The Christian Call to an Integral Spirituality of Action - DOC by lonyoo


									The Christian Call to an Integral Spirituality of Action

The Christian Call to an Integral Spirituality of Action

Presented by Kevin J. Ahern, past president International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCSPax Romana)1, doctoral student in Theological Ethics, Boston College to the CIJOC International Council, 27 June, 2008
Check against delivery. I. Cultural Challenges Accompanying Globalization

In our present age of globalization, with its emphasis on free market capitalism, cultures around the world have been challenged by developments that make it difficult to develop and live an integral spirituality of action. At times, these challenges have pushed people to reactionary or fundamentalist trends in all philosophic and religious traditions. These challenges include, but not at all limited to:2 A. Secularization and the Privatization of Religion The public sphere is increasingly becoming a secular space. Religion is increasingly seen as something private. We are told we should keep our faith behind closed doors and should not bring it into politics, work or even friendly conversations. B. Compartmentalization Linked with the privatization of religion is a trend to compartmentalize our lives into different spheres. In addition to a differentiation between public and private spheres, we have created separate spheres for our faith, work, family and friends. With this compartmentalization, it is easier for an owner of a large corporation to make unethical decisions at work, come home to their family at night and go to Mass the next morning, without any apparent conflict. This is perhaps an extreme example, but one can see how this social outlook could lead to persons to act differently in the different spheres in which they participate. C. Excessive Individualism Increasingly peoples around the world are influenced by the trend of excessive individualism which is destroying our social imagination. This is manifested in part in the reduction of committed members in traditional social groups (political parties, trade unions, social movements, etc). Young people are more and more connected with one another (internet, mobile phones, etc) yet there is an increasing isolation. This is related in-part to a lack of willingness ―to join‖ or to commit to a group and an increasing trend in favor of large scale emotional-driven gatherings, such as the World Youth Day, which produce visible results and do not require long-term commitment. A reaction to this and other trends has been the development of several groups which require absolute commitment and which are often at the margins of religious traditions and society.

For more information on the International Movement of Catholic Students (IMCS-Pax Romana), visit 2 The Website, The Immanent Frame ( has several articles reflecting on these issues from a sociological perspective. See also the Vision of Youth ICOs: Youth ICO Statement to the World Youth Day 2005 and the 2003 IMCS and IYCS Policy Paper on Integral Education which highlights many of the social trends impacting our world, youth culture, and the Church and which calls for a new integral approach to education and spirituality: ( K. Ahern 1

The Christian Call to an Integral Spirituality of Action

Often these groups affirm that their way is the only way and are not open to dialogue with those who oppose them. D. Consumer Culture In our media-driven consumer culture, people are more and more judged not by the type of person which they are and what type of relationships they have to others and the world, but by their possessions. In this culture, people and the environment can be objectified, and as with other objects they can be used for one‘s benefit. People risk to become ―possessed‖ by their possessions. These challenges make it more difficult to develop an integral spirituality of action, but also make such a prophetic spirituality even more important in our world today! II. The Call of Christ to Such a Spirituality

When we look at the Gospel we can see quite clearly that Jesus did not intend that his teachings be taken only as good ideas, as general guidelines for life or as something to just ―keep in mind.‖ Over and over Jesus calls people in positions of power and leadership to task for their unethical behaviors or lack of action while at the same time calling calls his followers to proactive action in the world:

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined. Matthew
7:24-27 Furthermore, when Jesus was asked how to be saved by various persons in Scripture, he calls on them to sell their possessions and give them to the poor. At one point, a lawyer came to ask Jesus this question and he responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). In the version of the story presented in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus approves of the answer of the lawyer:

