COMMUNITY OR MISSION?
Dr. Anto Amarnad CMI
WHAT IS IMPORTANT- A COMMUNITY LIFE OR MISSION?
The Community and Mission- both are intimately interrelated says Redemptoris missio. The exhortations found in Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor and Vita consecrata both emphasize that the community life as well as the mission should go hand in hand within the context of the religious life. Therefore, according to the Church’s view, the dimensions of Community and its Mission are not opposed to each other but they are to be understood as mutually complementing and fulfilling aspects. In our modern times we listen to many puzzling questions that are being asked on community and the apostolates. Is there a possibility, within the Church, of having a religious community existing without a mission? Is there a possibility, within the religious community, of having an apostolate exercised by a religious single handedly, by one’s own discretion and without having any conformity with one’s community? Can the religious community life and the so called apostolates exist independently? What would be the healthy relationship of the religious community and the apostolates of its members? Can a religious stay outside the purview of his/her community and independently do one’s apostolate and be called as an authentic religious in a congregation? Where shall we stress, on Community or on individual’s charism? Some Post modern individualistic laissez-faire would dare to underline a possibility of having a mission outside the context of a religious community. There are also preservative tendencies within certain religious Congregations that would stress only the aspect of a community life devoid of a responsible apostolate. We need in our religious life a proper blending and balancing of these two essential components working in harmony with each other.
PROTO TYPE OF RELIGIOUS LIFE
There was a time in the history of Christian spirituality when the entire stress was on the aspect of physical martyrdom in the life of every individual believer. Amidst the persecutions and hatred towards the Christians, the community of believers sought its maturity and perfection of faith in accepting the physical martyrdom. Until Christianity became a well recognized and esteemed religion in the great Roman Empire, the supreme test of the faith was seen from one’s own readiness in surrendering one’s life for the Christian faith by embracing the physical martyrdom. At this time, the individual’s personal faith was considered most vital. The catechetical training offered to the Catechumens always stressed on the teachings of fundamentals of Christian faith, formation of a Christian conscience, and on an ability to witness the Christian faith bravely. In the context of a new history of Christianity which emerged by the support of the Roman Emperor Constantine, we find the unfolding of a new Christian spirituality. The Christian perfection was sought not from a view point of physical threats and persecutions but from an aspect of spiritual martyrdom. Hence, the Christian spirituality in that period stressed much on the fuga mundi (flee from the world) aspect for maturing in the Christian faith. Life in the world was considered the biggest hindrance and threat for salvation of the souls. Consequently, we find that the committed Christians used to flee from the world and settle themselves in the deserts and forests to spend their time in prayer and asceticism. This could be seen as an archetype of our religious life. At this period the question was not a community life and its mission, but it was more on an individual’s search for personal holiness and the salvation of one’s own soul through a kind of white martyrdom.
NEW SPIRITUALITY BASED ON COMMUNION AND MISSION
The Christian spirituality then eventually evolved into a new shape. From the aspects of physical and white martyrdoms, it was directed towards emphasizing more on the Christian holiness and perfection which was witnessed through a community life which was combined with a radical mission in the world. During the First and Second World War, we could find in the history of the Church, an abrupt emergence of so many Congregations and Apostolic Institutes that were established for rendering services to the injured, illiterate, underprivileged, and afflicted humanity. A holy life within a community combined with the mission of ministering the poor became the hallmark of the Christian spirituality at this time. Thus, the community life and its mission towards the deprived were considered as something very fundamental to the religious call. In the new born Congregations, the disciples of Jesus began to discover the profundity of their spiritual perfection and the maturity of their Christian faith in the categories of community and apostolates. Here we can identify the Christian spirituality which was pointed more on the personal holiness within a community and a committed life for a world of suffering. Rather than running away from the world, the Christians by now discovered their new spirituality as something that would sanctify the world by their personal presence and ministry. Their living together in a community was strengthened by their mission of becoming the ‘salt of the earth and light of the world.’ The aspects such as prayer, poverty, chastity, obedience, and community life got their new relevance in the context of the sufferings of the fellow human beings in the milieu of a broken world.
