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Thursday, 06 November 2014 00:00


Written by John Sivalon
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By John Sivalon


I am delighted to be here today and to take part in this conference. I want to thank the Affiliate chapter of Albany for their invitation and for their patience in working with me to prepare for this conference. With them, I am grateful to Ann Carr and the Affiliate Board for their support and to Bob Short who in his own writings has stimulated us all to think of doing mission in terms of a new paradigm. I also want to thank Ellen McDonald, Jack Sullivan and Gerry Kelly for their commitment and dedication to the vision of the Affiliates. As the first conference of affiliates after the death of Jim Madden, this conference is even more significant and profound for me, as I believe it is for you. Jim left us with words of encouragement about his own vision, and advising us to search out new ways of being a movement into the future. Not only his words, but his lived example, encourage us to appreciate the abiding presence of God in cultures.


With his words and vision in mind, we come together to wrestle with the mysterious call we have all received: “to participate in the mission of God.” Most important, I come here today, not to offer answers, but to raise questions for all of us that we might work together for some glimpse into how the Maryknoll movement will be carried into the future. Part of that process, for which I am deeply appreciative, is the responses of Sam Stanton, Mary Ellen Kempken and Robert Ellsberg to my own presentation. I am sure their additions will be very helpful in clarifying the weaknesses of my presentation and more importantly they will add their own wisdom, perspective and experience to help all of us in opening our hearts and minds to God’s wisdom.


The theme of this conference is "Maryknoll Affiliates: The Third Wave Emerging into the Future.” Contemplating that theme, I imagined myself sitting on the beach looking out at the beautiful ocean and counting the waves. I asked myself what is a wave, and how do you count them. When was the first wave and what wave is this really? It became clear to me that, while I am not sure what wave this is, I am confident that the world in which we live today is dramatically different than the world in which I was raised and I am confident that it is a “New Wave.”


The language of “Third Wave” entered most prominently into the vocabulary of the Maryknoll world with a talk given a few years ago by Robert Shreiter on “Mission ad Gentes.” In that talk he associated the “Third Wave” with some changes in contemporary society related to globalization. But I believe that besides these socio-political-economic changes, a much deeper change has taken place. Our whole understanding of the universe has been turned upside-down since the 1970s especially in the West, but spreading throughout the world. And, paraphrasing St Thomas, if our view of creation is distorted, our view of God will be distorted, and by implication our view of mission and church.

