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Monday, February 27, 2017
Globalising Hope: text of Timothy Radcliffe's Paul VI lecture - Part 1
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¬†I feel immensely honoured to be asked to give this Paul VI lecture for the fortieth birthday of CAFOD, but also very unqualified. Rather than boring you with my hesitations, I will console myself with the memory of one of my American brethren. After he had given a lecture which had received only tepid applause, he turned to the man sitting beside him and said, 'It was not that bad was it?' To which his neighbour replied, 'It's not you I blame, but the people who invited you to speak.' Cherie, you might like to note that for later. In 1960, the National Board of Catholic Women organized the first Family Fast day in support of a mother and baby health care programme in Dominica. So it had good Dominican roots! This was the beginning. Two years later the Catholic Bishops founded CAFOD. In its first year it raised £74,000 and had a staff of 2. Last year it raised £26million and employs 200. This is not a case of middle-aged spread, the temptation of all forty year olds. It suggests the extraordinary transformation that CAFOD has undergone in those years. It is now one of the most respected development agencies in Europe. All this would have been unimaginable without Julian who has been Director of CAFOD for half of its existence. Earlier this year Julian announced his resignation so as to seek new challenges. I am sure that this hall is full tonight out of recognition of your extraordinary achievement, Julian. Thank you on behalf of us all, and may God bless all that you will do. In the Bible forty years above all evokes the wandering in the desert after the Exodus. It all begins in hope, with the liberation from captivity and the Israelites setting off for the Promised Land. But it is the beginning of forty years of wandering around in circles, getting lost and hungry. It is a time of increasingly hopelessness and dismay. Then, after forty years they finally arrive in the Promised Land, though Moses only glimpses it from afar. In some ways this may evoke the forty years of CAFOD's existence. I am not implying that for the last twenty years Julian has been leading CAFOD around in circles, getting lost. Rather, it suggests the changes in our society and Church. Forty years ago the Second Vatican Council was just beginning. Good Pope John had thrown open the windows of the Church. The Church was just at the beginning of a new commitment to the poor. It was exactly forty years ago today, December 6th 1962 that Cardinal Lercaro startled the Council by talking of 'The Church of the poor'1. On this same day Yves Congar notes in his diary, that Christ's presence in the poor must be made the basis of the whole work of the Council2. We were on the edge of that extraordinary renewal of hope, summed up the opening words of the Council document published three years later, Gaudium et Spes, Joy and Hope. This was context of CAFOD's birth. Forty years later there are still reasons for hope. The Soviet Empire has fallen, Apartheid has crumbled, and some countries, such as China, are much wealthier. There has been an enormous generation of wealth, but poverty has increased even more. You can read the figures anywhere and so there is no need to repeat them at length. It is enough to remind you that two thirds of all human beings live on less than $2 a day. The inequalities that fracture our human community have grown, even within the wealthy nations. Forty years ago we could never have imagined the present crucifixion of most of Sub-Saharan Africa: AIDS, the return of malaria, starvation, civil war, genocide and endemic violence. And we seem to be losing the political will to face these problems. Gaudium et Spes! Forty years later we may be more inclined to remember the words that follow, 'the grief and anguish of the people of our time'. The Promised Land seems further away than before. This is the context in which we celebrate the fortieth birthday of CAFOD. How can CAFOD globalize hope at this moment of human history? What difference can her mission make in the face of economic forces of such incredible strength? What effect can even millions of pounds worth of aid make when trillions of pounds are circulating every day around the globe in search of a quick profit? We all know that for every pound of aid that goes to any so-called developing country vastly more is paid back to us. Are these programmes any more than ways of soothing our consciences? Do they achieve anything? As one project worker in Rajasthan said, 'Why help trees to grow if the forest is consumed by fire?3' Or as the woman in a cartoon said, when she saw starving children on the TV: 'This is awful. Pour me another gin and tonic' I wish to argue that CAFOD's mission embodies a strength that is greater than that of all the economic forces that sometimes appear to work for inequality. It does indeed globalize hope. This is partly because of what is achieved materially by CAFOD and her partners. They do help people materially. Water flows and people are fed. But I wish to suggest that