Maryknoll Lay Missioner Heidi Cerneka, currently on mission in Kenya after many years in Brazil, reflects on Jesus' instructions to the disciples to go out in the world.
Security is an interesting thing these days. When I was living and working in Brazil, I often wondered, “Do we have security? In what lies our security?” Brazilians spend more today on private security than people who live in Colombia, a country wracked by civil war. Cars have bullet-proof windows; houses have protection bars on the windows; neighborhoods pay someone to watch their streets at night; some people even have their own private security personnel for their homes or their persons.
Public security is a basic right of ours: We should be able to walk in the streets without fear of being robbed. Our children should be able to play in the streets without fear of predators. Yet all of our weapons, all of our defense expenditures, all of our radar systems do not bring us security. All of our money in the bank, all of our education, all of our investments – be they financial or material like our homes – do not bring us security.
This new millennium is where we seem to learn this lesson over and over, starting with the destruction of the World Trade Centers in New York, and moving through Hurricane Katrina and the thousands of people who lost their homes in New Orleans, on to the financial crisis and tragedy of 2008, then Superstorm Sandy on the East Coast. And that was just in the United States.
In whom can we put our trust? In the economic specialists who did not predict or did not avoid this crisis? In the engineers that built the dam in Louisiana or the government that chose to ignore warnings that the dam was at risk? In our government that chooses to put lives at risk in a war that is not ours? In our neighbor?
Brazil and the United States both have the sad fame of being countries that imprison a large number of its citizens – the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world, and Brazil is in fourth place. Both countries also have some of the highest indices of violent death (in the U.S., death by handgun). We have a long way to go to a sense of security.
In Brazil, in connection with the bishops’ Lenten campaign, members of the Catholic social pastoral movement gave many workshops in communities and even in state events about public security and how to build it. The campaign’s theme was public security and safety, but the subtitle was “peace is the fruit of justice.” In other words, without justice, as Pope Paul VI said, there will be no peace. As citizens of any country, we have the right to security.
I worked with imprisoned women in Brazil and visited regularly a few prisons in Sáo Paulo, including one that holds 2,700 women. Daily I heard stories that are much more about justice than crime. Ana Maria was in prison because she was being threatened with eviction from her tiny shack that she shared with her four children. In an act of desperation, she accepted an offer to carry drugs from one place to another for $50. Was she a criminal? No. Did that make her action correct? Not by the law. However – as Pope Paul VI said, if we had economic justice in our world – would Ana Maria have carried drugs? Probably not.
The state did not provide for economic justice, or for the safety of Ana Maria and her children, and in an act of desperation, Ana Maria also contributed to the violence of the drug trade. We can choose to continue this downward spiral into insecurity and violence, or we can choose to be different. As Christians, we are called to be different. As Christians, we are called to step away from the status quo – to go out in search of the “unclean spirits” of our time and expel them.
Jesus sent out his apostles to expel unclean spirits. We can have a whole discussion about what might be some of the “unclean spirits” of today. However, that is not the crux of his message, I believe. Jesus did not tell his apostles to walk only during the day (and we know Bible stories about robbers, murderers, and foreigners being attacked because they were not welcomed in strange lands, so we cannot suggest that there was no risk in their time); Jesus did not tell his apostles to go armed for protection; to take their bank cards in case they needed to stay at an inn, or needed money. He said, “Take nothing for your journey.” Trust was his message. “If you believe that what you are doing is right and you are following me and my call, then trust.”
However, we must remember, that Jesus also did not say, “Stay at home, live right, take care of your family and trust in me.” He calls us to go out – in communities, in teams (they were sent out in twos) and preach repentance, and work for peace and justice. The Christian call is to build the reign of God right here on earth. All of us. Period. Look at Amos in the first reading. He says, “I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees… and the Lord took me from following the flock and…said to me, “Go prophesy to my people Israel.” (Amos 7:15)
Are we all called to leave everything behind but the clothes on our backs, with not even an extra pair of shoes? (What if it rains?) Probably not. But what I hear Jesus saying is “get out of your comfort zone and be a neighbor. Get involved with your neighbors, and your brothers and sisters.” I believe that each of us can do that – we need to listen in prayer and to our community members and loved ones to know what God is calling us to do. I imagine that Amos’ first response to being called from his sheep to go prophecy was “Huh??”
Open your heart, get out of your comfort zone and listen for God’s call!