By Fr. Raymond Kirtz, OMI
Religious life is a ministry taking place within the on-going processes of creation, and the witness of our vows attest to the truth that God created humankind to be co-creators or stewards of this work of creation. We further attest that Jesus, son of God, came among us to call us into stewardship in union with him. Our vowed witness is to the wonders of our lives and to the gracious effects of our union with the Cosmic Christ.
I am going to be considering the life and ministry of Jesus from the perspective of creation. He ministered to us through his human life and energies. By the term creation I am referring to the physical earth and cosmos and also to ongoing Divine Providence with which we are blessed through the creation process.
Before the advent of sidewalks, paved parking lots, and carpeted floors; before we acquired an aversion to the raw environment around us and found ways of insulating ourselves from it, earlier humankind spent a an enriching amount of time on the bare ground with an unobstructed view of the night sky. Through their observations of the earth and cosmos they came to know and respond to the Creator, thereby opening them to the Creator’s gift of the wisdom needed to progress toward better ways of living.
There is a real benefit and even a need for humankind to remain in touch with this grace or energy within creation. We moderns have limited our every-day contact with that universe through too much artificiality. We would do well to increase our exposure to that environment, however, in the process we do not need to throw away any of the genuine advantages we have gained from scientific technologies.
There are too many people who fail to recognize that the inhabitants of this earth are entwined with this awesome creation enterprise. Some agree with the sciences of astronomy and astrophysics while lacking faith in the concept of a Creator. There are church leaders who believe they need not be involved with such worldly affairs because they are only concerned with heavenly after-life. Such church leadership cannot effectively guide industrialists who do serious harm to earth and human alike disregarding churches as irrelevant. Yet in creational terms, the basic purpose of the church is to guide believers to be faithful to the purposes of the Creator, and the Creator is concerned with the here and now.
The contemporary secular mindset reveals a lack of creation grounding which contributes to cultural disorders. There is an avenue of reflection for refining our sense of the witness value of our vows of Poverty, Celibacy and Obedience in order for us to be more pertinent to current cultural materialism. We need be mindful that we are descendants of the Old Testament tradition that found guidance for a religious Covenant life as well as for worldly affairs from an earth and cosmos-based faith culture. We are disciples of Jesus who based his ministry and teaching upon that Covenant spirituality and yet was profoundly enriched by earth’s natural surroundings. That creational grounding is the natural focus of our vowed witness and we must pay attention to the creation grounding we have inherited.
We Religious, vowed to be witnesses to the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit, need to be attuned to the pathway through which the Holy Spirit graces or energizes the world. Ancient people were led to their primitive faith by the cosmos as they experienced it. The Creator obviously does not need the words of theology or catechesis to communicate with humankind, so the guiding witness we religious give will not be so much intellectual as incitement to faith.
For the sake of the believers to whom we minister, our witness must lead to an enlightened faith stance before the world. Our witness says industries need to serve more than just the economic gain for the few, but must serve the common good of all. Furthermore, they must not go contrary to creation’s own purposes. We in vowed life must recognize that our vow of Obedience puts us in league with the grand work of the Creator. Our Religious obedience is, before all else, obedience to the Creator. If we recognize that every plan of our communities, every request of a superior, every project, and every goal all share in God’s on-going creation project, then religious obedience will put us in touch the same dynamism that functioned in Jesus as he responded to the will of the Father.
Jesus obviously sensed more in the will of the Father than we do. As a cultural Aramaic he naturally thought in cosmic connections, and consequently he thought and felt in far less limited ways than we do. The cosmos figured prominently in their everyday doings. The Father imbued Jesus with insights and wisdom based on cultural grounding that was exceptionally enlivening and healing for the people of his nation. People said he taught like no one before, and that was because his words conveyed the bases of full life.
His every word and parable gave a sense of realities beyond what people normally considered. Jesus lived creation-wise, which is why his words and parables conveyed graces that affected his hearers in profound ways. Though our ways are not as cosmic minded as the cultural Aramaic, our Religious obedience partakes of that same creational dynamism. This cannot be learned solely from libraries or universities, but must be absorbed from creation itself. We need to be invigorated by a sense of obedience to a reality greater than our superiors, then our response to superiors and community commitments will be invigorated with greater enlivening grace. Obedience will not be just responses to an official mandate but will be engagement with creation’s own dynamics.
