FORMATION FOR MISSION
I. Our Mission to the World
It is almost a truism nowadays to say that the Church is missionary by nature. Matthew reports that, before leaving his disciples, Jesus told them: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time" (Mt. 28:18-20).
At first sight, this text does not seem to flow logically. There seems to be a "non sequitur". The first sentence affirms the authority of Jesus in "heaven and on earth". Then there is a "therefore" which implies cause and effect, but the effect, that the disciples go and "make disciples of all nations", does not seem to be connected to the cause. How does Jesus’ authority in heaven and on earth, the cause, result in the disciples having to make other disciples, the effect?
Jesus was never big on authority. Whenever people tried to make him king, he just left them standing and went somewhere else. Whenever he spoke of authority it was always in terms of service or in terms of criticising those who misused it. So why is he pulling rank now just before leaving his disciples? Or is he pulling rank? I believe that the authority he is speaking of is his victory over sin and death, his resurrection, through which he has become the universal Lord who saves all peoples of all cultures and in all ages. And it is his disciples who are now to continue his work, it is they who must bring this saving power of Jesus to all peoples and all cultures in all ages. Hence cause, the saving power of Jesus, and effect, the saving of the peoples of all nations by his emissaries, hence also the truth that the Church is by its very nature missionary.
We all subscribe to the truth that the Church is missionary by nature and that every disciple of Jesus must be a missionary. But many Christians, and also some of us Carmelites, have difficulty coming to terms with this truth. Many Christians (and Carmelites) settle for a comfortable style of life and appease their consciences by "buying black babies in Africa" with a few pennies or pounds or thousands of dollars, or by contributing to various urgent appeals and projects. We also pray for the missions, of course. We also admire missionaries and love to "spoil" them when they come home for a rest. Why is it then that there is that residue of unspoken guilt whenever we hear that we (especially those of us living in the affluent West), the living stones who make up the Church, are missionary by nature? Why is it that we look for watered down explanations of this truth with such expressions as: ‘but not all are called to be missionaries’, ‘it takes a special person to be a missionary’, etc.
There is no question that Christ’s words are addressed to each and every one of us. There is no doubt that each and every one of us has the duty to be a missionary, to "go … make disciples of all the nations", to make the mystery of Christ the centre of all cultures, and to be aware that he is present with us everywhere and at all times. TO MAKE CHRIST THE CENTRE OF ALL CULTURES. This is the Mission of the Church, this is our Mission, no matter where we live: to make Christ the centre of each and every culture, in the developed as well as the developing countries, in faith filled and faithless societies.
We have used the words "mission" and "missions" above. They are closely connected but not synonymous. The word "mission" comes from the Latin "mittere" to send. In our context we have to ask, who sends whom, to whom, where and for what? The answers to these questions lie in the text from Matthew (28:18-20) quoted above. It is Christ who sends all of his disciples to all the nations in order to "baptise" them, that is, to make his name known, to establish his kingdom, to implant his values of love, peace and inner joy. Whereas when we speak of "missions" we usually mean this same mission "ad gentes", this same mission taken to those peoples who have never heard of Christ and his Gospel, to those whom we used to falsely call "pagans", but who, in reality, have always had a faith. If there are any pagans today, it is the secularised, non-believers of the Western cultures. All of us have to be missionaries in the sense of making Christ the centre of our culture, but not all have to be missionaries ad gentes.
Our mission to the world, then, is to the whole world, to those who already believe and those who do not yet believe. It is to make people aware of Christ’s presence already in their midst. We must not assume such awareness in those who already believe, nor must we assume the absence of such awareness in those who do not believe in Christ.
So why mission? Because every person on earth has a right to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Everyone has the right to an opportunity to respond to this Good News in his or her way, and the freedom to accept or reject it. Every Christian has a duty, not to impose our belief on others, but to proclaim our faith through our words, actions and lives. The Spirit invites us to listen especially to the poor, the powerless and the oppressed, even to those of different or no faith, and to hear what God is saying to us through them.
For this mission to the world, formators have the task of, first themselves, believing in the importance of an on-going and never ending study of the local culture where they live with a view to discovering Christ who is there already in its positive values, and then, from their own conviction and not from text-books alone, of leading their formandi to the same belief and conviction. In this task, formators have to use discernment to recognise the Christian values in cultures and also to recognise if there are counter-Christian values there. But please do not throw the baby out with the bath water! We must not jump to the conclusion that something is counter-Christian before we examine it carefully and see whether it can be "baptised". A feast worshipping the birth of the Sun god may have easily been interpreted as counter-Christian, until it was "baptised" to become the feast worshipping the birth of the true Sun, the Son of God!
