These past weeks have been marked by a series of terrorist attacks both on the international and national scene. In Israel, Ireland, Colombia and in Peru these crimes carried out in the name of political projects and ideals which subordinate the value of human life, challenge us to affirm that the path to peace is through justice. This article was published in April 1996.
"NEW MEN, CREATORS OF HISTORY" OR THE END OF HISTORY?
For many of us the words of the song "New Men" are familiar and for me synthesise the spirit of the 1970's, which was more triumphal, utopian and full of dreams. It expresses the religious version of the euphoria that existed in those years for the advances and progress in history and faith in the ability to change the world. The great powers of the time and even the United Nations had two lofty dreams: putting a man on the moon and eradicating poverty, the results of which we all know.
The Latin American Conference in Medellin echoed this euphoria when the Bishops stated: "Latin America (is) a promising reality and full of hope (...) we believe that we are in a new historical epoch (...) we call on all peoples of good will to collaborate in this transforming task of our society, the threshold of a new era". The message ended with these words: "We have faith in God, in men and women, in their values, and in the future of Latin America". This same faith energised the historic processes in the sense of the Christian presence in the world, which was supported by the recent ecumenical council.
The years have gone by and much has changed in the world, but the quality of life of our peoples has not improved. What's more, poverty has become more generalised and the painful experience of the "lost decade", bloodied by terrorism, left too many dead and wounded in its path. The wounds to the heart are very profound and scepticism, fear, lack of confidence, insecurity and the lack of faith and hope for change are felt everywhere. Proof is found in the proliferation of iron bars, gates, walls, alarms and intercom systems that protect us and isolate us.
In the 1990's, we are breathing a different air and there have even been some visionaries who have proclaimed "the end of history and the last man" as an invitation to leave behind utopias and commitment. There are no projects, there is no history because it dissolves in the labyrinth of individual histories that are unconnected. Discontent invades us and the individual, as a way of protecting himself, turns inward in order to save what is fundamental. It is a move from the objective to the subjective, from commitment to intimacy, euphoria to discontent. To put it graphically, it is the move from Prometheus to Narcissus.
It needs to be made clear with what has been said that we are not passing a negative judgement on the present and do not believe that "anytime in the past was better". The disenchantment of post-modernism is not completely negative. There is a strong prophetic criticism that development and progress have not made us happier and that the commitment to changing history should not sacrifice the individual for the sake of the present or the hope of the future. Present and future, individual and cause each have their own value and demand the difficult task of integration without exclusion. Commitment and celebration need not be at odds with each other.
Discontent is seen in post-modernity as a fact and the young people of today do not have the same ideals and idols as the young people of the 1970's. At that time there was a real mystique about commitment and today there is a mystique around individualism, "without neighbour and without history". The individual relies upon himself and on his intimacy as a way of protest against a kind of progress that has not made him happier, against excessive rationality and a drive for efficiency that threatens to turn him into a robot. We can state that we have moved from the famous axiom of Descartes "I think, therefore I am", to one that is more intimate and homely, "I feel, therefore I exist", and now, having been bombarded by publicity and the market to "I buy, therefore I exist". The violence of poverty and terrorism is dehumanising, but so is the violence of the market. With the passing of the years it seems as though all of us are walking down "the boulevard of broken dreams" and we want to feel the "healing hand" that will "teach us how to live again".
It is undeniable that people today, particularly young people, have a different sensibility that is manifested in many different ways. "After the loss of confidence in the project of social transformation, the only thing left is to concentrate forces on personal realisation and there is an unnatural concern for health that is manifested through the obsession with group or individual therapy, exercise and massages, saunas, macrobiotic diets, vitamins, bioenergy, etc." The individual may renounce his or her commitment to society but not to being happy or to personal realisation. The horizon is smaller, but what is being saved cannot be seen as insignificant. We are invited to save the subject, the person, as something fundamental. This would explain the success of Gregorian music that has entered that market not for any spiritual reason, but which allows people to feel at peace and related to the world of mysticism and mystery. The subject is not only action and rationality, it is above all a subject with the ability to feel fear or happiness, to dream and to be afraid. The world of feelings is the most important. Even science seems to confirm the intuition of today's men and women. In the face of the tyranny of reason, science no longer talks about the intellectual coefficient as the determinant of personality, but of the emotional coefficient, not ones' IQ but ones' EQ.
