October 16, 2017
 
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DR#: 21 The Pedagogy Of Trust (II)

Introduction

This trust we are each called to has two facets – we are trusted, and we in turn trust.  Each supports the other, is colored by the other, is essential to the lived experience of the other.  When we acknowledge the myriad of ways we are trusted, we can allow ourselves to trust others even more.  And it all comes down to a belief that we are all capable of growth, of development, of becoming something more.  No one is lost.  No one is irredeemable.

This is sometimes much more difficult because it is not about externals, not about what I have done.  It is much more about what I believe about God, about myself, about others.  It is the basis, the beginning, of why in our ministry, we choose to trust, to reach out in hope, to love.

The first movement then is the movement within – we are trusted, we are loved.  God gifts us with life, with freedom, with the Gospel message.  God forgives, hopes, waits, seeks for us.  Everyone is redeemable because God’s love is about his terms, not ours; about his love, not our limits.

The second movement is outward – we are called to make this trust, this love, real and evident in the lives of those with whom and to whom we minister.  We are missioned.  As the Rule of Life states:

Christ joins us to his own mission:  he pours out his love that must flow through us to others. (#2)

So it is from our fullness, from our understanding of God’s great love for us, that our mission is possible.  Because we believe in our own redemption, we can believe in the redemption of others.  Because we are trusted, we can trust.  All my efforts as teacher and leader flow from the belief that anyone, even I, can change and grow.

And so a pedagogy of trust reflects far more than simply what we do.  If it is only what we do it cannot have the depth and hope needed to survive the difficult times inherent in our roles.  It is only when we understand our heritage built on the awareness of God’s abiding love for us and the expression of that love in all the parts of our mission that a pedagogy of trust is really possible.

Readings
  • A Pedagogy of Trust, by Brother René Sanctorum, S.C.

Introduction: What is Trust? pp. 1-2
Part I: God Trusts Man pp. 3-7

  • Mission  — The God Who Won’t Let Go, by Peter van Breemen SJ

    Chapter 6:  “I have chosen you to go out and bear fruit”  (parts)
Options for Additional Readings
  • The God who won’t let go by Peter van Breemen, SJ

Chapter 6: “I have chosen you to go out and bear fruit”  (parts)

  • Rule of Life, 1867, Brother Adrian, S.C. (especially Rules # 113, 234, 235) 
     
  • Rule of Life, 2007 (especially Rules # 25, 32, 154, 159)
     
  • Formation Guide of the Institute, Numbers 8, 52, 34, 54, 75, 112, 141, 154-3, 156-4   
Suggestions for Journal Reflection
  1. In the face of difficulties, hope can be a fragile thing.  How has your faith and hope been nurtured in times of difficulty?  How has God loved you in those times?
     
  2. Trust is a basic orientation, a fundamental belief that all can grow and change.  Where is that most evident in your ministry today?  Where do you feel it is most challenged?
     
  3. A pedagogy of trust is about what we believe possibly even more than what we do.  It is not about doing the function but about being faithful.  How do we share and nurture that understanding in those with whom we minister?
     
  4. What is your mission?
Prayer

Lord God,

You have made us in your image,
impressed your likeness upon us,
the likeness of Jesus,
and we are yours.
No matter the limits we create, the failure we experience
you wait for us to return, to accept your love,
in order that you might trust us once again.

We ask you
that we may be more like Jesus,
that we might mirror your existence
and reflect your grace in all we do,
in our mission of education,
for all with whom and to whom we minister.

Trusted by you
in ways too many to even list,
may we begin to trust others, and ourselves,
so that your mission 
might continue through us.
so that your love
might flow through us to others.

Amen.

Readings

A Pedagogy of Trust
by Brother René Sanctorum, S.C.
Selected Readings, pp. 1-2, 3-7

A Pedagogy of Trust

Forward

The last General Chapter (2000) invites us, beginning with a deepening of the spirituality of the Heart of Jesus, to develop a profound attitude of active compassion which brings us towards the young and to a pedagogy of trust.

