There is an old saying in Spanish: “Palos porque bogas y palos porque no bogas.” It must have originated with poor fishermen because it means literally, you will be beaten for rowing and you will be beaten for not rowing.p. A better translation is, “If you move, you lose; if you stand still, you lose.” Fishermen know a lot about this, and if you are a Christian, your most direct spiritual family tree leads straight tofishermen.
It is a saying for all of us, one we feel keenly now. We are living through times that feel uniquely like a no-win situation, like the boat has sprung a leak. What does our faith tell us at times like this?
Dominican Father Gustavo Gutierrez is one of those people who knows first-hand what it is to be beaten if you move and beaten if you stand still. The father of Liberation Theology in Latin America, whose groundbreaking work gave us the “preferential option for the poor,” has been criticized by both extremes of the religious spectrum.
Perhaps you will be most familiar with the criticism from conservative circles, because Liberation Theology has been (wrongly) viewed as Marxist. Yet you might be surprised to know that he has been just as vociferously criticized from liberal circles because of his profound Christian commitment and his constant return to the Bible and to Jesus Christ as the only real answer to our human questions.
I feel that Father Gutierrez represents well the heart of most Latino Catholics. For us, as for him, there is no liberal and conservative, there is no polarizing around ideas; there is the reality of our sisters and brothers, their suffering and the luminosity of Christian hope.
I was blessed to meet Gustavo Gutierrez recently. The diminutive and youthful 75-year-old was partially hidden by the large pulpit in an enormous church filled to capacity with more than 800 people. One of the new gifts God has given the Catholic Church in the U.S. is the presence of Gustavo Gutierrez on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame . The Peruvian professor and pastor is pitching his tent among us for a while. And what did Father Gutierrez come to tell us?
I think he came to tell us that the leak we were now noticing in the boat has been there all along, we were just looking the other way. I think he came to tell us that perhaps we can use this time of economic and political uncertainty to remember and embrace once more, with passion, our Christian commitment to make a “preferential option for the poor.”
Father Gutierrez’ talk was interrupted by an evacuation due to a smoldering drape, prompting some other theology students present to conjecture that “the government was shutting the talk down,” while others mused that he had “set the room on fire!” But this priest of the poor, who holds two advanced degrees and more than 20 honorary doctorates, resumed his place and continued with the story he came to tell us – one of re-kindling hope.
He wanted all of us to connect to what Saint Augustine had expressed so well: “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” Anger and courage to be Christians, in the words of another great visionary, Cesar Chavez: “Si se puede!” It is possible.
What is it that is possible at this time for us in the Catholic Church of the U.S.?
First, it is possible that, in losing some of our security and some of our abundance, our point of view can change. Father Gutierrez recalled Jesus’ story about the widow’s offering (Luke 21:1-4). In order for Jesus to give us this teaching about the profound value of giving from our “want” rather than from our “abundance,” Jesus first had to sit on the steps of the Temple and observe, have a point of view that brought him into contact with those who were closest to God because they had nothing else. Luke tells us, “Jesus looked up and saw” What do we need to look up and see?
Secondly, do we need to find some anger within us that the way things are is not the way they should be? Do we need to then find the courage to work toward righting those wrongs? Father Gutierrez left us with an amazing challenge: Our “post-modern” world, where everything seems so new, is not one where a “preferential option for the poor” has become irrelevant. This is not a “post-poverty” world, it is not a “post-oppression” world. Why should we make once more a preferential option for the poor? “Not because the poor are good, but because God is good.”
The poor fishermen of John’s Gospel could neither row nor stand still; they thought their boat would sink in the storm. Jesus came to them: “It is I, do not be afraid” (John 6:16-21). Let us look for Jesus walking toward us out on that rough sea; let us awaken each other to faith.
And let us, from the point of view of this communal boat, see all the others on the boat with us – and work toward our common deliverance. Paz.
Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu is completing a Ph.D. specializing in Theological Aesthetics at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. Her book collaborations include “Camino A Emaus” and “Presente! U.S. Latino Catholics from Colonial Origins to the Present.” She will be a presenter at the upcoming Religious Education Congress in Anaheim.
February 21, 2003