Master; you are right when you say that [God] is one and there is no other. To love him with all our heart, with all our understanding and with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves is more important than any burnt offering of sacrifice. Mark 12:
32-34 As we know from our experiences in the Catholic Action movements, the Christians faith is not something to simply recite or attend like a movie once a week, but it is something to be lived. We also know that as a part of that living prayer is important. Jesus was a man of action, but he was also a man of prayer, reflection and community. Living an integral spirituality of action, must take into account these various dimensions if we want to have a living spirituality. III. Three Key Elements of an Integral Spirituality of Action

An integral spirituality of action has three main elements, which as members of the YCW you should understand well:3

An integral spirituality would also take into consideration the “eight consciousnesses of an integral education” presented by South African Fr. Albert Nolan, OP at the IMCS and IYCS International K. Ahern 2

The Christian Call to an Integral Spirituality of Action

A. Discernment-Charity The first element is what I will call Discernment-Charity (Discreta Caridad), which was a term close to St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). The first part of this element is Discernment, or the act of prayerful reflection and social analysis. In his Epistle to the Romans, Saint Paul call us to not give into the cultural forces of our world, but to prayerfully and critically reflect on what is good – even in those negative forces – and to then look to how we can act more in line with the will of God:

Don‘t let yourselves be shaped by the world where you live, but rather be transformed through the renewal of your mind. You must discern the will of God: what is good, what pleases, what is perfect. Romans 12:2
Discernment also calls for a reading of reality or as Jesus said a reading of ―the signs of the times‖ (Mt 16:3). In responding to the injustice of the Apartheid, South African Christian leaders affirmed this in their Karios Document (1985): ―The first task of a prophetic theology for our times would be an attempt at social analysis or what Jesus would call ‗reading the signs of the times.‘‖ A key part of discernment is prayer. Prayer gives us the power, the meaning and the energy to go on even in the midst of difficulties or complex situations. Without prayer, as a young Karl Rahner, SJ wrote ―we remain attached to earthly things, we come small like them, narrow like them, we get pressured by them, we sell ourselves to them…We must pray!‖ 4 The second part of this element is that of loving action or charity. Charity, the theological virtue of love, which was the subject of the first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, God is Love or Deus caritas est (December, 2005) calls us to loving action to our neighbors in the world as we recognize the enormity of God‘s love for us. The Epistle Letter of St. James clearly shows that our faith must be linked to such loving action:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day and one of you says to them ―Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,‖ but do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? …For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without action is dead. James 2:14-16, 26
For St. Ignatius, it was very important that we not forget the link between Discernment and Charity, for: ―Charity (or Action) without discernment is nothing more than a dream which wanders off the path of life only to lose itself in an infinite which has no real content or meaning.‖ And:

Committee in Barcelona, 2003. These include, Social Consciousness, Global Consciousness, Historical Consciousness, Evolutionary Consciousness, Ecological Consciousness, Consciousness of Our Inner Selves, Consciousness of Others as Persons, and God Consciousness. 4 Karl Rahner, SJ, “Prolouge: Why We Need to Pray,” in Karl Rahner: Spiritual Writings, ed. Philip Endean. (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2007). K. Ahern 3