Before asking what more precisely is the meaning of trust, we can say that it refers to a word - and to a notion - somewhat outmoded. On the other hand, the terms in vogue are certainly: distrust, mistrust, the well known principle of precaution; we often hear of irreversible degradation, of a situation beyond redemption, of despair. There is a tendency to replace trust in God by a trust in science or in insurance, but various recent serious events (meteorological catastrophes), accidents, epidemics, persistence of civil or foreign wars, etc.) have destroyed the naive certainty or the smug hope on which we thought we could rely. Now, in the face of spectacular or latent disasters, we find discouragement and resignation everywhere.

What is worse is that, on the one hand, there is hardly any more trust in others, even those who are closest, in politics, in the work-world, in education, in the family; and on the other hand, there is even no more trust in oneself, that is to say in the possibilities we have to live a human life worthy of the name: I need not remind you of the considerable number of suicides. Think also of the homeless, of those on welfare or of the long-term unemployed, who no longer believe themselves capable of finding a "normal" life again: for them, it's all over. As to students, when they fail, even if the situation is not catastrophic, they feel and say that they are "useless." Thus, trust is in crisis.
 

Introduction

What is Trust?

When our Chapter encourages us to embrace a pedagogy of trust, what meaning does it give to the word trust? In fact, we now use it in various different meanings, although close, without noticing it, "Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in you!" "This beef is absolutely safe, you can trust me!" "You cannot trust him; he lacks confidence in himself." Etc...

1. It is first necessary to distinguish trust in God: which, in the order of faith, is the assurance that God gives us and will give us all that is necessary to respond to our vocation as people destined to be incorporated into the Trinity, with and by Jesus Christ: And this assurance accompanies the believer in the most concrete situations.'

The letters of André Coindre are full of calls to trust in God, understood in this way: "Courage and trust: that is my motto." "For four years now, just when I needed help most, Providence came to my rescue, when I had nothing left." (Letter 3, January 10, 1822)

Of course, it is recommended to the Brothers that they should try to instill this trust in God in the young, and first of all by their giving witness to their own trust in God. But it is not really in this sense that we can speak about a pedagogy of trust.

2. A second meaning of the term refers to daily relationships between persons. The mother invites her child to be good during her absence: "I trust you." The teacher relies on the loyalty of his students in doing their compositions: 'You will write your paper at home, I trust in your honesty!" But, in these examples, it is seen that in fact the invitation to trust is undermined by a certain mistrust: the mother fears that the child might do wrong; the teacher, that the student might cheat. In letter no. 10 of Father Coindre, we read: "Best wishes to you and to our very dear brothers. Say nothing to them about the behavior of Lespinasse. See to it, however, that he is closely watched [we do not know what or whom it is about], and trust him no longer with the supervision of the other students." (Sept. 17, 1823) Does André lack a pedagogy of trust? He had put his trust in Lespinasse, and due to an indiscretion on the part of the latter, he withdraws his trust. No! The pedagogy of trust, even if it must lead "to trust" in someone, in the sense either of letting him act without supervision, or of confiding (a word in the family of trust!) in him a responsibility, must discern the possibilities of each one to be equal to the task asked of him. It is not possible to trust a baby who wants to play with an electric socket; it is not possible to trust a known pedophile, confiding a group of children to him.

3. The trust which the Chapter suggests to us is a notion much richer and deeper. It consists in believing that every person is capable of becoming more human and in growing spiritually. Nothing is irremediably lost; nothing is irredeemable. Especially, trust concerning the young consists in being persuaded that each one of them, whoever he may be, whatever his defects, his backwardness, his faults, his refusals, etc., is educable. Such formulas as: "He'll never make it!;" "he'll never improve;" "it's effort lost!" "he's a good for nothing" go directly against this fundamental principle. No educator should allow himself to use such expressions, not even to think them, no matter what difficulties there may be with certain children or young people. All the more reason no Christian educator should speak them or even think them.

Still more is it necessary to be on our guard. We may have never explicitly thought: "he is beyond redemption," and still have the attitudes and the behavior or show signs and do things which say precisely that: "you're beyond redemption!" The General Chapter strongly invites us to ask our selves about our way of thinking, of speaking and acting like this, and then turn our convictions into concrete acts. Because, as Don Bosco puts it, "The young need to be loved and to know they are loved." Is it, therefore, so important to trust the young, and, in general, everyone? Not only is it important, but it is necessary. It is not possible to be Christian without living this attitude. In particular, we realize that compassion on which we have meditated implies a pedagogy of trust on pain of having only condescending pity. If I concern myself with my brother who is in distress, it is because I think he is capable of growing and because I can help him grow. Even compassion which is reduced, considering the circumstances, to a simple "suffering with," signifies to the needy person that, in our eyes, he is worthy and that his situation, even if it is humanly speaking hopeless, can have meaning and contribute positively, however mysteriously, to his growth. We understand that this is capital in the life of a Christian educator, of a Brother of the Sacred Heart. Let us keep repeating our convictions on this point and let us draw the consequences for our daily life.


