"The boldness of charity for a new missionary momentum"

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

Analyzing the theme of the General Assembly 2015 of the Daughters of Charity

by: Luis González-Carvajal


[This article first appeared in Anales, Volume 122, #2, March-April 2014, p. 144- 166}


Introduction

At this time the Company of the Daughters of Charity is preparing for their General Assembly 2015 whose theme is: The boldness of charity for a new missionary momentum.

Naturally that theme, like any other theme, is offered and received from a determined context and the context is fundamental in order to interpret it correctly. For example, some years ago a woman told me that I had taken away her dream because she viewed me as the only man in her life. Those words would have greatly inflated my self-esteem if it were not for the fact that this woman was a student to whom I was about to administer a test. The Preparatory Document #2 explains the context that we should use in order to interpret the theme and that, in turn, should allow us to be questioned by it: the present crisis, with all its consequences.

Aware of the fact that a text without a con-text is a pre-text, we begin, then, by analyzing the indicated context. In the second part of this reflection we will analyze the individual words of this theme.

Part I: The Context

The Economic Crisis

It is well known that the immediate cause of the terrible economic crisis that we are experiencing was the collapse of the real-estate bubble that had been inflated in the United States during the five previous years. This resulted for granting mortgage loans without even the minimum guarantees of solvency. Why were these bank managers so willing to grant these mortgages with no regard for the risks that were involved in such activity? Because their financial reward (their salaries were already very high) was related to the number of mortgages that were granted. Like King Louis XV (1710-1774) they thought: after me, let the floods come (Apr?s moi, le deluge). We should recall that according to Karl Marx, apr?s moi, le deluge is the watchwords of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. [1]

The North American financial institutions swept up in their wake the financial institutions of Spain and many other countries. These institutions had been selling “junk” mortgages camouflaged in packaging deals in which the good mortgages were mixed with the worthless mortgages. The institutions in Spain did not need to be waylaid from outside since they themselves had been granting too many mortgages, thus inflating the real-estate bubble in Spain. Realizing that the payment on these mortgages was about to come to an end, the banks were obliged to cease extending credit.

This unleashed a global economic crisis … a paralysis in the financial system can be compared to what occurs in the human body when the heart stops pumping blood to the rest of the body. The lack of resources interrupted the flow of credit --- mortgages and other types of credit --- thus bringing to a halt investment by corporations and the buying of houses as well as private consumption. All of this had dire consequences on both production and employment. We entered into a vicious cycle because the gloomy financial outlook further discouraged the extension of credit by these financial institutions.

We are living in the midst of an economic crisis that is comparable to the 1940’s, the time of the Great Depression. According to the most recent national survey almost six million people are unemployed[2] and two million households are receiving no income [3] since no member of the family is employed. These are record high numbers.

Furthermore, as a result of the deterioration in the employment situation, the unemployment rate has risen and there are many people who are working full-time and yet still find themselves in a situation of poverty. More than a third of the households in Spain find it extremely difficult to stretch their funds to the end of the month. As Pope Francis stated: It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity (Evangelii Gaudium, #52).

As always happens, the crisis has impacted in a special manner the most vulnerable members of society. People challenged in any way who during prosperous times would have difficulty finding work, have now been the first ones tossed into the streets. If previously people with little education encountered difficulties finding work, now everyone who has not been able to pursue a broad course of studies --- various majors, a prestigious degree, facility with various languages --- finds it difficult to obtain employment. Older unemployed persons know that their possibilities of finding new work are almost nil. The situation toward which we are headed has a name: social Darwinism, the survival of the fittest

The increase in the public debt --- a result of the decrease in income because of less economic activity and the costly bailout of the banks --- has resulted in the reduction (and in some cases, the elimination) of the social safety net at a time when it is most necessary. In fact, before the eruption of the crisis, the continual elimination of regulations that were proposed by neo-liberalism has resulted in large reductions in the social safety net in order to obtain some competitive advantage in the global market. The crisis aggravated the situation because it gave rise to greater public deficits in the majority of countries and therefore it was necessary to put in place some very painful adjustment measures that almost everywhere resulted in a dismantling of those structures that previously provided people with security measures in such crisis situations.

Beginning in 2010, that is, with the government of Spanish Socialist Wokers’ Party --- cuts were begun in the area of education which had a serious impact on special education and remedial education. In the other words, these measures have affected the most needy students.

During that same year cuts were also made in the area of public health, a system that we were proud of because it functioned well and because it had a universal out-reach (it was open to everyone who resided in Spain, regardless of whether or not they were Spaniards … the system was utilized by 90% of the population). The more visible signs of these cuts are:

  • exclusion of undocumented immigrants from public health benefits, except in emergency situations, children and pregnant women.
  • co-payment for medication, (this does not apply to unemployed persons who receive no benefits): 10% for retired persons, with a maximum of 8, 18, 60 euros; 30% , as is currently in place, for government officials; 10% for the chronically infirm; between 40% - 60% for the rest of the people according to their level of income.

