Notes on: The Church in Service of the Reign of God
Father James (Guadalupe) Carney
Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J.
The following, a set of notes written by Fr. Carney in 1978, shows the progression of his political thinking and of his pastoral planning over the years since his Retreat Notes of 1966.
Like many pastoral workers in Latin America, Jim Carney developed a more and more critical view of the capitalist system. During the 1970s the system showed that it was incapable of bringing about the kinds of social change which the majorities throughout the continent needed. In fact, Jim Carney and many other missionaries began to see that the capitalist system is based on individual and corporate self-interest and that it will use military force when necessary to protect the status quo, usually with support from the U.S.
In 1972 the Honduran military carried out a massacre at Talanquera of 18 peasant farmers who were engaged in a land struggle. In 1975 at Los Horcones, a group of soldiers slaughtered 14 people, including one priest from the U.S. and another from Colombia, to thwart a massive peasant march. In 1978, when Jim was writing these notes, Honduras was still under military rule.
And in Chile in 1973, a brutal military coup ended the constitutionally-elected government of the socialist physician, Salvador Allende, initiating a reign of terror which opened the door to the “free market” economic policies of the Chicago Boys. The U.S.-assisted coup in Chile had an impact throughout Latin America on all who were searching for effective means in the struggle for justice.
During the last two decades, the capitalist system has brought about a growing gap between the small percentage of rich persons and the vast majority who are poor (with many of the latter actually living in misery, or not surviving at all). Neo-liberal economics has given a free rein to what the pope has called “savage capitalism,” and globalization is the extension of multinational corporations to every place and every resource on the globe.
Jim´s radical critique of the system is shared by more and more Church workers today. And his methods of organizing socially and politically committed Christian Base Communities are still being used widely and should inspire pastoral agents to struggle harder against the growing inequality and injustice.
Notes on: The Church in Service of the Reign of God
Father James (Guadalupe) Carney
WHAT ARE THE MOST EFFECTIVE METHODS FOR FORMING THE REIGN OF GOD?
IN WHAT DIRECTION ARE RELIGIOUS LIFE AND THE LIFE OF PRIESTS MOVING?
HOW DO YOU FORM CHRISTIAN BASE COMMUNITIES WHICH ARE LIBERATING?
October 1978 --- Opinions of Guadalupe (Jim) Carney --
(Translation by Julie Beutel)
--1) The Spirit of God-Jesus is in all people, influencing them to direct the evolution of the world toward the Parousia, the second coming of Christ, the Omega Point (the whole universe united in Christ) that will be the definitive Reign of God. This is the plan of God revealed in the bible. No movement, political party, religion (including the Catholic Church, the priesthood, and religious congregations), no socio-economic system is an end in itself, but rather, they are simply means to the construction of the Reign of God in this world.
This Reign of God will be paradise, the Perfect Society of brothers and sisters, everyone equal, sharing all the goods in love. To get there we need to continuously perfect all people and our socio-economic systems, or our way of living in society. That is to say, the continual Cultural Revolution and Socio-Economic Revolution are necessary.
--2) Analyzing, with the help of Marxist science, the present historical stage of the evolution of the world toward the Reign of God (the society of brothers and sisters), many of us reached the conclusion that the Spirit of God is moving people to change the present capitalistic and imperialistic system, based on private ownership of the means of production and on exploitation of people by people and on exploitation of the third world by the first world, with its bourgeois-individualistic-egotistical mentality. We must transform this into a Socialist Society with social property, eliminating the social classes, and with a social mentality of sharing the wealth and decisions among all people.
This process of liberation of the oppressed and formation of a more fraternal society is first done in each country, and later, as a second stage, nations would be eliminated and one single World Socialist Society would be created. We’re not aiming for this New Socialist Society to be the definitive Reign of God, but rather a means, or step, necessary to that end.
