Beyond the Reasonable Announcement of the Good News—is Fraternity in Solidarity Represented by our Closeness to the Poor
by Rafael Velasco, S.J.
It was this way at the beginning, as many saints, theologians, and martyrs have reminded us. One of the consequences of our faith in the Incarnation is the place from which theology is made. If God incarnated, nothing human is alien to him. And if God incarnated among the poor, living in the margins, the action of the church and its theology cannot be neutral. We cannot be neutral before injustice. If God was made flesh in the margins of history, we must read history from that place. God does not see history from above, but from the margins, from those who suffer exclusion, those who are often absent in the official liturgy, those who feel they are sinners and needy, those who have no access to central power. From that place the gospel is read differently.
The theological question: “Who is God?” is inseparable from the ethical question: “What to do?” (“What have you done with your brother?”) If the first question takes us to the God announced by Jesus of Nazareth, Father of all, the God of Life who establishes in Jesus a Kingdom of Justice in which the poor come first, the answer to “What to do?” also has consequences. A theology that tries to assume as central the category of fraternity must have at its center the poorer and more vulnerable brothers and sisters. From our faith in the Incarnation it is impossible to think theology decontextualized; we must think and do it historically rooted in reality. And reality in Latin America is still strongly marked by exclusion and poverty. To make theology from this reality implies adopting a perspective from the poor: from the poor person’s life while committed and in dialogue with other types of knowledge.
In Latin America—our context—life is menaced by exclusion, violence, and poverty. This means lack of access to health services, decent housing, justice, drinkable water, and human rights. Theology in Latin America would then imply to think life from the reality that the poor suffer. It will mean to make theology from the reverse of history written by victors, but from the defeated ones, from those who cannot get quality education, those who see their green spaces transformed into a dump. Why is this so? Because they are poor and they only count at election times.
We must reflect from those who are not the main characters and so are not present in headlines. It will also mean to make theology from the outskirts of society: where the victims live, those whose faces show the “suffering features of Christ, the Lord” as the Puebla Document states.1
It then means to make theology from the suffering majority since most of the population in Latin America is poor and suffers. The love of God here and now should be called liberation, commitment to the transformation of reality. The Kingdom of God, which is grace, historically begins when we share our bread. This theology of sharing, of incarnated fraternity, should have a prophetic character. It needs to call it somehow, because it should disturb, ask uncomfortable questions, and look for the necessary answers and commit to them. A theology that goes beyond dogmatic and notional elaborations, that goes beyond the question of “How can we be good in society?” to wonder about “How can we be good at making this society good?”
A theology that helps us live more humanly in this world, that encourages us to make the world more human, that aspires to something more than good behaviour, must in some way be spiritual wisdom rationally articulated. Wisdom that helps us live with taste and sense. Wisdom related to our own daily life. Such a theology emerges from the New Commandment the Lord left us. It is about that commandment lived in fraternity that Chiara Lubich beautifully says: “When it is radically lived, it generates unity and brings with itself an extraordinary consequence: Jesus, the Resurrected one, is present among us.”2
Claritas: Journal of Dialogue and Culture, Vol. 2, No. 2 (October 2013) 77–81 © 2013 The Church, Dialogue, and Fraternity Doing Theology from the Place of the Poor
- Puebla Document, August 6, 1979, no. 31.
- ZENIT Interview with Chiara Lubich.