Today as we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we are reminded of our own baptism.
At the anointing of the chrism, this is what the priest intones: “God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, King and Prophet, so may you live always as members of his body, sharing everlasting life.”
When I was working with the scavengers in Smokey Mountain, the Basic Ecclesial Communities were organized to live out the three functions of the follower of Christ: Priest, King and Prophet. First, through the Spiritual Dimension, living out the priestly function of the Christian through worship as a community.
Second, through the Developmental Dimension, living out the kingly function through livelihood, educational and health projects.
Third, through the Liberational Dimension, living out the prophetic function by implementing projects that promoted justice, peace and the integrity of creation, engaging in works of mercy, reaching out to the other poor groups and networking with humanitarian organizations to help the poor, redress injustice, and transform society.
The people of Smokey Mountain tried to live up to their baptismal vows by fighting for justice, standing up for the voiceless and the weak, reaching out in acts of kindness and compassion for the stranger and the outcast, living a life of simplicity, cultivating empathy and defying the powerful.
It is critical for the community wishing to be true to the vows of baptism to assume responsibility for transformative action. Faith in the Christ is a commitment to care for others, and therefore it can be a spirituality of resistance, a spirituality born of struggle against the world’s evils. Through faith in Christ, the people of Smokey Mountain found the courage to combat injustice and at the same time enlarge the circle of their compassion.
Personal holiness and social transformation
The scavengers strove to work for the development of interior consciousness and networked with other groups as they fought for justice and called on individual scavengers to assume more responsibility for themselves. They integrated the growth of consciousness with the development of the political and economic well-being of the community. Personal holiness went hand in hand with social transformation.
More than 95 percent of the people in Smokey Mountain were baptized Catholics. The fundamental questions for the Divine Word missionaries serving in the garbage dump were: How can the scavengers begin to form stronger faith-communities of commitment and mission in the light of their baptism? How can faith motivate them to participate in the task of helping themselves? What can be done about the wasted human potential, the untapped creativity, and the unmotivated talent of the scavengers?
Other pressing questions had to be asked: How can pastoral work help move them beyond relief and social services to empowering themselves to work for their own liberation? How can they use their own unique gifts, talents and interests to live out joyously their call to be the chosen race, the royal priesthood? How can a community of hope be empowered to live out their baptismal calling to proclaim, to serve and to build relationships?
The answer to all these questions: the Church must take root in the very heart of the community. Life in community is the primordial form in which the triune God prepares human beings to participate in the divine life. The form, activities and apostolic thrust of the ministry in the dumpsite derived from the political, economic, social and political context of the scavengers’ lives.
Our community organizing was then premised on the following principles:
1. Building communities should be geared towards the human drive to wholeness and integrity.
2. Participative methods should be used so that everyone in the community will collaborate in the seeing, the judging and the acting in solidarity.
3. Community organizing techniques as continual creative action must be historical, dynamic and processive: Isaloob ang kahapon, isadiwa ang ngayon, isapuso ang bukas.
The One and Triune God
In the baptism of Jesus, The One and Triune God was revealed. Trinitarian faith created new visions of freedom and possibility for the community in Smokey Mountain. It gave the scavengers new ways to think about themselves and their own hope in a universe of constant flux and unpredictability. The Trinity can be a metaphor for self-organizing communities so that they are enabled to maintain the balance between the one and the many, between unity and diversity.
Just like God is a community of persons, we can best live out the priestly, kingly and prophetic dimensions of our baptism in a community. Through the faith-community, through unity in diversity, we can be helped to discover our deepest and truest selves, the fullness of who we are.
We have to establish communities of faith that value and make use of the totality of who we are as human beings. We have to fill our yearning for wholeness, our longing for a sense of belonging and move towards the future in communion, secure for all our frailty because we believe that the triune God creates both the call and the response.
Today’s Gospel invites us also to remember those special moments in our lives in which we have sensed God’s powerful presence, as he whispered in our ear: “You are my beloved daughter/son; I am so delighted in you.”
Such moments energize us, just like they energized the scavengers in Smokey Mountain, to continue the divine creating and healing mission entrusted to us at baptism.
Jesus the Christ through the Spirit is continually at work in the community and in the cosmos, helping us discover our humanity, our yearning for relationship, community, meaning, dignity and love.