The uncertain path to transforming the world

In 1893, a young Indian attorney, was thrown out of a whites-only carriage during a train journey in South Africa. He was left stranded on a railway station platform, feeling thoroughly humiliated.

Jun 16, 2017

By Anil Netto
In 1893, a young Indian attorney, was thrown out of a whites-only carriage during a train journey in South Africa. He was left stranded on a railway station platform, feeling thoroughly humiliated.

But this setback raised Mahatma Gandhi’s awareness of institutionalised discrimination and profoundly shaped his public life. He went on to pioneer the Satyagraha (the force borne of truth and non-violence) movement, the forerunner of modern-day People Power movements and inspired India to independence.

All of us are called to be the salt of the Earth. But that is easier said than done — and no one said the path would be easy.

Sometimes we are fearful of stepping out of the security of our ‘boat’ — because we fear that we will sink in the dark swirling waters. Yet, we may still be called to move out of the boat, just as Jesus asked Peter to step out into the unknown.

Suddenly, we might find ourselves sinking or experiencing setbacks. When that happens, it can be easy to lose faith or despair.

But if we look again, with the benefit of hindsight, we may see that God was stretching out his hand to lift us up. Our setbacks themselves can be transformed to further a larger cause.

When Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama, refused a bus driver’s order to give up her seat in the ‘coloured’ section of the bus to a white passenger who was standing, she was arrested. But this setback in 1955 catapulted her into a leading figure in the struggle against racial segregation, inspiring the civil rights movement in the process.

Small acts of courage, even defiance, can change not only the lives of those involved but spark entire movements, raising the level of awareness and consciousness in society.

Sometimes the price is heavy. Think of Nelson Mandela’s 27 years of imprisonment — but look at how it fired up the anti-apartheid movement.

Then, there was the murder of Benigno Aquino Jr. in Manila Airport in 1983. Benigno, a leading figure opposing the dictator Marcos, was shot dead as he was stepping down from the plane upon returning home from self-imposed exile. His death galvanised a pro-democracy movement in the Philippines and ended Marcos’ dictatorship.

These acts stunned many but they also inspired others to take up the baton and further the cause, to build justice in the world around them.

We are called to do what we can, sometimes more than what we think we are capable of. It may not be easy but if we call on the Spirit to give us the strength to transform the world around us, one step at a time, then miracles can happen. If the cause furthers the kingdom, then somehow we will be given the strength to carry on, if only we ask.

One of the keys is being consistent and persistent, never wavering from the path that we have been called to travel, unless doors open for us to move in new directions.

Sometimes, we may be called to step out of the security of the boat, and that is when we may be filled with self-doubt and wonder whether the task is too big for us. That is when doubts creep in, holding us back from our true potential to be the salt of the earth.

Our lack of faith in a higher power then becomes our greatest impediment.

But if we ask for faith, wisdom, guidance and courage — all gifts of the Spirit — we will be guided across stormy seas to become beacons of light and hope and justice and love in the world.

Along the way, we may taste moments of encouragement or success or disappointments. And, like the prophet Moses and Oscar Romero and Aquino, we may not live to see the outcome of our efforts.

No matter. What matters most is our faithfulness to the task entrusted to us — the struggle to build God’s kingdom of justice and peace and love. The rest is in the hands of the Father.

This is part of a moving prayer by the late Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw:

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds
that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that
will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far
beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a
sense of liberation in realising that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a
beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord's grace to
enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the
master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders;
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future
not our own.

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Sunday Reflection

Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time: That woman is Ourselves

Mark calls her “a Greek” but Matthew uses the ancient name “Canaanite,” a reference to the original inhabitants of the Holy Land, who were conquered by the Israelites some twelve centuries before the time of Jesus. Matthew recognises that this encounter between the woman from the area of Tyre and Sidon and Jesus is about an outsider “wanting in.” So he heightens the drama by identifying her as a member of that group of pagans who were Israel’s first enemies (after the Egyptians, of course).