--3) The principal means to advance the Reign of God, with the necessary Socialist Cultural Revolution and Socio-Economic Revolution, are not the Church or the religious congregations, but rather:
A. The socialist revolutionary political parties, and
B. The organizations for reclaiming the rights of the masses.
The Catholic Church, though not the principal one, is a necessary means for this double, ongoing revolution; and it is the means that God-Jesus himself organized to be the yeast and visible sign (model) of the New Perfect Society and the New Person, that is to say, the Reign of God. This is what the first Christian churches were like with their Christian Base Communities (CBCs). In recent centuries, the Catholic Church and the religious congregations have not been models or yeast for the evolutionary movement of the Spirit of Jesus toward socialism (the double revolution), but rather, in general, have been a conservative and contrary force.
--4) But the role of the Church, especially in its base, in the Christian Base Community, is to be yeast in the dough (not the dough, as it is presently in Latin America), model of the New Person and the New Society, and to do this within the people´s communities, especially (for the double revolution) like cells inside the revolutionary parties and inside the organizations for reclaiming the rights of masses, not forming a “Christian” political party or union. The CBC ought to be a revolutionary force and always critical inside those movements, always keeping in mind that the double revolution is ongoing until the Parousia.
The difference, then, between a Christian and another honorable revolutionary is that the Christian should understand the plan of God and where the evolution of the world is heading. Christians should recognize and respect the Spirit of God in all people; and their life in their CBC should be a model of the New Society. Thus, one generally cannot be a Christian individually, but only as an active member of a CBC – model and yeast of the double revolution.
Thus it is also clear that we Christians are not the principal promoters of the Reign of God in the world, but yes, we are necessary, like yeast in the bread. It’s also clear that, if we really preach this “Good News of the Reign of God,” the capitalist oppressors are going to be against it, and therefore won’t belong to the Church. The Church will be identified with the oppressed in their struggle for liberation. The big mistake of the hierarchy and clergy of the Church until now has been to try to be with everyone, the oppressors and the oppressed. But not to make a choice of class is to be with the status quo.
--5) The principal role of the priest in this Plan of God, then, is to be promoter and guide of these liberating Christian Base Communities and, afterwards, minister of their sacraments (liturgical signs of the commitment to form a model society of brothers and sisters). The priest should be the most revolutionary, to be the inspiration for the other Christians of the CBC. But one also learns to be a liberator and revolutionary with practice.
Because of this the priest has to belong to one or (as in Latin America) various CBCs. These people in the CBC must be his most intimate friends, brothers and sisters, more than his old priest friends. The priest should live with and like a CBC (with families, not with other single men), within a community of people, completely part of this people, like Jesus, like the first Christians, and like Saint Paul, sharing all they have of goods, problems, struggles, and dangers.
The priest can’t inspire others to take risks if he stays hidden and safe. He must be the first to join a revolutionary political party and the first to enter an organization of popular struggle, and the first to go to jail or to die for justice, like Jesus. He shouldn’t separate himself from the people, living in a rectory, being administrator of the Church goods, having economic power and privileges. The future priest, in general, will work with and like the poor to earn his bread every day and to help his CBC economically. Or if priests are so scarce, as in Latin America, and they have to work full time in the apostolate of many CBCs, they could earn a small salary from the CBCs they are serving.
It’s good for the priests to form regional teams and to meet together periodically to inspire each other, criticize, and guide each other with prayer, study, and joint pastoral planning. But living together takes them away from their CBC. The bishop should be the inspiration and guide of these regional teams of priests, and also should have his office and residence where he can be living with and like a CBC of the poor. The CBC should have the ultimate decision on who is going to be their priest. And there is no evangelical reason why the priest couldn’t get married, and why the Church in the future wouldn’t give permission to do so.
--6) The religious life in congregations or communities, organized apart from the ordinary Christians, apart from the lay people of the world, began about 500 years after Christ for historical reasons now completely changed. Christ didn’t organize a single religious congregation, apart from the CBC. During the first 300 years of the Church under persecution, when they were a minority and were fermentation in the dough, and not the dough itself, all Christians lived the “religious life,” the “common life” of sharing their things in their community, in imitation of Christ. The Church was exclusive, demanding. Those who didn’t comply had to repent and perform great penances, or they were excommunicated.
