted by that great man of happy memory, Canon and then Cardinal Cardijn. This observe/just/act of the 1930s was an invitation to weave a new creation, to improve the lot of hundred of thousands who were suffering the effects of the First World War and becoming increasingly disenchanted with the institutional church’s inaction on the part of pressing social needs.
Cardijn is supposed to have based his methodology on the communist cell. Instead of reading passages from the Communist Manifesto, YCS members were supposed to read from the Christian scriptures, not a very popular thing to be doing then. And then they were to look around constantly for what needed to done to make the corporal and spiritual works of mercy realities not only for themselves but for their brothers and sisters in their places of study and work. The worker priest movement in France in particular was also along this line, designed to bring the church to the people rather than the people to the church building which was often not truly the inspirational church but its hierarchical chimera. People talked about the lay apostolate and Catholic Action, the participation of the laity in the apostolate of the hierarchy or sometimes as the wags would put it, the interference of the laity in the lethary of the clergy.
I need not go into more of the history of these associations, all interested in weaving a new creation, I believe, except to say that they received a massive shot in the arm in the work that began to be done in Latin America. Faced with a shortage of priests and religious and a nominally almost total Catholic population, catechists began to bring oppressed peoples together and to use scripture to encourage them to act on any and every kind of oppression they faced. The handful of priests who worked with them and among them began to put their experiences in writing and became known as the liberation theologians. They have been accused of many things. One thing they cannot be accused of is writing their volumes from academic ivory towers or stuffy armchairs. Their thinking was and is interwoven with the lives of their people. Some have been killed for it as have their people. Some have been bypassed for promotions of various sorts. Some have been silenced. The fabric of their lives is filled with their sorrows, disappointments, and with their hopes.
In 1981 I had the opportunity to hear one of the most famous of these men working in small Christian communities, Jose Marins. There were seven others from Nagpur with me in that adventure, some right here in this room. I can see and hear Marins saying yet, the situation in Latin America is not the situation in India. Catholics are not in the majority. Indian seminaries and convents are not empty. There is no “eucharistic fast” because of a dearth of priests. He told us over and over again during that time with him that to be faithful to the weaving of the new creation that God asks of us in India means that we must evolve our own ways of being church. We can and should know the models elsewhere and the models throughout history. But to import those models wholesale will not work. To do so would be another neo-colonialism, another way of having the Catholic “thing”, the human thing, imposed on us from abroad.
I think it is fair and necessary to say that our own Indian theologians are by and large brave men and women who are trying to give us an authentically Indian, authentically Christian theoretical framework for what we must do here. You will remember that that is the precise title of Gerwin van Leuven’s book on the late Fr. Amalorpavadass. And there are expatriates among us who have done the same. I think of the work of Fr. Dupuis, S.J. I think I must also admit that many of them are , however, doing their thinking, as important as it is, from academic ivory towers, and from the Indian equivalent of stuffed arm chairs. There are few of our theologians, our theorists, whose lives are intimately entwined with the lives of our grass roots people. Some of our sisters are doing more of that but many lack the skills to articulate their experiences or refuse to take the time from their work to do so.
We do have one major exception to this rule and I must unabashedly recommend to you the thinking of Fr. Yvon Ambroise, former director of Caritas India and now serving as Director of Caritas Asia while being pastor of ten rural parishes in Pondicherry. His book _______________________ is a handbook for anyone who would be authentically Christian and authentically Indian. And there is one more gift of his work, it is authentically universal. His motto is “first we make the soup and then we make the recipe”. First do the weaving, learn by putting hands on, and then we’ll analyze what we’ve done. Be with people, be for them, help them to get done with their lives what they want and need, not what you think they want and need and you will have genuinely empowered them. You will give up power over them and commit yourself to acquire power for them.
I have seen him come from backbreaking work in a variety of settings including the earthquake in Latur and catch a few minutes to write another part of his insights on what it means to be church in India. I have watched him travel our country and abroad to bring a message of hope to all who have ears to hear. I have watched him stop people in their tracks no matter their episcopal status or governmental privelege when they were talking rubbish. He is a man who heart, head, and hands are engaged in what he believes is what God wants of us all.
