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Religious life: engaging with the whole of creation

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June 26, 2015

Br Rod Doyle cfc150REFLECTION - The Year of Consecrated Life was initiated by Pope Francis on the First Sunday of Advent (30th November, 2014). In recent years much has changed within religious life, as indeed within the Church generally. To establish perspective accordingly, it will be helpful to look at a couple of examples from the earliest of Christian times according to the author of Luke-Acts.

Acts 8:26-40, the Ethiopian Eunuch, and Luke 24:13-35, Disciples en route to Emmaus

The two stories are well known, but perhaps some of the parallels and contrasts can furnish us with food for thought. Please read both accounts before continuing. (In what follows, the Acts account is mentioned first as the newly baptised Christian is compared with two disciples who have been conversant with the events in Jerusalem.)

The eunuch is returning from worshipping in Jerusalem. His worshipping would have been at a remove from the assembled people: in spite of his high position in Ethiopia, as a eunuch he was not admitted to “the assembly of the Lord” (Deut 23:1). For the disciples the loss of their Master, and in such circumstances, was overwhelming; they were morally shattered.

Reading the Scriptures (Isa 53:7-8), the difficulty for the eunuch was clear: “How can I understand unless someone guides me?” The difficulty for the disciples: “How slow to believe all the prophets spoke to them.” The solution: Philip sits beside the eunuch and “starting with (this) scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.” Accompanying the disciples, “(Jesus), beginning with Moses and all the prophets, interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” To the beginner there is proclamation; to those along the way there is interpretation. In the case of the Ethiopian, there is the life of Jesus giving meaning to the Scripture; to the disciples Scripture is giving meaning to the life of Jesus. The climax for the Ethiopian is the accompanying Baptism; for the disciples recognition of the risen Lord “in the breaking of the bread”—Eucharist.

The two cornerstones of the practice of Christianity, Baptism and Eucharist, appropriately conclude the events. However, they are effected through two occasions of another sharing: the Spirit impels Philip to approach the Ethiopian and is invited to join him in the chariot; Jesus accompanies the disciples on their journey and stays with them at the village.

Reflection

Involvement with and concern for others are challenges for all Christians; love of one’s neighbour is a universal command. The particular shape in which this involvement and concern challenges Religious in more recent times may be discerned in the way in which the thinking of one spiritual writer has developed when describing the Vows. Diarmuid O’Murchu, in Reframing Religious Life (1990), characterised the three Vows: Celibacy—Relatedness, Poverty—Stewardship, Obedience—Partnership. Late in the same decade, O’Murchu, in Poverty, Celibacy, Obedience (1999), refined these to: Celibacy—Relatedness, Poverty—Mutual Sustainablity, Obedience—Mutual Collaboration.

The suggestions present within such changes represent a clear development within religious life that has moved beyond what so many of us in earlier times expressed as a renunciation of “the world and its pomps” to an active engagement with the whole of creation. “World” has both positive and negative overtones: both senses can be found in the one work in Scripture: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:15); “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:19). Almost always in earlier religious life the negative connotation was understood (John 3:15 notwithstanding!).

Some may suspect that in these days we may have “moved the goalposts” in embracing the world and indeed the whole of creation, and that our retreat from people and from the world generally is the appropriate action and approach to take. But such an attitude flies in the face of Scripture. In the creation account of Genesis 1, there is repeated stress on the goodness of created things (see vv.12,18,25) and especially the conclusion, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (v.31). Perhaps today, we have moved the goal posts back to their rightful place!

The attitude of withdrawal and retreat is also opposed directly to the exhortation of Pope Francis. In his address to participants of the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (Rome, November 29, 2014), two days before the start of the Year of Consecrated Life, Francis said:

We must not be afraid to leave the ‘old wineskins,’ that is, to renew those habits and structures that, in the life of the Church and in consecrated life, we recognize as no longer responding to what God asks today for his Kingdom to advance in the world: the structures that give us false protection…; the habits that distance us from the flock to which we are invited and that impede us from hearing the cry of all those awaiting the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The sentiment of Baba Amte, devout follower of Mahatma Gandhi, might conclude this short reflection: “I sought my God; my God I could not see. I sought my soul; my soul eluded me. I sought my neighbour, and I found all three.”

Source: Catholic Religious Australia, June 15, 2015

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