The Christian Call to an Integral Spirituality of Action - DOC

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					                           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 (IMCS-
Pax Romana)1, doctoral student in Theological Ethics, Boston College to the CIJOC International
Council, 27 June, 2008

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    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

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
  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: (http://www.iycs-

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

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

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

           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:

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

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.‖


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.
  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 Saint-
Igance in Paris, France. (
  Bernard Lee, SM and Michael A. Cowan, Gathered and Sent: The Mission of Small Church Communities
Today. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 2003).
  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

          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                                                                                              6
                         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                                                                                           7