On Monday 30th of January, we began the formative phase of our renewal course. It has been an interesting and intense week, majorly dedicated to wading through the deep waters of the Bible. Given that we all finished our basic theological studies in the last century, and it has been amazing to discover how new theological researches have changed interpretations of some very known biblical passages. Guided by experts, mainly from the PONTIFICIO ISTITUTO BIBLICO (Biblicum), our biblican journey began with questions around the faith of the apostles, as presented by Matthew the Evangelist. Matthew leads us in to the hearts of the apostles, with special attention to Peter’s, helping us to discover their faith struggle. Our own history is depicted in these matthean chronicles; we also struggle with faith. The three matthean episodes that present Peter’s faith struggle – 14, 22-33; 16, 13-23 and 26, 31-75 – are our own faith pilgrimage. Yet there is a consoling message: the Lord, after rising from the dead, on meeting the apostles on the ascension mountain, doesn’t dwell on their faith struggle but rather renews his trust in them by engaging them in a mission. The Lord does the same with us. Our weak faith is not a hindrance to accomplishing the mission he has entrusted us with. This was our first stop.
Our next stop in this spiritual biblical expedition is the epilogue of Saint John’s gospel, when the risen Lord shares a meal with de disciples (John 21,1-22). The disciples’ mission ‘had failed’; they didn’t have a catch. Yet, even without recognising the Lord, they trust and obey; and this is the turning point. Their obedience lead to the success of the mission, as is illustrated in the quantity of their catch. The call to love and to trust is eternal, as Jesus shows in his rather-tough-and-reinvigorating dialogue with Peter (John 21,15-19). Three times he asks if Peter loves him, three times he tells him to take care of the flock; and at the end he repeats the same words he had said to him when they first met: “follow me.” He renews the first call, inviting Peter and us to continue following as missionary-disciples, to remain faithful and, renewed by love, to stay focused on the mission commended to them. The theme of the mission was reiterated in our next stop, on the way to Emmaus with Cleophas and his companion. At this stop, the General Secretary of the Pontifical Missionary Union, Fr. Dihn Anh Nhue Nguyen, helps us dissect the Holy Father’s message for World Mission Day 2023, highlighting that rather than being an individual enterprise, mission is a community undertaking. This year’s message has to be read alongside that of last year, since they are a continuity and both invite us to renew our missionary zeal. Our projects can crumble or even be crucified, as was the case of the Emmaus disciples. In such a situation, we should allow the Lord to speak to us again, to warm our hearts anew, for cold hearts cannot make other hearts burn. “Missionary conversion, as individual and as communities, should be our principal goal,” concludes Fr. Nguyen.
Our next stops point to the missionary attitudes and the manner of achieving them. The stop at the community of Saint Luke puts before us deep questions about mercy. This is a community with so many rich people, who found it difficult to share their wealth; hence Luke’s focus on mercy. What characterises Jesus’s ministry – his deeds, his parables, his speeches – in Luke’s Gospel is the emphasis on mercy as GIVING and PERDONING. As Pope Francis (Misercordia et misera, 1) reminded us during the Year of Mercy, mercy is not bout judging or condemning, but giving and forgiving, and this the content of Luke’s Gospel. Jesus’ journey towards Jerusalem (9,51-19-48) accentuates it in a very particular way: his response to rejection by the Samaritans (9,51-55), the Sabbath healings (13, 10-17; 14,1-6; 17-11-16), the teachings on mercy (14, 12-14; 17, 3-4; 18-18-23; 19,1-10), the parables of mercy (12,16-21; 16, 19-31).
Two women theologian accompanied us to discover how the word of God transforms our hearts and how to renew our sense of discipleship. So as to be transformed by the WORD, we need to be aware of our desire for HIM. This desire is manifest in the questions we put before him, and in our openness to receive his response. As for the question of discipleship, we are called to construct together, to enter in to strong relationships with one another and with the people. Following Jesus means being open to “build dreams together”. As Pope Francis reminds us: “By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams… are built together. Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travellers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all (Fratellli Tutti, #8). This is discipleship: dreaming together, risking it all, collectively overcoming the fear of the new.
Our expedition which began by sea of Galilee, ends at the table of the last supper, with the question of the parenethical meaning of the washing of the feet (Juan 13). Verses 6-8 and 12-15 give us the hint for a parenthetical interpretation. In the dialogue with Peter, in response to Peter’s refusal to be let his feet be washed, Jesus tells the disciple that unless his feet are washed he has no part with him. You and I have no part in his mission and destiny unless he allows our feet to be washed. At the end of the washing, he makes the meaning of the whole exercise clearer: Do you understand’, he said, ‘what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you. Discipleship is all about being one with the Master, and being a sacrament of HIS presence in our milieu. Discipleship is about service to others. That glaring example is our fountain from where we drink to become true apostle-disciples whom, in union with him, wash the feet of men and women who live in our midst.
One of the best moments of this week was our meeting with the community of the General House. This meeting had the objective of letting us introduce ourselves to the community. Three continents (Africa, America y Europa) and ten countries of origin (Argentina, Brasil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique, Italia, Portugal, Uruguay) represented by 29 missionaries, working in four different continents. This was a real intercultural cartography of our institute, absolute beauty of Maria Consolata in her true colours. In this space, Sala Colonna, all the faces of ad gentes could be envisaged. Many of us, in this course, were able to share their missionary-life experiences, to give the General House community some little taste of the mission. In this way, the divergent fields and missionary options where our charism becomes incarnate, painted Blessed Joseph Allamano’s dream in this small space. Our meeting ended with a prayer for our departed brothers, those heroes who, in the past, also painted the ad gentes map with the Consolata colours.
This has been a week marked by theological renewal, where our rather-rusted-theology got a bit of greasing, to try and catch up with theological research and jargons. It was also a week of spiritual regeneration, in the company of our Mother Mary and the four evangelists. There were also beautiful liturgical moments when we were able to share the different spiritual experiences from different missions where we work.
Josiah K’Okal, imc
Chrispine Okello, imc