BASIS OF COMMUNION AND MISSION
The religious life is through and through comprehended as a communion and mission. We cannot flee from any of these essential aspects. The disciples, to whom Jesus confided his mission, knew that proclamation has to be done, first and foremost, through their witness of life. The disciples were aware that they were the witnesses of the Good News revealed in Jesus Christ (1Jn. 1:1-3). Jesus’ intention of selecting the twelve as a community has greater value to live and test the Good News within their community. Before the transmission of the truth there must be a life behind the message. A message lived only could be meaningfully transmitted. Our religious community life is then an essential testing ground for the Good News which we have to put in practice in our apostolates. Therefore, the primary mission of the religious community is to bear witness, through its life and words, to the Gospel ideal of fraternal communion. Redemptoris missio states that the first form of evangelization is witness. It declares: “The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of mission” (no. 42a). We must also keep in our mind the truth that Jesus formed the community of the Twelve in view of the mission of establishing the Kingdom of God. Jesus formed them into a community in order to send them out to the poor. So the community life for them was part of their formation that they may bear witness to Jesus in the world. Thus, the communion and mission are intrinsically connected with each other.
COMMUNION AND MISSION IN OUR CONTEXT
In the postmodern time, our contexts are different and diverse. The Christian spirituality challenges us to view the religious life with a renewed outlook. The State within every country looks after the primary needs and the requirements of its citizens in the fields of education, development, and health care. The private sectors have developed all possible avenues with super specialties to meet the needs of the people. But the reality is that the poor remains still the poor. They are not able to catch up the pace of the new world order- globalization, and their lives become increasingly burdensome and grievously affected in the present state of affairs. If we need to establish a sound relationship between our faith and life, and between the religious community life and mission we must make a preferential choice for the poor. Some years ago the same slogan had knocked at the door of our religious communities and spirituality. But it vanished as though we had the deaf ears. A religious life dedicated for the poor was unrequited and the concept was frozen without making any momentum in the lives and decisions of our religious communities. But we need to hear the same clarion call for becoming authentic religious. Our institutions are now stabilized by the secular values and worldly expectations. The spiritual aspect has lost its influence on our minds! We now are pleased to cater the privileged and the rich. Cumulating the money has become our ignominious agenda. Under the pretext of the mission, we fail to our personal holiness and responsibilities towards community life. Moreover, the outcome of our mission endangers all our spiritual effectiveness. The students who pass from our prestigious institutions turn out to be our own oppressors and anti-Christians. At this juncture, the Christian spirituality should inspire us with radical decisions for an urgent change in all our Congregations. The dimensions like personal holiness, community life, and the mission must come in forefront with equal sense of balance.
CONCLUSIONWe need to read the signs of our afflicted world to become an answer to its outcries. The domestic slowdown and global meltdown combine to hit output, incomes, and investments which force the companies to slash jobs for survival. We read that India catches the global chill as India Inc issues pink slips to nearly a million workers. India Today commented that losing a job is traumatic, especially in India where there is no social security net. The yellow fever of inflation triggered by high oil and commodity prices started haunting our country’s economy. The internal security of our country is challenged in the recent incidents of terrorism. We are shocked to learn about the involvement of a serving army officer with a terror outfit and an opposition party vehemently trying to hide the soaring truth. Again the bad boys of Mumbai violating the most fundamental of rights: the right of an Indian to live and work in any part of India. The sure and secure guardians of our country betray the innocent citizens for their selfish interests. Political leaders have considered their ministry to piling up the treasures. The corruption has reached all throughout in the nerves of religion and society. The increased number of suicide, violence, mass poverty, and communal violence are threatening us at the core. The arrogant primacy of religion over the humanity and the blocking of minority rights by the majority cause greater affliction. The self-proclaimed guardians and dictators are taking the country’s law and order in their hands just to jeopardize and vandalize them and destroy the untainted notion of etiquette and decorum. The Hindu fundamentalists’ freehand to destroy and kill the Orissa Christians and the several attacks on the minorities all over the country, have brought us new bewilderment. We feel that the most revered Laws, norms of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity are deleted from the life style of many of our ordinary Indians. Our existence upon this planet earth has been vehemently threatened by variety of problems. Amidst all these crises and confusions the Indian democracy allows the political parties to imagine ever new dirty tricks to acquire more power in order to squeeze the fellow citizens and amass money and prominence. Standing in front of these crises how do we imagine our mission and community life as the disciples of Jesus? At least, we should redeem that small part of our world, which we have occupied for our existence. Then, at least, that space will witness the joys and values of the Gospel. What the newly elected President of America, Barack Obama, spoke to the American people in his victory speech is worth pondering: “The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.” The dreams of Jesus of Nazareth will also be one day realized through our authentic communion and mission in the religious life.