Formators need to be wary of tradition. It is a double-edged sword. It is the bearer of precious and wise beliefs and customs, but it can also be the excuse for many atrocious mistakes, sadly often committed in sincerity and in the name of piety. Because we have been doing or saying or believing something in a particular way for fifty or a hundred or five hundred years, this does not mean that we have to be doing, saying or believing the same thing in the same way now in a culture that is fast changing around us. Tradition and culture are not static but living organisms, which shed old skins and grow new ones while they remain the same continua. The old skins are dead matter and only a burden to carry with no role or function. The new skins bring new life and prospects for the future. The newness must not stay at a superficial level (new hymns, new architecture, new arrangements of furniture in Church, new gestures and vestments, etc.), but must go to the very heart, the very essence of each culture.
Let us listen to the cultures around us and stop thinking that cultures
have to listen to us! Let us stop thinking that the changes in cultures
are for the worse, that we can arrest the change in cultures and let us
examine the changes with an eye to reveal the Christ who lives in and through
them. God is the God of history, and history is being written every day
in the present, not in the past, and with a view to the future.
II. The Carmelite Charism and Mission
The Spirit blows where it wills and the Spirit has given the Order of Carmel a unique charism. Carmelites are
The Spirit has also blown a mighty and deep spirituality on the Order of Carmel, a spirituality that has grown and influenced and enriched the whole Church over many centuries.
These are gifts from the Spirit of God to Carmel, but these gifts are not for the glory of Carmel. Carmel is but the custodian of these gifts for the benefit of the Church and the world. Carmelites have the duty to share these gifts with the Church and the world. Once more these gifts are not static entities but riches to be invested and developed for the benefit of the Church and the world. We only have to think of our many masters of spirituality: John of St. Samson, Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi, Miguel de la Fuente, Brother Lawrence of the Mother of God, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux, who each in his or her way contributed to the enrichment and development of Carmelite spirituality. And Carmelites today continue to do the same. Think of Bl. Titus Brandsma, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and Bl. Hilarion Januszweski.
We have said that we have the obligation to share and spread these gifts which the Order has received from the Spirit. How do we do this?
1. By spreading our physical presence around the globe.In recent times, the Order has renewed its missionary zeal in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. It continues to spread its outreach in all these continents where so many men and women are waiting to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. These missions ad gentes as well as future ones are an essential way of spreading the charism and spirituality of the Order.
It is important to be wary that as we implant the Order in various cultures, we do not also implant Latin philosophical, theological, spiritual, liturgical ways of thinking and doing things. We must not "transplant" the Latin church to these cultures, but rather encourage these local cultures to grow a local church and Order. It is the duty of the Vatican to watch over unity and orthodoxy, but not to impose uniformity or a distorted accommodation of local cultures to the Latin culture. Christ was an Asian who knew very little of the Roman or Latin culture!
Formators have the task of understanding the difference between unity and uniformity. Formators need to encourage and give the opportunity to their formandi to immerse themselves and really study their culture and learn to philosophise, theologise, pray and express themselves liturgically in their local idiom and living tradition.
As we tend to have more and more international communities of formandi, formators cannot be expected to study all the cultures. But they can encourage their formandi to study their African, Asian, Latin American or Eastern European cultures, systems of philosophy and theology, and to develop their own Carmelite spirituality and their own liturgy. Our Carmelite Provinces and Commissariats too must not impose uniformity but be concerned about unity in diversity.
2. By fostering good vocations.
If we believe in our mission to spread our charism and spirituality by spreading our physical presence around the globe, we need personnel, vocations, but good vocations.
I do not believe that the Spirit is not calling men and women to the religious life in the Western cultures. I do believe we are not reading the Western cultures properly, we are not being relevant to these cultures. In a world that is changing at an ever increasing rate, formators in the West have to look to the present and the future, not the past, and prepare their formandi for tomorrow not for yesterday, in spite of much resistance both from official and unofficial sources!
In the developing countries we have many vocations. It is harvest time there. This puts an even greater burden on formators not to imitate the West, not to try to be photocopies of the West, but to forge authentic Carmelites in the local idiom and culture. Formators here have to form the missionaries of the present and the future. They too are called to "make disciples of all nations"; perhaps in the very nations that founded them in the first place. But they must first become authentic Zimbabwean, Congolese, Mozambican, Indonesian, Filipino, Indian, Peruvian, Venezuelan, Mexican, Romanian, Ukrainian or whatever else Carmelites.
