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Friday, 30 June 2023 11:52

'Your Light Must Shine Before Others': Faithful & Creative Disciples in a Wounded World

Fr Clement Baffoe SVD 250By Fr Clement Baffoe SVD

As the Society of the Divine Word prepares for the 19th General Chapter as well as its 150th anniversary in 2025, the theme that has been chosen for reflection is, “Your Light Must Shine Before Others” (Mt 5:16): Faithful and Creative Disciples in a Wounded World.

As is indicative from the theme, there are many elements brought together to constitute the reality of today’s mission. How does this theme apply in our own Australian context? In this reflection, I would like to outline how the theme could be understood locally.

Your Light Must Shine Before Others

man holding the old lamp with a candle outdoors. hand holds a large lamp in the dark. ancient lantern with a candle illuminates the way on a nightThis saying is a fraction of a whole command from Jesus to his disciples. To put it in its broader literary context, Jesus says: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.”

By using this metaphor, Jesus tells his disciples who they truly are, light of the world. Light is meant to shine for all to see, thus dispelling darkness. As Divine Word Missionaries and disciples of Jesus, we are also the light of the world and have no option other than to shine. This call to shine must not be an act of public ostentation, showing-off and parading of our good deeds before all, especially on social media since Jesus frowns on such a lifestyle (Matt. 6:1ff), but rather, a life that reaches out. In fact, most lights are quiet and would hardly inform people of their presence but quietly they shine forth. Just as light is quiet, not self-serving and not self-seeking but other-centred, so must our mission here in the Australia Province be other-centred and outreaching like a fountain. We SVDs even though we are not of the world, we live in the world and must be that light dispelling evil, hatred, prejudice, racism, etc. in our Australian society.

Faithful and Creative Disciples in a wounded World

The two words, faithful and creative seem to be contradictory at face value but on a deeper level, one begins to see an innovative synthesis. The theme calls us to look back not because we are nostalgic but to be grounded in the treasures of our traditions. Also, it calls us to look forward as we make use of the tools of the present and the future in our missionary works. To be faithful is to stay true, grounded, and honest to one’s roots and traditions. It’s being radical, radical in the sense of going back to the ‘radix’ (the root) but not being different as some have used the word radical. On the other hand, to be creative is to be innovative and bring out something new or adopt unconventional ways of doing things. And so, in simplistic terms, to be faithful and creative is to bring together the old and the new.

For us Christians and Divine Word Missionaries, we have the sacred Scriptures and traditions to which we need to be loyal. The wisdom of our forebears is still relevant today, the writings of Sts Arnold Janssen, Joseph Freinademetz, and Blessed Maria Helena and Josefa are still valuable. The truths and mission styles proposed in our previous General Chapters are still repositories of God experiences. To abandon all these traditions would be suicidal. Mind you, Jesus himself would say he did not come to abolish the traditions of his ancestors (the Law and the Prophets) but to fulfill them. To be faithful disciples is to know our own Christian and congregational roots.

Having stayed loyal to our roots, how do we proclaim these truths to a modern audience? We need to always remember that even though our traditions have lots of truths, the mode of telling or preaching them today is significant. It is the same old content but how do we package it to make it reasonable and attractive to the sensibilities of modern men and women? To be creative disciples is to constantly ask how we could preach the same message of ‘God is love’ but perhaps with Facebook live, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and most of today’s advanced technologies. Instead of becoming repulsed by Artificial Intelligence, ChatGPT, Genie and all the other advanced technologies, we need to ask how we can use the same media for our mission of being the light of the world. In a spirit of prophetic dialogue, we Divine Word Missionaries can contribute to the conversation of making these media spaces safer and human centred.

Despite God creating our world good and out of goodness, we cannot overemphasise that we live in a wounded world. Some of the wounds of our Australian society today are institutional sexual abuse, bribery and corruption, racism, climate change, unemployment, wars and invasions of countries, inequalities, poverty, deepfake and misinformation, among others. As the light of the world, as faithful and creative disciples, our lights must shine in the darkness of these woundedness. By our faithfulness to our Christian roots (scripture, tradition, and experience), we know that our light must dispel the darkness which comes with these woundedness. We do this through innovation and creativity, ie making use of modern tools, technology and language to proclaim the same unchanging truths left to us by Jesus, the Apostles and our fathers and mothers in faith. It is my fervent hope that the days and months leading up to the 19th General Chapter and even after, will be a time for us to look back to the past for what is good, and look into the future for the beauty the future brings in order for us to minister to our wounded society and world faithfully and creatively.