To inspire a comparable outlook in those to whom we give witness is the purpose and intent of our witness. We need convey the vital truth that it is advantageous to secular affairs when the purpose of an enterprise is to promote the common good in line creation itself. It is difficult for most people to be mindful of the workings of creation. Obviously, none of us is actively building creation structures, but we need to keep our work in unison with creation processes, and to avoid going contrary to the purposes of creation. Many of the bad effects of human affairs are caused by going contrary to creation’s purpose which is intended to support human life. Jesus said he came among us so we could have life to the fullest. This would naturally include communal concord, and our vowed intent is to compliment that purpose of Jesus.
Our religious vows put us in league with Jesus of Nazareth and give our witness the grace and energy of Jesus himself. Our witness then has a double boost—the grace of creational providence and the grace of the Cosmic Christ. That is the fullness of grace Jesus gives to our vowed witness and the fullness of grace we then convey to others. That is why our witness is not to our works, but to the saving works of the Cosmic Christ.
Our vow of Poverty is based on the premise that all things are good and are gifts intended by the Creator to be shared by everyone. By our vow we testify that the choice to limit our possessions is a choice to forego some comforts for the sake of that common good; and we further profess respect for the earth and its resources because it is our God-given home within creation. We don’t just live on the earth but we live within the community of creation.
We vowed religious need to understand this reality ourselves or we will be lacking in how to articulate our witness. Our witness must do more than say to people: take note of our simple life styles without an abundance of material goods. That practice of asceticism must be spiritually transforming within us, resulting in a creational vitality which comes from our creation grounding and a sense of the earth as home. This earth provides everything we cherish in a home, but home needs to be more than a parcel of land we claim as our property, home must include the entire earth. We give witness to genuine respect and love for the earth just as we would value and care for any home or residence we cherish.
We direct our witness to an industrial culture that does not evaluate their enterprises based on creational values. First and foremost, their attention is to financial matters that need to be tended to for the sake of making a living; but that valuation is easily gets corrupted with self-aggrandizement. However, most industrialists are not devoid of all altruism, so our religious witness may be welcomed and even longed for by some. But not just any do-good witness will suffice. A clear unambiguous stance favoring creation is required because nothing less will be capable of redirecting industrial enterprises away from self-serving objectives to include the common good. There is no common good as weighty as the common good that creation itself supports. Our witness points to more than the usual common good, our witness points to and is invigorated by the vitality of creation.
Creational values are actually instinctive to us: just as we all inherit characteristic genes from our parents, so we inherit creation genes, so to speak, and we instinctively sense our Divine creation origins. Our vowed witness speaks to that deep down part of the human person that is designed to recognize a Creator. The more clearly we articulate our witness to that creation reality, the more we will stimulate reform responses. The Creator instigates the call to the deep changes we need make, and the Grace of the Cosmic Christ enlivens our response.
We will be directing our witness to a deeply embedded materialistic culture, but by our vows in Religion we participate in the ministry of Jesus himself who came to bring conversion and healing to a suffering world. United with the Cosmic Christ our witness conveys the grace of the Christ himself. We give witness to the loving Divine providence that encompasses the entire universe. Creation may never be completed, so say many secular scientists speaking of the universe, but we do partake in the process to ever greater fullness and unity with the Creator. We are participants in the Genesis episode of history that tells how the Creator gifted humankind with the garden of the earth. We are the recipients of those gifts and the command to care for the garden.
Our vow of Poverty is about more than giving up a few possessions, it is concerned with our proprietorship of the garden of paradise. By our vow we witness to the position of steward of a grand enterprise. But that also means we recognize our obligation to avoid the sin of Adam and Eve. They were tempted to believe they were more than stewards of the garden, they thought they could become like the Creator himself and do with it as they wished. By our vow and witness of poverty we proclaim that we have been gifted with a treasure not of our making, but one that bestows a dignity as lordly as all creation. Our vow does make us poor in one very limited sense, but we are actually rich and endowed with dignity greater than possessions can bestow on us. We profess that we have been gifted, but also share in the consequences of the abuse of those gifts as described in Genesis. More importantly, we share in the redeeming grace of the Christ event that healed the wounds of sin. Our vowed lives witness to the full saga of creation, fall from grace, world-wide redemption and life in the Spirit of Jesus, the Lord of all creation. We witness to the hope that our world is capable of better life for all.
