Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.
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Love, Discern, Act
Using the framework of liberation theology to get my life in order
This year as I began to think about New Year’s resolutions, I wasn’t coming up with anything new. I want to stick to an exercise program. I want to be more organized. I want to help people more. I want to eat healthier. I want to be a more loving mother. I want to be a better wife. And I desperately want to work on my spiritual life. Nothing new. Same old, same old.
Why do I want the same things every year? Sure, I could tell myself that none of these resolutions have an end point. I can always grow. I can always be more organized. I could always eat a little better. I could always have a stronger relationship with God. Which is true, but deep down I know this isn’t my problem. My problem comes in giving up. In becoming a passive accepter of the world instead of an active member of it. Sorry, can’t exercise, polar vortex. No time to make something healthy, baby crying, stuff cookie in my mouth for breakfast. I know I need to go to confession, but the girls would never survive those lines.
As I was ticking through all my excuses, liberation theology kept wandering through my thoughts. Liberation theology began in South America in the 60s and 70s. At its core, it is about the preferential option for the poor — our responsibility to help free others from every kind of slavery. This includes working against structural violence and not accepting, nor supporting (directly or indirectly), unjust systems.
The part that I was thinking of, though, was the framework it sets up to live out its principles. It is a three-step process:
First, praxis. This is a fancy word for practice (as compared to theory). It is living. First we must live; we must go out into the world and interact and observe and participate. It is here that one must have a “renewed stress on charity as center of Christian life.” We must go out into the world and meet people with love.
The second step is where theology comes in. After we are in the world, we must apply what the Church teaches us to the situations we find ourselves in. Theology helps us figure out how we are to act. We reflect on our experience and use theology to understand how God is calling us. This step is important because the discernment keeps us from falling into the trap of thinking that we are infallible and that all of our actions are good just because our end goal is good. We must be patient to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives.
Third is action. We must act. We are not called only to theory. There is “above all a demand for action, for commitment, for serving of others.” Men and women are agents of history. We have the power to change history.
Liberation theology is much more profound than what I just explained and I would be embarrassed if Gustavo Gutierrez (the founder) read my notes of his work, but this part — the framework for living — has sunk into my soul. It makes me feel strong. I can be an agent of change. I can control my own destiny.
Of course the focus of liberation theology is to open our eyes to the suffering of the poor and and do the works of mercy, but, as in all things, I think we must start small. I can start with myself. I can’t meet the world with love if I’m a total mess. If I never exercise or make sure I’m getting enough sleep, how will I have the energy to interact with those around me? If I never take the time to take care of myself, how can I expect to take the time to sit and discern what God is calling me toward? If I can’t make a change to adopt a healthier lifestyle, how will I be able to take action to change the world? I can change myself; I can change my actions. I don’t have to be passive. I can be active and purposeful. It’s not just that I can, but that I should; I am called, I am expected to. I must love and discern and act. And that is empowering.