As a confirmation of the rebounding of the subject toward what is essential within as a way of helping the subject from within and making the future possible, we have the publication of the Third Essay Contest for Young People, "Imagine your Future", in which they express how they see the future. It is a future of fear and hope, of heroism and daily routines, of affective relations in which money is not the most important thing, it is almost absent. One of the essays, "Waking up in Lima in the Year 2025", speaks for the rest. At the end of the essay, the protagonist recognises that with the passage of the years "some things seem to have improved, others have gotten worse and many stay the same... I always thought that the future would be marvellous, but Nancy (his wife) says that what is marvellous is making the future, little by little building on the present... How wonderful it is to be awake". The essay concludes with several verses from Javier Heraud: "I have returned. I slept a long year, I rested and I was dead, but I enjoyed the month of April and the white flowers". The seriousness of the commitment cannot make us forget the need to enjoy "April and the white flowers". The ability to dream will always mean the ability to be reborn and to start again.
A CHALLENGE TO THE CHURCH?
In these circumstances it is not wise to condemn, lament or repeat plans, but admit to the differences with other times in history and face the challenges of the present. In the 1970's, the Church assumed the spirit of the day and knew how to inspire and energise the processes of liberation and commitment of Christians because they found there the cause of mankind that God wanted to save, but warned that the kingdom is grace and that salvation, although it also involved politics and economics, is the most magnificent gift from God.
The question we ask ourselves is if, as Church, we know how to offer a word of hope to those "who die without faith because they are tired of struggling". As we are reminded in the words of another well known song: do we know how to re-animate the hope of so many of our brothers with wounded hearts, who are tempted to close in on themselves in a spirituality without neighbours and without history? These are times in which the religious is revived, but times in which religion cannot be used to justify evasion of egotistical and closed individualism. Confronted with a generation that is disillusioned and afraid, the Church must show that it is the bearer of the word of hope and comfort for the people, that the "good news" is at the heart of its pronouncement, that at its essence it is capable of connecting with these people who are looking for affection, personal realisation and happiness. As Church we should cultivate a new way of communicating the Gospel, the Good News, because it is what the people of today need. But we cannot do it from the rationality of a doctrine that is thought of and is transmitted without context, but through the sensibility of the Samaritan, who drew close to tend the wounds and cure the ills of the people. If it wants to be "good news" for the world and announce the kingdom, the Church, as Christ did, should shoulder the ills of mankind.
Our generation, despite its disenchantment (or maybe because of it), because of the discovery of the heart and affection has the foundation to connect with the Gospel. Perhaps the only thing that we are lacking is a prophetic sensibility to connect to the world in which we live that has the right to be saved, as it did in the 1970's. This takes us to a current issue that is not always well understood: how do we evangelise and what does "evangelise" mean, that is, transmit the Good News and not only good doctrine.
FROM AMOS TO HOSEA
We said earlier that the change in our time can be characterised by the move from Prometheus to Narcissus, two figures from Greek mythology. But if we look at the world of faith and our way of transmitting it we can talk about a movement from Amos, the prophet who was a champion of justice, to Hosea, the prophet of mercy and affection, which does not exclude the commitment to justice but integrates it into a higher vision. In this way we see that the prophets have always been great educators of hope because they knew how to read in history the signs of the will of God among his people. Amos and Hosea, were two prophets who spoke different languages, but who are witnesses to God the Saviour. And their new language for a new situation can illuminate our pastoral and evangelical creativity.
a) The context in which Hosea lived
Hosea lived during a very difficult time, 753 to 720 B.C., the year in which the Israelites were expelled from Nineveh. This entire period was dominated by the Assyrians, the super power of the time, and the demands for servitude that they placed on conquered peoples. The policies of this Empire are synthesised in the text of Isaiah:
I have pushed hack the frontiers of peoples and plundered their treasures. I have brought their inhabitants down to dust, and overthrown their leaders from their pedestals. As if they were deserted eggs in a nest, my hand has seized the riches of the people, not with a wing fluttering, not a beak opening, not a chirp (cf. Is 10:13-14).
The last king of Israel, who took his name from the prophet, was named by the King of Assyria, Tiglatpileser III.