The rights of persons in a dependent situation to receive the services that they need (almost a million and a half people in Spain) were guaranteed and regulated by the Law of Dependency[4] which was enacted in 2006. Now, for all practical purposes, that legislation has become just another piece of paper because of a lack of funding.

One of the most notable areas that saw drastic funding was that of development assistance which saw a budget reduction of 65.4%.

Crisis in values

Ambition was behind each and every one of the various strategic moves that created this economic crisis. As Leopoldo Abadia stated in a book which became quite popular: what is least important in this crisis is the economic factor … this is a crisis of ambition.[5]

Behind this financial crisis we can easily imagine the cultural attitude that is expressed as follows: I want everything and I want it now! The compulsive desire to maximize profits without being impeded by any obstacle was promoted by governments throughout the world (seduced by the promises of neoliberalism) as they eliminated countless regulations that had previously been established by the social market economy.

Modern day western culture is characterized by individualism (we must admit that there are individuals, even though a minority, who live in solidarity with their brothers and sisters). The supreme principle of the individualistic society states: Let everyone look out for himself/herself and those who are last can go to hell! In 1650 Thomas Hobbes described human existence in what he called a credible portrait of society … society that was beginning to be formed at that time. He compared human life to a race and the goal of that race is to win. He then pointed out the attitudes of those who engage in this race (and we reproduce here some of those attitudes):

  • To endeavour is appetite.
  • To be remiss is sensuality.
  • To consider them behind is glory.
  • To endeavour to overtake the next, emulation.
  • To see another fall, disposition to laugh.
  • To hurt one's-self for haste is shame.
  • Continually to be out-gone is misery.
  • Continually to out-go the next before is felicity.
  • And to forsake the course is to die. [6]

Social-biologists state that during times of limited/reduced resources, animals become more aggressive. I fear that the “human animal” is no different because the economic crisis seems to have increased behavior that manifests a lack of solidarity with other human beings. In many businesses that have had to confront various problems, the concept of team spirit has been forgotten and been replaced by an attitude that can be expressed with the words: dog eat dog. Some years ago something similar occurred at the universities. Classmates began to be viewed as future competitors in obtaining employment and it has become ever more difficult to find someone willing to lend their class notes to another (in some extreme situations, two sets of notes are kept: a good set for oneself, and another set filled with errors that is given to others).

There is a piece of data that is of great concern for Christians who are sensitive to this situation. In the midst of this crisis those who have not been personally affected by the crisis continue to live as they did previously. The luxury industry has continued to grow (automobiles, cosmetics, etc.). On various occasions in Madrid and Barcelona and other cities throughout Spain “the luxury fair” has been held, an event during which people can buy shoes that cost 1,100 euros, speakers with embedded diamonds or perfumes with a fragrance that lasts for six days, valued at more than 9,000 euros. It is said that the formula for postmodern happiness is to work and to act dumb.

Crisis in religiosity

As we reflect on this crisis in values it is also necessary to highlight the crisis in religion. As Cardinal Kasper stated: We should not allow ourselves to be seduced by extraordinary events such as the visit of the Pope, pontifical celebrations in Saint Peter’s Square, World Youth Day, the gatherings in Taize, etc. These events demonstrate that in our society there are many people, including many young people, who allow themselves to be questioned, who question themselves, who are seeking … No matter how gratifying it might be to see so many people gathered together during such extraordinary events, those numbers do not reflect the everyday reality of the Church. [7]

In fact, any one of us, using our power of observation, will realize that our churches are more empty now than they were a few years ago … and the persons who do frequent our churches are more elderly.

Among those who believe we see the predominance of a “light” spirituality, that is, a comfortable spirituality, one that is not very demanding, one that can co-exist with other loyalties that are so characteristic among the majority of Catholics in Spain.

Among non-believers, the more common attitude is not atheism or agnosticism but indifference. People give almost no consideration to the question of God’s existence because they see no reason to be concerned about the question of religion or spirituality. God is absent from people’s lives and, in fact, people are unaware of this absence because God was never present.

At some former time we spoke about “nominal Catholics” to refer to those persons who were Catholic not because of some personal decision but because of some external factor (they were baptized as infants). Now those persons who were previously influenced by such external factors no longer refer to themselves as Catholic.

Part II: The Text

The boldness of charity

In my opinion, the theme of the 2015 General Assembly as it is redacted, places excessive emphasis on boldness … the impelling subject of the mission does not seem to be charity but rather boldness. It would be like saying that the pain in my teeth impels me to cry out. It is not my teeth that make me cry out because in fact I have had those teeth since I was a child and I have not been crying out every day; rather it is the pain that makes me cry out and if I were to experience any other strong pain I would also cry out. But even though the formulation may lack precision, nevertheless it is clear that the theme attempts to tell us that charity fills us with boldness and impels us to the mission.

