The radicality of our call is better envisaged when we look at the examples of Simon the Stylite, Francis of Assisi and Socrates. The radical witness and life of Don Bosco, which did not call for such stunning performances – which capture the imagination of man for centuries – but insisted on an “extraordinary” ordinariness, which brought him to great heights of sanctity. What this indicates is that Salesian radicality lies in not being “radical” at all.
Some time back when I was speaking to a neighbour of mine he told me that several of the younger generation from the locality had shifted out and had relocated themselves in places like Kochi, Bangalore, Mumbai etc. He continued that they were all doing well and concluded saying: “We need to be uprooted and transplanted for greater vigour and growth!”
The farmer knows the truth of this statement and so does the gardener.
Later reflecting on the wisdom of this saying I realized that this was very true and that it had the backing both of Scripture and history.
In the Scriptures we see the call of Abraham where he had to leave everything and move on to a new place there to become the father of a multitude of peoples.
The case of Joseph, who was sold into slavery, plucked away from his family and land and brought to Egypt, is another example. He flourished in the new land despite initial troubles and rose to become the more important man in the land after Pharaoh himself.
Exodus is yet another example. The Israelites, despite their slavery, appear to have been content to live in Egypt and as they wandered through the desert with all its uncertainties longed for the comforts of Egypt: “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread, for you have brought us into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger (Ex. 16:3). This longing to return to the security of Egypt is seen again in the Book of Numbers (11:5): “We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic…!” These are indications of the pain of moving out of their comfort zones despite the knowledge that they were moving into the promised-land there to become a nation! They longed for the security slavery offered to the uncertainties of travelling through the desert. Yet it was only when they moved out of the “comforts of Egypt” did they become a nation.
The apostles were also called to move out leaving their boats, nets and families behind in order to transform themselves from people catching fish to those capable of catching men!
The same is evidenced in general human history.
We have thus the great transmigration of peoples – people leaving familiar zones and migrating with their cattle and possessions to new lands and becoming nations. The Indo-Germanic tribes settling down in Europe beginning from the 4th century of the Christian era is a clear case in point.
It was again the migration from Europe to the Americas which led to the rise of many modern nations with one of them, the United States, emerging as the most powerful nation in the world.
For growth translocation is important; change and consequent transformation are important – not only of a physical nature, but also of a mental, spiritual nature.
Growth calls for a change in our set patterns of thinking – even about God. This is what Jesus taught and where the Pharisees failed.
The all-transcendent God, the Mysterium tremendum et fascinans, as Rudolf Otto would say – God the mystery which evokes fear and trembling and at the same time attracts and compels – becomes in Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us. The Transcendent becomes more fruitful, more loving and more loved with His translocation from heaven to earth at the Incarnation! God revealed Himself as a loving Father who has concern for all; as one who sends rain on the good and the wicked, and causes His sun to rise on the just and the unjust. He does not categorize people into Jews, or Greeks or gentiles or even castes or outcastes – identities which help build human securities.
The “exclusivism” of the chosen people gives way to “inclusivism” with Jesus – He converses with a Samaritan woman, He heals the servant of the centurion. His love extends not only to friends but to all including sworn enemies.
He hates the rigidity of the Law. We have a clear example of this in the case of the woman caught in the very act of adultery. The Jews wanted her stoned according to the Law of Moses, written on tablets of stone, rigid and unchangeable and unfeeling! But Jesus bent down and wrote on the sand even as the Jews baying for her blood, demanded the strict application of the Mosaic Law. The Law of Jesus is love and it is written on sand, and can be adjusted to the requirements of love each instance – based on the need to do the most loving thing each time!
He wanted to avoid all judgemental attitudes – he went in search of the lost sheep, like the Good Shepherd; he felt at home in the company of known sinners, both men and women.
This dear confreres is the radicality of the Gospels to which we are called to bear witness. To have the same mind as the Lord; leaving our own well-cultivated comfort zones and to do the most loving thing each time we are called upon to act.
A recluse by nature may spend time in prayer in the chapel in full view of all – because he finds it comfortable and convenient to avoid people. It is no virtue, much less radical living.
Those who feel themselves to be sinners should feel that they can better their lot, should have optimism and hope.
Those who feel themselves self-righteous because of their firm adherence to the letter of the Law should feel themselves yet inadequate.
The call of the Gospels is to repent and believe in the Good News – and the Good News is God loves us, we have experienced it, His love is all inclusive – all feel loved and accepted in His presence. This is the Gospel radicality in its essence – the rest is no more than commentary!
This is the Salesian call – to be true signs and bearers of God’s love to young people – to make everyone feel at home in our presence; to make everyone feel accepted, valued and loved in our presence and not to make them feel judged and condemned.
We also need the self-assurance to feel at home everywhere and with everyone – like Jesus, like Don Bosco.
This can be realized only if we move out of our own comfort zones making us capable of overcoming the tyranny of the status quo.
In a world marked by individualism, exclusivism at the cultural, social, economic and religious levels, by a fundamentalist or too liberal a way of thinking let us live the challenge of accepting all and including all in our circle of love.
The greatness of Don Bosco came from this. He lived at a time of great hatreds – secular forces hating the Pope, the progressives hating the reactionaries, the state hating the Church. But he felt at home with them all, never joined issue with anyone of them, but did his work and gained the approval of all – a true witness to the radical approach of the Gospel.
His was a period in history when with the industrial revolution society became increasingly intent on gain, people became increasingly self-seeking and even the clergy sought the security of a fixed income. Yet Don Bosco moved out into the uncertainties of the streets pledging to spend himself to the last breath for the benefit of his boys – this saw transformation and growth and Gospel fruitfulness!
The call to be witnesses to the radical approach of the Gospel is not so much a call to do extraordinary feats that will capture the imagination of the world. Rather it is a call to be people willing to move out of their comfort zones leaving behind their securities and pretensions and renouncing their own interests in favour of the interests of those in need!
In our efforts to live as radical witnesses, so much proposed by GC 27, let us remember that it in essence means being a man for others like Jesus; being a man for others like Don Bosco – moving out of ourselves and from our comfort zones and being totally with and for the other always and everywhere!
May our lives and our ministry be characterized by this extraordinary radicality which appears to the non-discerning to be so very ordinary!