I. God Trusts Man

It appears quite natural to us that man can trust in God, but that God should trust man is a very strange affirmation. Well! Let's open the Bible. Recall the wonderful mystery of Creation. Look and listen to Jesus, as the Gospels present him to us.

1. Creation

Many people imagine creation as an act of God done once and for all, at the beginning, and in virtue of which the world, thrust into existence, takes form according to norms which had been fixed for it (the famous laws of nature). Conceived in this way, creation is a work in which man has no part, other than to accept it and to administer it as well as possible, steering clear of catastrophes and various disasters which constantly attack him. Then we discover - even if we don't much dare to admit it, nor say anything about it for fear of blaspheming, as we say - that this world is unquestionably terribly imperfect, not to say "badly made." Why so many disasters, why sickness, disabilities, not to mention the atrocities committed by people in a thousand different ways.

It is true that God did not create the best world possible. This is even a truth of faith. "In the theological tract Of The One God, it is taught that it cannot be said that God has created the best world possible." (Karl Rahner) Yves Congar says even: "The initial creation is only a rough sketch while waiting to do better." (Entretiens d'automne, Cert 87, p. 43) And Cardinal Etchegaray explains: "God created the world in its most simple form. In fact, it can be said that he has created us as a rough model of himself rather than in his image, giving us the honor and leaving us the task of perfecting his work," which idea Francis Varillon makes his own in other words: "God would not be creator if he produced a "finished product." There is no "finished product;" there is only the "doing it oneself." (Joy of Believing, Joy of Living, Centurion 81, p. 157)

We see in these citations a most important statement: "There is no such thing as "finished product," there must be a "doing it oneself' and "God gives us the task of perfecting his work." The idea is clear. God has not created a finished world (which is the etymological meaning of the word perfect, perfect us: putting the finishing touches to the work): he confides this to us so that, being creators in our turn, thanks to him, we can continue the work of creating. Conceding this, God, according to the thought of Zundel, runs a big danger. And the historian Chaunu puts it even more strongly: "Creation is a high risk adventure for God himself." For since we are created creators, we are created free. The world is a work which we freely bring to conclusion; freely, which is to say that we plan it as we want. As a result, as Zundel again says, we are capable of anticreation, which means to entirely distort the divine plan. But God gambles on our will to do good. He trusts us to build a world in the ways of his love: "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it..." (Gen. 1:28)

2.  In the Gospel

Jesus, who claims to be the expression of the Father: "Who sees me sees the Father," practices, if I may use the expression, the same pedagogy of trust. His words and above all his acts show this to us.

a) The Scribes and Pharisees give us the impression of being people who always exclude others. They consider the publicans and sinners, or the prostitutes, as beyond redemption. These people are considered by them as unworthy to be members of the Chosen People. Not having the power to exclude them, they stay away from them as if they were lepers; they hold them in scorn. Jesus scandalizes by eating with the publicans and sinners, or even only by being seen with them. But ultimately it is the whole crowd of ordinary, uncultured people that the Scribes and Pharisees reject as "nothings," beyond redemption: "Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him (Jesus)? But this rabble, which does not know the Law, they are the cursed." (Jn 7:48-49)

b) Jesus, to the contrary, believes in the possibilities of man and woman, that is to say in the sons and daughters of God which they are, and rebuilds their self-confidence. The parable of the talents in Mt. 25 is a well known example: the owner leaving on a long journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. No orders, no instructions. He trusts them to proceed intelligently, usefully, and courageously. Each servant must shoulder his own responsibilities: he possesses in himself all the means of living and acting that can be expected of a wise servant.