Let us clarify misunderstandings of the word charity

Unfortunately, few words have caused as many understandings as the word “charity”. For example a person from Benavente says to another: “Many destitute people bless your name because you act charitably with love.” As can be seen, many people believe that not only can there be no charity without justice, but there can also be no charity without love. It is difficult to imagine any greater deterioration of that concept. It was for that reason that Saint Francis de Sales saw the need to dedicate a whole chapter of his Treatise on the Love of God to charity … a chapter that was entitled, “that charity may be named love”. [8] I will use both words interchangeably.

Charity is not an acquired virtue or something that we can acquire. Rather it is a virtue that is unmerited and a gift that God bestows on us. The charity that we refer to here is not that love with which we begin to love but that love which knocks on our door and wants to continue to dwell with us. Recall the following passage from the letter to the Romans: the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:5). [9]

Naturally, in our hearts is this human love which the classical Greeks referred to as eros. But since God wanted to do a type of grafting, the Holy Spirit fills us with divine love, a love that biblical Greek refers to as agape --- resulting in a tertium quid, that Saint Augustine calls, caritas (charity).

If our hearts were filled with just eros, we would love others in order to enrich ourselves. [10] If just agape existed (something that only occurs in God), then we would love others in order to enrich them. When this graft of eros and agape exists, (that which we call charity), then we love the other so that both of us are mutually enriched.

As we reflect on those situations of divine and human love where eros predominates, we see that the result is an immature love, which according to Erich Fromm, says to the other person: I love you because I need you. On the other hand, when agape predominates, a mature love arises that states: I need you because I love you. [11]

Logically, if love is dominated by eros, it will be difficult to maintain a relationship after one is no longer gratified by that relationship or when said relationship is no longer useful (applying to people the same criteria of usefulness that we apply to things). Bauman states in his book where he studies the fragility of present day relationships that people buy stocks and keep them for as long as there is the promise that they will increase in value; but they sell the stock very quickly when it loses value or when another stock promises greater profits. Why should we apply some distinct criteria to relationships? [12]

The more love is dominated by agape the easier it is to love those persons whom no one else loves. Lucio Tombardo-Radice, an Italian communist, made the following observation in the 1970’s during a dialogue between Christians and Marxists: From a Christian perspective it is important to dedicate oneself to the human person, to care for them and to love them, even though this selfless action might be unproductive. It is important for Christians to give of their time joyfully and freely to those who are dying; it is important to accompany with loving patience those who are elderly, “the useless”, in their journey toward death. It is important to care for those who are viewed as “the least”, the most unhappy, the most imperfect, including those who appear almost inhuman. [13]

As we know, the evolution of language after Saint Augustine, terminated by reserving the name “charity” for this last type of love in which agape is more prominent than eros.

Naturally, the fact that in charity, love/agape dominates love/eros does not mean that it is practiced in some reluctant or begrudging manner. Saint Paul states: let those who do works of mercy do them cheerfully (Romans 12:8). This is way in which the phrase is translated in the Jerusalem Bible. Other Spanish translations use the phrase, joyfully, willingly, in a friendly manner. [14]

Those words of Saint Paul were correctly interpreted by Vincent de Paul in the counsel that he gave to a Daughter of Charity, [15] counsel that Jean Anouilh, director of the film, Monsieur Vincent, has communicated to us in a beautiful, free style, but that is faithful to the spirit of Vincent: You will find out that Charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give soup and bread. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor, always smiling and good-humored. They are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting masters you will see. And the uglier and the dirtier they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them. [16]

Indeed, without love charity can be a cold and impersonal. I cannot forget something that occurred many years ago during a meeting in La Coruña for Sisters who were serving as house mothers. While we were eating breakfast one of the Sisters at my table was told that she had a telephone call. She went to answer the call and returned crying inconsolably. Perhaps her father or mother had died? No, one of the disabled children that she was caring for had died. That day I was able to see that grace is no less passionate than nature.

Charity fills us with boldness

Boldness is the strength of will that allows people to carry out a project despite the obstacles. It is a word that suggests valor, risk, strength…

When obstacles appear, people often become faint-hearted and abandon their plans out of fear of failure. On the other hand, bold individuals overcome their fear and persevere in the activity that they set out to accomplish

Boldness is necessary not only to rise above physical dangers but also to confront social coercion. This last reality of social coercion deserves to be highlighted because we all experience this fear of being “distinct” that is described so eloquently by Eric Fromm. [17]

It is very important that we never separate boldness from charity because boldness can be either good or bad depending on whom we intend to serve (for example, a bold thief can be more dangerous than a timid thief). Furthermore, true charity implies zeal and is, therefore, the source of boldness. That is the same as saying that our degree of boldness reveals the intensity of our charity.

Some might object because they believe that very often bold people involve themselves and others in very difficult situations. Should we not be prudent? Yes, we should but not in accord with the world’s prudence but rather in accord with God’s prudence.

