Monday, February 17, 2014

Week's Update


We are back to having weekly sports on Wednesday afternoon. This last Wednesday was a bit of a highlight for me. Not only did my team win our game of touch rugby and then basketball, but most of our playing happened in the rain. This actually turned out to be great for basketball. Many of the guys don’t actually know how to play basketball. Among those who do know, the game looks a fair bit different from what Americans will be used to. For example, tackles are illegal, but I don’t think we’ve heard of either fouls or free throws. The final score is usually painfully low, and many students are incredibly self-conscious about trying to not look incompetent as we all play a game in which it is clear that almost all of us are incredibly incompetent. But the rain, counter-intuitively, changed all of this. The rain led to the occasional complete wipe-out, which provided some necessary comic relief. One could always blame the rain for one’s failures, and there was a lot more laughing than normal. And our final score was much higher than normal as well!


As the paragraph above would indicate, we have had a lot of rain. The power has also been out maybe half of the time over the last week. I still like the rain, though. There are few things more satisfying in life than a good thunderstorm and tropical downpour. One memory that stands out from the past week was our time of Eucharistic Adoration on Sunday evening, with continuous thunder outside.


A semi-wild village dog had her puppies under our house for a while. I found one whimpering outside a door at night and ended up playing with him for a while before I handed him off to our cook’s wife, who was eager to raise him. Later, a second puppy suddenly came up on the porch in the middle of the day looking for someone to play with. I was quite enamored with the puppy, and was debating whether I would try holding on to him rather than letting him follow his mother away. I was thinking I could name the two puppies Cyril and Methodius, since they were found on their feast day, and because Cyril and Methodius were also brothers (and missionaries to the Slavic peoples over a thousand years ago). His flea issues were one factor in the equation, and one of the brothers I live with saw them as pests and chased the mother and puppies away before I could make a move to address the flea issues. I guess it wasn’t meant to be!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Quick Thoughts on the Beginning of Classes

Classes have begun. All teachers probably thrive on the look of new comprehension on the faces of students. I won’t say I’m constantly greeted by that look, but it sure is nice when it comes.

We’ve had some changes in staff, and the whole curriculum is in flux due to the addition of a second propaedeutic (preparatory) year of study. We’re figuring things out as we go along. In classes, like research papers, I find that I desire to do a great deal of background research, but then find myself taken aback when I have to actually write or teach something.

What I am trying to keep in mind as I begin this new school year:

“We need to remember that all religious teaching ultimately has to be reflected in the teacher’s way of life, which awakens the assent of the heart by its nearness, love and witness.” – Pope Francis in “Joy of the Gospel” (EG 42)

Monday, February 3, 2014

Missions, Money, and the Joy of the Gospel

I am back at St. Fidelis, having made a short trip up to Ukarumpa to see my dad who was briefly stopping by there before attending a meeting in Port Moresby. It was a good, short visit.

While in Ukarumpa I made a visit to my old friend, the Ukarumpa community library, and bought a couple books that they had on sale for one kina. One that I am almost done with now is called “Missions and Money:Affluence as a Western Missionary Problem.” It is interesting for a number of reasons. Aside from the topic itself, the book caught my eye because it is published by Orbis books, which is associated with Maryknoll, the Catholic Foreign Mission Association of the US. It also has a forward written by a Capuchin (Capuchins are a type of Franciscan. It is Capuchin Franciscans who I live and work with here). But, the book is written primarily for evangelicals by a Mennonite who identifies as an evangelical. Finally, the author, Jonathan Bonk, is himself an mk (missionary kid), who grew up in Ethiopia.

His anecdotes and sources connected in many ways with some things I’ve observed and thought about in both Protestant and Catholic mission contexts. One thing I wanted to share was some quotes he had which relate more or less directly to the post I made a not too long ago on what it means to be treated like a “white man” here in PNG. The following is a quote from Malcolm Muggeridge, on his experiences as a teacher in India some decades ago:

“It was like suddenly inheriting a peerage and being addressed as My Lord. Just by virtue of being English and white, if you went to buy a ticket at a railway station, people made way for you. Similarly, in a shop. It was very insidious. At first I found it embarrassing and distasteful; then, though I continued to ridicule it, I came to count upon receiving special treatment. Finally, when for some reason it was not accorded, there was an impulse to become sulky and irritated. From that it is but a small step to shouting and insisting, as in the days of the Raj, I saw happen often enough. Our position in India as a ruling race corrupted all concerned; solders….missionaries…everyone. It also corrupted the Indians.” (Bonk, p. 51)