Thus, this radical shift in our understanding of the universe has ushered in what we need to comprehend as a new wave: a dramatic new paradigm of mission, God, ourselves and the world around us. I also believe that the Maryknoll Affiliates are uniquely positioned, for a variety of reasons to be explained later, to be carried forward into the future by this new wave. Looking back fifty years, we can mark a definite point when a wave of mission began for the Roman Catholic tradition. That point is Vatican II. Other denominations of the Christian faith might reach back further into that century. But for Roman Catholics, Vatican II initiated a flurry of activity about the meaning of mission and the agents of mission that visually stands out as a wave. Baptism became the sending ceremony and all baptized people became the agents. Maryknoll appropriated this vision and initiated programs that facilitated the laity and other associates to live out their baptismal responsibility. But Vatican II was adapting to a world that today no longer exists, if it existed even at the time of Vatican II. (Slide) Recalling our 1960s’ picture of the universe, it was a world that was orderly and simple. It had a center, an up and a down and an optimistic view of our ability to know with certainty. It was a world that still believed in truth, institutions and permanence. It was a world that believed in the human person as subject. (Slide) But just as a wave comes ashore and gradually dissipates, and its energy returns into the deep to generate a whole new wave, so this worldview has birthed a whole new paradigm. (Slide) Think how dramatically our commonsense understanding of the universe in which we live has changed over the last fifty years. In that time span, we have come to recognize the existence of dark energy and dark matter. We have developed models for understanding the energy states of protons, neutrons and electrons. Going even deeper into the microcosm, we found quarks as the building blocks of matter. We have developed a whole new mechanics for dealing with the microcosm of fermions and bosons. We have come to a new appreciation for the age, size and complexity of the macrocosm. We have discovered its increasing expansion and the role of inflation in its origins. Most recently, we have been experimenting with the transformation of light into matter. We have killed Pluto as a planet, but added thousands of others. We have added the strong and the weak forces to our sub-atomic understanding and developed sophisticated models for seeing into the origins of our universe and the emergence of human life. In all of this we have come to accept that probability has displaced certainty. We have learned, as Gene Kennedy reminded us so forcefully in the Maryknoll Society Alumni centennial celebration, that there really is no absolute center or an up or down. We have realized that the world at all its levels is immensely complex and emergent. And most importantly, we have ascertained that everything is relational and intimately tied together through forces and fields. In fact, that relationship can become so intimate at certain levels that we can talk about entanglement as oneness. These scientific developments have been accompanied by similarly radical changes in the social world. With globalization, as Shreiter said, in all spheres, but especially in information technology, people have become increasingly aware of the diversity of the human family. We are able to experience and marvel at all the different religious expressions to which our brothers and sisters dedicate themselves. Through the ease of transportation, but even without physically traveling around the world, we can celebrate our world’s cultures, histories, struggles and how people understand themselves. We can join global social movements through social media and find the global family with all its diversity in our own neighborhoods. This has led us to become increasingly sensitive to the social construction of knowledge and how individuals understand the world from their own perspectives. We accept as normal that people from different cultures, ethnicities, ages and genders will see the world differently. Truth indeed becomes relative. We have also seen how knowledge changes and has changed over time, contributing to our sense of the impermanence of truth and reality. Just as there is no center in the universe, we discover there is no center in the social sphere. Just as there is no permanence in the physical world, there is no permanence in the social world. The human community, as much as anything else in creation, is an emergent reality. It is a community in becoming. And like the physical universe, as we have become increasingly aware of our diversity, we also have become increasingly aware of our interrelatedness. Economic, social and political choices made by each one of us have eventual repercussions for all of us. In summary, we are on a Sacred Pilgrimage. We have arrived at that point where we see a spent wave receding from the shore. We appreciate the energy with which it grew, but now know that that energy has returned to the sea to be embodied in a new wave. The spent wave was generated by a model of creation that is now seen to be erroneous. It was a model based on a belief that there was a center: giving rise to a belief of an anchor for truth and consequentially, a privileged position for church. It was a model that talked about an up and a down: a model that in our church gave rise to a hierarchical structure from God through the bishops, priests, deacons to the laity. The new wave is being generated by our new understanding of creation, a creation without a center, that is continually emerging, and with a diversity and complexity of elements that are intimately entangled with one another without privilege. This is the wave that the Affiliates are so properly positioned like no other entity of the Maryknoll family to be carried by it into the future. The wave is not ours to create. The energy that has returned to the deep is at work with the forces of the moon and stars and planets bringing forth that wave. It is a wave