The apex, the very peak of God’s creation is Jesus the Redeemer and Lord of creation. St. Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Colossians (1, 14-19): “For it is in Christ that the complete being of the God head dwells, embodied, and in him you have been brought to completion. Every power and authority in the universe is subject to him. He is the image of the invisible God; his is the primacy over all created things. In him everything in heaven and on earth was created ….. For in him the complete being of God, by God’s own choice, came to dwell.” Again, to the Ephesians he wrote (1, 8-11): “In Christ God ….. has made known to us his hidden purpose; … namely that the universe, all in heaven and on earth, might be brought into unity in Christ.” St. Paul could not find enough words to express the prominence of Jesus within the scheme of creation.
Jesus the Christ is the one within whom resides all the richness of creation, the Omega point to which all things tend, the embodiment of healing love that brings renewal to all things wounded by sin. By our vow of Celibacy we bond ourselves to this most august Cosmic Christ. To live the vowed, celibate life is to live not only upon the face of the earth, but to live at the spiritual center of the universe where Jesus resides as Lord. That we live ‘in Jesus the Lord’ is a reality we must explore because of its implications for us and the witness value of our vows.
This truth proclaimed by St. Paul gives us a sense of the profound gravitas and dignity of our lives as disciples of Jesus. This gives us a sense that we are capable of more than what we assume are our greatest attainments. The stupendous technologies that make possible the utilization of earth’s resources are not the acme of our capabilities. The truth that we share in the development of creation toward its common goal of fullness also furthers humankind’s highest aspirations for spiritual, non-physical growth. To further that journey toward individual and communal full life we are endowed with the healing grace won for us through the redeeming death and Resurrection of Jesus, the Cosmic Christ. This grace enables humankind to shed the shackles of greed and corruption and redirect human culture toward the common good intended by the Creator. We give witness that these hope-filled aspirations are possible in the Lord.
We are Resurrection people Jesus has called to accompany to ever greater unity with the Creator. Like Jesus, we cannot help but be healers and instruments of peace and harmony. Our obedience is to whatever furthers that creation process, and our vowed poverty strips away the need for possessions in order to value the entire earth and cosmos as our true riches. Our ministries further the journey of the earth and humankind to fullness. It is that grand, magnificent reality to which we give witness. That witness of ours bestows vitality on the lives of those on their own journeys to whom we give witness. Our witness bears all the gravitas of creation, redemption and fulfillment.
The Sacraments of the Church—with their earthly materials of water, oil, bread and wine, accompanied by words of the saving deeds of Jesus the Christ also keep us rooted in our earthiness and cosmic foundations. When we stand before the altar at the celebration of the Eucharist, we are standing in the physical cosmos in which the bread and wine originated.
But more than that, through our sharing in the bread and wine which Jesus said are truly his body and blood, we stand with him in person within that same physical creation from which Jesus acquired his own bodily substance and human vitality. Moreover, he died on a cross planted in the earth and rose to new life from a tomb carved into the earth, and remains with us in the earthly materials of bread and wine. All this keeps us attuned to the earthly realities of the life of Jesus. Our vows pledging us to discipleship with that Cosmic Christ have a basis in all those earthly realities. Our vows do not set us above humankind or above creation but bind us ever more surely to this creation and Christ reality. Our witness is to these matters, through the grace of the Christ, bear fruit in the lives of those to whom we give witness.
Because the Creator has remained self -revealing to humankind, we have grown in the spiritual life of faith and have advanced the physical living conditions begun by earlier cultures. We will need the same openness to the graces of creation that gifted earlier cultures in order to facilitate our continuing journey. We have learned to utilize earthly resources to greater advantage but have not progressed equally in cultural maturity. The task ahead of us may be greater than those of earlier times. We must overcome the consequences of previous destructive attitudes and enterprises. Consequently, our role as vowed religious calls us to ministries of witness that enriches faith and calls secular enterprises to become less self-absorbed and more community absorbed—cultural maturity.
