By Sister Teresa Linda
In the face of so many forms of global injustice which affect us every day through the media, we are called to carefully reconsider the way we cultivate our relationships so that justice and peace, mercy and truth may meet and inhabit our earth more widely (cf. Psalm 84). Yes, because either we practise justice concretely in our relationships with creation, with each other and with the totally Other, or it will remain an abstract and sterile principle.
Justice as the first and essential dynamic of love, as the search for measure, for balance – neither too much nor too little – lives in thought, word and action. Justice is the core of the network of relationships that embraces humans in their horizontal and vertical dimensions. We are immersed in the relationships that generate, receive and care for the life that is given to us as a gift and to which we must give continuity ever more fully.
As Sisters of the Good Shepherd, we are moved by the vision of a global culture of justice that the Congregation calls us to experience in every community in the world, both sisters and lay partners connected with the territory: a culture that is deeply inclusive and in dialogue with different faiths and value systems since it is also based on the universal rule, essential and present in all human groups: the “Golden Rule” or ethics of reciprocity, in its negative and positive forms, “Do not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated” and “Treat others as you would like others to treat you.”
Our relationship with the other is central to this rule. When put into practice, it helps to limit negative actions towards others and promotes forms of behaviour that nourish opportunities of life, possibilities of common good and therefore of future. It is interesting to note that in the 10 Words that constitute the Covenant between God and the people of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai, only the first three concern the relationship with God while the remaining seven concern interpersonal relationships. These 10 Words, although most of them are formulated in the negative form, indicate paths of life and good for a just and peaceful coexistence.
Towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus too refers to the “Golden Rule”, makes it his own using the positive form and links it to the tradition of the people of Israel: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 7,12). He, however, calls his disciples to make further progress in their own lives so that justice may grow more and more into love, according to God’s perspective. For Jesus, it is necessary to be in a continuous learning process in order to manage to include in love even our enemies (Lk 6:27-38), taking as an example and measure his own way of loving: “Love each other as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). The measure of love is therefore no longer just the human being but God himself, who by becoming man in Jesus has in some way united himself with every human being and who will consider what is done to others as done to himself (Mt 25:40).
Actually, paraphrasing the Prologue of John’s Gospel “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1), we could say that in the beginning was relationship and relationship was and is human life. God created us in his image, in the image of the One and Triune God, a communal relationship in diversity so that together with Him we collaborate for the care and continuity of creation.
However, we must admit that very often as Christians and also as Europeans, throughout history, we have not been able to recognise and respect others in their diversity in our relationship with them. Our modern world dates its birth in 1492 with the so-called “discovery of America.” For us Europeans, this date represents the beginning of an era of new trade routes, transatlantic trade and colonial expansion. But for millions of natives who had lived undisturbed until then and who had generated cultures and worldviews different from ours, this date marks the advent of the dominators who imposed their power by force to the point of destroying most of their world and culture.
The modern West was born from the removal of the Other: this psychological mechanism is visible both when we call the other “one of us”, disregarding their religious and cultural differences, and when we call the other “too different from us”, disregarding their equality in our shared humanity.
We had to wait for the Jubilee of the Year 2000: that is when we began to take responsibility for this anti-evangelical and destructive behaviour towards the existing. In the Universal prayer of confession of sins and asking for forgiveness, John Paul II will confess, in the name of the whole Church, the sins of believers committed through behaviour against love, peace, the rights of peoples, respect for cultures and religions, thus addressing the Lord:
Lord of the world, Father of all,
through your Son you asked us to love our enemies,
to do good to those who hate us and to pray for those who persecute us.
Yet Christians have often denied the Gospel; yielding to a mentality of power,
they have violated the rights of ethnic groups and peoples, and shown contempt for their cultures and religious traditions:
be patient and merciful towards us, and grant us your forgiveness!
The acknowledgement of sins and the request for forgiveness are the first steps towards reconciliation and the healing of individuals and nations, as Father Balducci urged: “What happened should not be left in the past; we know that, by a psychological law that can be extrapolated and applied also to peoples, continents, and humanity as a whole, certain facts of the past live on, they are very active in the present and constitute that morbid core from which the neuroses, the death instinct and the inexplicable aggressiveness of the modern world spring.”
Recognizing the other as equal in their humanity and different in their uniqueness and cultivating this awareness in our heart, opens paths to listening, to dialogue, to mutual knowledge and collaboration: we thus stop seeing the stranger as a danger and an enemy to defend ourselves against; while enriching ourselves through their diversity, we re-explore our identity in a new light, precisely because of the encounter between different people.
In another extract from Father Ernesto Balducci’s text that I meditated on last summer, I read a passage that I find profound and forward-looking and which I would like to share here:
“Only the ability to listen can put us in front of the Other, of their different humanity, in the condition of understanding that this humanity directly concerns us… We carry within us something that is Other than us, but this otherness is not only the shadow: it is light, it is the objective potentiality of higher human forms in which cultures understand each other, in which diversities are not cancelled, nor assimilated but remain as such in the game of mutual exchange in view of ever higher understandings. Otherness is the vehicle of our expansion, because by understanding the Other who is in me and outside of me, I expand myself, remaining other than the Other that I have understood.”
Today more than ever, in these inner and relational dimensions, the Church, through the magisterium of Pope Francis, calls us to a greater commitment to transformative conversion, so that the capacity of the Gospel to renew personal and community life continues to spread in a world that is structurally changing.
We are there and we will be there, with our Positions and our daily commitment, following the common thread “Attracted by love, passionate for justice” suggested by the 31st General Chapter, which recommends “a leadership that promotes and facilitates a culture of justice within our communities and ministries.” Let’s make a difference together!