that we need to contemplate as we are being propelled by it into the future. It is a wave of mission that has already begun to build up energy. It is God’s wave, God’s mission. As Francis, Bishop of Rome reminds us, In every activity of evangelization, the primacy always belongs to God who has called us to cooperate with him and who leads us on by the power of his Spirit. The real newness is the newness which God himself mysteriously brings about and inspires, provokes, guides and accompanies in a thousand ways. (12) Francis powerfully reminds us that the source of the “Joy of the Gospel” and its eternal “newness” is the mission of God. It is God’s activity. It is no accident that Francis has used the phrase “called us to cooperate with.” It is this sense of being invited “to participate in” or “to cooperate with” that is the language of a Mission of God understanding that is so hopeful, open, optimistic and appropriate. (Slide) The mission of God is a dynamic process that resides in the heart of God. It gushes over and out generating creation. It challenges us to live our lives listening, contemplating with imagination what God is making anew. In this beautiful mystery of creation, including human histories and cultures, we find the first audible and visible expressions of the Word of God. As Paul said: “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things God has made.” From particle physics, philosophy, social sciences but more importantly, through the struggles of everyday life, we know that the universe is made up of elements and forces that are intimately related to one another in a deep, mutual and intimate fashion. At the same time that we have come to appreciate the level of connectedness and oneness that exists among us and creation, we have also developed a deep appreciation for the diversity and complexity of our human family and creation as a whole. This growing understanding of diversity has nudged us towards an increasing gratefulness for its importance in defining us and understanding God. This is the newness of the wave. It has no center, no hierarchy, but rather, an ever emergent and expanding relationship of diverse elements and forces. It is marked by a relationship of deep oneness and a growing sense of diversity, complexity and otherness. ONENESS: Mission as solidarity Analogously, the principles of science move us to appreciate and reflect on the true mystery and depth of the oneness that exists within God, the Trinity and within creation. Globalization, in all its dimensions, has stimulated a growing sense of the interconnectedness of social life. All of these combine adding a sense of profundity to the words of Jesus’ missionary prayer: “so that they may be one, as we are one; I in them and you in me that they may be brought to perfection as one.” (John 17: 21- 23) And yet, while God through creation and social dynamics is telling us that we are intimately related to one another, the culture of capitalism emphasizes the fundamental lie that we are autonomous individuals. This lie gives birth to a series of other lies that act as forces against our mutuality and oneness. It claims that inequality is natural and inevitable because abilities are unequally distributed by nature. It asserts that competition or rivalry is natural and necessary for the production of social order. Based on the idea that humans are subjects who bring the meaning of objects, including other humans, into being, it assumes a right to dominate them. And the human pursuit of happiness can only be gratified by an accelerating rotation of novel objects of consumption. The road to happiness passes through the shopping mall and economic growth is the only way to handle the challenges and problems of human cohabitation. This thinking has led to the greatest economic disparity among groups of people in the United States since before the Great Depression of 1929. As we all know, it also has fostered the continual separation of nations, in terms of wealth, and within nations in terms of growing economic inequality. As Jimmy Carter and others have highlighted, this thinking fosters forms of modern slavery. Modern day slaves are those persons who are: forced to work - through psychological or physical threat; or who are owned or controlled by an 'employer' usually through psychological or physical abuse or the threat of abuse; or those who are dehumanised, that is treated as a commodity or bought and sold as 'property' which includes the crime of trafficking in women and children in astronomical numbers. It is estimated that over 60,000 people in the United States are enslaved in one form or another; 82,000 in Peru; 300,000 in Tanzania; and 150,000 in the Philippines. The total global number of people currently estimated to be living in modern slavery is close to 30 million, with 13 million in India alone. The thinking of ourselves as autonomous individuals who objectify and dominate is further reflected in the sexual assault and rape of minors. About 200,000 U.S. youth over 12 experience sexual assault or rape every year. One in five young women is raped by the time she has completed college. This way of thinking encourages a sense of domination over others, especially women, who suffer 91% of all domestic assault crimes and continue to have unequal access to economic, political and cultural power, including within religious institutions. This thinking directly relates to our misuse of the environment, leaving Mother Earth scarred with our garbage, our pollution and our degradation. My own home town is an icon of this scarring. Looking at the beauty of the surrounding mountains, you see how we humans can disfigure the earth in our drive to dominate and produce. And then walk away with no responsibility for repairing or returning it to its original state. It also has led us to be involved in ongoing wars for the past twelve years. Think of the hundreds of thousands of civilians and military personnel who have lost their lives because of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Think of the soldiers, not only of the USA, but of other countries, called allies or enemies, who