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April - May 2014

The need for disarming ourselves

 

The murder trial of “blade runner” Oscar Pistorius is receiving world attention as we go to press. It involves a rich and famous athlete who murdered a well-known model in his upper class mansion and deals with controversial issues such as race, sex, power and violence. The Paralympics champion justifies the homicide with fear of an intruder (“the imaginary black stranger” as Margie Orford wrote) through the toilet window, even though he was living in a high security estate.

 

This case is a window into some of the woes that hound South African society—a society in which too much fear prevails and where there are too many guns. It is estimated that there are, at least, six million firearms in private hands—one for every dozen people. According to the news, Pistorius himself kept a large armoury at home (without proper licenses) and two weeks before the tragedy, he discharged a firearm in a packed restaurant and asked a friend to take the blame. Such fear is driving many people into fortress-like housing estates, surrounded by electric fences, armed guards and the permanent surveillance of security cameras.

CHALLENGES • LIFE IN ABUNDANCE

A great discovery must be shared

 

All people seek a meaning for their lives. A life ‘with meaning’ is a life ‘with value’, worth living. That’s exactly what Jesus came for: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” This promise answers all our questions, doubts and anxieties; and it also poses a great challenge: who would be able to keep it to himself, instead of sharing it with others?

 

FR MANUEL JOÃO P. CORREIA

COMBONI MISSIONARY

 

Life: a deep yearning. “I am the gate. Whoever enters through Me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10: 9–10). This self-presentation of Jesus is one of the most fascinating and inspiring. Who of us doesn’t crave for an “abundant life”, a happy life? Isn’t that the permanent aspiration that springs from the depths of our hearts? It’s like an inner impulse, a need for plenitude and happiness, a thirst for the infinite that nothing or no one can erase.

 

It is easy to recognise the origin of this profound longing, almost a vital need of our very being: it is God’s stamp in our hearts, created in His image and likeness. It is the unmistakable characteristic of human beings, oriented to the infinite. Every human being aspires to the fullness of life—his call and destiny.

 

God cannot but give in abundance and therefore seeks men and women capable of great desires and profound aspirations. Jesus comes to awaken in us such yearning and fan in us the fire of passion: “I have come to set the earth on fire” (Lk 12: 49)—but not to let it perish in the ashes of disillusion. His is a proposal, a promise.

 

It is the mission of the Good Shepherd: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” This word “abundance” in Greek is perisson, which means a lot, beyond measure, an exceedingly great quantity, even greater than one would expect or imagine. In short: an abundance of plenitude in quantitative and qualitative terms.

 

Life: a constant challenge. The life which God grants us is undoubtedly beautiful, immense, profound. But it is also a great challenge. Our daily existence can sometimes become tough, full of risks and dangers. To become an exciting adventure, it requires a good dose of optimism, confidence and ability to fight.

 

Indeed, a full and happy life is not a de facto reality, something given, but something we should seek and build day after day; it is a reality that one reaches en route, as one journeys. It precedes us. We pursue it—so that we may never feel satisfied and stop looking for it. Someone said that the ideal exists to make us move forward. It seems that the distance which separates us from the ideal remains invariable. When it seems almost at hand, behold it goes forward. The more we walk, the more distant the ideal appears, in a permanent game of seduction, to make us grow in desire and ability to embrace it!

 

Such pursuit is not free from dangers and ambushes, crossroads and roundabouts. To the figure of the Good Shepherd who gives His life, is opposed the one who steals it, whom Jesus calls a thief, or robber, usurper, transgressor, murderer and destroyer (v. 10). We all know who that is! He is also the wolf that comes to snatch and scatter the sheep (vv. 12 and 13). He neither knocks on the front door, nor respects people’s freedom, nor seeks the good of others, nor enters through the ‘door’ of Christ’s logic. He introduces himself slyly, as error and the darkness of night. Life is also a very fragile and threatened good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life: an unfathomable mystery. Life is a mystery. Despite advances in science and technology, it continues to be an enigma. Its origins continue resisting the claim of those who strive to ‘explain’ everything—especially difficult in the case of man’s existence. The ‘mysterious’ dimension of human existence reveals itself especially in the search for the meaning of existence that, sooner or later arises in the heart of each one of us: “What is the meaning of my life?”

 

This question is not always clear and conscious but it is not easy to ignore or suppress it. It may be born silently, almost unobtrusively, but will grow in such a way that it cannot be dominated. Eventually it imposes its reason. All people seek a meaning for their lives. A life ‘with meaning’ is a life ‘with value’, worth living. A ‘meaningless’ life turns out to be a heavy burden, sometimes too heavy to be borne!

 

Life: a search for meaning. The quest for meaning is often sought within life itself. For instance, in personal achievement, material well-being, physical health, professional success, power or fame… It is a limited and inadequate response. Its proof manifests in a dramatic way when life’s physical or mental conditions deteriorate to the point that a person asks if it is still worth living! In extreme cases, one can even commit suicide. No wonder, therefore, that some western countries have legalised euthanasia as a human ‘right’, even in the case of minors, as happened recently in Holland. But even without arriving at this extreme—the conservation instinct in most cases can dominate any suicidal ideas!—the person who, knowingly or unknowingly, feels that life is ‘meaningless’ and is overwhelmed by a sense of deep dissatisfaction, uneasiness and unhappiness.

 

Our current culture reflects this uneasiness in existential and emotional emptiness, depression and ‘somatization’, on the alienation caused by drugs, sex and violence. There are attempts to disguise and camouflage this frustration, anaesthetising it with a few moments of joy and feeling of ‘fullness’ at the shopping centre, at the nightclub, at the football match, at the beauty salon or in the fashion world, in sport or in the gym. A deep emptiness pervades our society: absence of values, of love and solidarity, of meaning and purpose. A full life is a life with meaning.

 

Vocation: a life with full meaning. This page aims to reflect on the Christian and missionary vocation. Jesus’ promise of “abundant life” is, therefore, a good starting point. Indeed, vocation is a search for plenty which overflows in mission. Anyway, every vocation—whether from a human or spiritual point of view—comes with a perspective of life, full, helpful and generous. It is the way in which one realises oneself and makes life more meaningful.

 

The Christian vocation is based on a particularly optimistic understanding of life. It stems from the experience of a God who loves us and fills us with the abundance of His riches and blessings, as Scripture says: “God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Cor 9: 8); “May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15: 13); “Now as you excel in every respect, in faith, discourse, knowledge, all earnestness, and in the love we have for you, may you excel in this gracious act also” (2 Cor 8: 7).

 

The fact that such abundance comes from God, an inexhaustible source of life and goodness, is a guarantee of fullness and meaning. The Christian vocation rooted in baptism—as well as all other particular vocations grafted on it—offers a life full of meaning, for it draws from the Trinitarian overabundance which is at the origin of the universe. Life acquires its true meaning and achieves its goal: the divine bliss!

 

Life and vocation: the discovery of the senses. The meaning of life is revealed in the vocation. But the vocation, in turn, comes from the life experience, the interaction with the reality through the bodily senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. A life, a vocation with an overabundance of meaning is the one that makes good use of the senses and values and develops them to the fullest of their potential.

 

This is the vocational journey I propose we make during this year: the discovery of the senses as a fundamental condition to achieve an overabundant life!

 

 

“A full and happy life is not a de facto reality, something given, but something we should seek and build day after day; it is a reality that one reaches en route, as one journeys.”

“The Christian vocation is based on a particularly optimistic understanding of life. It stems from the experience of a God who loves us and fills us with the abundance of His riches and blessings.”

SPECIALS AND SELECTED TEXTS

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