CAFOD's works are most powerful at a deeper level, through what they mean and say. For us as Christians, the real model of what it means to make and change the world is our God who speaks a word. CAFOD shares in speaking that word. This may seem a strange claim, and so I will try to make sense of it by looking at the signs that Jesus works in John's gospels. Jesus performs a number of miracles, beginning with the marriage of Cana when he turns the water into wine and culminating in the raising of Lazarus from the dead. He makes the lame to walk and the blind to see. These are described as the works of Jesus. They are efficacious first of all because something happens: the wedding party goes on with lots of wine, and the blind man really recovers his sight. But they are efficacious at a far more fundamental level, through what they mean. They are symbolic actions, which speak to us at the level of meaning. And it is interesting that John bases them on the signs that Moses performed during those forty years in the wilderness: the feeding with manna, water from the rock and the raising of the bronze serpent. They are therefore suitable signs to celebrate a fortieth birthday. I am not suggesting neither that Julian's future role may be raising the dead, nor that CAFOD should hire teams of miracle workers and going around turning water into wine though that would be a beautiful idea, and I would volunteer to take part in quality control. But if you really wish to understand why CAFOD's works bring hope, then you must look not only at what they do, but what they say. Human beings are made for meaning, and it is the gift of meaning that most deeply changes us. I shall focus on one particular sign of Jesus, which is the healing of the man born blind. I chose this sign in the first place because I read an interesting article on it by James Alison in his book Faith beyond Resentment: fragments catholic and gay4. Alison's focus is rather different from mine, in that he is primarily concerned with how the text subverts our understanding of sin, but he shows what a beautifully subtle text it is. Well, he was once a pupil of mine! It is just as well that I have acknowledged his stimulus since I gather that he is sitting in the audience. Secondly, the story treats of a man 'whose neighbours' saw him as a beggar (9.8). But Jesus never relates to him as a beggar and frees him from dependency. This is typical of the New Testament which never treats people as beggars. When the lame man outside the Temple asks for alms, Peter says to him, 'Look at usI have no silver or gold, but I give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.' (Acts 3.6). When CAFOD took part earlier this year in the Southern Africa Appeal, some people proposed the usual sort of poster, of an emaciated child begging for food. But CAFOD produced a poster that showed a woman striding forward with a child on her back. Poster of Southern Africa Appeal. She is upright, dignified and strong. She is going somewhere. And is it on purpose that she is not shown coming towards us, as a beggar might, but going her own way? We may walk with her if we wish but we do not tell her where to go. The story of the man born blind is such a rich dense text that ideally we should read it together in a leisurely way. But we have not got time to do this and so I must just give you a quick reminder of the plot. Here are the bare bones. Jesus sees this man born blind. His disciples ask whether he is blind because of his own sins or those of his parents. Jesus says that it is so that the works of God may be made manifest in him. He anoints his eyes with clay and sends him to wash in the pool of Siloam where he receives his sight. This scandalizes the Pharisees. They cannot believe that Jesus did it. It had been performed on a Sabbath, against the law. They quarrel with each other and even refuse to believe that the man had ever been blind. They summon his parents, who do not want to get caught up in this fight. 'Ask him, he is of age.' So the man increasingly asserts himself and refuses to condemn Jesus. He ends up by being cast out by the Pharisees. He had been marginal because he was blind and now he is excluded again. He meets Jesus and sees him for the first time, and worships him. And Jesus says 'For judgment I came into the world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.' So one has a complete reversal. The blind man sees and it is the Pharisees who are blind. I wish to explore how that story illuminates some of the ways in which the works of CAFOD globalize hope. It does not illuminate all aspects of CAFOD's mission. I will say almost nothing about their vital emergency relief work. For that I would need to look at another of Jesus' signs, like the feeding of the crowd in the wilderness. But one cannot do everything! Clay on his eyes. Before Jesus ever says anything to that man, he does something. 