True prudence should never mean abstention from doing that which ought to be done because said virtue disposes to that which is best: for the best is the end. [18] To use the words that Saint Augustine so beautifully wrote: prudence is love distinguishing with sagacity between what hinders it and what helps it. [19] Boldness stands in opposition to worldly prudence but is in perfect harmony with God’s prudence.

New Momentum

The noun momentum suggests passion, zeal and enthusiasm. Without any doubt that word is stronger than invitation or exhortation or some other word that could have been chosen to define the missionary task. The theme of the 2015 General Assembly affirms the fact that charity impels people to engage in the mission, that is, charity gives the mission “an interior impulse”.

With regard to the adjective new, the Dictionary of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language offers various distinct meanings, two of which seem to me to be applicable to this theme: [1] new can mean that something is added to what one already possesses, (for example, when I say that I have a new friend, I am saying that I have added another friend to the friends that I already have) or [2] new can mean a transformation of that which already exists (for example, when I say that the discovery of Christ gave me new life).

Charity is another momentum for the mission

In this section, let us reflect on the implications of the first meaning, leaving for a later section any discussion of the second meaning. In presenting enflamed charity as a new missionary momentum, the theme supposes that there was a previous missionary momentum and this can be nothing other than the faith because as Pope Francis said: Anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus (Evangelii Gaudium, #120).

We remember that if I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it! (1 Corinthians 9:16). When Paul states that an obligation has been imposed on me, he uses the unexpected and surprising Greek word, anánke which means “destiny” “fate”. Paul does not believe in the existence of some blind force that is imposed on men and women and in this regard he distinguishes himself from the Greeks and the Romans who use the word anáke/factum to convey such a meaning. Paul, however, uses this strong word in order to convey his understanding of his life as an apostle. Once he encountered Christ, he had to preach the gospel just as he had to breathe.

As we recalled from the theme of DOMUND last year (faith + charity = mission), two missionary momentums, the faith and charity, impel us. In reality faith and charity are inseparable. Paul speaks about faith working through love (Galatians 5:6) and James does not hesitate to say that when faith is not translated into good works, then faith is dead (James 2:17).

Just as two candles that are joined together produce one flame, making it impossible to distinguish which part of the flame proceeds from which candle, so also faith and charity give origin to one missionary momentum. While it is understood that these two missionary momentums are united together as one, the theme of the Assembly wants to highlight that which is most proper to the Company, namely, charity. We recall here Vincent’s words: Religious are said to be in a state of perfection; we are not religious, but we can say that we are in a state of charity because we are constantly engaged in the actual practice of love or are disposed to be so (CCD:XII:324). (It is true that Vincent spoke those words to the Missionaries, but we can see that he could have very easily spoken those same words to the Sisters).

It was, in fact, charity that impelled Saint Paul’s missionary endeavor, strengthening him as he traveled three times the length and breadth of the Roman Empire in order to bring the Gospel to those who had not heard the Good News. He was not deterred by any of the numerous difficulties that he had to confront. He recalled that he had endured far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death. Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).

The charity of Jesus Christ crucified urges us

Paul’s love was so passionate that he was accused of being out of his mind and disreputable by the brothers and the sisters in the faith. We recall those words: we are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ (1 Corinthians 4:10). Paul had no hesitation in recognizing the fact that his enthusiasm and the fervor of his zeal were extreme but he stated: For if we are out of our minds, it is for God; if we are rational, it is for you (2 Corinthians 5:13). It was then that he wrote the phrase with a slight variation, the phrase that has become part of the seal of the Daughters of Charity: The love of Christ urges us (2 Corinthians 5:14); in other words once people become aware of Christ and his love it is impossible for them to think and to act in a mere human manner. [20]

The slight variation which I alluded to substitutes Jesus Christ crucified for Christ, thus making it, the charity of Jesus Christ crucified urges us. The substitution is quite relevant because Kierkegaard wrote: Love is precisely this offering of self. [21] The greatest imaginable offering is the gift of one’s own life. Jesus said that when he stated: No one has greater love that this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). Thus, it was on the cross that Christ’s charity on our behalf was revealed most powerfully.

Scripture scholars explain that in this phrase of second Corinthians, the genitive of Christ is a “comprehensive or absolute genitive”, that is, at one and the same time a subjective genitive (the love of Christ toward us) and an objective genitive (our love of Christ), both of which are intimately united. Christ’s intense love for us provokes in us a response of love toward him. Ceslas Spicq writes: Christian charity is nourished in the contemplation of the mystery of the cross. [22]

It would appear as something quite natural that Christ’s love toward us would require that we respond by loving Christ and not other men and women. Nevertheless, from the time that Jesus was no longer physically present among us we can only love him by loving our brother and sisters, especially those brothers and sisters who are most in need. We recall here the words that Saint John wrote in his first letter: Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another … If people say, “Í love God,” but hate their brother/sister, they are a liar; for those who do not love a brother/sister whom they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen (1 John 4:11, 20).