The parables which we call the mercy parables give us other examples. To the son who asks for his share of his father's estate that would come to him, the father of this prodigal son seems to make no objection, no reprimand: he does not warn him of the impending danger toward which he is undoubtedly heading: "And the father divided the property between them." (Lk 15:20) The trust of the father in his son, to the extent of imprudence we might think, is seen again by the way he watches for, during the long escapade, the return of his child: "While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was filled to compassion."  (Lk 15:20)

And why does the shepherd abandon his 99 sheep in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? Would he act thus if he thought it was "beyond redemption?" Does he not have confidence in it to the extent of hoping that it will be moved to return to the fold? In a passage of the poem, The Porch of the Second Virtue, Peguy speaks of God's trust which causes his unrelenting search for the lost sheep, while risking that the others remain unguarded. 

And when we examine the manner in which Jesus actually relates to the people, we are stupefied by his trust in them. Far from believing that sinners are irreparably lost, he always believes them to be "redeemable." In many miracles, we see Him calling those in situations of affliction to get up, to stand up. This call and this word, to stand up or to get up, is truly symbolic: you are capable of taking - or retaking - your place among the other children of the Father. Recall Mk 1:30-31: “The mother-in-law of Peter lay sick with a fever [...]. Approaching her, he grasped her hand and helped her get up." Jesus causes the woman bent over for 18 years to stand straight: "She was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect. When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said: 'Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.’ He laid his hands on her and she at once stood up straight and glorified God." (Lk. 13:11-13) Jesus also took the hand of Jairus' daughter who was believed dead and said to her: "Child, arise!" He also called back the dead son of the widow of Naim: "Young man, I tell you, arise!" "Get up and walk!, Get up, your faith has saved you!," these formulas recur so often in the mouth of the Savior. 

Still more explicit are the stories of the adulterous woman, of Zacchaeus or of the rehabilitation of Peter.

The case of the adulterous woman is too well known for me to repeat it all here. But it is easy to mention that Jesus in some way makes a new woman of this terrified poor wretch, who is feeling guilty and hopeless. The Scribes and Pharisees wanted to profit by the Law to do away with this sinner: "Moses commanded us to stone such women." (Jn 8:5) This contemptuous expression "such women" clearly evokes a special class, almost a race. We cannot imagine that such creatures could escape from this ghetto: they are forever lost. This is not the way Jesus looks upon these persons. Not only does he permit the woman to escape being stoned and to continue living, but as Father Duval sings in one of his songs: "He has given to Magdalene a queen's heart:" "I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more." Jesus trusts in the possibility of the conversion and the reformation of the poor woman, because she too is "a daughter of Abraham." (Lk 13:16) 

How beautiful also is the story of Zacchaeus in Lk 19:1-10! Zacchaeus also belongs to an "incurable" class: the Publicans. All the other respectable people consider him as such: "When they all saw this {all and not only the Scribes and Pharisees} they began to grumble, saying, 'He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner!'" But again, for Jesus this person is "a son of Abraham" (the status of the sons of Abraham made the Jews full fledged members of the People and heirs of the promise). And the immediate effects of the recognition of Jesus are clear: Jesus recognizes in Zacchaeus a son of the promise, and at once Zacchaeus does actually behave like a son of the promise, and even more. Not only does he recover his dignity as a man, not only does he resolutely (the Gospel uses this term) declare himself ready to compensate those from whom he has stolen, at the highest possible price, even beyond the demands of the Law, but, furthermore, he will give the half of his belongings to the poor. He is thus reintegrated into the community and, even more, united with all. And the climax for this sinister person is to have, with this purification by means of charity, found, or refound, joy: "He receives him with joy."

We are here at the heart of the pedagogy of trust, and we see that this pedagogy "pays off," as we commonly say. Jesus believes in the dignity of Zacchaeus, he explicitly mentions it by inviting himself to his house: what a magnificent statement of pedagogy! Instead of making accusations, instead of telling him condescendingly: "you know, you are a terrible sinner, but God pardons you," Jesus gives him the chance to become generous by asking him outright, through charity, to invite him to dinner. It is not even necessary that Jesus explicitly pardon him; he has only to recognize that Zacchaeus is a new man: "Salvation has come to this house today." Zacchaeus, able to stand straight again, is henceforth taller than all his detractors (of which his climbing into the sycamore tree might be a figure).