3. By giving witness to our charism and spirituality by our lives.
As we spread around the world and acquire many candidates, it is essential that we experience God in our contemplation, in each other, in our fraternity, in our work and in the people whom we serve. We must experience the hand of God in life’s events and the face of God in the cultures around us. Above all we must be attentive to and familiar with the Word of God. We must also give witness to the world around us and to the world beyond our confines by the living out of our charism and spirituality.
In my experience, formators are very good at setting an example of and teaching our charism and our spirituality within the precincts of our houses of formation. It is absolutely essential that this experience of God be personal and intense. Formators are good at leading our formandi towards such a personal experience. Perhaps what needs more emphasis is the fact that this personal and intense experience of God must also lead to witness, to mission. Therefore, I believe that mission and missions should be an integral part of our programme of formation.
4. By being prophets in the style of Elijah.
Elijah was a prophet who lived constantly in the presence of God and who, consequently, became involved in matters of justice both on the political as well as on the individual level. He knew his human limitations and weaknesses, but he was ever open to the voice of the Spirit and was willing to follow wherever the Spirit led him.
It is not enough that we produce Carmelites who live in the presence of God. The poor, the marginalised, the exiled, the persecuted, the tortured, those sold into slavery, all cry out for justice. They cry out for our hand in the Congo, in Sudan, in Sierra Leone, in Burundi and Rwanda, in Angola, in Ethiopia and Eritrea, in East Timor, in Kashmir, in the Punjab, in Yugoslavia, in Colombia… We need not take on the whole world, but we must not be just observers and prayers either!
Formators need to form their formandi to be true prophets who do not stop at praying for the world, but who extend their hand and their voice to those calling for help. Bishop Lamont was a good example as a prophet in Zimbabwe. We have other prophets who are quietly working away in various parts of the world. When I was in North Sumatra, I witnessed many injustices perpetrated by the local authorities, the police and the military on the poor farmers and on the political scene. We, that is, I and the other Carmelites in the area, could not keep silent. We protested and protected the poor, often with positive results. The authorities also needed evangelisation for often "they knew not what they were doing".
Spiritual treatises, theological theories, ethical teachings, ritual performances, will not transform the lives of people. What does transform the lives of people is the mystical experience of God. All our teaching, preaching and praying will be in vain unless they flow from our contemplation of the Word of God and bring this same Word of God to others. All our structures, plans and endeavours will fail unless they touch the existential lives of the people we serve. As Karl Rahner once said: "The Christian of the future will be a mystic, or no Christian at all!"
5. By imitating Mary the evangeliser.
III. The Carmelites in a multinational world
"Globalisation" and "multinational" are terms often heard in modern parlance.
In brief, globalisation is the process by which countries are rendered uniform in economics, culture, family relationships, etc. through the influence of multinational companies such as Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Sony, the petroleum giants, etc. and by technical means such as refrigerators, washing machines, television, internet, etc. Those who support globalisation point out its unifying character as it brings all nations into one economic system and renders development easy. They say also that it brings different peoples and cultures closer together, promoting better understanding among them. Those who criticise globalisation say that the system of free market only benefits the rich nations and the rich corporations and leaves the poor poorer. The experience of the last few decades of globalisation has shown the second opinion to be true. Those responsible for globalisation need to look not only at the economic gains made by countries and large companies, but also and especially at the effect it has on poor countries and peoples of the world and see that these share in the benefits it brings.
"Multinational" may be understood to mean that a company or group is represented in many countries around the world. In this sense the Order of Carmel is multinational. It may also mean that a group is made up of several nationalities. In this sense too, some of our communities are becoming multinational.
Both these terms have commercial and often negative connotations. In our context, therefore, I prefer to use the term universal. The Church (and the Order) is universal not just in the sense that it is spread across the world. This is the poorest sense in which the Church is universal. It is universal in the sense that it proclaims that the Word of God became man in order to save the whole world. Therefore, this proclamation is true for all nations and in all ages. It also means that wherever the Church exists, it is universal, especially when it takes on the mind, the heart, the spirit, and the culture of the place where it is.