'He spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man's eyes with the clay, saying to him "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.' (v.6f). This is not a medical account. It is a profoundly symbolic statement. As always in the Bible, it is the meaning rather than the mechanics that matter. John is showing us Jesus completing God's creation of humanity. The Hebrew word for 'clay' is 'adamah', Adam. Jesus performs this act on the Sabbath, which was the day that God rested after the completion of creation. But the man born blind was incomplete, half made. Jesus now brings to completion what his Father had begun. Creation is not something that God did at the beginning, and which is over. It is the work of Jesus and our work too. The mission of CAFOD, and indeed all human striving after a just world, is more than bandaging the wounds of humanity. It is the completion of God's fashioning of a just world. Creation is not so much a Big Bang at the beginning, but our common task. Jesus said to his disciples, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father. '(John 14.12). It may be hard for us to grasp the power of a symbolic action since Western culture has been dominated for the last few hundred years by a mechanical view of the world. It has lost what Greeley called the Catholic sacramental imagination. The industrial revolution depended on mechanical inventions, such as the spinning jenny and the combustion engine. We change the world by building dams, constructing power stations, digging wells and producing goods. These are indeed the raw materials of human development. They are necessary but not enough. All profound transformation occurs at the level of the human meaning: language, communication, and symbolism. Human beings live and die by signs. The terrorists of September 11th understood this well. It was an appalling event because of the material destruction of human lives. Thousands of people died, and tens of thousands were bereaved. But it was planned and executed as a symbolic event, which was far more destructive than the material damage. The symbols of global travelling, jet planes, slammed into those icons of Western economic and military power, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. These awful deeds spoke! All of us will be for ever marked by the images of that day. And the children of Abraham - Jews, Christians and Muslims - understand this well, because all three faiths believe in the God who spoke a word and the world came to be. God did not create the world like a carpenter or an engineer. He is not the celestial clockmaker. He made with the world with what St Maximus the Confessor called 'the immeasurable force of wisdom5'. Human transformation is through our ability to be creative or destructive of meaning. Think of that student in Tiananmen Square, fragile and vulnerable in front of the tank, so easily crushed and yet so strong. That is a symbolic event changed a world. As Louis Duprť wrote, 'all symbolic actions do more than signify: they also to some degree realize what they signify6'. This is fundamental to a Catholic understanding of the world and of sacraments. CAFOD's projects are effective. No one would give them money to support the digging of wells if water never came out. But these programmes speak; they mean something, and it is thus that they are a sharing in God's creation of the world, and the bringing in of the Kingdom. They are sacramental. This may all have seemed rather airy-fairy to our predecessors, who largely saw human civilization in terms of the production and distribution of goods. But we are entering a culture that understands this better. Ours is 'the semiotic society' in which what are circulated are not so much goods as images and symbols, above all that infinitely flexible symbol which is money. We construct our identities through symbols. A car is not a means of getting around but a driving experience. Nike does not sell shoes 'but rather an image of what it would be like to be in those shoes'7. Symbols make us and destroy us. In April I was in Cairo, and the Prior took me to visit part of the city that is not often seen by tourists, Mukatam, the town of the rubbish collectors. It is the dirtiest, smelliest place I have ever seen, and 500,000 people live here, mostly Christians. They go out each morning on their little donkey carts to collect the rubbish and bring it back to their quarter, and to sort through it to see if anything can be recycled. On the cliffs behind the city, a Polish artist has painted vast images of Christ in glory: transfigured, resurrected and ascended into heaven. When they come back home they face these images of glory that tower over them. Then they remember that they are not ultimately the citizens of Mukatam but of the Kingdom and they lift up their heads. The tensions in our world derive from the ambiguity of our symbols. Coca Cola sponsored a massive event called 'Hands Across America', in which four million people linked hands across four thousand miles. Thus Coca Cola claimed to be a symbol of the American community. The President of Coca Cola said, 'We needed something to re-bond the company to America. It was perfect8.' But some Islamic fundamentalists maintain that the words 'Coca Cola' read backwards in Arabic mean: 'No Mohamed, No Mecca'. Jesus opens the eyes of the blind man. It is a creative act, and CAFOD's mission is to share in that creativity. Our society has a rather different