Bonk rightly expects that most western missionaries will identify with this quote in some way. Bonk goes on:

“Nor are modern missionaries any less susceptible to the seeds of corruption which such undeserved deference always carries with it. It is an attitude of entitlement whereby the rich rationalize their own good fortune and blame the victims for their poverty. It is a defensive mechanism which enables the rich to keep more than they need even when in close social contact with destitute people who have less than they need.” (Bonk p. 52)

I think it is this seed of corruption which so concerns me. I am ashamed to say that I think I can discern its presence within me. It is all too easy to write this blog post as if I were complaining about other missionaries.

One possible antidote to this corruption that I have thought about may be gratitude. In the Mass, it can be easy to zone out for the words, which speak about the centrality of thanksgiving in the Christian life:  “truly it is right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give Him thanks and praise…”, but there is profound theology concealed throughout the Mass. When I thank God continually for everything I am and have, I will hopefully be filled with a deep sense that I do not deserve it, and that ultimately all good things are meant to be redirected towards the God from whom they come. It should be noted that this ability to even give proper thanks and praise can only happen “through Him, with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit”—through, with, and in Jesus Christ—which is exactly what we are doing at Mass.

At one point Bonk talks about the sense of superiority which one can begin to carry when one is on the affluent side of such distinct economic disparity.

“It is hard to behave like a servant when you are rich and powerful, while those whom you serve are poverty stricken and weak. In such situations, it is common to redefine the word ‘service’ to mean whatever we are inclined to do for someone else.” (Bonk, p. 52)

The Joy of the Gospel

Now, some quotes from Evangelii Gaudium, which really should be read in full. Despite its length, it is quite readable. Everyone seems to have an opinion about Pope Francis now, so we might as well try to base our opinions on something that he actually wrote.

I have selected some quotes which I think relate to what I wrote about just above. I think it worth noting that Pope Francis in one section noted that he was specifically speaking to members of the Catholic Church: “I want to say, with regret, that the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care….Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential pastoral care.” (EG paragraph 200)

Isolation and insulation from the people one works among are one of the costs of missionary affluence, according to Bonk. At the very beginning of the Exhortation, Pope Francis noted that:

“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a bunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.” (EG 2)

The response?

“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.” (EG 3)

As anyone who reads the news may know, Pope Francis did talk a fair bit about the centrality of concern for the poor in this document. One thing that has struck me is that while concern for the structural causes of poverty are certainly present in Catholic reflection on morality, the first concern has to be for poor people. Sometimes talk about poverty can even become an excuse for not letting poor people into the intimacy of our own lives and concerns, which is exactly what Pope Francis thinks Jesus calls us to do.

I haven’t followed the reception of this Apostolic Exhortation too closely, but it seems that, as is usually the case, the secular media interprets Papal statements through a political, issue-driven lens. And Christian teaching must, if it is to be incarnated, address “issues” including political ones. But if you read this text you will see that it is by no means a detailed position paper on capitalism or the structural causes of poverty, although it has something to say about both of them. It would be unfortunate if we were so focused on the ways in which what is said about these could support this or that political ideology, that we missed the call to conversion, which I think any honest reader would have to agree is the main thrust of the document.

I’m wandering a bit, but this quote, too, connects back to the “Missions and Money” book:

“No one must say that they cannot be close to the poor because their own lifestyle demands more attention to other areas. This is an excuse commonly heard in academic, business or professional, and even ecclesial circles….I fear that these words too may give rise to commentary or discussion with no real practical effect. That being said, I trust in the openness and readiness of all Christians, and I ask you to seek, as a community, creative ways of accepting this renewed call.” (EG 201)

“Mary, Virgin and Mother,
you who, moved by the Holy Spirit,
welcomed the word of life
in the depths of your humble faith:
as you gave yourself completely to the Eternal One,
help us to say our own “yes”
to the urgent call, as pressing as ever,
to proclaim the good news of Jesus
…help us to bear radiant witness to communion,
service, ardent and generous faith,
justice and love of the poor,
that the joy of the Gospel
may reach to the ends of the earth,
illuminating even the fringes of our world.

Mother of the living Gospel,
wellspring of happiness for God’s little ones,
pray for us.

Amen. Alleluia!” (EG 288)