Week 1: Structural sin
Populorum Progressio was the first encyclical directed entirely to the issue of international development – and it makes clear that peace is hollow unless based on economic justice. Real peace needs justice. This message flies in the face of that endless prattling about peace and violence which ignores the causes of violence. Pope Paul then shows how this economic imbalance has been structured into society. People, without even knowing it, are part of a whole structure which, without any ill will or evil intentions on the part of those who run it, deals death to a large segment of society. Hence, we have evolving here the concept of structural sin, social sin, which now has become so central to theology.
Sin by its nature implies personal decision and culpability, whereas a structure by its nature, once it is set in place, is impersonal and, strictly speaking, is not capable of sin. That is why Pope Paul, in stressing the problem of sinful structures and situations, was careful not to eliminate personal responsibility. His point was that we must personally act to dismantle structures of sin. Non-action becomes a choice, becomes sin, a personal sin.
Niall O’Brien in ‘Island of Tears, Island of Hope’ (Philippines, Ireland)
Reflect: What sinful structures can you identify and tackle as an individual and as a Christian community?
Week 2: Challenging the powers
The Incarnation of Jesus gives us hope of a better world. He was God reaching out to people who were marginalised and those branded as sinners. He was not afraid to unmask the injustice and hypocrisy in the society of his time and this made him a marked man. Many today are also summarily killed, especially in the developing world, as they confront the development aggression of the west and other injustices.
If we follow Him, then we can expect the same treatment as we confront the systems of our day. Institutions, businesses and governments are often culpable of the inhuman treatment of people; basic human rights are contravened and human dignity denied; the exploitation of natural resources and the environment in general are sacrificed to profit and stockholder greed. The unjust death of Jesus impels us to be concerned with, and be in solidarity with, people around the world who struggle for justice, people who struggle for land and labour rights.
Frank Nally (Ireland, Philippines, Britain)
Reflect: In what ways did Jesus challenge the powerful? How can we follow in his footsteps?
Week 3: Mission for the life of the world
We have come a long way from the shelter for animals on the outskirts of Bethlehem. From persecuted community we became a world-wide Church and civilisation. From hiding in catacombs we went on to build huge basilicas. From prophetic minority we became Church of the state. From disciples of equal category with the shared vocation to follow Christ we evolved a hierarchy and professional clergy. From charismatic we became conventional, from sojourner we became citizen.
But we also see a Church of ants and spiders, bringing the light of their faith and vision to a world needy of good news, of a new creation and of renewed inspirations. The experience of ants (builders of community, society and Church) and the spiders (weavers of networks of communication and encounter) calls to mind models of Church which Christ held dear. Christian communities everywhere are engaged in Justice, Peace, and Environment issues. This is a sign of the times for a Church which must rediscover its mission for the life of the world.
Frank Regan (Peru, Britain)
Reflect: In what ways are we the “ants and spiders” of the church?
Week 4: Future Mission
We are fully aware that time does not stand still and that mission in the future will be very demanding for us all. As Columbans we are setting our face towards dialogue with China and Islam. We are on the verge of a new missionary era, one vastly different from the last 500 years, dominated by European missionaries. China and Islam call for a new approach based on cultural equality, calling for humility as we will be starting from the standpoint of powerlessness. Although daunting, the future of mission is nevertheless very exciting.
We all need to be as active as possible in promoting Gospel values and reaching out to the different dimensions of civil society. It will be our way to guard and preserve the values we hold so dear.
Ed O’Connell (Peru, Britain)