[Bloggers note: the following reflection comes courtesy of Fr. Jack Keegan. While it did not originate "around the salad bar" here at the Knoll, I post it in hopes of inspiring conversations other than our latest medical procedure.]
The Lay orientation of the Maryknoll Society Member.
The late Thomas Wilcox, M.M. used to quip as he walked into the dining room at Maryknoll, New York: “Maryknollers are the only ones who dress for manual labor and nobody does it!” Remarks made in jest often have the truth hidden in them. Something as symbolic as clothing may have the truth about our future inhabiting it. It sees Maryknoll Society members having their roots in the laity of the Church. It knows that we are secular priests and lay brothers. We are neither a religious order nor a religious congregation. We do not live the very admirable lifestyle of people being faithful to their vows. We are different. That is our pride, and this difference should not be glossed over. This pride of ours needs to be stressed, even advertised. Except when wearing liturgical vestments for presiding or assisting at the eucharist or other liturgical services, we do not wear a distinctive garb or habit separating us from the people from whom we came and whose mission we desire to facilitate.
The reason is simple. The words concluding Matthew’s Gospel: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,” were words addressed not simply to us , a specialized Society, or even to Roman Catholics, but to all disciples of Christ, people whom we later and to this day have learned to call ‘Christians.’ We have come together as a Society under oath, not to replace or substitute for Christians being involved in mission under their bishops, but to offer a particular expertise to make fruitful their being ‘sent’ to bear the memory of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” into the whole world. The Vatican II decree, AD GENTES, on the mission activity of the Church offers its own commentary: “The pilgrim Church is missionary by heir very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin in accordance with the decree of the Father.”
Beginning to be a Maryknoll Society member in the 21st century.
The prospective Maryknollers can expect to begin this new life in association with other Maryknollers who will be there to help them grow more confidently into their identity as Christians. This formation, growing into more confident Christians, is the purpose undergirding the theological education they will begin pursuing. A faith seeking, not indoctrination, but understanding is a necessity if they are intent on becoming person’s who can enter into worlds not as yet integrated into their life of faith, with the hope of discovering God’s saving presence as it reveals itself. It is not a stretch of the imagination to believe that Maryknollers of the future will have some of the characteristics of the worker-priests of an earlier twentieth century generation. They look forward toward becoming specialists helping Christians find and affirm God’s saving presence in what are believed to be non-traditional boundaries of the Church, areas of human life thought to be devoid of God’s saving presence. Perhaps they are heralds whose cry announces an incomprehensible mystery coming to grace our lives from the future.
Living an uncertain future.
Twentieth century Maryknoll Society members were clear as to what their future would entail. The Society’s purpose was evident. Beyond its concern for the well-being and holiness of its members, the Society saw itself intent on establishing local churches in lands beyond the United States, i.e. in the emerging nations of the world. This was its field afar. Maryknollers, in the twentieth century, brought the gospel of “Jesus Christ and him crucified,” into a post-colonial world. But, as decolonization proceeded after World War II, a point was reached in the 1970’s when nearly all the world’s territory was under the jurisdiction of sovereign, independent states. Nation-states were territorially defined units the government of which was supreme in internal affairs and independent with respect to external affairs. Most of the states which now form the political organization of the world were created after World War II. Prior to that time, perhaps 47 nations existed on the globe. Now there are as many as 192 attested to by the United Nations, a number that remains fluid. The nation-state system has been extended to the entire globe from its origins in 1648 at the conclusion of the Thirty Years War in Europe and the Peace of Westphalia. In the 21st century the nation-state system is under great pressure.
Maryknoll Society members carried the gospel of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” into this emerging world. This was its field afar, a world beyond the United States, where people were developing their own sense of nationality. In the places to which they went, they founded the local church where none had previously existed. Often opening seminaries, they helped give birth to an indigenous priesthood and national hierarchy. They began parishes and took up pastoral work, awaiting the day when local priests and bishops would be ready to replace them. In Latin America, they helped reinvigorate a Church that needed rehabilitation. Now, in the 21st century, Christianity is no longer the extension of European Christendom, but a WORLD religion, the largest religion on the globe. Today, local churches are ready to seize their own responsibility for evangelization. Maryknoll Society members face an uncertain future, one which sees the nation-state being surpassed, but which offers new possibilities. It also requires a new expertise if it iOs to be in service to a WORLD religion.
