Theologising in context: Expectations and Challenges today (Part I)

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The new academic year in different streams of studies, and especially in the field of theology, calls for an evaluation to look into the expectations and challenges. The NT letters will clearly indicate the life of early Christians as well as Christian communities. They are not only of historical interest but are of value for all those who attempt to reflect and improve the life in the communities today. We may not face the same situations of the early communities but our attempt to anchor on the context, problems, and solutions of the early communities will show some light to face the challenges of today.

I have taken the letters of John to highlight an issue faced by the early Christian community. It is not an in-depth study of John but just an example which can be applied to other parts of the scripture, but I make use of it as a starting point for my reflections. Scripture gives us a platform to address the issues and to draw apt conclusion for our life.

The third letter of John, probably written between AD 85-90- is presenting a situation which can be the situation of any Christian community. It is not a sought after or famous book in the Bible, perhaps because it is the shortest book in the Bible, and many tend to just turn the pages and ignore the 219 words, 1/3 in size to Philemon and just half in size of the letter of Judas. Only by the fourth century it was included in the canons of the Church. The controversy cannot be laid to the authorship but rather to the problems and the reasons of unrest in the early communities. Like other books of the Bible, the letters of John present themes like the assurance of eternal life; to protect the Church and its members from heretical doctrines and false teachers. It supports those who preach the Word genuinely, at the same time fight vehemently against the false teachers (the so-called wandering preachers).

John is presenting a problem of the early Christian community which can be of heretical or false teachings of which the letters mention not in detail. In the background of this issue, the teaching of John is very clear. He teaches the community a fundamental principle and to where they are called to belong.

3 Jn:11 “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil but imitate what is good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.” This is the central message of John’s letter. This is a statement which can be analysed or theologised under the branches of spirituality and morality, because it speaks about the choice of good and avoiding of evil and both reveal ones’ relation towards God.  I shall put it in this way: Living a moral life leads a person invariably to spiritual life which in turn makes the experience of God possible. Only when a person finds the harmony between morality and spirituality in his life, we can speak of someone having a real experience of God. Thus, true spirituality can be seen as the fruit of morality. Ultimately, our attempt is to establish the ideal Christian life as a ‘moral spirituality’. Which can be summarised as Johannine formula of “right faith and good action.” Which is Orthodoxie and Orthopraxie. “One who does the good is of God; and one who does evil has not seen God.” This conclusion of John’s letter cannot be seen in isolation, but every text of the scripture can be seen in a similar context leading to both spirituality and morality and that is precisely the relevance of theologising today.

The maxim, ‘actions speak louder than words should challenge us, especially in the years of theological study, to equip ourselves with the Word of God and the Mission of the Lord, resulting in the true fruit of theologising and spirituality. The response of priests, religious and those who engage in serious study of scripture contains the elements of spiritual, theological, pastoral, psychological development of individuals, which has to be expressed and experienced by the people whom we are catering to. This is not a life demanded only of parish priests, but anyone who follows Christ and wishes a life of perfection. It is also applicable in our own communities, in our manifold ministries and in our confrontation with the people and each other. Any theologising should lead one to the principle of Moral spirituality to choose the good and avoid the evil; this is the fundamental principle for all; for believers and non- believers.

I speak of a moral spirituality as a result of our theologising because, theological studies include the deepening of our knowledge of God, man, relationship and self-realisation. Understanding theology and spirituality as my relationship with God, excluding human person is futile and the complex society of modern time demands an inclusive character of learning and understanding. An equilibrium of outlook and vision should be the fruit of our theologising. Negligence of this aspect offers no perfect way for man in his goal realisation.  History proves, that the movements like renaissance and Humanism gave priority to human being and went to the extent of saying “man is the measure” forgetting the values and virtues. On the other hand, we have examples of looking down on human being in the society and which exist even today. For example, the discrimination between blacks and whites; the caste system in India. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804, a German philosopher of enlightenment) said blacks are not human beings but they are animals; they can be slaves, they can be beaten with canes, History proves that giving priority to one aspect alone does not serve the purpose. Such tendencies promote the damnation of humanity and its dignity which unfortunately continue in our own times in different ways and forms.

The media reports show that in many parts of the country there is an increase in the discrimination against African students, many cities also become very vulnerable. Violence against lower caste people is on the increase’honour killing is rampant, many are tortured and killed for engaging in marriage, especially of inter-caste or lower caste relations. The attacks on Dalits, discrimination and division, riots and killing and infringing on every aspect of the private life of citizens in the name of cows and animals, all these only prove that humans are losing their humanity. On the games field, on the streets, at homes, in the worshipping places we hear about the evil of discrimination. Even in our own churches we find the traits of caste system, wealth and power determining the status of human being.

As someone rightly remarked, during the Tsunami thousands of people lost their lives but the stock market did not crash; but the moment Ambanies had a dispute and divided; the market collapsed, is it money and material things which decide the value of man, or something above that, the transcendental element in him? Pope Francis remarked that when a man dies on the street, of starvation, it is not known to anyone; but when the the stock market falls, it hits the head news world-wide. There is no more common ethos binding on the individual; he is the monarch of himself. On the one hand there is a craze to amass wealth, – the rich becoming richer and poor poorer – on the other hand leaders speak of justice and peace in the world, but the economy is oriented only towards profit as the arms and weapons trade accelerates conflicts in every corner of the earth.

Dana Manjhi carried his wife’s dead body for 6.2 miles by foot. He was accompanied by his weeping 12-year-old daughter. Carrying the dead body of one’s own wife on the shoulder, and heading towards destiny, no one to help (24.08.2016 Times of India). The face of this man and daughter can be seen at every nook and corner of our surroundings. This is the India we are proud of.

Dalits are burned; Muslims are named as terrorists, cows and dogs are protected even when they attack children and disabled, and in their name, innocents are burned and murdered.

What about the Church; the laity, priests and religious and our apostolates?

How are priests and religious looked up to and what are the expectations of ordinary people? When we are before them as priests; ministers of sacraments, educators; preachers and teachers, what is the message that we communicate? Enjoying all the privileges as priests and religious, the Church goes back to the situation of the middle ages (In spite the influence of Pope Francis); Bishops and priests taking the place of kings and not of the Christ crucified. From birth to death, for sacraments, use of Church premises; services to the sick and education, money and influence play a role in all these! We are not much challenged because we take compromising stands. And we go forward comfortably, silently ignoring the struggle and suffering of the other. This is our context if we are called to liberate, if we believe that we are called to proclaim the message of peace and love.

What do you think?