The last example I would like to give is that of Peter. The pardon of Jesus on the shore of the lake does not consist in some soothing word or easy action. Jesus will repeat his question three times: "Do you love me?" and these words are like a blade cutting into a wound: "Peter was distressed that he had said to him the third time..." (Jn 21:17) But Jesus does not reproach Peter, he does not recall his denial. He asks him about his present attitude towards Him: "Do you love me (now)?," without even complaining about the intense suffering his apostle had caused him. And henceforth, sure of his dedication, he officially and publicly makes him responsible in regard to the others and in the Church: "Feed my sheep."

All of us, who are “wicked,” as Jesus says in the Gospel, we would have admitted, in a pinch, that Jesus pardons, all the while excluding Peter from them on from the group, or at least we would have clearly said to him: "I pardon you, but I do not forget!" Nothing of the sort for Jesus, who not only accepts Peter back into the group of the Twelve, but appoints him the leader. What example of trust! 

Christ again practices the pedagogy of trust in sending his apostles, and later his disciples, to preach. Certainly he gives them some advice and warns them (see in particular chapters 10 of Mt and of Lk), but he does not require any final exam, nor a detailed report, on their return. It is those themselves who have been sent who spontaneously tell him all about how they had accomplished their mission. Let us cite several verses: "He summoned the Twelve and sent them out two by two. {...} So they went off and preached repentance; they drove out many demons and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them." (Mk 6:7,12; cf. Mk 9:1-6) "After this, the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent two by two to every town and place he intended to visit." (Lk 10:1) "(When they returned) the Apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught." (Mk 6:30; cf Lk 9:10) "The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said: 'Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name!' Jesus said: 'I have observed Satan falling like lightening from the sky.'" (Lk 10:17-18)

We even have the impression that Jesus allows some initiative to his missionaries: "Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that He was making and baptizing more people than John - although Jesus himself was not baptizing, just his disciples - he left Judea and returned to Galilee." (Jn 4:1-3) The disciples baptize, Jesus does not, but he does not oppose the methods of his disciples; he has confidence in them.

This trust is even more strongly felt when Jesus, after his death, directly confides the responsibility of announcing the Good News to the Twelve. He does not fear that his undertaking would be reduced to chaos: "As my Father has sent me, I also, send you." (Jn 20:21) "Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit..." (Mt 28:19) Jesus is perfectly aware of the trials the apostles will meet with and does not hide them: "If the world hates you, know that it hated me first. {...} If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you." (Jn15:18, 20) He also assures them of success: "If they kept my word, they will also keep yours." (Jn 15:20) "Whoever believes in me will do the works I do, and will do greater ones than these." (Jn 14:12)

Certainly he does not abandon them in this mission: “And behold, I will be with you always, until the end of the age." (Mt 28:20) But this presence by the Spirit will be discreet; it will demand an openness to prayer and discernment, and will not have the force of an immediately recognizable physical presence. "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears..." (Jn 16:12-13) "The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name - he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you." (Jn 14:26) The Church is born of this trust Jesus has in men and women aided by his Spirit. And we notice that from these beginnings, described by the Acts of the Apostles, until today, it has held out, despite many and serious mistakes. Jesus has won his gamble and he will continue to win it, and we hope for this with all our might. At the very heart of the work of creation, the explicit spreading of the Kingdom of God, begun by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, is taking place. And if Marcel Légaut could say with a certain bitterness — and not without cause — twenty centuries of Christianity, twenty centuries of infidelity by the Church; we can without doubt also say at the same time: twenty centuries of the Church, twenty centuries of fidelity.

But just as we spoke of the risk the Creator took in creating the world and man, perhaps we can mention the risk that the Church completely disappear and its message with it, notwithstanding the word which the evangelist Matthew puts in the mouth of the Lord: "You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Mt 16:18) In fact, doesn't Jesus say elsewhere: "But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Lk 18:8)

3. Thus, a pedagogy of trust finds its basis in the very work of God and the revelation of Jesus Christ. It is not a question of a modern invention to satisfy the styles of today. And we see that the unbelievable trust that God places in us, in spite of our weaknesses and our faults, produces, by ricochet, our trust in God. Here again, as always, it is God who takes the first steps. If he first trusts us, he who knows us infinitely more than we know ourselves, how can we not have confidence in ourselves (in so far as we remain united to him, understood) and how can we not trust him who made us so great? What a wonderful being I am, says the Psalmist!" What wonderful beings we are! How absolutely wonderful is God! 