The Christian Call to an Integral Spirituality of Action

―Discernment without charity is nothing more than a fruitless search incapable of grasping the finality of human action – and which has to settle for activism.‖5 When Joseph Cardijn and others developed the Review of Life methodology, they affirmed the need to link ―read the signs of the times‖ (Mathew 16:3) (see), social analysis or discernment (judge), and charity (act). By being formed through YCW and similar movements, you have gained the skills of discernment. By doing the Review of Life in your movements, you learned both the communal type of social analysis and the personal/ individual form of prayerful discernment which will help you to make the important decisions in your life. Like other skills, this needs to be nurtured and practiced until it becomes a natural part of your worldview. B. Gathered and Sent The second element I would like to point to is what theologian Bernard Lee, SM has called “Gathered and Sent.” 6 Two weeks ago, we heard the Sunday Gospel where Jesus called together the twelve apostles and sent them into the world for mission (Mt 9:36—10:8). In the Gospel of Mark, we know that when sending out his followers, Jesus sent them out in small communities, two by two (Mark 6:7). As Christians, we are both called to gather in community and to be sent out into the world. Our mission as Christians is not just in churches and shrines, but it is in the workplace, the social party, on the bus, in the shops and in the street. This is the mission that Cardijn speaks of when he calls the YCW committed members or militants to witness to Christ in the places that so much need him. But as Cardijn reminded us, militants cannot work alone,7 they need teams, small communities of their peers. By being a member of a community, like a Church movement or even a labor union, we are able to find mutual support, friendship and strength. We can also find spaces for common action. By being a part of a small Christian community, like a Review of Life Group, we know that Jesus is truly present with us (Mathew 18:20). This call to community is why individual young workers have gathered together in local YCW groups, it is why these local groups have gathered together at the national level to form national coordinations and at the international level to create international organizations. At all these levels, personal, local, national and international, we cannot forget that we are not only called to gather together for discernment and support, but also are sent out into the world for loving action. In his encyclical, A Call to Action (Octogesima Adveniens) Pope Paul VI reminds us of the importance of collective action:

It is in this regard too that Christian organizations, under their different forms, have a responsibility for collective action. Without putting themselves in the place of the institutions of civil society, they have to express, in their own way and rising above their

Jean-Claude Dhôtel, S.J. “Ignatius of Loyola: Who Are you?,” Pamphlet from the Jesuit parish of SaintIgance in Paris, France. ( 6 Bernard Lee, SM and Michael A. Cowan, Gathered and Sent: The Mission of Small Church Communities Today. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 2003). 7 Mais ces militants et militantes ne peuvent pas travailler seuls. Il faut qu'ils soient vraiment les animateurs d'équipes militances; avec un, deux, trois, quatre camarades, on va créer une équipe: équipe de quartier, équipe dans le train, l'usine, le sana; équipe pour ceux ou celles qui se préparent au mariage; équipes de soldats, dans les casernes, en Allemagne, loin de leur famille, de leurs parents. K. Ahern 4

The Christian Call to an Integral Spirituality of Action

particular nature, the concrete demands of the Christian faith for a just, and consequently necessary, transformation of society. Octogesima Adveniens, 51.
Another role played by communities is the educative role. By participating in small Christian communities, Christians of all ages learn how to integrate their faith into their daily lives. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, put out by the Vatican in 2004 recognizes this:

The Church's social doctrine must become an integral part of the ongoing formation of the lay faithful. Experience shows that this formative work is usually possible within lay ecclesial associations.. The Church's social doctrine sustains and sheds light on the role of associations, movements and lay groups that are committed to the Christian renewal of the various sectors of the temporal order. Compendium, 550.
C. A Living Vocation The third element of an integral spirituality of action is to have a living vocation. Often in the Church, we hear calls for prayers for vocations – usually done in a way that makes it seem as if only a few of us have a vocation and that only true vocation is to be a priest or religious. Certainly, the vocation to service in the Church, including ordained priesthood or religious life is very important and valuable – indeed our movements cannot do without committed chaplains (religious and lay) and priests play a key role in facilitating our sacramental life – but they are not the only ones with a Christian responsibility or a vocation. The Second Vatican Council, in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) affirms the Universal Call to Holiness of all of the faithful, a call to a way of living of loving action in the world:

Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society.
Lumen Gentium, 40. All of us, no matter what our ecclesial status (lay woman, priest, lay man, religious, bishop, etc) have a specific vocation or call to witness to the Gospel in our lives. In its Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem), the Council affirms that all of us have a vocation as members of the Mystical Body of Christ: 8

No part of the structure of a living body is merely passive but has a share in the functions as well as life of the body: so, too, in the body of Christ, which is the Church, "the whole body . . . in keeping with the proper activity of each part, derives its increase from its own internal development. (Eph. 4:16) … In the Church there is a diversity of ministry but a oneness of mission. Christ conferred on the Apostles and their successors the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in His name and power. But the laity likewise share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of