conception of creativity. The market is driven by the accelerating need to sell new goods. Barely has something been invented than it is superceded. Rifkin says that 'Japanese electronic consumer products now average a mere three-month life cycle. Sony produced a staggering 5000 new products in 1995'9 Microsoft's chief technology officer, Nathan Myhrvold, said, 'No matter how good your product, you are only eighteen months away from failure'10. So there is an insatiable desire for the new. But what the gospel offers is the deeper novelty of the God who is ever-new. It offers the deep transforming novelty of the creative God, who says, 'Behold I make all things new' (Apoc 21.5). So the works of CAFOD speak of that deep renewal of humanity that is our hope. It is a novelty of which Microsoft has never dreamed. How do they do that? Inclusion This is the story of a man who receives his sight. But through the story Jesus is not just opening his eyes but ours as well. 'For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.' (v.39). And what do we see? The story shows us that becoming fully human is much more than having all one's body parts in working order. Jesus brings this man from edge and places him in the centre. The man learns to say 'I'. The climax of the story is that he even learns to say 'We'. Our common vocation is to help God complete the creation of humanity. What God began with Adam and Eve is still unfinished. And this story suggests just a little of what our common work may be. We can bring in the marginalized and excluded. We can help each other to become bold and strong enough to say 'I'. We can together learn to say a new 'We', ultimately the 'we' of the Kingdom'. We all are called to do this in our own vocations, as politicians, lawyers, artists, priests or train drivers. This evening I wish to suggest how CAFOD may do it, and so bring hope. Unmasking the exclusion. This is a story about how this man who had been marginalized is brought to the centre, and how the religious authorities who thought that they were at the centre become the ones on the edge. This story opens our eyes to the processes of exclusion that we too operate and how they can be overcome. At the beginning it looks as if the man is excluded because he is blind. The religious system represented by the Pharisees considered blindness to be an impurity which automatically excluded one from the Temple and kept one distant from God. So this blindness must be caused by sin. The disciples ask, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' (v 2). So in excluding him, the Pharisees are only doing their job. His exclusion is the will of God; it is foreordained, part of the right order. But this story shows us what is really happening which is that is that this man is being actively excluded. Once he receives his sight and can come to the centre, he challenges the Pharisees, and so he is expelled. He excluded because he is a threat to their power. The story unmasks the processes of exclusion. This suggests the first challenge for all development work today, which is to show up the processes of exclusion that are at work in our society today. We too have been held captive by a story. It is the dominant religious myth of our time, and it is called 'belief in the market'. At least since Adam Smith, we have been entranced by a story that tells of the invisible hand of the market, which brings eventually wealth and blessing to the whole of humanity. Submit to market forces and all will be well. There has seemed to be an inevitability about this, especially after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It seems divinely ordained, like the exclusion of the blind man. As Lady Thatcher famously said, 'There is No Alternative'. It is a wonderful story, because it legitimated all selfishness and greed. As Smith argued, greed and selfishness may be private vices, but they are public goods. They drive the market and so ultimately are beneficial. So we owe it to the world to want more and more. The first task of development work is to liberate us from the fascination of this myth. The global market does indeed bring wealth to many. It would be foolish to be anti-market. But, as it currently works, it also brings poverty and misery to billions. In fact the market, as it is now structured, is designed to bring wealth to some and to exclude others. I am sick of reading about the global market as a level playing field, as if we were all engaged in some innocent economic World Cup. Thanks be to God, all sorts of financial experts, like George Soros, the international financier, Joseph Stiglitz, the former Chief Economist to the World Bank and Amartya Sen, winner of the Noble Prize for Economics, are helping us to see what is happening. The market as it is presently structured by trade agreements, tariff barriers and vast subsidies in the West, is not remotely level. It is designed to serve the interests of the wealthy. The pitch tips towards the poorer nations' goal, the goalkeeper is bribed and the referee is a member of the winning side, and the rich nations cheer as goal after goal is slammed in.
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