 

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The God Who Won’t Let Go
by Peter van Breemen, S.J.
Chapter 6

"I Have Chosen You to Go Out and to Bear Fruit "

The crowning of forgiveness is undoubtedly that the person forgiven receives once more the full confidence of the one forgiving and is entrusted again with a mission. Perhaps we can interpret the word "re-mission" this way. Mission is always a matter of trust. In the Hebrew language there is a word shaliach which means a person who is sent. Mission plays an important and very lovely role in the Jewish culture, and therefore also in scripture.

Chapter twenty-four of the book of Genesis relates how Abraham "in his ripe old age" sends his senior servant Eliezer to Haran in order to find a wife for his only son, Isaac. It is a magnificent chapter. The dignified behavior of Eliezer is any thing but slavish. He chooses from his master's possessions ten camels, all kinds of silver and golden presents and fine clothing. He needs these for his mission. Then he sets out for Haran where his master, Abraham still has relatives. There, too, his behavior is courtly and noble, and at the same time full of respect for his master. He never loses sight of the intention of Abraham. When dinner is ready, he does not go to the table until he has explained the message of his master, because he knows that Abraham would do likewise. He graciously combines great conviction and vigor with a clear harmony with the intentions of his master. Not even in his dreams can any thought surface that would sway him from his mission. Mission is a matter of trust, and that trust he will not break. He comes as an emissary of Abraham; this shapes his whole demeanor.

Eliezer comes to look for a wife for his master's only son. This is a good example of a mission in everyday life. Jewish culture is replete with them. Of course, specifically religious missions also abound. The rabbis use a maxim which says, "A shaliach is like the person who sends him," like an alter ego. The essence of the mission is the relationship of trust between the one who sends and the one who is sent. These two persons must be in harmony. It is not important whether the mission implies a long or a short trip, or perhaps no trip at all. Mission can very well take place in stabilitas loci, the stability to their abbey to which Benedictines bind themselves. In present day English, mission often has the connotation of an impressive achievement which enables one to say at the end proudly, "mission accomplished." That is not necessarily an element of the biblical concept of mission; it need not be something great. Far more important is the trust which the master grants his shaliach and which the latter seeks to honor at all costs.

We could describe mission as representation. The shaliach re-presents his or her master. If we take the word representation in its most literal, rich meaning, it might be the best definition of mission. The shaliach renders the master present and active. In the shaliach the master speaks and operates. What the shaliach agrees upon, promises, or signs, binds the master not only morally, but also legally. The master gives his shaliach, so to speak, a blank check, and binds himself in advance to the decisions the shaliach will make. So much trust is included in the mission.

This presupposes on the part of the shaliach an indispensable unselfishness. It would be absurd to send a selfish person on a mission. Only self-forgetful persons can represent their master. In the shaliach there must be room for the person who sends her. Perhaps it is even more accurate to say, whoever accepts a mission needs to be transparent. The master should shine through her. This requires a great clarity so that the master is seen through the emissary.

The older I become, the more important transparency has become for me. Words can sometimes be rather cheap. The motives for our deeds can be mixed, unknown even to ourselves. Transparency, however; is unambiguous. The light shines through. This is what we need.

Jesus was a completely transparent person. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father." (Jn 14:9). The Father shone through him. To put oneself forward is the exact opposite of mission and transparency. Egoism muddles, darkens, and ultimately destroys credibility. In scripture we find many instances of the so-called shaliach principle, which Jesus uses regularly:  “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me" (Jn 13:20). We find this principle also in its negative form, “Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me" (Lk 10:16). Still another example, where Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me, and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me" (Jn 12:44-45).

In his baptism Jesus very consciously took upon himself his mission. It was a loaded moment, and an intimate event, that took place between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit (in the form of a dove, as scripture says). John the Baptist witnessed the baptism and heard the voice of the Father. In his baptism Jesus gave himself completely to the Father and offered himself fully to the mission which the Father entrusted to him. He was very much aware that his whole life was at stake, that he had been anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor and sent to proclaim liberty to captives (cf Lk 4:18). This was to consume his whole person — indeed his whole life. His public life, his passion, and his death are consequences of this baptism. It is all implied. Jesus had needed thirty years of hidden life to prepare himself for this baptism, for the acceptance of his mission; the three remaining years he needed to realize his baptism. He did so with utmost dedication and fidelity.

