Reflection for the Solemnity of the Lord’s Resurrection
Theology is and will always be an exercise in spiritual reflexivity: a critical reflection and analysis of contemporary existential phenomena, including premises about ourselves and about our relationships with one another, within the dynamic of much larger human realities, and in the light of Scriptures as norma normans non normata, and of Judeo-Christian tradition.
Theology is a service of and for us in particular contexts, ultimately aimed at a more meaningful comprehension of what the Divine is telling us through these same phenomena; and if I may add, of what this Spirit who altogether inspires salvation within history, is urging us as active responses to it.
In other words, the theological enterprise must always be and must move beyond the traditional posturing of fides quaerens intellectum to the more relevant posturing of fides quaerens actio.
A posturing of fides quaerens actio as suggested, in order to remain relevant, presupposes our openness to social change, because contemporary existential phenomena which the theological enterprise seeks to scrutinize, ruminate upon and refer as the basis for future pastoral action, is almost always susceptible to change, a continuous flux either determining or determined by shifting human choices and decisions.
Hans Küng once remarked, that our way of “being Church” must always consider and adopt a mindset of ‘constant reformation’: ecclesia semper reformanda. It will be seriously inadequate and irresponsible for us to depend only on the spiritual traditions we have inherited, because these traditions are or were relevant to specific historical and cultural contexts different from ours. Though our way of “being Church” may have been useful at some significant crossroads within our human story, it will not always be the case as our story evolves.
Should fides quaerens intellectum be fossilized into a defensive posturing characterized by mere rote memorization of articles of faith, in the face of the rising optimism or declining pessimism of science, critical thinking and economic progress? Worse, if these same spiritual traditions are inordinately placed at the service for the perpetuation of a social status quo seeking to centralize the world around itself, while excluding anyone who cannot or does not conform to its dictates, at the expense of other yet valid theological considerations, then the theological enterprise must indeed learn not only to go “back to the sources” to recollect its Judeo-Christian origins, but it has to go “out into the open seas,” to venture into intellectually uncomfortable zones where our worldviews are always being challenged by transforming systems of thought.
Hence, we must be courageous enough to engage with disturbing contexts that impact on the mental and emotional wellbeing of both Christians and non-Christians; and that we must seek to confront the intrinsic human tendencies to construct a defensive yet simultaneously oppressive posturing on one end, as well as to permit a multiplicity of irrelevant and incomprehensible theological rationalities on the other end, both of which will foster unnecessary disunity and violence. This therefore places our shared enterprise in a constantly enigmatic situation in which we have to be ever mindful about how theology is “done,” not on “what theology is,” but on “how theology can become.”
However, I am also proposing that a more relevant theology cannot merely stagnate or be fossilized into an “understood faith;” it must allow the momentum of its revealed dynamic to transform it into an “acted-upon faith.”
A creed cannot fully become a creed upon comprehension, but only upon its concretization; beliefs on redemption, salvation or liberation are much less sensible when they cannot nurture mutually responsible people joyfully living peaceful lives. Didn’t Edward Schillebeeckx leave us with the conviction, Extra mundum nulla salus? Can we honestly preach for example, about “divine love” in a world full of alienation and hurt? Or can we simply deflect this shameful irony, and conveniently catechize about a “divine love” which can be realized only in “another world?” Can we honestly proclaim “God saves,” if an intelligible comprehension focuses only and ceases at “saving oneself,” and refuses to go beyond the indifference against “saving others?” What did the Christ really mean when he beseeched our Father, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven?”
Simply said, I am also proposing in integration, a “people-centered theology:” a theology of an “understood faith” of the people, inspiring an “acted-upon faith” by and for the people.
A methodology that insists on a sustained, “people-centered” dialogical communication cycle will primarily provide the reflexive processes necessary for attaining a relevant appreciation and evaluation of a social situation which must be effectively addressed. Otherwise, if the same social situation is assessed with haughty and biased preconceptions, faulty reasoning and a mere validation of one’s conditioned religious convictions, without the advantage of an inculcated discipline of self-criticism and continuous improvement, then there exists the risk of becoming irrelevant and thus, eventually becoming ineffective.
Appropriating my own Franciscan ethos of remaining humble in the face of greater realities, we can become “Church” when we seek “‘”to understand, not to be understood; to love, not to be loved; and to serve, not to be served upon.” I believe this Christian kenosis must become our ecclesiological and missiological imperative; our self-emptying must be fruitfully channeled for the fulfillment of the “forsaken other.” This framework is not only a tool, but a constant reminder of the need for consistent oblation in our individual vocations and communal mission.
It is much less useful in our time for us to speculate upon abstractions of a God who wishes to become involved with us in our daily tribulations, yet are not involved ourselves. Does not that make us inutile social voyeurs and impertinent theologians? We cannot be so preoccupied with contemplating only what “God means for me,” yet being deficient in understanding what “God means for all of us;” we are “dis-involving” him in our petty ruminations. To see is to join him in his involvement; to judge is to have recourse to him in his wisdom; and to act is to collaborate with him in his service. The underlying premise of the application of this “methodology of relevance” is the need for consequential action, the crucial movement towards fides quaerens actio.
Our faith-sickness as a Filipino “people of God” may lie less in the lack of recognition that “action is needed,” than in the slothful indecision on whether or not we should “be involved in the action” at all. We have not been very successful in integrating the faith that we profess, and the faith that we should put into practice; our social ills are manifestations of this “dis-integration.” We have opted to follow a “personal policy of minimum compliance:” choosing to obediently “believing in God” on Sundays, and conveniently disobeying him for the rest of the week (as if he wasn’t looking!). The unfortunate result is a pervading culture of indifference.
Our commitment as “response-able” theologians must be sealed with a concomitant commitment to praxis. We must all realize that we are the agents of our own development, the creators of our own destiny. We will thus have a lesser need for messianic political figures, than for strong inspirations from the Spirit to direct us from “indifference” to “making a difference.”
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.