I owe something else to Yvon. It is an insight I did not have before knowing him and have not seen anyone else of his calibre think about or write about. He calls it the “survival of the poor”. When he works with and thinks about the poverty=striken in our country and abroad he is aghast at the ingenuity they bring daily to their survival. He invites us to use that creativity to help them improve the quality of their lives, to teach them how to develop and to sustain their development. His hope in those whom we often see as on the margins of our political/social/economic life is limitless.
I participated in an interview with him conducted by a North American scholar on the topic of contemporary mission as animation or empowerment as Caritas India prefers to call it today. The article has not yet found a publisher but it is there in manuscript form for persons who are interested in truly understanding empowerment in an Indian and a universal context. That interview and this book ought to be in the hands of any of us who are working to weave a new creation, Indian and global. I hope his work does not go the way of many prophets in their own countries. Incidentally, do you know the current North American definition of an expert? It’s someone who comes from a hundred miles away and gets paid lots of money for their slide presentation which contains what everybody locally already knows. Cynical maybe, but perhaps also accurate?
I want to ask you never to underestimate the people with whom you are working. When someone says to me the people are not ready for bible studies but only for bible sharing, I find myself wondering WHO is not ready for that. Is it the people or the facilitator? Are we going to allow our people to use scripture like tarot cards or their horoscope instead of giving them what we know now of the Sitz im Leben of our scriptures? Cardijn did not have this knowledge at his disposal in his early days because it was 1950 before our scripture scholars were invited to join the ranks of what our Protestant brothers and sisters had been doing since 1870. Are we really going to deny the intellectual heritage of Catholicism and encourage our people to become biblical fundamentalists? And are we going to allow them to think that all truth is in these scriptures, that nothing has been learned about the quality of human life since then? Are we to ignore psychology and sociology and anthropology? Even Karl Rahner warned us that all theology is anthropology. Do we believe that? I hope so because if not we are the blind leading the blind.
When I hear people talking about how much time something will take, I find myself wondering if that’s one more excuse for not forsaking the upper class comfort of seminary, convent, or presbytery. Whose time are we talking about, theirs or ours? Increasingly in our world we are not being asked to give up our lives but our time which amounts to the same thing.
When I encounter people committed to maintenance ministries as they have come to be called and refusing to think innovatively about or with people on the margins, I wonder who it is precisely who is not ready? The poor? Or those who maintain they have an option for them. In my more cynical moments I wonder if that option is to keep them poor. We know tailoring so we teach it to others. We are likely providing human fodder for sweatshops in doing so. We don’t know information technology nor are we literate with computers so we don’t make those possibilities available to our people. Are we such control freaks that we must be “in charge” of other’s lives rather than truly animating them?
Please remember always and all ways that when people open their mouths they tell you more about themselves than about anyone of whom they are speaking. The Girls Scouts in North America love to say, if I say I can, I can. I think that’s what Jesus was saying when he clearly stated that those of us who work in his name will do greater things than he did. The question is whether or not we believe that. When we go with our cast in iron programmes are we truly being loving and of genuine service? Even those of us who teethed on the Cardijn method are now being told that there are probably five, perhaps seven or nine steps that make for genuine social action in today’s world.
Let me return briefly to Fowler’s thesis in Weaving the New Creation and let me mention that for cross-cultural purposes Fowler works with men like Fr. Thomas Kallam of St. John’s in Bangalore. And let me mention that Fowler is an active member of one of what he and his colleagues are calling magnet or public churches. I ask you to remember, too, that Fowler comes out of the Protestant tradition and builds on such WCC documents as Mission to Six Continents and Church for Others, Church for the World. I want to recommend these documents to you if you do not know them. You will not need a course in the hermeneutics of Vaticanese to understand them. I want to mention, too, that for years Protestant men and women have been prepared for ministry by being told that they need to have the Bible in one hand and the world news in the other when they prepare their sermons and evangelism operations. Do we do that in our houses of formation? Or are we still in the mission compound mode, what’s in this for us as Catholics and if we can’t see a benefit then let’s not pursue it.
Managers of any sort that do not know a variety of models for managerment are no managers at all. Managers that know only one model for management are no managers at all. Missionaries who are not prepared to put themselves out of business are no real missionaries. Remember, our call is to go where we are needed and not wanted and to leave when we are wanted and not needed. That’s true poverty.