Fields afar for the 21st century.
Some members of the Society may continue on as those who went before them. They will be founding Christian communities in geographical areas untouched by local churches. Perhaps they will become specialist in parts of the world dominated by Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. They will be living in advance of either the existence of a local church or its reach, They will be hoping to revision Christianity from the revelation of the incomprehensible mystery of God they hope they will uncover there.
But other possibilities are also on the horizon. One field afar is the world of the multinational corporation. The multinational corporation is, as Richard Barnett and R. Muller have said, “The most powerful human organization yet devised for colonizing the future.” With the exception of a handful of nation-states, multinationals are alone in possessing the size, technology, and economic reach necessary to influence human affairs on a global basis. It may not be stretching the truth too far to claim that in the future human beings who are not in some way related to a multinational corporation, not its ‘citizens,’ are in danger of becoming the discarded on the globe. The Japanese writer, Terutomo Ozawa observes: “The ultimate modal form of multinationalism if it is allowed to take its own course unhampered by the parochial intervention of nation-states is geocentric, the final stage being one in which the multinational corporation has no country to which it owes more loyalty than any other, nor any country where it feels completely at home.”
Here is a new field afar for the Maryknoll Society member of the future. This is a world into which the memory of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” must enter, and the presence of a saving God facilitated. It will take creativity, and continuing education for Maryknollers to learn the language of this world. Hopefully, the Society will assist in placing them within it or in some position from which its growth and influence can be directed toward the enhancement of human life.
Another possible field afar for the Maryknoll Society member in the 21st century is the world of international organizations. International organizations- both governmental (IGO’s) and non-governmental (INGO’s) are the new political institutions. IGO’s are international organizations established by an agreement among governments. INGO’s are not so established. The first modern international governmental organization was created in 1815, and the first modern international non-governmental organization dates back to the 17th century. It is, however, only in the second half of the twentieth century that they have become so numerous and so important as to become a prominent feature of the global political system.
The creation, existence and growth of IGO’s and INGO’s clearly demonstrates how unsuitable the nation-state is as a unit for dealing with many contemporary problems. Because of the growth in numbers and the importance of international organizations, the global political system has been in the throes of potentially revolutionary change. States entangled in webs of international organizations is the proper simile to describe the contemporary global political system. The future Maryknoll Society member may choose to enter this world. It is important that those populating these institutions have the memory of “Jesus Christ and him crucified”articulate in their lives.
The placement of people into this world where the future is being created may be a difficult process, both for the prospective Maryknollers and the leadership of a Society bent on facilitating them. It is a tough language to learn and a world over which the Society has no control. But, it may well be a place where the incomprehensible mystery of a God who graces us from the future may be met.
The mission of Christians is broader than the existence of Maryknoll. It is, therefore important for the Society to clarify the public perception of what it wants from Society members, and for what it wants to recruit new members. Without clarification of how it means to serve the continuing mission of Christians to proclaim the gospel, it will have no grasp on the expertise it brings to their being ‘sent’ by Christ. It needs to sharpen its focus. Candidates ought not come to Maryknoll because they are interested in a religious life. There are orders and congregations for that laudable life. Maryknoll candidates cannot be left with hazy ideas about the purpose of their education, nor can they be given vague answers as to why they are needed, and what resources of the Christian tradition they must lean on for their continuing formation. My guess is that spiritual directors may want to mine the history of itinerant preachers for the well springs of their spirituality.
An ecumenical future?
The above headline ends with a question mark. Since it is Christians, not just Roman Catholics, who are sent to preach the gospel of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” to the world, it would be a wonderful thing if some manifestation of this reality could be integrated into the Society in the 21st century. How to do this is the open question???
When the Maryknoll Society began under James A.Walsh and Thomas Price in the early years of the twentieth century, and for years thereafter, candidates flocked to her because she was perceived to be on the cutting edge of Christianity, and Roman Catholicism in particular. Her loyalty was to the missionary calling of the disciples of Christ. If that meant shaking up her own Roman Catholic institutional requirements at that time, so be it. Maryknoll was perceived to be avant-garde. In the 21st century can it regain that inheritance as herald of the presence of the God who graces us from the future?
John E. Keegan, M.M.