The protagonist in one of Bruce Marhall’s novels stated that James was not correct in saying that if people were unable to love their brothers or sisters who was seen, it would be all the more difficult to love God who was not seen. In his view, if we find it difficult to love our brother/sister, it is precisely because we see them. [23] What Saint John, however, wants to say (and not James as the English novelist wrote) is that in loving God whom we do not see we can fall victim to many different hallucinations, while in loving the neighbor we cannot deceive ourselves.

Vincent clearly understood this reality when in one of his conferences he stated: Let us love God, brothers, let us love God, but let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows; for very often many acts of love of God, of devotion, and of other similar affections and interior practices of a tender heart, although very good and desirable, are, nevertheless, very suspect if they don't translate into the practice of effective love. “By this,” says Our Lord, “is my Father glorified, that you may bear much fruit” (John 15:8). We have to be very careful about that; for there are many who, recollected exteriorly, and filled with lofty sentiments of God interiorly, stop at that, and when it comes to the point of doing something, and they have the opportunity to act, they come up short. They flatter themselves with their ardent imagination; they're satisfied with the sweet conversations they have with God in meditation and even speak of them like angels; but when they leave there, if there’s a question of working for God, of suffering, of mortifying themselves, of instructing poor persons, of going in search of the lost sheep (cf. Luke 15:4-7), of being happy when they lack something, or of accepting sickness or some other misfortune, alas! they're no longer around; their courage fails them. No, no, let's not fool ourselves: Totum opus nostrum in operatione consist it (All our work consists in action) (CCD:XI:32-33) .

Therefore at the time of the final judgment Jesus will tell us: Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me … and whatever you did for one of these least brothers/sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:35-37). This does not mean that when we love those persons in need in reality we are not loving those in need but Christ. Rather Christ feels loved by us when we love those persons who are in need. Furthermore, we love those persons for who they are and we are not thinking about the fact that this is the way that we love Christ. In fact the just ones ask: when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you? and so Jesus has to explain to them, whatever you did for one of these least brothers/sisters of mine, you did for me (cf., Matthew 25:37-40)

Mission

We know that in Latin mission involves “the act of sending forth”. The Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity state: The Company is missionary by nature; it strives to retain the flexibility and mobility needed to respond … The missionary spirit must animate all the Sisters. They are ready to serve wherever they are sent (Constitutions and Statutes of the Daughters of Charity, #25a, 25b).

The mission of Christ and our mission

Properly speaking, there is only one mission: Christ’s mission. Christ is the first missionary, the apostle of the Father. Our mission is a participation in Christ’s mission: As the Father has sent me, so I send you (John 20:21)

Our mission, therefore, is to make present the integral salvation of Jesus Christ. That experienced devil, created by C.S. Lewis, counsels his nephew, who is still learning the practices of a devil: Make sure you are always concerned about the state of the souls of other people and never about their rheumatism. [24]

Vincent certainly understood that the specific temptation of the Missionaries would be one of being solely concerned about the state of the soul of people and therefore, not “their rheumatism” because he told them: If there are any among us who think they are in the Mission to evangelize poor people but not to alleviate their sufferings, to take care of their spiritual needs but not their temporal ones, I reply that we have to help them and have them assisted in every way, by us and by others, if we want to hear those pleasing words of the Sovereign Judge of the living and the dead, "Come, beloved of my Father; possess the kingdom that has been prepared for you, because I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was naked and you clothed me; sick and you assisted me." To do this is to preach the Gospel by words and by works (CCD:XII:77-78).

On the other hand, Vincent also realized that the specific temptation of the Daughters of Charity would be a sole concern for people’s “rheumatism” and not the sate of their soul. It was for this reason that he asked the Sisters to be concerned about the spiritual needs of the poor: God has promised an eternal reward to those who give a cup of water to a poor person; nothing is more true, we cannot doubt it; and that is a great source of confidence for you, Sisters, for if God confers a blessed eternity on those who have given them only a cup of water, what will he not give to a Daughter of Charity who has left everything and makes the gift of herself to serve them all the days of her life? … You see, Sisters, you said the most important of all when you stated that [the poor] had to be helped spiritually … One Sister made a very pertinent remark: “Before all else,” she said, “we must see that the sacraments are administered to the patients.” When you bring them what they need, Sisters, it is advisable to find out very quietly, and in a sympathetic, friendly, compassionate, way, whether they have been to confession and, if they have not, to help them to be well disposed to do so (CCD:IX:199-200).

Let us recall here the words of Pope Francis: the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care (Evangelii Gaudium, #200). This is a very important observation because many committed believers, who assist others, guard an absolute silence with regard to God. It would appear that they have forgotten that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4; cf., Deuteronomy 8:3).