Part of Fowler’s thesis is that nothing lasts and thrives, unless there is a “third party” in the relationship, a common cause, something that is part of and yet separate from the relationship itself. So, he suggests in one of his works that the church exists precisely for those who are not members of it. Think about that in terms of India. What would it mean for us to see ourselves as existing not for ourselves but for those Hindus, Muslims, Jains, those who are not members of our institution. What would it mean for small communities to see themselves as in existence for those members of their neighbourhoods who are NOT Christians? What would it mean if we worked toward the life of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy for all of India and all of the world? Would we really be a hated, despised minority being told to go back where we came from? It is truly something to ponder.
Many of you know that from 1981 on I pleaded for people in the Archdiocese of Nagpur to establish basic HUMAN communities. It is still very close to my heart, so when I read a description like the following of the magnet churches or public churches as Fowler calls them, I see the Spirit of God at work universally. I see the potential for communities which are truly interdependent and not spiritually incestuous. I see the future of a happy, holy, and healthy India, a happy, holy, and healthy world.
Listen to this carefully please. “Magnet churches are committed to civility. Civiliy involves effective commitment to the kind of dialogue and engagement in public that allows persons to express deep convictions, to address controversial concerns, and to differ with others deeply, yet without having either to decimate the opponent, control the arena, or withdraw from the encounter. Such civility requires confidence in the possibility of finding common ground underlying a multiplicity of discourses. The public churches also recognize that other folk than Christians experience and recognize the presence of God in creation and in history.”
Fowler then goes on to list in detail the kinds of direct service and social action that the members of these communities engage in. It is in the North American context but all of it is designed to give people their humanity, to help people to form the world that forms them, and to continually seek different way to better purposes. And if that is not weaving the new creation, what is?
This past week we have had two major reports on the world scene, one is the meeting of the 160 world leaders at the United Nations. The second is the release of Dominus Iesus from the CDF.
The former commit themselves to eradicating poverty, eradicating AIDS which is now seen as a security issue along with other threats, and to effecting peace especially in civil wars. The second reminds us that the Catholic Church is the one true church founded by Jesus Christ outside of which there is no salvation, which has led the chief rabbi of Rome among others to say, “Well, that ends dialogue with us”. How do we put this together with a pope standing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and praying and leaving behind an apology for the anti-Semitism of our Catholic community past and present. Is this document a slap at the Asian theologians who are trying to make sense of the action of God in the religions of our world neighbours? Do we look like spiritual schizophrenics to the rest of the world that even still cares about what comes from Rome? We have much to think aobut here.
Which of these two documents will be a “magnet” drawing people to hope in the possiiblity of weaving the new creation? And which would have Jesus’ “imprimatur”? M. Scott Peck, among others, writes about a world waiting to be born. Will we Catholics be midwives of the new creation, or will we abort it? If our small, basic human communities are to be worth anything at all, I hope to God we will be the former.
Put the sixteen million Catholic people of India at the genuine service of our motherland and of the world community and we will have woven the new creation. End anything in our work that is self-centred nd self-serving and let us become the church for others, the church for the world. Anything less than that is beneath our dignity and our vocation. Thank you.
Clarification of Terms and Prayer Service
We are called as was Jesus to create a society that does not exploit the poor and afflicated, to cultivate a climate of peace and justice for the good of all.
Charity is direct service, it involves action which respond to the needs and attitudes of individuals and it deals with the effects problems. Justice involves social action which responds to the behaviour of institutions, it deals with the causes of problems. The root causes of problems are the most basic reason why a problem exiss. Empowerment means developing skills in people so that they may end dependency and exist in interdependent relationships.
Peace involves a state of mind, a hopeful vision, a mode of behaviour, a dynamic of trust, communication, cooperation, a process of changing attitudes, structures for resolving conflicts non-violently and most justly, the absence of mass organized violence.
Community -- an association of leaders having similar interests and values, bonded in an experience of belonging.
Teamwork -- cooperative efforts of members of a group to achieve a common goal.
Strategy -- planning proceess which works to effect change.
Group process -- continuous action developing from the interaction of persons within a group, resulting in patterns of interaction between indiiduals and the group as a whole.