The universal Church has to walk together in communion and in solidarity with all men and women of good will. And so does our Order. This communion is based on the fact that we recognise that each and every person is created in the image of God and is endowed with the dignity of a child of God. In this sense, then, there is neither Greek nor Hebrew, European nor African, American nor Asian, believer nor non-believer. All merit the same inalienable respect. In Christ and his saving power, we believe that we are all one, united in one human family. Different, yes, but not better or worse, superior or inferior, right or wrong.
The world is full of tribal wars, in Yugoslavia, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, Colombia, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the list goes on and on. Christ came to bring peace and brotherhood among people. Sometimes I hear that we cannot send our Carmelite candidates from one country to be formed in another country because of political and tribal enmities or because one nation considers itself superior to the other, or because of cultural and linguistic differences. If we, as Christians, let alone as Carmelites, cannot understand each other and live in communion as children of God, then we have failed in our vocation and there is no hope for the world!
This multinational trend will increase in the future in the Order, because if we are to spread our charism and spirituality to new fields, we will have to do so by collaborating among Provinces and Commissariats. Formators have an important role to play in this matter, namely, to implant the idea of communion while preserving diversity.
V. Historical Missions
1. The Apostles
Their theology was direct: they proclaimed the death of Christ for the salvation of humankind and his resurrection in proof of his divinity. Rather than theologise, they gave witness to their faith by their life and by their death at the hands of their persecutors. They gave practical solutions to problems, which arose among them, such as the debate about circumcision of gentiles and the so-called Petrine, and Pauline privileges.
Theirs was a mission of first evangelisation among people who had never heard of Christ. They did not build churches, monasteries, schools, hospitals, etc. They continued with their daily occupations, and met in the houses of the faithful to pray and celebrate the Eucharist. They gave witness through the sharing of their earthly goods and their joy.
The Church continued its missionary activities by sending missionaries to what were then far off lands, such as Gaul, Britain and Germany. Structures began to be evident in the Church, and the Popes sent missionaries.
As structures grew so also one begins to notice that gradually the idea of nulla salus extra ecclesiam gained ground. Christ is very much the centre of missionary activity, but one begins to notice that alongside the Gospel there are ecclesiastical canons, which regulate procedures in the established churches and on the missions. Formulae begin to appear and these become a kind of mini catechism. Missionaries begin to refer matters of some difficulty to Rome and Rome, consequently, grows in power and control.
About the fifth century we see the growth of styles of monastic life, which are also called upon to send missionaries ad gentes. These missionaries still proclaimed the Good News in public places, but they also began to build places of worship and monasteries.
The new Orders were most zealous in their mission both at home against the heretics and in the newly discovered lands where they brought with them the mentality and theology of Europe. All local beliefs, customs and cultures had to be destroyed. Salvation was through baptism in the Catholic Church. Hence the success of missionaries was measured by the number of baptisms performed. Religious education in the European mode was most important.
Thus in Europe, mission took the form of a re-evangelisation, whereas in the newly discovered lands it was a case of first evangelisation. In the new lands it was assumed that missionaries would have to come continually from Europe. It was the church of Europe transplanted to these mission areas, and it was the church of Europe, which had to support the missions in perpetuity.
This was the age of the so-called enlightenment, of rationalism, of anti-clericalism, of revolutions, of liberalism and of new inventions, which were set to influence greatly traditional cultures everywhere, but especially in Europe, North America and Australia.
The theology of the Church, however, did not alter much. It was still set on the belief that outside the Church there was no salvation in its narrow sense, and that it was only through baptism that a person could be saved.
The missionaries carried with them this theology which in many cases caused anxiety and scruples in them because they were afraid lest through their neglect they might be the cause of the eternal damnation of some souls. Local religions and traditions were considered the devil’s work. There were some rare exceptions to this rule, but Rome quickly crushed them. One very notable example is that of Fr. Ricci, the Jesuit, in China. Also many missionaries studied local languages and cultures and wrote much on these from a sympathetic point of view. However, Catholic doctrine, morals and the sacraments, transplanted from Europe with little consideration for local conditions, remained the essential elements for the true faith and as a condition of salvation. All these factors, in general, made the missionary an unyielding, severe and paternalistic person.
Missionaries also built churches, schools, hospitals, and workshops and ran development projects. However, even these material initiatives were seen from the eschatological point of view as a means to conversion and therefore to eternal life. Missions became centres where catechumens were kept to protect them from "pagan" cultures and expose them to Christian influences. Religious Orders and missionary Congregations who had the sole responsibility for the evangelisation of extensive areas ran the local churches.