Carlos García de Andoin writes: There are two events that have made me think more profoundly. The gypsy women who with their children enter the offices of Caritas, yet do not celebrate their faith in the afternoon in the parish but in the Church of Philadelphia ... While many Catholics who work with drug addicts remain silent with regard to religious matters, the ex-addicts of the Remar Community (Protestant) pray and sing to God with enviable vitality. It is obvious that the Catholic Church offers her solidarity to the poor and ought to continue to do so; but is she not depriving these people of the proclamation of the Good News which is her greatest treasure? Something is not functioning right when those who are excluded find themselves at the Church’s doors rather than in the front seats. [25]

The new evangelization --- “New” in “novelty”

In Redemptoris missio John Paul II distinguishes three types of mission: •Mission “ad gentes”, directed toward peoples, groups, and socio-cultural contexts in which Christ and his Gospel are not known, or which lack Christian communities sufficiently mature to be able to incarnate the faith in their own environment and proclaim it to other groups. •Pastoral care in those places where there are Christian communities with adequate and solid ecclesial structures. They are fervent in their faith and in Christian living. They bear witness to the Gospel in their surroundings and have a sense of commitment to the universal mission. •The new evangelization which is necessary particularly in countries with ancient Christian roots, and occasionally in the younger Churches as well, where entire groups of the baptized have lost a living sense of the faith, or even no longer consider themselves members of the Church, and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel (Redemptoris missio, #33).

As we saw in the first part where we analyzed the context of our theme, there is no doubt that such is the situation in Europe, especially in Spain. Therefore the missionary momentum which is referred to in the theme for the 2015 General Assembly is the equivalent of the new evangelization.

Even though on different occasions during the year 1979 John Paul II used the expression the new evangelization¸ [26] nevertheless we can consider March 9, 1983, the day when he addressed the bishops who were participating in the XIX Assembly of CELAM in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as the first explicit invitation to engage in a new evangelization --- new, he said, in its ardor, in its methods and in its expression. [27]

Here, then, we have the second meaning of the adjective new which we previously referred to: distinct or different from what occurred before or from what had been learned. The word new, when applied to the missionary momentum, suggest creativity, change and conversion. On a certain occasion Father Arrupe said: I am startled by the fact that we continue to give yesterday’s answers to tomorrow’s problems. [28]

It is understandable that a bold charity will always make the missionary momentum new because love is creative and always discovers new possibilities. Those persons who during their lifetime always do things in the same way and are slaves to routine … those persons act in that way because they have loved little.

The discourse that was pronounced during the XIX Assembly of CELAM (a discourse that was previously referenced) was followed by constant exhortations to engage in the new evangelization. Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI spoke in this manner. Pope Francis, on the other hand, uses the words evangelization and the new evangelization interchangeably.

Witness and word

Paul VI stated: Above all the Gospel must be proclaimed by witness (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #21). Witnesses do not propose “to give witness”, rather they are men and women whose life surprises others and causes other people to ask questions about the source of such uniqueness. We recall, for example, how people admired Lucio Lombardo-Radice in whose heart agape predominated over eros to the point that he loved those persons whom no one else loved. He said as much to those “useless” elderly people who were approaching death and to those who seemed to have no discernible human characteristic. As Pope Paul VI stated: Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #21). On the other hand, those persons whose hearts are dominated by eros rather than agape love others only in as much as they find gratification in doing so, such persons do not cause others to raise any questions at all.

Witness is not only personal. From the beginning of Christianity community witness has played a decisive role … recall the words of Tertullian: see how they love one another. [29]

For this reason Louise de Marillac was insistent on the importance of guarding charity in the internal activities of the community. If such charity were to be lacking, there was the danger of clouding the external witness that was supposed by the generous commitment of each Sister. On October 26, 1639 Louise wrote to two Sisters who had been appointed to serve in Richelieu where different personalities had created difficulties in the life of the community: I have learned what I have always greatly feared. Your work, which has been succeeding so well for the relief of the sick and the instruction of girls, has done nothing for your advancement in perfection. On the contrary, it seems to have hindered it since the good odor of virtue which you were spreading is beginning to dissipate. Reflect, my dear Sisters, on what you are doing. You frequently cause God to be offended. God is not glorified and your neighbor is scandalized. [30]

All of the personal and communal witness, as important as they are, are not enough. Pope Paul VI stated: even the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified - what Peter called always having "your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have" (1 Peter 3:15) - and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus. The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #22).

Thus witness is composed of long time fidelity to the person that we are as well as have brief moments in which we are able to reveal the secret inspiration that gives meaning to our life: when we are invited to do this or when we feel it is appropriate to do so. In order to take advantage of those opportunities it is necessary to guard the time for speaking and to reflect on the act of communicating the faith.