But after the Emperor Constantine, when the Catholic Church became the religion of the State, the Roman Empire, and the masses became Catholic, and the bishops and priests became feudal lords, landowners, and authorities with temporal power, the Church became corrupted. Then the Holy Spirit inspired many men and women to separate themselves from this corrupt Catholic world and form their Christian Base Communities apart in celibate religious congregations -- first apart in the desert, and later in the world, but separated in their monasteries and cloistered convents, under obedience to a religious superior.
But in the last centuries one can notice the movement of the Spirit of Jesus moving religious life toward being part of the world, eliminating the cloisters. The religious are getting rid of their distinctive habits, their convents, their protections and privileges. Now that the world is pluralist again, with separation of Church and State, and the Church is under persecution in many parts for defending justice, and modern theology, because of the liberation practice of some theologians, understands the role of the Church in the world as a minority ferment in the dough, preferentially of the poor and oppressed – now there are signs of the tendency of religious life, as organized congregations separate from the CBCs, to disappear.
There will always be room and need of some Christians in each CBC who want to imitate Christ in a special way, dedicating themselves completely to the double socialist revolution, like Jesus: a) unfettered by a family of their own (celibate “for the reign of God”), and, b) choosing to identify themselves with the poorest and most oppressed, living with and like them to help them in their liberation (Christian poverty “for the reign of God”). These will form the vanguard of the Christians. With the disappearance of the separated common life of the celibate religious, the vow of religious obedience will also disappear. Religious life will return to being as it was for the first Christians: the community life of all the Christians in their CBC, looking for their “perfection” and that of the world through the double revolution.
--7) Now, trying to apply all this to ourselves in the Church in Honduras in 1978, we look for a pastoral plan, or steps in a pastoral process, to radically change the Church and the life of the priests and religious in Honduras. This demands a radical change in the mentality and theology of the pastoral agents: the bishops, priests, religious and lay people. To achieve this great change, it seems best to use the tactics of Christ and begin, not by attacking the hierarchy, but creating in the base some models of the New Church of the revolutionary CBCs and of the new priest and the new religious.
Let’s use as a possible example of this pastoral process a traditional rural parish in Honduras in 1978, with two priests in their rectory and two nuns in their nice house next to the big parish church, in a small town of some 4000 inhabitants with its cattle-owning landowners and its merchants and its exploitative bar owners and its political bosses. They also have 50 small villages, half of them with Delegates who celebrate the Word on Sundays, and catechists who teach a few children once a week. [The distinction between town and village is important. Town (pueblo) is the larger entity; villages (aldeas) are small settlements scattered around the town.]
The peasants of these villages are of 4 classes: a) those who are owners of small parcels of land; b) those who are workers for the cattle-owners; c) those who are organized in the 6 groups of ANACH (National Association of Honduran Farmers, with 80,000 affiliates in the country), and the 3 groups of the UNC (National Union of Farmers, with some 20,000 affiliates in 9 villages); and d) the majority who have neither land nor fixed work.
These priests and nuns agree to promote the Reign of God according to the scheme described in paragraphs #1 – 6 above and, after much reflection and discussion, together as a team they decide to let their bourgeois houses become dormitories for the peasants of the villages who come to town; sell their two cars; go to live, each one separately, in a village with a family; and try to form some small revolutionary Christian Base Communities -- the four of them coming together as a team every Monday in town for study, prayer and planning. They are convinced they don’t have to win over the masses to make them Christian, but rather create a true Christian fermentation in these masses, and that they can leave the other villages and the town a little without sacraments until they form in them their Christian Base Community.
But meanwhile, you can’t deny people their traditional religious practices, and when a community asks for it, one of the priests should try to go some Sunday, without receiving any alms, to say Mass for them and to administer baptisms and weddings, but not to go to parties. They always should take advantage of these opportunities to explain to the people the pastoral plan they are following. And every two months they should meet with the Delegates of the Word and the catechists of the parish to inspire them and help them with more formation.