Participation -- entering into a social situation through a common activity.
Reaching consensus -- a process of decision making in which the members of the group express and give reasons for their own decisions; the most time-consuming but most effective means of having all participants buy into the project or programme.
From problem/to issue/to action (Nine steps)
1. Strategic Scanning -- look at the situation thoroughly
2. Define the problem -- be specific, who is doing what, to whom, why, how or who is not doing what, to whom, why not, how not; provides focus.
3. Research the problem -- interview a) those suffering, b) the change agent attemting to address the problem, c) the power or powers making decisions about the problem; c) the expert studying the problem; write a detailed description of each interview, including your conclusions and recommendations.
4. Choose the issue -- this is the part of the problem that you group intends to tackle. Work if possible on an immediate, specific issue.
5. Develop a statement in writing of what you intend to do.
6. Establish a timeline -- what needs to be done, by whom, when; each group members should be responsible for some specific action.
7. Elicit support from others -- some issues need support from other individuals and groups.
8. Plan the action -- actions should focus on ways to move decision-makers to change policies, procedures
9. Evaluate -- what was the outcome, was the goal reached, why or why not, was the process followed, what was the most effective part of the process, what changes need to be made in our process, where do we go from here. (Remember, it may be to pack up and go home!)
N.B. Interviewing, researching, eliciting the support of others may not be needed. Also, the issue may be immediately apparent which makes this a possible five step process. Brainstorming can replace intensive research. It is possible to brainstorm both solutions and actions.
Dependency -- a state in which people always resort to assistance from others in order to obtain what they need
Direct services are necessary but not sufficient for structural transformation, viz., changes in organizations. Most societies have five systems in place, social, religious, economic, political, cultural. These systems often overlap. Structural change often requires action in terms of all of the systems.
Economic -- production, distribution, consumption of goods and services
Social -- how people relate to one another in groups
Religious -- meaning and value of existence
Political -- people’s participation in decisions which affect their lives
Cultural - involves a “way of life”, including ways of believing, thinking, feeling, acting
(Many thinking people today are saying that Christians must be active in all these spheres or they cannot effect justice.)
The violent person or action seeks to defeat the opponent. The non-violent person or action seeks to find a solution in communication with the opponent.
Development -- the process of growth toward fulfillment of potential; at the heart of development are the following qualities of the individual and groups seeking to effect it
Humility -- the ability to recognize and accept one’s strengths and weaknesses
Generosity -- an active concern about the welfare and happiness of others
Honesty -- admitting the truth about one’s actions, attitudes, and ideas
Temperance -- doing things with moderation
Trustworthiness -- the power to elicit confidence
Energy -- the ability to initiate ideas and project them into action
Prayer Service - Appropriate Hymn - Reading Luke 6:27-40
Response: We pray, Holy One, help us forgive ourselves and each other.
For our greed which deprives others of the necessities of life
For our ambitions that sometimes ignore peoples’ rights and dignity
For our self-centredness in refusing to equitably share the world’s resources
For our silence when peoples’ bodies, minds,or spirits are unjustly imprisoned
For our dishonesty in personal and national and global affairs
For our violence toward one another in words, actions, and inaction
For our mainpulation of each other
For not sharing our gifts, talents, and potential
For the times when we have put our needs, wants, power, prestige above all others
For our dependence on many material luxuries
For our control over people’s lives and destinies because of our obsessive wants
For our domination of others through emotional violence
For our looking the other way when others’ rights are violated
For our lack of attention to the persons on the margins of our political, social, economic life
For our desecration of your earth in the name of progress
For competition that erodes the spirit of unity
For our labelling of others in the basic of their caste, creed, or community
Hymn, Matthew 6:5-15
The recommendation is to conclude with a shared homily around the points of the Our Father. If I were doing this I would not do that yet or maybe not at all unless I used a version of the prayer unfamiliar to the participants. (Like the one developed by the Medical Mission Ssiters). I would at this point take the above and turn them into something positive, since “Thanksgiving is our first prayer”. E.g., For the times when we have refused to dominate others through any kind of mental, physical, or emotional violence, We thank you, Holy One. -- For the times when through cooperation and collaboration we have enhanced the spirit of unity, We thank you, Holy One, etc.