One of the consequences of this kind of missionary work was that it was hard to recognise a missionary as belonging to any particular Order or Congregation since all were taken up with the same duties as priests, builders, health officers, arbitrators, advocates and anything else that the mission required. This kind of mission did not do much for the development of the charisms of the Orders and Congregations.
The theological thinking of this period, under the influence of some European theologians, took a new direction. The Church and missionaries started thinking in terms of establishing a local church. At the same time some doubts were beginning to be expressed as to the quality of Christianity in Europe.
Mission territories began to have bishops and dioceses were divided into parishes. Local vocations were encouraged. The bishops came from among the European missionaries because there was no local clergy as yet. Religious Orders also began to take local vocations. This meant that Orders, from being the nomads of the mission territories who moved freely and did not take root anywhere, took on structures and tasks, which bound them permanently to certain places.
Orders lost their juridical responsibility over particular areas and they became responsible to the bishop in pastoral and liturgical matters. As the local clergy increased in numbers, the religious priests withdrew from various activities and bishops began to look on them as assistants to the diocese, to fill in the blanks in their dioceses.
This was a great change for the missionaries who had to rethink the methodology of missionary activity. Religious Orders in the missions began to take stock of their particular charism and to see what their charism could contribute to the mission. Orders started their own seminaries, built their own centres of spirituality and carried out apostolates more immediately consonant with their charism.
Vatican II moved away from nulla salus extra ecclesiam or at least it gave that statement the broadest of meanings. It redefined mission as follows: "Missionary activity is nothing else and nothing less than a manifestation or epiphany of God’s will and the fulfilment of that will in the world and in world history" (AG no.9). This was an admission of the realisation that the Church was not going to make everyone Catholic and that it had to learn to dialogue with other religions. Emphasis changed from salvation in the Church to salvation in Christ.
Thus it is no longer a question of conquering people for the Church or for God or of expanding the Church’s dominion. Missionary activity is seen more in its Scriptural context as a continuation of the mission of building God’s Kingdom, that is, to fulfil God’s design for the world. This embraces all mankind and all of creation. Missionaries must still bring the Gospel to all nations, still preach essential doctrines and morals and administer the sacraments. However, now it is no longer a question of seeking numbers and territory, but of making the Church present.
Vatican II caused much rethinking about missions and Orders, including ours, rewrote their Constitutions including the articles regarding missions.
The Carmelite family has many missions in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. In the coming years we will be establishing more missions in these areas. We are engaged in parishes, education, health services and development projects. We also have formation houses in some of these mission areas. In some cases initial formation is being carried out in the mission area. In other cases, initial formation is being done in one of the established Provinces in Europe or North America.
We, especially those among us who are formators, need to ask ourselves:
There is an absolute link between renewal and mission. I am not sure that we have learnt this lesson yet. In our formation programmes we still tend to cling to past practices and past beliefs like a drowning man clings to a straw! Renewal is essential and renewal means understanding in depth and keeping up with the development taking place in world cultures in order to keep on finding Christ there and in order to "baptise" them.
Renewal is not about increasing membership in the Church or the Order. It is not about increasing contributions. It is not about making liturgy more engaging, although that helps a great deal. It is about being where people are, it is about reconciling people with God, and it is about witnessing against injustice and hatred. It is not about theoretical or dogmatic theology. It is about existential theology. The Church does not exist in the abstract or in general. It is always situated in particular cultures. We need to read all the Scriptures and particularly the Acts of the Apostles carefully once more! We need to understand that the true nature of the Church is missionary, not to take care of traditions or liturgies or structures or institutions or traditional theologies or canon law! It is certainly not about power and control! We must return to the very reason for which the Church was founded by Jesus Christ, namely, MISSION to the world, and that means reconciling humankind and God and reconciling humans among themselves, that also means witnessing to the reign of God
VII. Some Conclusions and Suggestions
A Final Word
I would like to conclude this paper by stating that formators are the most important people in the Order. It is they who bear the responsibility and task of passing on to new generations the charism and spirituality of the Order, and the future of the Order lies in the manner in which they carry out this burdensome task.
Formators are also the unsung heroes of the Order who have to put up with the criticism of many who think they know better how to carry out their task, including yours truly!
Be not discouraged; just place your trust in God and Our Lady of Mount
Carmel. We can only do our best and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit who
will surely lead us to fulfil our vocation according to his will.