The problem for religious communities has always been the same: how to reach people who do not accept that the Church and Religious Communities are relevant to them. Many of our contemporaries are sated with man-made technology and frantic commotion, so they do not need technology-studded projects or hyper-dynamic organizations from us in order to be relevant. They need motivation and guidance that our culture is unable to give. But if all we do is present them with the witness of our past accomplishments that will not be viewed as relevant. We must reach them from a much deeper level, the level of creation, even though some may not recognize such a reality. Anything less will not have the boost needed to prod them to recognize misguided ways and change. Fortunately, our vowed witness is based upon that very creation and can be the means to convey needed grace to instigate deep-down effects on a corrupt culture.
Most of us today are not going to see the momentous changes in the Church and in Religious life that certainly will come about by the tide of creational evolution. In order to remain connected to the process of change, stand out under the stars and take in the awesome grandeur of the God who made it. Just as digital gadget batteries need charging to remain active, so do our souls need refreshing from the natural sources of the cosmos. From that cosmic realm, the Creator provided the star that guided three Magi Kings. Those same stars can provide the graces we need to help us on to a better future, we do well to keep our imaginations enlivened by that star-studded night sky.
Those three kings gave witness to the presence of the savior and our vowed celibacy gives witness to the continuing presence of that savior. By our vowed Celibacy we give witness to the grown up celibate Jesus of Nazareth who chose to forgo family life in order to tend to the needs of all other families. We choose that same characteristic of celibacy to signify our engagement in his ministry. He promised that with him we could do all things, a promise we need take seriously as we make our way to a future that will demand changes from long-standing, self-serving, and earth-destructive ways. We do well to give witness to that grace that does all things. Mindful that vowed witness is its own source of grace, Religious contribute to the process of change.
Paradigm changes are exceptionally difficult and even dangerous. The particular courses of action called for by God’s Prophets have often been misperceived as too extreme and dangerous. On the contrary, what is required is openness to uncommon wisdom, uncommon paths. It will be our task to give witness to genuine prophetic impulses and inspiration, especially those that flow from the prophetic messages of Jesus of Nazareth. That means we need recognize his definite creational stance or we miss the full potential of his words and promises.
Saints and other illustrious leaders who have provided distinctive, effective services in the church have often left unique directives worth noting. St. Eugene DeMazenod, the founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, left his Oblates with the admonition: “Leave nothing undared.” Admittedly, it is difficult to actually live up to such a charge, but such truly inspired directives do tend to resound down the long avenues of history, as has the promise of Jesus that through him we will be adequate to the tasks ahead of us. He went so far in expressing his confidence to say we will be capable even of greater things than He accomplished. This assumption might have resulted from his intelligent evaluation of human potential. This would have meant remaining in alinement with the cosmic realm in accordance with His own cultural values. Enlightened individuals often decipher enhanced meaning and possibilities for their culture. Jesus did not need science to help him in this.
We can be confident that our vowed witness to the Cosmic Christ bears the grace of Divine empowerment for this promise. We may confidently leave nothing undared no matter the difficulties. The future ahead of us in Religious communities is going to need both daring and confidence in the promises of Jesus. An examination of the prayer life of Jesus will lead to a sense of the source of his own empowerment and confidence. The Lord’s own prayer we have come to call The Our Father gives witness to his sense of the Kingdom of God, the focal-point of his teachings, and an understanding of the source of empowerment he promised to his listeners. His eight Beatitudes sum up that teaching that gave so much encouragement to his disciples.
The Apostles and other disciples privileged to be present during his prayer times surely would have experienced the grace of personal enrichment and empowerment. Consequently, when they returned from their missionary assignments as recorded in the Gospels, the disciples spoke of marvelous things happening to the people to whom they ministered. And so, many people who pray that same prayer today express enriching feelings, thoughts and inspirations, all witnessing to the same empowerment Jesus gained from his prayer to the Father. After all, our Baptism in his name and our vowed bonding to his person make all this our due patronage.