Unfortunately, it seems that in our secular society there is an implicit code of behavior that considers it inappropriate to speak publically about our religious beliefs or to ask others about their beliefs. The public presence of the Christian is accepted with regard to ethics but not religion. It is “politically correct” to speak about social justice and solidarity but not about God or faith. For some time now this has made many European Christians in general, and more specifically Spanish Christians, embarrassed and distressed as they live out their faith … it is as though this is some weakness that has to be hidden. This is the famous “emotional heretic” that Biser spoke about. [31]

Naturally Christians who are distressed in this manner, even in the improbable case that they take the risk to open their mouth and give witness to Jesus Christ, will probably find it difficult to attract anyone. In the opinion of Dodd, one of the most important causes of the first evangelization was that while non-Christian had lost confidence in themselves, Christianity appeared to everyone as a faith that deserved to be believed because there were people who were willing to die for that same faith.

We need to cast aside that mute spirit because without an explicit proclamation, the faith not only loses its necessary dynamism but eventually disappears. The sociology of knowledge explains that those things that are not expressed in daily life not only cease to exist for the other but also cease to exist for ourselves.

Shared mission

The mission that we have been talking about is not a mission in which the Daughters of Charity are protagonists and everyone else is a “walk-on”, a type of anonymous chorus that never has an important role to play. Rather we are dealing with a shared mission. It is not “the mission of the Daughters of Charity” but rather the mission of Christ that is shared by all Christians.

We recall here the famous words of Mother Guillemin: Religious[32] today are obliged to move • from a situation of possession to a posture of insertion; • from a position of authority to a position of collaboration; • from a position of religious superiority to a sense of communion; • from a position of human inferiority to an honest participation in life; • from a position of concern for moral conversion to a missionary concern. [33]

Given the fact that Mother Guillemin spoke those words in 1964 it is clear that she did not see the shared mission as a demand that flowed from the lack of Sisters, but rather as a demand of the gospel.

Epilogue

These are the reflections of a theologian on the theme of the next General Assembly. The ideas that emerge from the local and provincial assemblies will be more important; they will be the things that cannot be discovered by reading books but only “by thinking with the feet” [34] … in other words, walking (always allowing the Holy Spirit to guide our steps).

To love one’s neighbor at all times and in every place demands things that were not necessary in previous eras. Therefore, it is not as if one had but to open the gospel to read, in all clarity and simplicity, what love of neighbor and the disposition for a communion of brothers and sisters has as its task today … the truth of the matter, however, is that tasks and demands of love of neighbor are making themselves known today that no pastoral letter of a hundred years ago ever mentioned, and yet are as pressing today as the ancient injunctions against stealing one’s neighbor’s property [35]

