I have never been at the Dead sea, but I understand that it cannot sustain life. For starters, the Dead Sea is a lake that is situated between Israel and Jordan, and which fed mainly by the Jordan River, that enters the lake from the north. A key aspect that is worth mentioning is the fact that the lake has no outlet, and the heavy inflow of fresh water is carried off solely by evaporation, which is rapid in the hot desert climate. Well, that puts in perspective what I want us to reflect: movement as a sign of life. Of course, movement here does not just mean modification of position from one point to another, but change. The Dead Sea is dead not just because it does not sustain living things in it, but precisely because the lack of outlet means that there is no way of refreshing the water. We are alive because we breath in oxygen and carbon dioxide out. If we were not able to expel the carbon dioxide from us, we would just die. Probably this explains why motivational speakers tell people “change or die”.
If you have been keen about the documents of our Institute over a couple of years, including the recent Lineamenta we have been reflecting on in preparation of the general Chapter, there is a feeling of anxiety and fear in the air. All of us are preoccupied about the future of the Institute, and rightly so. It is encouraging to see that even in that not-so-beautiful situation, we are honest enough to acknowledge what we are, what we have become and what we dream to be as an Institute. The point is that the documents give a real picture of the Institute without sugar-coating anything and that is promising, since it shows that we are not like the Dead sea. Our agitation is positive because it is a sign of life. It would be a tragedy if we would be indifferently calm, while things fall apart.
Without justifying ourselves, it is important to remember that in the history of humanity, the difference between the ideal community and the actual community has always caused discomfort. True, our Institute is not what we wish it to be, but no human community has ever reached its ideal. Lack of perfection does not necessarily mean presence of evil. Instead, it is the expression of the needed amount of work in order to achieve the ideal. In truth, the difference between the idea and the actual is what makes us hopeful of tomorrow. That is also what Christian life is all about, since our daily struggle to attain the ideal is what being alive and converting mean. We may also say that the difference between what is idea and what is actual, makes us relevant in the world as witnesses of the gospel. According to our charism, it is precisely for this reason that we exist as Consolata Missionaries: evangelization of the non-Christians. Our concern today must therefore be about whether we are living according to the dream of our Founder, Bd. Joseph Allamano, or not. Let us put it in another way: no matter what we do (and even succeed), if we lose the Ad Gentes character of our charism, we have not only lost it, but we, ourselves are lost. We need to keep moving. Even with the challenges of personnel, we still need to struggle to open missions in ad Gentes context. Our mobility is a sign of vitality. As the pope says, we have to be outgoing because the moment we lose the outward movement, our death begins.
In truth, our effort to go “out” and encounter another person, is in itself a sign of vitality. When things are hard, the immediate reaction is to kickstart self-preservation mechanisms, some of which end up being more harmful than useful. The effort to encounter new faces says a lot. It is a pointer to optimism: hopefulness and confidence about the future. It is an acknowledgment that the other person is good in nature, regardless of what may be immediately physical, or regardless of what we may have accumulated from the reckless talk in the streets. Readiness to encounter new people is a recognition of the positive seed that is inherent in every person. The eagerness to move from one way of looking at people to another, that is from a prejudiced perspective to an objective one, is the first sign that we are able to see the image of God in the people who surround us. At the same time, our willingness to open doors for other people who come to us, is a sign of appreciation of the fact that other people are always a gift from God. This is the basis of mission Ad gentes. This is the only way, through which the gap between ideal community and the actual community can be reduced to almost nil. The actual community becomes almost the ideal community when two confreres are able to not just tolerate one another, but actually live together in harmony, each helping the other to carry his cross. The gap between the actual community and the ideal community become bearable, when we stop looking at our confreres as rivals and competitors, and begin looking at them as collaborators and companions on the journey. That is the goal of the Lenten period.
As you would expect, that dream of our Christian struggle is not something that just happens. It is a demanding and tricky journey that requires maneuvering the dark corners of the human heart. That is not a journey of the faint-hearted. No wonder Jesus describes it with the words, “whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt. 16:24). This is another way of saying that before the Ad gentes “goes to the other person”, it must begin in us. Let us put this in different words. Meaningful journey towards Ad gentes is only possible when the gap between the ideal self and the actual self is eliminated. The moment the movement of the spirit of God in our consciences pushes us out of spiritual stagnation, then we are not only ready, but also capable of mission Ad Gentes.
It is on this note that I would like to end. However, it would be unfair not to say that movement may be a sign of life, but it is not always a sign of growth. Of course, you got it right! Even though movement is a positive sign that we are alive and doing something, we should not be contented of just being in movement. Our goal should be growth. When there is no growth, whatever movement we make is sterile (unfruitful). That is why we can talk of static stagnation, but also dynamic or cyclic stagnation, referring to the different modes of lack of growth. A missionary who has lost all enthusiasm in mission and no longer does anything, is stagnant. He is like a person who tries to paddle a boat on a dry lake. It does not matter the amount of energy, time and good will he invests paddling – he will never move an inch. So also, is the missionary who is not ready to be transferred, because he loves routine that offers comfort, security and certainty. He is like a chicken that rotates within the radius of the string that ties it. No matter how many rounds he goes, he never moves not even a centimeter more than the radius of the string. Such a missionary does not grow, his community does not grow and neither are the Christians he serves. His stagnation become their downfall. In this period of Lent, Christ reminds us that the movement within us is key, if the movement towards the others is to be meaningful for them and for us. I wish you a meaningful interior movement.
Fr. Jonah M. Makau