Being Responsible

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But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them.

Luke 10: 33-4

It is sometimes said that the only profession held in less regard in our society than that of the politician or journalist is that of the lawyer. Yet, if we are to be honest, we must identify with the question of the lawyer in today’s gospel: “And who is my neighbor?” Unlike those times when our awareness was bounded by relatively small neighborhoods or communities, we are now flooded with information about the state of global humanity. While it is important to be globally aware, it is also psychically and emotionally overwhelming. All of which leaves us often with the question posed by the lawyer to Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?”, or to put it another way, “For whom am I responsible?”.

In today’s first reading, Jonah, whose flight from God has created such risk to his companions on the ship, accepts responsibility for the danger he has brought upon them. “Take me and throw me into the sea, and then it will grow calm for you. For I can see it is my fault this violent storm has happened to you.” (Jonah 1: 12)  Despite his fear of God’s call to him that led him to flee, Jonah honestly and courageously accepts the responsibility that is his for refusing that call. He does not vacillate or rationalize but recognizes the results of his actions and accepts their consequences for the good of the others. In our hyper-stimulated and media driven world, it becomes more and more difficult to recognize and acknowledge the effects of our choices and actions and to accept responsibility for them. Is our consumption of so much information beyond our capacity to apprehend it? Adrian van Kaam suggests that our relation to the global pole of our field of formation must be mediated through our immediate situation. Yet, the danger lies in the fact that due to the time we spend on virtual media and consuming information, we are less fully present and so relate less directly to our immediate surroundings and situations, and, thus, we begin to lose our ability to recognize and act on our responsibility to the neighbor immediately before us.

Jesus responds to the question of the lawyer with the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus tells us that our neighbor is the one before us and who needs us at the present moment, whoever it is. It is not a matter of status, ethnicity, class, religion or nationality,  or even more of our like or dislike. Our responsibility is to the one who stands before us as an appeal for love. We are responsible to and for the one person God gives us to serve at this moment. This requires of us an awareness formed through the practice of contemplative awareness. We learn responsibility by attending in silence and stillness of heart to the disclosure of God’s call to us. The outlines of our responsibility are experienced in our strengths and limits as persons. We are only responsible for what we are uniquely able to offer within our limits. In other words, we are only responsible to do what we can. In order, however, to do what we can, we must develop a practice of self-presence that is also a presence to God’s call in the ordinary moments of our daily lives.

The “Good Samaritan” was able to see and hear the appeal of the person whom the robbers had attacked and was not, as the priest and Levite, only able to see the person through the lens of biases, projects, and agenda. He made the time to stop and provide for the needs of the robbers’ victim. To truly be responsible requires that we be present to our situations out of a mode of availability born of silence and openness. We must, of course, attend to all the daily tasks to which our state of life calls us, but we must do them while maintaining an openness to the breaking in of God’s work of love for and in us when it occurs. Jan van Ruusbroeks describes this life stance:

And this is what it is to love. For in one now, in one instant, love acts and rests in its beloved. And the one is reinforced by the other. The higher the love, the more the rest; and the more the rest, the more inner the love. (The Spiritual Espousals)

Responsibility requires of us that we be present to the moments of our day in the rest (the stilling of preoccupation and anxiety) that allows us to be moved in heart and will by the appeal of the one before us. This has always been difficult, but perhaps so much more in our day when our minds are filled with information and opinion rather than at rest in the love of God. One often wonders why it is that we in American culture are so filled with opinion and passion yet  seem to lack a capacity for responsible action. Perhaps what is needed, if we are to rediscover our profound human capacity to be deeply moved into loving action, is to rediscover the healing and loving effects of silence and rest.

The response ability of the heart is basically a felt conviction that one is able to respond to the formation mystery as it discloses itself within the limits of one’s formation field. Formative response ability marks each person’s formation history insofar as it is consonant. We respond to the epiphanies of the mystery by wanting and striving to give form to our life and world in accordance with its disclosures.

To what does the word ability in the term response ability refer? The answer is that it refers to the implicit experience of our formation potency. This potency is rooted in our participation in the higher form potency of the mystery itself. Such participation makes it possible for us to respond consonantly within our limits. Both our potency and its limits are given to us by the formation mystery. The quiet conviction of our limited yet effective form potency is thus rooted in our being called upon by the mystery. It is not grounded ultimately in our functional or apparent achievement or failure. To build our security on the latter is to live an anxious, vulnerable life, no matter how powerful and effective we imagine ourselves to be.

Adrian van Kaam, Human Formation, pp. 170-171

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