I must feel every moment of these last few days of Advent . The labour pains of giving birth to new life are intense and not a little anxious. However,...
When I was a novice and scholastic, we were woken up each morning by a brother ringing a bell and proclaiming in a loud solemn voice Benedicamus Domino and we were instructed to reply Deo Gratias. The last thing that came into our irritated minds was to thank God. The same holds true of an alarm clock, it awakens us out of a deep sleep and often we are irritated. So if we are to wake up the world, shake up the world we will irritate people because they don’t want to wake up because so often we have been lulled into a sleep of indifference that strangles and suffocates us.
But who can wake up the Church or anything else except those who themselves are awake. St Paul announced this call to the Christians of Rome.
Romans 13:11 “Besides, you know the time has come, the moment is here for you to stop sleeping and wake up, because by now our salvation is nearer than when we first began to believe”.
In this passage Paul speaks of an appropriate time, a time to be interpreted, a time of absolute urgency. This is what Jesus meant when He encouraged us to read the signs of the times.
The Holy Father said to the Religious Superiors gathered together in Rome “Wake Up” the World, be prophets, be witnesses of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living. Be prophets by demonstrating how Jesus lived on earth and proclaimed the Kingdom of God in all its perfection. A Religious must never stop prophesising.
He goes on to say “prophecy makes a noise, ruido (Spanish for noise), an uproar, some say a mess”. Pope Francis spoke of the mess to the Youth in Brazil.
Consecrated life is not only a way of life that gives witness to the reality of God, the relevance of Jesus , and the work of the Spirit, it is also a way of life that contradicts the values of the world, the values of most of our society. It is a prophetic witness because it speaks out like all the prophets when others remain silent. Consecrated life is prophetic because it dares to stand up against the worldly values that most people just take for granted. It is prophetic because it wants to transcend the culture of sex, the culture of money, and the culture of individualism. The witness of religious life is that another world is possible. There is an alternative. We have adopted this consecrated way of life in order to remind people that a world of love and justice and peace and happiness is possible. We call it the kingdom or reign of God.
This prophetic way of life finds expression in the three vows or promise of our consecration: poverty, chastity and obedience.
Religious life is meant to be the prophetic voice of Christ in the Church and in the world. There is a parallel in the Old Testament when God gave Israel a king, He also gave them a prophet – whenever the King failed to represent God whose people he governed, the prophet came knocking at the door. Think of Nathan knocking at David’s door in the wake of David’s adultery.
Similarly Religious are meant to be the thorn in the side of the establishment when the establishment has lulled itself into an apathetic slumber. This has been the role of the Consecrated life in the history of the Church, to irritate the establishment when it fails to be the bearer of the dangerous memory of Jesus.
I came across an article by the German Theologian, Johannes Metz, Keeping alive the dangerous memory of Jesus of Nazareth – Bearers of the dangerous memory of Jesus.
This is evoked every time we put into action the practice of Jesus. I am told that Metz coined the phrase in the context of praxis as opposed to transcendental methods of doing theology.
The dangerous memory of Jesus is his suffering, death and resurrection which has broken the world’s assumption about power and violence and opens our eyes to the suffering of others especially the vulnerable and innocent. Its memory is dangerous, it continues to challenge the powerful of the world, power based on domination, exploitation and violence.
Dangerous because it draws us to the abandoned places, prisons, torture chambers, battlefields, homeless shelters, toxic dumps, car bomb victims, informal settlements and soup kitchens. Drawing us out of our comfort zones, class, race and culture to the humble service of creating the reign of God. In this age of wilful amnesia, such memories are dangerous.
Isn’t this precisely what our mothers and fathers of Religious life did? This is what inspired our founding mothers and fathers. They all fell in love with Jesus and they and their companions found themselves urged by the Spirit to become prophet of their time, urging both Church and Society to pay more attention to God and to those beloved of God. – the poor. They were lovers and bearers of the dangerous memory of Jesus of Nazareth.
Some of the practices of Jesus in the Gospel:
- This guest list was different to that of the Pharisees – the Religious leaders of that time.
“When you give a lunch or dinner, do not invite your friends, your relatives or neighbours, in case they invite you back and repay you. No, when you have a party invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind – then you will be blessed, for they l have no means to repay you. You will be repaid when the upright rise again”. (Luke 14.12-14)
- In the 4th chapter of John, in his dialogue with the woman at the well, he smashed three artificially constructed boundaries:
- Gender boundary
- Cultural boundary
- Religious boundary
This is what the Church prays for during this Year of Consecrated Life – for a faithful renewal of the charism of the founding mothers and fathers of Religious Congregations.
Dietrich Bonhoffer, a Lutheran theologian martyred by the Nazis, calls Mary’s Magnificat the oldest Advent hymn in which he describes it as the most passionate, the wildest one might say, the most revolutionary hymn ever sung. “He has pulled down princes from their thrones and raised high the lowly. He has filled the starving with good things and sent the rich away empty”. In the Magnificat, Mary sang a prophetic hymn of praise for God’s salvation. Mary joyfully sang her song, and because she did, the world was changed. We pray that during this year of Consecrated Life, all Religious and all of us will sing joyfully with Mary and “Wake up the World”.
+ Barry Wood OMI
Auxiliary Bishop of Durban