Theologizing in context: Expectations and Challenges today (Part II)

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Abdul Khalam, the former president of India, always stressed the need of dreaming when he interacted with young minds.  He encouraged them to dream that they can reach to the heights. I would say in the context of theologising, not dreaming which we usually do, but question: Questions that would challenge you, questions that would provoke you; questions that would reform you and questions that would transform you.

Question to explore complex ideas, to get to the truth of things, to open up issues and problems, to uncover assumptions, to analyse concepts, to distinguish what we know from what we don’t know, to follow out logical implications of thought or to control the discussion.

In one of the Jewish traditions, it is said that God in the beginning created the Question mark and planted it in the hearts of human being. ? = The symbol looks like a fishhook. The questions that arise from the Bible are similar to the hooks that will confront us. The narration in the Bible,” I will make you fishers of men” will reveal this mystery and the need to be fixed or angled on the word of God. Not only we ask the questions but allow God to ask the questions, and we try by our theologizing to answer the questions. It also reminds us of the beak of an eagle which allows it to hold the prey and, whatever may be the heights of its flight, the prey is well secured in the beak. A symbol which should help at the beginning of this new year to have our focus and never to get distracted from that focus in our theologising. Every question that we raise and which we are confronted with should challenge us to become a better human being with an appropriate vision of God, man, world and their relationships.

I would propose two questions to challenge and to motivate. The first question which Jesus raised at the beginning of the public ministry in Betanien. What are you looking for? (Jn 1: 38) Similar question is repeated again in Jn 20:15 to Maria of Magdala; “Whom are you looking for?” A question that should challenge us every day of our life; not only during the time of theological studies but every day and every moment of life. Only when we have an answer to this question, we know the meaning or of our being, our existence and the purpose of our lives here. It will give us the criteria of our being as human being. Otherwise we are only money and gold seekers: Only when we attempt to find an answer to this question we can theologize aptly in our context, responding to the purpose of St. John: doing good and avoiding evil. Nobody will dispute if I say that our education, formation at home, school and seminaries have brought us to this stage. In our pursuit of exercising freedom; in choices between good and evil and in finding meaning of our life we have to raise the question time and again: What are you looking for?  Theologising should help one to know more of this meaning not only of himself but of others esp. when we are engaged in the pastoral fields.

At a troubled time of history (reformation, counter-reformation, humanism) Francis de Sales formed a vision of man, not as a thesis but as a practicable programme of life. By our way of theologising and learning, can we bring in a change in our lives. Only by transforming us, will being affected by love, we can transform us and the world.

  1. Be in the world but not of the world: For a Christian, it is a life lived in Christ, according to the demands and requirements of daily life, with the conviction that it involves sacrifices, tremendous courage to say no to the ways of the world. “Being a Christian did not take one out of the world or require turning one’s back on the world; rather, to be a Christian was to live in the world in a special way by striving to re-present Christ to others.”[1] My vocation is for a mission, and what the Creator wants of me is to grow and flourish in the soil he has planted me. Bloom where you are planted.
  2. Aim towards wholeness: God rejected the offering of Cain because he did not wish well by his offering; it had lacked wholeness compared to that of Abel (Gen 4:7). It is a state of perfection, lacking in nothing, a life of wholeness. Theologising in the context of a troubled world should make us whole as seen in the biblical parable of the traveller from Jerusalem to Jericho.[2] He was ‘half dead’ but optimism makes the good Samaritan see the other half ‘with life’ and see in the wounded man the potential to return to fullness of life. Love and optimism have an inherent capacity to make life holy and whole. It is bidding farewell to our comfort zones; which is one of the greatest dangers of religious life; life of wholeness is not having everything but saying no to many things so that we can look for the one who has called.
  3. Equilibrium stands in stark contrast to impatient progressivism and regressive ossification of the modern time. It has to be manifested in all spheres of life, especially in the context of one’s search for the meaning of life. It goes against the extremism of asceticism, work holism, and the passivity of quietism. We need a mysticism guided by a life of charity consisting of ideas and action. Pure asceticism may weaken our capability for action out of love, content with the ascetical practices appears to be an experience with God but often in vain.
  4. Steadfastness and perseverance are other salient features needed in the daily events of life. Biblical teachings warn against the tendencies of the world and the lack of integration in life. Prophet Amos speaks directly against the dichotomy existing in the celebration and living of Christian life. “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Am 5: 21-24). Many New Testament references explain the living of one’s spirituality in the context of justice, love and relationship.[3] The need to integrate both spirituality and morality is not only a demand in the Bible but can be found in any religious teaching and spirituality; and many recent authors conform to the necessity of combining morality and spirituality which was forgotten in the past.[4]