Because the church has been privileged to continue in the prayer-embrace of the Lord, great marvels of grace have accompanied the church through history. It was not solely theological and doctrinal teachings, nor directives from popes, cardinals, bishops and priests that brought about the growth of Christian communities, it is the graces of Divine Providence which brought about the fullness of human creation. If the church does not realize the creational process is pertinent to itself, it will not recognize its most basic mission. That same grace and energy enlivens our religious vowed lives, to which we give witness. And if we do not give such witness we do not fulfill our basic purpose. All the combined individual works and processes of the church and of the secular world contribute to that one grand enterprise of creation. Persons of faith do well to be open to the graces of Divine Providence provided through that array of stars and galaxies that do more than delight the eye.
Some Christians will respond in faith with inner quiet as they view the tiny pin-points of twinkling light seen in the night sky, while others will respond to the fires burning within those stars with energetic charismatic expressions. Whatever is personal to us, our vowed witness needs to scintillate with the energy of the stars. We don’t make that happen, nor do the stars make that happen; Divine Providence sees to it. Humankind has a privileged place within this cosmos, and we need give witness to that.
The complex physical connections of our earth to that vast array of stars are a mystery to even our most advanced sciences. So we live in scientific mystery. For the artistic, imaginative mind, that is a wonder to be relished, savored and given expression to. In our spiritual life there is an even greater mystery to be savored and treasured. In an age that seeks scientific certitude, mysteries may seem like a detriment to our well-being, but in the realm of creation, mysteries are the jewels of the realm where the Creator resides in loving mystery. Jesus himself lived with mystery, contrary to some who assume he knew all things. He spent countless hours in prayer because he was seeking to know the will of the Father; however, those hours of prayer were not hours of anguished darkness but were time spent in the light of the presence of the Father. In that light he grew in his entire person.
In response, the Father graciously invigorated Jesus for his journey on the earth, and so animated, he was a spiritual catalyst for the many good things his disciples and listeners experienced through him. Jesus was not in possession of knowledge that superseded the laws of nature, though the supernatural did function through him in distinctive ways. For the most part his effectivity was due to his closeness to the Father and the fruits of his Covenant spirituality that was earth and cosmos enriched according to his cultural background. By our vows we give witness to his human fullness.
If we disciples are going to give effective witness to others, we must treasure the physical and spiritual mystery of our lives. This means we also recognize the mystery of our witness. We can never know the effect our witness has on others. We need to be satisfied to live with mystery and allow those to whom we minister to also dwell in mystery, even though some will always be seeking certitude. If we give witness to a mystery as awesome as all creation, that will fill a vacancy in most minds and hearts that long for an infusion of such light. There is a natural openness within all of us that is waiting for such enlightening. We neither witness to personal nor community perfection but to the source of that pure light that enlightens our persons. Both we the witness bearers and the recipients of our witness are enriched with a fullness of life the Creator wants for us.
Our vow of obedience pledges us to obey the Creator’s will to promote the well-being of all human life because in the Creator’s mind, as far as we know it, human life is the greatest asset of all creation. Consequently, every life taken by another person is a crime against creation, whether it is an act of murder, or the execution of a condemned criminal, or an enemy combatant in war, or an infant still in the womb of its mother. There is no law of nature that gives anyone the right to take another’s life. The lives of the three men, including two thieves and the one innocent victim, Jesus of Nazareth, all crucified on Calvary’s hill represented the victims of every such crime against creation. But the death of Jesus of Nazareth was more than death from human malice. His death was the renewal of the place of human life within the plan of creation, because His Resurrection to new life testified to the truth that life can never be stamped out for ever.
Our vowed witness gives testimony to the ultimate victory over the forces of evil brought about through the death of Jesus of Nazareth who submitted himself to the need for the salvation of all humankind. Our vowed obedience sets us on that same path in obedience to the need for healing and salvation of a suffering, corrupted culture. Our vowed poverty attests to the best gifts of creation that are always protective of life. Our vowed celibacy bonds us to the one who shares with us his full life, life the Creator intended all of us to have. Religious vows witness to hope-filled creation values.