Friday, March 20, 2015

Spirituality: Persons for Others

When Pedro Arrupe first used the term “men for others” in an address to alumni in 1973, he meant to inspire Jesuits and their colleagues to learn more about social justice efforts. This was an effort brought about by the reforms of Vatican II that asked religious orders to “return to their original charisms” of their founding documents. It necessitated a looking back at Constitutions and Norms while looking forward into a world that needed social change to make it more faithful to the Gospel.

The term “Men for Others” captured the spirit of this renaissance that impelled us to “read the signs of the times” and to be on the cutting edge of the new frontiers. The term easily rolled off the tongues of many and became an energizing slogan. At that time, alumni were mostly men. Jesuits staffed most of the colleges and universities that in short order would witness diminishing numbers. As the times changed, the term quickly needed to be adapted.

In the early 1980’s as schools went co-educational, students were being formed as “men and women for others.” The term made it more representational of the lay men and women who are essential parts of the Jesuit and Catholic mission. The Jesuit Superior General made a crucial adaptation that made it a more accurate, but a less tongue-flowing term: We form “men and women with and for others.”

One has to be “with” others before they can be “for” them. As students experience during service and immersion trips, they are the ones who are changed. They thought they were going to improve the lives of others, but they are the ones who were taught a lesson. Solidarity means that we are simply with someone – just as God is in solidarity with us.

Red flags are waved and all the bells go off when someone goes into a situation to say, “I am going to change someone. I want to make their lives better.” The desire to change someone is disruptive and an unwanted intrusion – even if your way works better. The desire to speak for someone else follows the same pattern. Speak for yourself; let others do their own speaking.

The philosophy behind Catholic missiology (and service and mission trips) needed updating because we learned imposing our ideas or values upon others followed faulty logic even though the intentions were good. We have to examine our issues around control and authority, especially as we integrate the tenets of Scripture into our practices.

God does not use force or violence. God does not bully or coerce. God does not place demands that limit our choices. God issues forth gentle requests and invitations. God encourages and promotes freedom. God respects free choice. We are to learn the same.

When we perform any sort of ministry, we must incorporate God’s freedom into our ways of proceeding. We can simply be with others without wanting to change them. We must simply be “with” others to understand their lives, values, and attitudes. Our “being for” someone becomes the practice of solidarity rather than action. No one changes unless they want to do so. We cannot help anyone unless they ask for our help and this person still has the major part of the work to do. We simply have much less control than thought we did. We encourage, build up, support, and ask questions to clarify what the other is feeling. Our mode of being represents our powerlessness, which showcases the mysterious power of God. We bring the power to liberate, but the other person must take the first steps. Learning to be “with” others may feel awkward at first, but it brings forth a gracious power that makes us step back and say, “wow.”