In Israel, the presence of the Assyrians made everyone progressively poorer because of the "demands of the sovereign king" (cf. Hos 8:10) and in a very sharp phrase, the prophet tells us "they have devoured Israel" (cf. Hos 8:8 and 5:7). The gold statue of their God, the shepherd (calf) that Jeroboam I placed in Bethel and of which the Israelites were proud, had to be used to pay this kind of "external debt". "The inhabitants of Samaria are trembling for the calf of Bethel, that they brought to Assyria as a tribute to their god" (cf. Hos 10:5-6). As a consequence of this poverty, violence overtook the country. In those last 30 years there were six kings in Israel, four of whom were killed by others who usurped their power: "All of their kings have fallen", says Hosea (cf. 7:7). One example is enough. From Menahem, a usurper of power, the Book of Kings tells us that he "seized Tappuah and killed its inhabitants, devastating its territory from Tirzah onwards, since they would not open the gates to him. And he ripped open all the pregnant women" (2 Kgs 15:16). The prophet confirms that "fights flourished like the weeds in the furrows of the fields" (cf. Hos 10:4) and "there is neither truth nor goodness nor knowledge of God in the country" (Hos 4:2-3). There is too much blood being spilt for God to take count (cf. Hos 1:4).
To make things worse, even religion is contaminated by syncretism with the religion of the Baals, the Canaanite deities of fertility, allowing practices such as sacred prostitution: "your daughters turn to prostitution and your daughters-in-law to adultery" (Hos 4:13). In addition to the references to prostitution in the temples, the language of Hosea reveals a society in which everything is prostituted because of the loss of respect for truth and loyalty. In this context, an invitation is extended to Hosea (the same invitation that was extended to Amos) not to visit the temples because they are centres of sin (cf. Hos 4:13,15).
Hosea lived through a time of crisis that we could consider to be like "the end of history". The prophet is aware of the difficult reality his people will live through in the desert when he says: "There is neither truth nor goodness nor knowledge of God in the country; only perjury, lies, murder, theft and adultery, with continual bloodshed. This is why the country is in mourning and all who live there wasting away" (Hos 4:1-3). God does not recognise Israel as his son or people because the Covenant was broken (cf. Hos 6:7). The great dream or utopia of God that began with the flight from Egypt was now threatened with total failure: the return of Israel to Egypt, that is, to slavery and exile (cf. Hos 8:13; 9:3; 11:5). It is at this time that his message comes to Hosea. God decides from his heart the fate of his son or his wife: "My heart is troubled within me and I am moved with compassion. I will not give vent my great anger" (Hos 11:8-9). In stead of a merciless punishment that a poorly interpreted justice demanded, the prophet chose a different path and language because he was interested in showing that God always saves. "I will heal their wavering and love them with all my heart for my anger has turned from them", even if they are undeserving (cf. Hos 14:5), is what the prophet has God say, becoming the announcer of grace in a time of disgrace.
b) I will speak to their heart
He encouraged a people who are disenchanted, wounded and broken with his language filled with affection, forgiveness, grace and with the conviction that "he who tore us to pieces, will heal us as well; he has struck us down, but he will bind up our wounds. Two days later he will bring us back to life" (Hos 6:1-2), because neither the idols nor the powerful King of Assyria can "cure you or heal your sores" (Hos 5:13). God decided to "cure Israel" (cf. Hos 14:5) with caring and affection, for this "I will talk to their heart" (cf. Hos 2:16).
Hosea, like Amos had more than enough reasons to talk about the demands of the people of the Covenant. But he opted to take a different path and talks to us about "hesed", as the essence of the Covenant with Yahweh. "Hesed" is one of those words that cannot be translated, but like the word knowledge in Hebrew (da'at), it comes from the heart, from what is most profound and authentic in the person. It is, then, caring, affection, love, mercy and grace. It could be that in Israel there was a lack of "hesed", but Yahweh wanted to lavish it on his people because "this is how the Lord loved the Israelites" (cf. Hos 3:1). Hosea holds many of the Paulist convictions that "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Rom 5:20).
The vocabulary and the images that he uses to talk about God lets us into the world of human relations and affection of the Israelites. God is the husband, father and even mother who teaches the child to walk, carries the child in his arms and gives him to eat because "it was I who cared for them, I led them with cords of human kindness, with leading strings of love" (Hos 11:3-4).
Faced with the revolt of his wife, Yahweh, like the impassioned lover, does the unspeakable to win back the wife who has been unfaithful. In tempting language, the prophet says that God "is going to allure" (2:16) Israel with the power of his unconditional affection and forgiveness. Talking heart to heart in the desert, that is, alone without the distraction of anyone else, is how to stir affection, confidence, and the desire to respond from the bottom of the heart without fear and in a state of pure grace.