Footnotes

  1. Karl Marx, Capital, volume I, p. 178; https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/
  2. According to the results of the national survey of the active population during the fourth quarter of 2013 the exact number is: 5,896,300.
  3. The exact number is 1,832.300 households.
  4. Law 39/2006 of December 14, the Promotion of Personal Autonomy and Attention to Persons in Dependent Situations: BOE #: 299/2006.,
  5. Leopoldo Abadía, La crisis ninja y otros misterios de la economía [The ninja crisis and other mysteries of the economy], Espasa, 6th edition, Madrid, 2009, pp. 165-166.
  6. Thomas Hobbes, The elements of Natural Law and Politics; http://www.constitution.org/th/elements.htm
  7. Walter Kasper, La nueva evangelización: un desafío pastoral, teológico y espiritual [The new evangelization: a pastoral, theological and spiritual challenge] in George Augustin (ed.), El desafio de la nueva evangelización [The challenge of the new evangelization], Sal Terrae, Santander, 2011, p. 21-21.
  8. Francis de Sales, Treatise on the Love of God, http://web1.desales.edu/assets/salesian/PDF/love.pdf
  9. In all the Pauline letters the gift of the Holy Spirit is related to the ability to love in a new way: the fruit of the spirit is love (Galatians 5:20); …by the love of the Spirit (Romans 15:30); love in the spirit (Colossians 1:80).
  10. We should clarify that in Greek, eros does not solely refer to that which we call “erotic love”, rather eros is a feeling that impels people toward all those things that can enrich them, for example, art (the love of beauty), philosophy (love of wisdom), etc.
  11. Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, Harper and Row, New York, 1956, p. 40.
  12. Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Love, Polity Press in Association with Blackwell Publishing, LTD., Cambridge, UK, 2003.
  13. Lucio Lombardo-Radice, “El Hijo del hombre” [The son of man], (Various Authors, Los marxistas y las causa de Jesús [Marxists and the cause of Jesus], Sigueme, Salamanca, 1976, p. 27).
  14. Translator’s Note: all the English translations that I checked, the New American Bible, the Bible for Today’s Family, Serendipity Bible, the Official Lectionary, all use the word “cheerful”.
  15. VINCENT DE PAUL, Correspondence, Conference, Documents, translators: Helen Marie Law, DC (Vol. 1), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 1-13b), James King, CM (Vol. 1-2), Francis Germovnik, CM (Vol. 1-8, 13a-13b [Latin]), Esther Cavanagh, DC (Vol. 2), Ann Mary Dougherty, DC (Vol. 12); Evelyne Franc, DC (Vol. 13a-13b), Thomas Davitt, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Glennon E. Figge, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), John G. Nugent, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Andrew Spellman, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]); edited: Jacqueline Kilar, DC (Vol. 1-2), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 2-13b), Julia Denton, DC [editor-in-chief] (Vol. 3-10, 13a-13b), Paule Freeburg, DC (Vol. 3), Mirian Hamway, DC (Vol. 3), Elinor Hartman, DC (Vol. 4-10, 13a-13b), Ellen Van Zandt, DC (Vol. 9-13b), Ann Mary Dougherty (Vol. 11-12); annotated: John W. Carven, CM (Vol. 1-13b); New City Press, Brooklyn and Hyde Park, 1985-2009, volume IX, p. 20. Future references to this work will be inserted into the text using the initials [CCD] followed by the volume number, followed by the page number, for example, (CCD:IX:20).
  16. Monsieur Vincent (French film, 1949), this text can be found at: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/193191-you-will-find-out-that-charity-is-a-heavy-burden
  17. Cf., Erick Fromm, The Fear of Freedom, Routledge and Kegan Paul, United Kingdom, 1942.
  18. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2-2, 1.56, a.1, page 1100; http://www.basilica.org/pages/ebooks/St.%20Thomas%20Aquinas-Summa%20Theologica.pdf
  19. St. Augustine, Of the Moral of the Catholic Church, Book I, chapter 15, #25; http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1401.htm
  20. Ceslas Apicq, Ágape en el Nuevo Testamento. Análisis de textos [Agape in the New Testament. Analysis of texts], Ed. CARES, Madrid, 1977, p. 545.
  21. Soren Kierkegaard, Las obras del amor [The Words of Love] (Obras y papeles de Soren Kierkegaard) [Writings and Papers of Soren Kierkegaard], volume V, Guadarrama, Madrid, 1965, p. 98.
  22. Ceslas Apicq, Ágape en el Nuevo Testamento. Análisis de textos [Agape in the New Testament. Analysis of texts], Ed. CARES, Madrid, 1977, p. 546.
  23. Bruce Marshall, El Obispo [The Bishop], Aura, Barcelona, 1971, p. 18.
  24. Clive Staples Lewis, Cartas del diablo a su sobrino [Letters of the Devil to his Nephew], Rialp, 9th edition, Madrid, 2001, p. 33.
  25. Carlos García de Andoin, “La presencia pública de los cristianos” [The public presence of Christians], (Carlos García de Andoin and Carlo María Martini, Cristianos en la ciudad [Christians in the city], Centros Culturales y Revistas de la Compañía de Jesús in Andalucia, Granada, 2001, p. 13.
  26. This was stated on June 9, 1979, some months after being elected Pope, at the Shrine of the Holy Cross of Mogila located in the industrial city of Nowa Huta (Poland). As he consecrated a cross in that place he stated: A new evangelization has begun, as if it were a new proclamation, even if in reality it is the same as ever. The Cross stands high over the revolving world (Cf., http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/homilies/1979/documents/hf_jp-ii_hom_19790609_polonia-mogila-nowa-huta_en.html.
  27. John Paul II, discourse to the participants in the XIX Assembly of CELAM, Port-au-Prince, March 9, 1983.
  28. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, Press Conference, November 24, 1966.
  29. Tertullian, Apology, translated by Rev. S. Thelwall, Chapter XXXIX, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian01.html
  30. LOUISE DE MARILLAC, Spiritual Writing of Louise de Marillac, Edited and Translated from the French by Sister Louise Sullivan, DC, New City Press, Brooklyn, New York, 1991, p. 18 [L.11].
  31. Eugene Biser, Pronóstico de la fe [Prognosis with regard to the faith], Herder, Barcelonia, 1994, pp. 11-17.
  32. Mother Guillemin used the word “religious” because she was not addressing the Daughters of Charity but was speaking to the French Bishops during the third session of the Second Vatican Council (Mother was an auditor during the third and fourth sessions of the Council).
  33. Suzanne Guillemin, Problemas y futuro de las religiosas. Conferencias y testimonias [The Problems and the Future of Women Religious. Conferences and Testimonies] Mensajero, 2nd edition, Bilbao, 1971, p. 35.
  34. I have taken this expression from Ortega, but given it a distinct meaning; cf., José Ortega y Gasset, La idea de principio en Leibniz y la evolución de la teoría deductive [The idea of principle in Leibniz and the evolution of deductive theory], (Obras Completas), vol. 8, Revista de Occidente, 1962, pp. 174-178.
  35. Karl Rahner, The love of Jesus and the love of neighbor, translated by Robert Barr, Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, 1983, p.73-74.


Translated by: Charles T. Plock, CM