The workshop on Interculturality is finished. It was an intense week with a lot of promises for the future, that the delegates will have to share with their Provincial Councils and with their confreres so that we may all become better witnesses of the Gospel of Love and Respect of each other. Francis Barnes, referent of the GC for ongoing formation, made that point very clear in his homily of the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary time, at the closing mass of the workshop.
23rd Sunday of O.T. (C) - Closing mass of the workshop on Interculturality - Rome G.C. 7th September 2019
“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
Wow, these are not easy words and surely in the close knit kinship of Jewish relationships, especially, the words seems almost heretical. Such words may seem over the top when so often we firmly believe that family surely must come first, allegiance to my kith and kin surely must come first; it cannot be otherwise. Allegiance to my province of origin must come first, to my country, to those of the same ethnic background surely must take priority. Whether we like it or not gospel living is not easy; it was never meant to be easy. Many times in the gospels Jesus warns the disciples about the challenges they would face – he warns them that the road of discipleship will be rugged and steep, full of twists and turns and many times we will be challenged as to where our allegiance lies. No wonder the gospel is hard to believe in, no wonder that so many of us are afraid to let go, we don’t like to lose to all that we cling to and all that we think makes up our identity, our family, our ambitions, our security, our prestige, our power or whatever. To let go is so counter cultural and like the disciples we vacillate, we waver; we are not very sure about just what to let go of; we are ambivalent, torn between our intention to do God’s will and our intention to pursue our own desires.
Yet according to the gospels, discipleship means utter dedication. It demands everything; the whole heart, the whole mind, and the whole of life – and why? Because of the kingdom and its values. Half –hearted Christianity is no Christianity; half-hearted discipleship is no discipleship; half-hearted belief in interculturality is no interculturality. It has to be worked at, it demands a lot, our time, our energy and our whole hearted commitment.
When I was in the first phase so many years ago we used to sing a song – ‘and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.’ How will people know we are missionaries of Africa? They will know because of our interculturality, they will know by our desire to walk with the lowly of this world, the downtrodden and the weak in a land and culture that is not our own but where the people we strive to serve have become our brothers and sisters, our family. They will know we are missionaries of Africa because in the intcultural communities in which we live and work we offer a glimpse of what the world could be like, without its divisions, its prejudices, its self-concern and desire for self-preservation.
And so I think Jesus is not just saying “love me more” but he is warning us that if we really live the life of discipleship, we’ll be accused of “hating” our families. If we truly live as intercultural communities we may be accused of turning our back on our own culture, on our background, or where we come from. Some will accuse us of putting at risk the interests of those for whom we have great responsibility, they might accuse us of not loving our country, our families or those with whom culturally we should be in solidarity with. That’s where discipleship really begins to cost us.
The fact is that real love always involves risks. Real interculturality always involves risk. Real intercultural community living always invloves going beyond our comfort zones. Surely as missionaries of Africa we are the ones able to show the way even though some might believe that such communities are founded on risky, socially controversial foundations where conflict and clashes of interest will be inevitable. But then the call of discipleship, the call to truly be true witnesses of a different way of being in the world surely is worth whatever discomfort and teething problems that may arise.
What is true is that Jesus does not want us to hate our close family members, our nation – we are not called even to hate our life; we are called to love and to love means that we must be ready to sacrifice things and to let go of certain situations or even relationships if they prevent us from really loving. Jesus is telling us that in him we are one family – we are all kith and kin; we are all brothers and sisters, and we must help one another in our endeavour to live out the gospel in an ever more powerful way. This is surely true of ourselves who desire so much to live in Intercultural communities. Jesus has gone that way before us, and as we gather around this Eucharist table we are reminded that his body and blood were poured out so that we might be one. His life and death remind us that on the other side of the deep waters of disrepute, of prejudice, of self-concern lies a new way of being brothers, a new way of witnessing in the world: let us then at the end of this beautiful session on interculturality recommit ourselves to the goals and aspirations we cherish so that our community living be a powerful witness that may in its own small way bring healing and wholeness to a divided and wounded world.