We could continue to talk about Hosea, but that is not the case at this time. The prophet gives us a new prophetic language for those who want to reach their people and, like God, win over their wife. It will not be through ideas or well known doctrine, but from the ties of love and caring that heal the person from within, although the demands for justice are pressing for us. Hosea was not uninterested in justice, but goes to the heart of injustice among us, which stems not from the lack of laws or documents but from a lack of heart.
The new evangelisation, which is talked about so often today, should be less doctrinal and moralistic and should take the wounds of the hearts of men and women in serious and heal them. For this we need a conversion to grace, that is, the gratuitous love of God and the joy of feeling loved, wanted and valued. It should not be insistence on "duty" but on "being" that should motivate men because the human being is not defined only by "doing" or "having" but by "being". The first truth about being is not "I think, therefore I am", which is based on reason, but "I feel, therefore I am", which comes from the heart and is the most profound and authentic essence of the human being. I am capable of feeling because I have received my existence as a free gift, because others thought of me before I existed. This not only comes from human parents, but also from God in relation to the child. As Jeremiah said, God has thought of us even before we were born. And to all of us, like God and his Son, Jesus, he says, "I have called you by your name, you are mine ... you are precious in my sight, and important — for I have loved you" (Is 43:1,4). The truth on which our lives should rest is that someone loved us first (cf. l Jn 4:19), with eternal love (Jer 31:3), and blessed us from before the creation of the world (Eph 1:3-4).
Perhaps one of the greatest traumas of the human being is feeling unloved or unvalued, which is why the person of today needs us to talk more about the original blessing than original sin, although this is an undeniable reality. The most profound decision of our God, however, is that where sin abounds grace will abound even more. This is also an undeniable aspect of our faith. Existence is a marvellous gift of love, from God and from our parents. It is opening up to grace, to gratitude and the joy of living by discovering that we are loved, valued and blessed as a way of counterbalancing and healing the conscience that is plagued by indignation caused by being undervalued, which leads many of our brothers to have low self-esteem. On the other hand, in a mercantile society, where everything is bought and sold and we are all tempted to value the human being for what he has, converting to the grace and gratitude that come from the heart is one of the convictions that needs to be strengthened today in order to develop the ability to contemplate, think and marvel at mystery and beauty. In the face of so much insecurity experienced in our existence, only the overwhelmed heart, which in Ignatian spirituality is known as "so much good received", is capable of doing everything with the spirit of "do as you will Lord" and with the unconditional availability for service. Talking to the heart revives the best of the heart, which is love and giving of oneself.
As a application of the practice of "talking to the heart" of today's men and women, I see the difficult problem of the sects and their spread. Personally, I am not concerned about them spreading, what concerns me is why they are growing, what are they offering that we do not know how to offer as Church. I think the answer is that while we talk more to the head and of duty, they talk more to the heart and the person. They are not convincing people with the doctrine they preach but with the human feeling with which they preach. The difference is clear from the moment you enter the temple: in the sects the person is received from the minute he enters the door, while in our churches the person goes unnoticed. Undoubtedly, they talk more to the heart, which is why they are winning. Our liturgies talk more about power and reason. It is an urgent pastoral task to invent a new language that reaches the heart and heals it, and, as in the time of Hosea, the people "will respond like in the days of their youth" (cf. Hos 2:17).
c) "She will call me my husband, and never again my Baal" (Hos 2:18)
The problem, however, is much more complicated than a simple change in language. It means "changing" God, discovering a different God that is closer to what Paul calls "the God of Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph 1:17). This is what is expressed in Hosea's phrase you will call me your husband, you will not call me your idol (cf. Hos 2:18). It is a different way of relating to God because it is a different discovery of God.
In the time of Hosea, religious syncretism allowed for a confusion between Yahweh and the idols of fertility, the gods that offered security because they provided well-being and abundance. These were the Baals (idols). The Baals survived even if they changed their appearances and their names. It is about faith in power, in money, or strength that makes us feel safe. In the time of Hosea there were alliances between political, economic and military powers, which the prophet says cannot cure us or heal our wounds (cf. Hos 5:13). Our people have had the same experience with the inability of the poorly understood "progress" to save. What we need to do is abandon the idols and convert to the only true God who can save. That is, we need to discover that progress is not only economic, having more, but means being more, and there are also other values at play. The hunger of the human being is not satisfied by bread alone. There is much to be done to convert the economy and politics to the service of life. This will always be the task of prophetic criticism, which has a lot to do with counterculture because it is interested in saving people.
