We begin this week our overview of the 2007 Aparecida document, the great pastoral work of the Latin American bishops, led by Cardinal Bergoglio, the later Pope Francis. Today we will examine the broad outline of the document; in weeks to come we will delve into the various sections in greater depth. Our purpose is not just to parrot what someone else has said, but to learn from Aparecida how to live a deeper sense of mission ourselves: to learn from the Latin American bishops how to open our own eyes to where Christ calls us to follow him.
I wish to emphasize the movement of the Holy Spirit behind this document, and will thus refer to its author simply as “Aparecida”: as Mary, inspiring the bishops, and as the bishops, speaking as one, out of that inspiration.
The document has three main sections:
Part One: The Life of Our People Today
Part Two: The Life of Jesus Christ in Missionary Disciples
Part Three: The Life of Jesus Christ for Our Peoples
There are three important insights in this approach to the question.
First, Aparecida calls us to see Jesus as the answer to the challenges of today. We look first to “our people today,” to the challenges (and opportunities) we face in our real lives. And then we turn to Jesus Christ. In Part Three, we look for Jesus Christ as the answer today. But by far the longest part of the document comes in between: first we take a long time to gaze at Jesus Christ himself.
This approach teaches us to avoid twin dangers. On the one hand, we can look to Jesus without looking at our own world. Perhaps it would seem pious to keep our entire focus on Jesus. But our world remains, our problems remain. We need to see Jesus in relation to the world we live in, to see how he comes to save us here and now.
But on the other hand, we can be temtped to lose ourselves in the here and now, to worry only about our immediate problems. We have to learn to see our problems in relation to Jesus, to see him intensely involved in every struggle and joy we face. Aparecida has the courage to look even to questions like economics and the environment – and then ask how Jesus himself is the only true solution to our problems.
In either case, the danger is to make Jesus irrelevant to our life. He is not. He is true King and true Savior. We have to learn to see everything in relation to him.
A second insight of Aparecida’s broadest outline is a focus on mission. This appears in two ways.
First, Jesus calls us to look to the world around us. Love of God is expressed in love of others. This takes on a special importance for bishops, who are uniquely charged with the pastoral care of entire peoples. But it is the call of all of us to be responsible to the world around us. A faith that seeks into itself, a faith that is not genuinely missionary, is a falsified faith. Love calls us to our neighbor – and it calls us, too, to our neighborhood, to a concern for all the social reality in which we live.
Nothing can be left out of our transformation by Christ. To focus on mission, and mission to “our people” it its entirety, underlines this. Aparecida emphasizes that we must live our faith above all by going to the hardest places, to the furthest reaches, to the problems that we find most intractable. There too we must find our Redeemer and King.
A second way to put this is that Jesus Christ is present “in his Missionary Disciples.” We are called to be truly conformed to Christ, to share in his redemptive love for all of humanity. We can neither look for Jesus to love without us, nor try ourselves to save the world without Jesus. Instead we look to his missionary presence within us.
The third key insight from Aparecida’s broad outline is a focus on life. Jesus is the lifegiver, the one who raises us not only from physical death, but even deeper, from spiritual depth.
This is the key aspect under which to see Jesus as Savior, and savior of our peoples today. He heals, he brings back to life. He fulfills the deepest longings of our heart. We share in his mission because we know that he along brings true joy to us and to others.
What areas of our life do we tend to separate from the healing presence of Jesus?