A local chaplain of the YCW in Belgium, Jesuit Father, Émile Mersch, SJ (1890-1940) wrote often about the Mystical Body of Christ and focused on how our actions in the world build off of and contribute to the actions of the other members of the body: “the most personal good works of a Christian should find their completion in the works of others; it is the needs and the forces of the whole which will determine for each member his physiognomy, his work, his resources. Some ought to pray for all, others should be charitable for all, still others must teach, or evangelize or care for the sick, or chant the divine office, and always for all and in the name of all. Émile Mersch, SJ, Morality and the Mystical Body, trans. Daniel F. Ryan, SJ (New York: PJ Kennedy, 1939, 112. K. Ahern 5

The Christian Call to an Integral Spirituality of Action

Christ and therefore have their own share in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world. Apostolicam Actuositatem, 2.
Some of us are called to a vocation to work in the Church as lay, religious or ordained ministers. Most of us, however, are called to a vocation which is not primarily an ecclesial function. However, no matter what type of work we are engaged in, whether it be a factory worker, bank manager or an NGO staff member, we are called to witness to Christ in that context. For Cardijn, as you know, this was a very important point for him in developing the YCW. With this Christian vocation, comes a responsibility to witness to Christ in our lives, we cannot compartmentalize or privatize our faith so that it has nothing to say to us at work. What we do on Sunday must have relevant with what we do on Monday. The Second Vatican Council even goes as far as to say that:

Indeed, the organic union in this body and the structure of the members are so compact that the member who fails to make his proper contribution to the development of the Church must be said to be useful neither to the Church nor to himself. Apostolicam
Actuositatem, 2. By living this integral vocation, the informed Christian conscience enters into your personal, professional, commercial, and social lives. With such spirituality you can prayerfully discern what political leaders to vote for and what decisions to make in the public sphere. Such a skill is so important in a world where our consumer choices so strongly impact the environment and the lives of people around the world. The South African Kairos Document stress this integration of Biblical Faith: The Bible does not separate the human person from the world in which he or she lives; it does not separate the individual from the social or one's private life from one's public life. God redeems the whole person as part of his whole creation (Rom 8:18-24). A truly biblical spirituality would penetrate into every 'aspect of human existence and would exclude nothing from God's redemptive will. Biblical faith is prophetically relevant to everything that happens in the world. IV. Living the Spirituality After the Youth Movement

The three elements of Discernment-Charity, being Gathered and Sent, and having a Living Vocation, are all skills that can be learned in the youth movements like the YCW, which help young people on their journey to Christian maturity. Such a role is recognized by the Compendium:

The various specialized associations that gather people together in the name of their Christian vocation and mission within a particular professional or cultural field have a precious role to play in forming mature Christians. Compendium, 550
But as youth movements, the YCW and the other Catholic youth movements are groups all of us must eventually leave and move on to other things. Sadly, many former members of the Catholic Action youth movements go off and try to live their lives without a community to support them. Some have entered roles of power and influence and have seemingly lost the skills that they learned in the youth movements. On the other hand, many former members of our movements have gone off and joined other communities and movements. Some have chosen to join the adult movements that came out of

K. Ahern


The Christian Call to an Integral Spirituality of Action

the youth movements. For the YCW, this is primarily the World Movement of Christian Workers (MMTC-WMCW) – ( although some former YCW members also join other adult movements focusing on a specific profession or role or centered on a specific theme or spirituality, including Pax Romana, the International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs[professionals, intellectuals, etc] ( or the Jesuit inspired movement, the Christian Life Community (CVX) ( If in your country or city, no such movement exists, it might be good to create a worker or professional movement with friends and other former members of the YCW. Such a group might eventually think to affiliate or join other national or international movements. No matter what one decides, it is important for the future of our Church and our world, that our members as they leave our movements have access to other communities which can continue to support and nurture this lifelong spirituality of action.

K. Ahern


To top