Structures, institutions, have been instrumental in preventing the building up of the church of the poor. Oppressive, sinful structures. At times they have been carelessly set up because leaders do not know any better. Most of the times they have been set up in order to perpetuate the hold on power by the privileged few.
There have been attempts to remove these structures. More often these were bloody. These were met with resistance. Or tragically, the old structures were removed only to give way to more oppressive structures having disguised themselves in the name of good intentions. Power really corrupts.
There is an alternative way. The way that Christ has lived with his apostles. A way of life that has forsaken the lure of power. A way of life open to the will of the Father. A way of life that is poor in order to be free. Free to love, free to serve, free to do the bidding of God.
This is the way of the small caring group, the basic ecclesial communities. It is not a structure but a way of life from the underbelly of society. It is about the little children, the least, the last and the lost, who have given themselves the power and the dignity to be themselves, creatures of God, loved by God, no matter what.
In order for a way of life to flourish, there should be a common understanding of the foundations, pillars and directions to be taken by the members of the community. The Basic Ecclesial Community is built on the solid foundation of Christ crucified, Christ who is poor, and we who have chosen to enter into a loving relationship with Him. The 5 pillars are Koinonia, Leitourgia, Kerygma, Diakonia, Church of the Poor. The directions or stages of growth of each member and the whole BEC as well are Members, Disciples, Ministers, Missionaries, Prayer Leaders and Servant Leaders. These are taken from church documents and scriptures. These have been reflected upon in order for the church to be continually built up.
What about the input of the community? There is reciprocity. Spiral growth as it were. These concepts are enfleshed by the members through prayers, reflections, activities. They are deepened and given new realities as the community journeys and reflects with Christ who is poor.
We will be starting with 16 Basic Ecclesial Communities. This will be the main priority of the parish. All the activities, all the ministries and organisations will be in support of the creation, formation, strengthening of the base communities. All the formation programs, the liturgical celebrations will be geared towards the training and empowerment of the leaders of the base communities. Structures exist and will be made to exist in order to support these base communities. In short, structures are there to support a way of life. A life of justice, service and love.
There are many ways to do theology. Many approaches, many ways to skin a cat, so to speak.
But if faithfulness to the word is to be followed, there is, in my opinion, only one way to go about doing theology. That is to do theology from the grassroots. From experience. From the world, its history and all the dirtiness that it entails.
Academic theology (and I am not disparaging in any way, shape or form the scholarly theologians who are continuously doing us that great service of educating us, I am rather referring to doing theology from above and I am clumsily coming up with a convenient summative word) is distilling the experience so that the underlying principles, methodologies and whatnots can be had.
Doing theology is the continuous reflection on experience, one deepening the other, always an active contemplation on history and the God working within history.
That is why this kind of theologising is full of dangers. This travelling along the stormy seas of history is filled with the perils of being run aground, hitting hidden rocks and even becoming lost along the way.
A good thing to keep in mind when doing theology – it is Christ who comes to us when the waves become too high and dangerous, when the storms not even of our making threaten to sink us. It is He who calms the storms after all.
One writer from one of the national news network rightly observed that the Philippines, a tropical country, has four seasons. The dry and wet season, Christmas season. And the election season.
When election time comes, the satirical, if not painful spectacle becomes even grander when seen in the setting of the poor community. There are a lot of votes to be had, if for only a few pieces of silver, and the politicians think, they not only have the votes of the poor in their grasps, but their very souls as well.
But there is hope. The poor are getting back, if such words can be taken to be good. Credit is due not only to social media, not only to the good intentions of news networks and NGO’s to educate the voting population, but most of all, to good old fashioned community inter-action where ideas, opinions and observations are being exchanged, re-fashioned and even corrected based on common sense, conscience and faith. The poor have been abused too many times, they have grown tired of the empty promises and the endless plundering. The poor are in search of people whom they can trust, citizens whom they can work with and politicans who are, for a change, really willing to listen to them and work for them. In society, most of the times, the poor do not have the voice and the power. That is what the election gives them. An opportunity to cast their lots with those who really care. It would be good then for the candidates to take heed, yes, the poor we will always have with us, that is why, it is never wise to underestimate them, for when they allow the Spirit of God to work in their midst, they will be the ones to renew the face of the earth.
It is important to reflect on what makes a church, a church of the poor. There are, in my opinion, various elements. The most important is Spirituality. With the capital S. Without it, the move to become a church of the poor would be reduced to mere activism and ideology. A Marxist labeling would not be considered unfair. That is why a way of life that is grounded, centered and leading to Christ is important and must be driven home to the members of the community, from the priest, to the religious, lay volunteers and the newly baptized. This invitation to an intimate and loving relationship with Christ crucified must be the core of the kerygma of the Church. Because of this, the foundation of the community will be strong, no matter how strong the quakes, storms or waves that will come its way.
If transformation is to be desired by a community, one of the key factors to bring about change is awareness (teachings, catechism, etc).
5 minute basic catechism before the mass has been implemented. (Teachings on the life of San Pedro Calungsod, on the sacrament of confession, on the Eucharist…)
A theology series is currently being taught by Bro. Christian Manaloto, a friend and classmate, currently teaching in Miriam College.
A financial literacy series will be taught by Bro. Chris Cantal, from Ascension Parish.
A leadership series is currently being taught by Fr. Didoy Molina.
There is, and will always be, stratification in society. It is an inescapable reality. It is built-in within any community. Put people together and realities of inequalities will soon be brought to light. It can be a good thing, those who have more will care for those who have less. The alphas will dominate, it is a fact of life, but leadership can corrupt. Put up a table for a feast and there will be a mad scramble for the best seats. Not just for the sake of having the best food but the prestige that comes with it.
A sadder reality of stratification was brought to the fore in one of our informal sharing. An outsider made tasteless comments about the community, its poverty and status. If looking down on people is an art, that person would be a committed practitioner. Such incidents bring blessings though. Personal issues and wounds are brought to the fore, and our ways of dealing with such incidents call us, invite us, challenge us to examine more of ourselves, not on those who are trying to inflict wounds. We have too many wounds already, to forgive and move on is the only way to go about it. Fighting back to inflict wounds on others will in the end, pain and wound us more than the other person. By accepting who we are, no matter how wounded or scarred, we are people who are loved and created with dignity, we become co-pilgrims of Christ, wounded, carrying the cross, and crucified. And we know that whoever looks upon Him receives healing and salvation.
To commit to love the poor, to have the preferential option for the poor is not an easy task.
It should not even be a task. It should be a way of life.
And as a way of life, it is something that should be examined in the perspective of a relationship, a real relationship.
To borrow the thoughts of St. John of the Cross, there will come a time when this commitment, this ministry, this way of life will undergo the dark night of the soul.
As any relationship that enters first the honeymoon period, that stage when everything and everyone seems good and feels good, when nothing can ever go wrong, that will all go away and turn for the worse, if not the worst, if that relationship is to advance and deepen. That is when one enters the agonising experience of the dark night of the soul, when one is led to question whether the decision made was really right or should have been made in the first place. And that is when purification happens. When one is led to examine one’s motivations and choices and ways of dealing with the relationship. Am I really in love with the poor, or am I in love with the idea of loving the poor?
When a sincere confrontation happens, when a full consideration of what the relationship calls for, a sharing in all the joys and fears, the hopes and sorrows, what takes place then is that one is given the space and the time for a mature decision to fully enter the relationship and continue the journey or to walk out of it.
It is that moment, when, in love, and in full surrender, as Jesus has said, “not my will but yours, Father,” that we will be able to freely and fully commit ourselves in love to the poor, even until death.