One of the priests becomes a member of one of the collective agricultural production cooperatives of the ANACH, and lives and works with them. The other does the same with a group of the UNC. They’d have permission from their groups to miss work on Mondays. Saturday afternoons and Sundays are for visiting other communities by bus or bicycle. One nun works as a teacher in one of the poorest villages, that has no peasant organization, and where no teachers want to work or live. The other nun works as a tailor in another village and is a member of the homemakers´ club of the UNC group in that village.
The plan of the four of them is to visit the homes of all the people of their village in the afternoons and evenings to get to know them and their problems, before beginning any other activity; but they will have Mass or Celebration of the Word on Sunday mornings. They will explain to the people their plan to form a Christian Base Community only with those who really want to be Christians like the first Christians. Because of that they won’t baptize more people in this village for now, but they cannot prohibit people from going to another parish to baptize their children.
After 2 months of living there and knowing their people, they each decide to begin inviting the Catholics in their village to form various small study groups of 4 or 6 couples and some single people in whatever house, once a week in the evening. Where a peasant organization exists, they form a group only of members and their wives. They use a course of Christian initiation that they themselves as a team write, with the help of dialogues and texts from the bible, almost exclusively from the New Testament. The people learn to apply the lessons to their own lives and problems in their community and in the country. The purpose is to change the mentality and theology of these future Christians so that they are revolutionaries with a critical consciousness.
Of course the process is slow and they shouldn’t push the people to accept new ideas until the idea is born from the group, not from the priest or nun, who only helps them learn to see and judge the problems that they are living with and that they themselves have to solve. After some months of discussing local problems, maybe they will be able to analyze the deeper causes of these problems and how to solve them most effectively by means of the revolutionary political parties and the organizations to reclaim the rights of the masses. The ones in the team will, of course, have to be active members of these movements.
After some 4 months of this process each one of the team members can begin visiting other villages near theirs to begin a similar process there, although they keep living and working in the first village for at least another year. The different groups or Christian Study Circles in a village come together on Sundays at the Mass or the Celebration of the Word. (Once a month one of the priests visits the villages where the nuns live and the church in town for Mass.) Little by little the nuns and priests leave the role of coordinator and inspirer of the Christian Study Circles to the men and women of the village, and in this way new leaders of the CBC in formation emerge in their own village and now helping to do the same in other villages.
After a year the groups without a doubt have changed. Some people have stopped attending and other new members have entered, but with a more or less solid nucleus of Christians now committed to forming a CBC and sharing their things. Now they can baptize the children of these members. But only members of the CBC can be godparents. New people who want to enter a CBC will have to form a separate group of catechumens who will have to study the basic course of Christian initiation led and directed now by the members of the old groups.
The idea would be, as we have said, that these CBCs be models of the New Socialist Society, and because of that they will have to begin putting their possessions in common. The ideal would be that they work collectively as much as possible, pooling the harvest and salaries of all the members of their CBC to distribute them according to the needs of each member of the CBC, and to help meet the needs of those who aren’t part of the CBC. But that won’t be enough. These CBCs have to be revolutionary cells, fermentation within the revolutionary parties and within the organizations to reclaim the rights of the masses. If they only organize themselves to be a saved group apart, the Christian Base Communities will become another form of the “opiate of the people” kind of religion.
This pastoral plan can be adapted to the parishes of poor people in the cities. Each neighborhood can be considered a village, and its revolutionary CBC should be present within the neighborhood organization and labor union. If a priest or nun is too old or sick to work manually like the farmers and poor workers, he or she can look for humble work as a bus driver, or a nurse in a poor clinic, or a teacher in a poor elementary school, etc. But be careful not to accept professional work as skilled workers or teachers in high school or college, etc. since then they would not be of the poorest class in our countries.
Since all these are my personal ideas, I wrote them principally to help myself clarify them, and also to stimulate others to reflect on these themes.
For more information about Fr. Carney and the investigation into his disappearance in 1983, please contact:
Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J.