The prophet's phrase, however, has another meaning which we would like to highlight. He tells us that not only did the idols disappear (wars are one of them, (cf. Hos 2:19 and 2:20), but that God stops being an idol. God converted into an idol is one of the worst things that can happen to mankind. God is an idol when he becomes an oppressor through fear, guilt, or an obligation out of duty, that is, when he no longer speaks to our hearts and moves us, but when he terrorises us.
This is what the prophet says through a play on words in the phrase that we have already used: You will call me your Ish, you will not call me your Baal. Baal is an idol, but it also means husband in terms of being the owner and lord of the wife. The relationship between husband and wife is one of despotism and submission because they are not equals. On the contrary, Ish means husband in the terms of companion, of equal, when the two can speak heart to heart and there is affection and love. And this is the relationship that God wants with his wife, with his people. He does not want fear from obligation, duty or guilt, but caring and confidence in unlimited love. It is not about being a lord but about being a father (mother and husband). What God wants is a wife or a child, not a slave.
The new evangelisation has much to do in this field because our "baptised" people have not been capable of discovering the joy of the Gospel and of having an experience of talking heart to heart with God. Proof is in the widely held conviction that God punishes or the sensation of guilt and unworthiness that is felt when getting close to God. For many Christians, receiving the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, is a gift for the dignified. Once again we can look at the sects to illustrate this point. Our way of preaching is more moralising and laden with guilt (you have to comply to merit) than Christ centred (the Lord saves and forgives). Christians, educated in a tradition of merit and effort, are not convinced of our belief in the God of grace. The words of the prophet are important: Do not call me idol, but husband.
d) The valley of Achor will become a way to hope
The language of the prophet Hosea talks to the heart, but not as a way of forming a spirituality that avoids reality. The language of the heart ends in marriage. "You will be my spouse forever", says Hosea (2:21) and the belief of being won over by the gratitude of love opens the hearts of others to the future, to history and to hope. The discovery of the sense of life in the security of love comes from God. To experience God in this way ("to know", according to Hosea) opens us up to the commitment to justice and right, but also to caring, affection, tenderness, faithfulness and the "joy of April and the white flowers", to quote J. Heraud. And experiencing these things is experiencing God, "to know God". I will marry you forever, I will marry you with integrity and justice, with tenderness, love, and faithfulness and you will know your Lord. (cf. Hos 2:21-22).
This is why the prophet dares to say that the "valley of disgrace" will become a way of hope (cf. Hos 2:17). The valley of disgrace is an allusion to the Israelites arrival to the promised land through the valley of Achor, which means disgrace. The Israelites baptised it with this name as a way of remembering their entrance into the promised land by a difficult path (Jer 7:24-26). The new entrance that God proposes for the future will have a different name because the situation is different. We have an admirable example of what the prophet tells us in what was Tarata Street in Miraflores, (destroyed by a Shining Path terrorist attack in July 1993) a symbol of the decade of terror in Peru that is now called the "Walk of Solidarity". When man experiences a God who talks to his heart, the "boulevard of broken dreams" or the "valley of disgrace" become a "way of hope".
The magnitude of poverty is not the only thing that motivates our commitment to liberation and the option for the poor. We are motivated further when we discover the gratuity of God's love that moves us to commitment and dedication, and when we experience this sensibility in our own lives. Talking heart to heart transmits to us something of what afflicts the heart of the common Father and invites us to dream, what he dreams that will always be a door to hope for our people.
In these lines we have let ourselves be guided by the prophet Hosea, but the Bible as a whole is an appeal from God to win over the hearts of men and women, change them and save them. The New Testament is the birth of this appeal. The mystery of the incarnation, God with a human face, talks to us of God's ability to speak heart to heart, face to face and look to look. That is, he invites us to discover the sacrament of salvation through the sacrament of touch, look or smile. Jesus announced the Kingdom, but not only as doctrine: he did so mainly when he cured the infirm, hugged children, touched the sick, looked, cared for and returned confidence and dignity to human beings. St Matthew tells us that Jesus "took away our infirmities and took on himself our diseases" (Mt 8:17). And the invitation of Jesus for us to become children, to be born again to enter the Kingdom (cf. Mk 10:14-16) is an invitation for us open ourselves to the world of grace, tenderness, caring and affection, like children. For this reason nearly all people remember childhood as a happy time. By becoming children we can enter the heart of the Father, we feel secure and the doors to hope are opened. People of today need a word or a gesture that will reach their hearts and they will find their God.
Vol. XXVII, Sep./Oct. 1996.
Vol. XXVII, Sep./Oct. 1996.