Veritatis Splendor explains that the issue of morality is one which touches all people, whether they know Christ or not, and the Church sees this criterion as a way of salvation for all, and states, “On the path of the moral life that the way of salvation is open to all.”[5]

Conclusion

Theologising that would enable a vision of man that comprises of both the aspects, namely, spirituality and morality, is the demand of our time; and the proclamation of faith should become the basis for our daily living, and daily living itself must become a proclamation of faith. This shifts the focus from the culture of narcissism to the practical dimension of living in view of the welfare of humanity. Theology and its study should be oriented towards the establishment of God’s kingdom, encompassing social, pastoral, economic, cultural, political justice and equality taking flesh in its various forms. When this is not done, we fail to live an authentic, moral spirituality, having paralysed our capability of transforming ourselves, others and the world.

In this relational aspect of spirituality and morality, it has to be noted and admitted that any amount of participation in the sacraments and liturgical celebrations as part of one’s spirituality will not create morally upright individuals, especially in the complexities of the modern time. Here theologising should provide sufficient training, learning and the formation of the moral conscience, ultimately to keep the will dedicated for the highest good. Then we can say, “Let thy will be done”, or even like Jesus “Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

[1] Lamourex: The Christian moral life: Faithful discipleship for a global society, xv.

[2] Cf. Treatise, XI, Ch.1, 327.

[3] The need for reconciliation before you offer your sacrifice (Mt 5:23-24); the need to be charitable and loving as demanded in the Last judgement scene (Mt 25: 31-46) and the commandment to love (Mk 12:29-31; Mt 22:37-40; Lk 10:27). St. John in his letters says, whoever hates another believer is in the darkness (1Jn 2:11), whoever says that he loves God and hates his brother or sister is a liar (1Jn 4:20). Jesus washing the feet of his disciples (Jn 13: 1-17), instituting the Eucharist (Lk 22: 14-20); and the culmination of it on the cross (Lk 23: 44-49) are practical moral precepts that should deeply challenge the life of every individual in the context of consumerism, power hungry and a pragmatic society.

[4] Robert McAfee Brown: Spirituality and Liberation: Overcoming the Great Fallacey, (Louisville, KY:Westminster, 1988); Donal Dorr: Spirituality and Justice, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1984); Segundo Galilea: The Way of Living Faith: A Spirituality of Liberation, (San Fransisco: Harper and Row, 1988); Gustavo Gutierrez: We Drink from our own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1984); Jon Sobrino: Spirituality of Liberation: Toward Political Holiness (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988). The authors like Keefe and Gula also contribute to the need of an integration.

[5] Vatican II, Veritatis Splendor, 3. In the Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 16 this idea was clearly stated as “those who without any fault do not know anything about Christ or his Church, yet who search for God with a sincere heart and under the influence of grace, try to put into effect the will of God as known to them through the dictate of conscience… can obtain eternal salvation”. The document admits that the issue of morality is one which touches all people, whether they know Christ or not, and the Church sees this criterion as a way of salvation for all, and states, “On the path of the moral life that the way of salvation is open to all

What do you think?