have been so deeply wounded, both physically and emotionally. Think of the families and relatives of these soldiers whose lives have been so dramatically changed by these wars. And then think of the other conflicts around the world, in the Central African Republic, Syria, Nigeria and so many other places, and all the people who have been displaced and had their lives turned so utterly upside-down. When we ask why this is happening, at the very heart of the answer is the drive for self-preservation, the view of the other as an object or threat, and our failure to listen to the voice of God, who is calling us to an intimate and mutual relationship with one another and with creation that we might be one. OTHERNESS: Mission as Mutual Empowerment While God as Trinity is one substance, within this oneness there are persons different from one another and “deferring” to one another: open to being more. This openness to “being more” is what ushers forth creation with all of its diversity, randomness, plurality and complexity. This “being more” is as much a part of the Mission of God as is the loving embrace of the Trinity exhibited in its oneness, solidarity and unity. Thus as we encounter the other, we are challenged to allow that encounter to be an empowering experience for both the other and ourselves. An image of this is the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well as depicted by this sculpture by Stephen Broadbent. It is an empowering encounter stated, in another way, as “understanding by under-standing.” A willingness to put ourselves below the other and not see the other as an inferior alien to whom we are kind, or a difference to be homogenized, or an opponent with whom we negotiate a peaceful coexistence. The other is an intimate and integral part of the oneness of God and the oneness of us. Jesus comes to the woman exhausted, thirsty and in need. The woman comes to the well alone. She is the icon of otherness even within her own village. For a Jew, Samaritans and Samaria are the source of ritual impurity. But the Samaritan woman is even an outcast from her own people including the Samaritan women. Through her encounter with Jesus, she is emboldened to return and to call those who despised her to “come and see.” Jesus is empowered by the woman to stay in Samaria and to tell his disciples, all of whom are Jews standing in the heart of otherness, to look around them “at the harvest.” CONCLUSION: Earlier, I stated my belief that the Maryknoll Affiliates are well positioned to be carried into the future by this new wave of mission. I believe this because the processes of globalization, the sense of emergent reality and other social dynamics have brought about what some call the “death of society” or the “death of institutions.” Today, institutions are valued based upon their usefulness and not on any supposed intrinsic value. And therefore, people will be less likely to commit themselves to an institution as such. The postmodern person avoids a fixed identity but rather attempts to keep their options open. They avoid long-term commitments and in place of lifelong projects they prefer a series of short projects. In this context, people feel isolated from one another and not rooted in one place thus making collective behavior difficult. Yet, many yearn with a feeling that there must be something more. In religious terms we might label them “seekers” yearning to become “pilgrims.” This then is where the future lies. It lies with small, fluid bands of brothers and sisters relating directly to one another, mutually empowering and nourishing one another in the struggle to create global humanization without forcing homogenization. The vitality of the Affiliates, going into the future, will be dependent upon your ability to remain a movement. A fluid, open and flowing movement not restricted by rules, regulations and constitutions and not neurotically concerned about your own self-preservation. But a movement based upon a general vision founded on the values associated with the new wave: oneness, or global solidarity as you express it in your pillars and diversity, or empowering encounter or inclusion. The Affiliates’ openness to including members of other faiths or no faith is a unique freedom of expression that the institutional and hierarchical entities of the Maryknoll family do not possess. This act in itself is a manifestation of understanding by under-standing which is so much a part of mission as mutual empowerment. It is touching the hands of the other; it is allowing the same water of life to run over each other’s hands enlivening ourselves and the other: we are one in the same movement of creation. The vision of the movement is that we be one in justice, equality, dignity and respect. The future of the movement also lies in its authenticity in not only being accepting of the other but seeking to eradicate all that impedes oneness. This includes challenging the very premises upon which capitalism, patriarchy and discrimination are based. We are not autonomous individuals who define the other and assert power over the other. We are intimately tied to one another, mutually defining one another. The authenticity with which we struggle against the elements that are blocking this oneness is what the new wave hungers for. Listening to young people and others who decry religious belief, I have found with all of them that they are hungering and yearning for meaning and connectedness and find that meaning in the authenticity with which prophets and movements live their lives. Quoting Francis I: We sense the challenge of finding and sharing a “mystique” of living together, of mingling and encounter, of embracing and supporting one another, of stepping into this floodtide which while chaotic, can become a genuine experience of community, a caravan of solidarity, a sacred pilgrimage… Mission then is God’s unending expanding love continually calling us to a dramatic oneness without demanding we become the same. It involves a prophetic voice, a listening spirit and an encounter with the other that empowers and builds up.

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