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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

God and empire

A two-day workshop on the underpinnings of Catholic social justice teachings in the synoptic gospels and their implications for overseas mission started this morning at Maryknoll.

Father John J. Mueller, S.j., professor of historical and systematic theology at St. Louis University, began the workshop with a meditation on the following poem:

To live with the Spirit, by Jessica Powers (1905-1988)

To live with the Spirit of God is to be a listener.
It is to keep the vigil of mystery
earthiness and still.
One learns to catch the stirring of the Spirit
strange as the wind's will.

The soul that walks where the Spirit blows
Turns like a wandering weather-vane toward love
It may lament like job or here ya
Echo the wounded hart, the mateless dove
It may rejoicer in spaciousness of meadow
That emulates the freedom of the sky.
Always it walks in waylessness, unknowing;
It has cast down forever from its hand
The compass of the whither and the why.

To live with the Spirit of God is to be a lover.
It is becoming love, and like to Him
Toward whom we strain with metaphors of features:
Fire-sweep and water-rush and the wind's whim.
The soul is all activity, all silence;
And though it surges Godward to its goal,
It holds, as moving earth holds sleeping noonday,
The peace that is the listening of the soul.

Jesuits and Maryknollers share a common goal of trying to discover God in our world.

Something forgotten in our time: the world of Jesus was dominated by the empire. It permeates the gospels and Paul's writings.

We will see that the social justice component in the Church can be traced back to the teachings of Jesus.

The life of Jesus comes into a different focus since we have imposed our post-Enlightenment understanding.

They had no problem with one simple concept: politics, economics and religion were all one.

In those days, a new emperor meant good news. As the son of God, Lord and Savior, he ushered in a new age. His coming established a kingdom of justice and prosperity, peace and security to all nations. He therefore deserved obedience and loyalty, thanks and worship.

All these attributes were later appropriated by Christians to announce a counter-kingdom inaugurated by Christ. They had no doctrinal theology but by using these terms they set themselves up as rivals to Rome's absolute power.

Sources of Rome's power: military, economic, political and ideological. They were not into nation- building but province-building. Roads and infrastructure in the colonies was an integral part of the military, along with suppressing rebellion.

These roads in turn developed local economies. Roman currency dominated. They built economies that would flow into Roman coffers. An elite aristocracy held sway. Roman imperial secular "theology" explained and sustained the internal power structure so the people accepted, believed and supported it.

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