What enabled this fidelity? Listen to John's gospel in which Jesus says, "My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work" (Jn 4:34). The loving will of his Father shapes his life, is the content of his life, is the food on which he feeds. "I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me" (Jn 6:38). He is completely transparent. "The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him" (Jn 8:29). Mission resides in union with God and union with God exists only in mission: surrendering to God from the morning to the evening and then throughout the night. In such loving abandon Jesus lived his union with the Father. Likewise for us. When we know ourselves as sent and we live on that mission, we are one with the God-who-sends. Apart from union with God, mission is not possible, just as apart from the mission, union with God is impossible.

The roots of Jesus' mission go deep. They reach into the unfathomable mystery of the Trinity. There, the source of all love and of all life, we find also the origin of all mission. From all eternity the Son has come forth from the Father, and the Father has given God's own fullness wholly to the Son. The mystery of Trinity implies giving life in unending self-emptying. The Father gives completely to the Son without keeping anything back – the Son surrenders completely to the Father without any reserve. That is what lovers do: they give themselves completely in order to beget life. How could it be otherwise for God-who-is-love?

When the fullness of time had come, the procession of the Son from the Father was continued in the mission of the Son into the world. This mission stands also in the context of kenosis:

he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross (Phil 2:7-8).

When the earthly life of Jesus came to an end, Jesus spoke twice the same sentence, once in the form of a prayer (Jn 17:18) and once addressing the disciples: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21). The mission, from and for which he lived and which formed the content of his life, he passed on to his disciples. We have to continue his mission. From now on Jesus has no other hands, no other mouth, and no other heart than ours. St. Paul captures its essence simply in these words, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

There we find both the meaning and the eternal destiny of our lives: "Those he foreknew [God] also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the first-born among many brothers [and sisters]" (Rom 8:29). Conforming our lives to the image of God's Son means becoming sons and daughters of God as Jesus was. It also entails accepting his lifestyle, living as he did. That mission requires from us an intimate union with Jesus just as he was intimately united with the Father. Jesus expressed this marvelously in the parable of the vine and the branches. He is the vine, we are the branches. It is obvious that a branch not connected with the vine cannot bear any fruit. It is dead wood. Only the sap of the vine can make the branch fruitful. It is the life of Jesus that bears fruit in us (Jn 15:1-8).

We are invited to accept our mission anew every day. I am convinced that a mission which is set once and for all is an inner contradiction. Mission means living with open hands. An elderly man once shared with me confidentially that he began each day by prostrating himself for ten minutes with the palms of his hands open. In doing so he gave his whole day to the Lord and accepted everything that God would send him. What impressed me very much in this man was how flexible he remained in his old age, and how easily he could adapt to the unforeseen. I assume that the secret of his availability lies in the first ten minutes of his day.

Mission creates a vital tension in our lives. There are, of course, unhealthy tensions which are harmful for the life between spouses, in a family, in a religious community, in a workplace, or in our personal life. But there are also vital tensions which promote and enrich life, which keep us fit and supple. Mission creates such a lively tension. On the one hand, we are wholly present wherever we are, not flitting about and not daydreaming but focused with genuine dedication of heart and soul to our task. On the other hand, we remain available to be missioned elsewhere or in another way at any time. Therefore, it is good to take up our mission fresh each morning, as if it were completely new. Perhaps for many years it is the same each time, but there may come a day when a different mission presents itself. Whoever remains willing to accept that change is attentively living her mission. Whoever has completely identified himself or herself with a particular task or place cannot change any more and will be devastated when another mission comes. The change may make such a person suspicious. What did I do wrong? What are they "cooking up" for me? Why this shift? The vital tension has been lost.

All who genuinely live their mission experience an inner freedom. Mission makes us free. Whoever lacks a sense of mission is easily tempted to carry the burden too much alone. Someone has called this syndrome The God Complex: to rely too little on God while acting as if one were God. In our mission we are carried by God and the ultimate responsibility rests with God.

Unless our sense of mission remains alive and keeps on growing, we risk its diminishment in our lives, and perhaps even its demise. Mission requires tending. We "prepare the way" for the deepening of mission in three crucial ways:

  • We select and safeguard quality time for prayer. We decide that God comes before all else and structure our days accordingly. We bring a deliberate quality of attentiveness to times reserved for prayer. We acknowledge that this relationship matters more than any other.
     
  • We pay attention to our ongoing human development. We learn about ourselves, taking steps to integrate our shadow side, seeking direction and counsel, befriending others, taking seriously the call to become whole.
     
  • We choose a discipline that leads us more and more toward basic integrity. We find balance with regard to food and drink, exercise, and sleep. We keep watch over what we say and do, how authentically and honestly we live. We prefer transparency rather than always trying to "look good" in the sight of others.

It is striking that in John's Gospel, Jesus says two sentences which are almost identical: the one reads, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21) and the other, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you” (Jn 15:9). Mission and love are obviously connected, even interchangeable. Mission is the concrete shape of love. Think of mission as the riverbed of love. A river needs a bed; without a bed it sinks into a swamp. Undoubtedly, the riverbed constrains the water's flow; the path of the stream is set by it. On the other hand, the riverbed gives depth and power to the stream. Without the bed the river stops being a river. In a similar way mission is the riverbed of our love. Of course, mission curtails our love and we sometimes experience the pain of that. Then we would vehemently like to widen the bed, to get out of it. And yet, without the bed our love would silt up and turn into a morass. The mission, though not always easy, is a blessing that makes our love authentic and strong, profound and fruitful.

“Mission is resting in the movement of God.”  God is motion, energy, the tremendous dynamic of love. From this dynamic stems the whole of creation--so dynamic is our God. At the same time, God is also rest, because God does not strive for a goal. God does not want to achieve anything. This is the dynamic of love. Mission, though active, means at the same time resting in this God-flow. We surrender ourselves to this divine movement, we let ourselves be carried buoyantly by the dynamic of God, like floating on the waves of an immense sea of love. Then we live in harmony with the deepest desires of our own heart, with the ground of our being. That is union with God.

The Bishop of Aachen, Heinrich Mussinghoff once began his Lenten pastoral with a striking analogy. "The Jordan River originates at the foothills of the snow-capped Hermon, flows through the Sea of Galilee and ends in the Dead Sea. The Sea of Galilee teems with life. It takes in the fresh water and passes it on. Fish thrive in it, olive trees and palms and all kinds of flowers and plants flourish on its banks. Birds and animals find plentiful food there. The Dead Sea, however, is completely different. The Jordan flows into it but finds no outlet. The hot sun evaporates its waters, increasing the salinity to the point where nothing survives. On its shores there are hardly any trees or shrubs. All one sees is salt and desert." The same water! Where it can flow freely, fruitfulness abounds; where it cannot flow, the sea creates a salted wasteland, without fruit and without life. Love needs a bed in order to continue its movement. Only then is life fruitful and worthwhile. Jesus says, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain” (Jn 15:16). We all know the only thing that really remains and counts is love. Even faith and hope come to an end, but love lasts. Love is the content of our mission: to let ourselves be loved, to love in turn, and to pass on this love to others.

Mission is lived from a fullness, not from an emptiness. A marriage or a religious profession, family or community life, a ministry or a project--if we do not live out of a fullness, these lead to nothing. Mission, however, is possible when we find a plenitude like the man who found a treasure in a field and, full of joy, sold everything he had to obtain it (Mt 13:44). Because he found this precious treasure, he could joyfully give up everything else he had possessed. That is how it is with the kingdom of God, Jesus says. That is what it means to live in gospel fullness.

Living in such fullness, we can give and let go. Then, no matter what our circumstances in life, we can concern ourselves entirely with following Jesus and experience a deep peace in it. But if we try to follow Jesus only because we feel empty and frustrated, if we look for community only because we feel lonely or for ministry in order to find affirmation, we will not succeed. This can easily turn into a half-hearted life. This is not resting in the motion of God. This is not a life resting in the center, but roaming at the fringes. The big question that dominates such a life will be: can I or can I not combine this with my marriage, my vows, or my commitment? Is this within the boundaries or outside? Such a way of life makes us discontent. The gospel does not teach us to live this way. The gospel proclaims authentic joy. In marriage, in religious life, as a single person, as someone searching--we are all invited to live in the center point of fullness where God dwells.

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