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Center for Action and Contemplation

A Liberating Theology

Wednesday, January 20, 2021


A Liberating Theology
Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Brazilian Archbishop Dom Hélder Câmara (19091999) was a truly saintly man and one of my heroes for the Gospel. Although many are not familiar with him today, he was well-known in his lifetime for his love for the poor and his embrace of nonviolence. His teachings have shaped many of my thoughts on the nature of evil and our freedom to choose how we respond to the suffering and injustice present in the world. He wrote me on the twenty-fifth anniversary of my ordination, so I have a personal gratitude toward him. Here he writes:

When you look at our continent [of South America], where more than two-thirds of the people live in sub-human conditions as a result of injustices, and when you see that the same situation is repeated all over the world, how can you help wanting to work towards human liberation? Just as the Father, the Creator, wants us to be co-creators, so the Son, the Redeemer, wants us to be co-redeemers. So it is up to us to continue the work of liberation begun by the Son: the liberation from sin and the consequences of sin, the liberation from egoism and the consequences of egoism. That is what the theology of liberation means to us, and I see no reason why anyone should be afraid of a true, authentic theology of liberation. [1]

The people already understand that we have no right to blame God for the problems that we have created ourselves. As if the Lord were responsible for the floods or the droughts [Richard Rohr: or the pandemic]! No! It would have been very easy for our Father to create a universe that was already perfect. But it would have been terribly boring for us to come into a world where everything had already been done, and done well, where everything was complete. So the Lord merely began the creative process and entrusted [humans] with the task of completing it. It is up to us to control the rivers. It’s a question of intelligence and integrity. If we had shown sufficient intelligence and integrity in the past the droughts and the floods would already have been controlled. Nowadays deserts are being watered and rivers diverted. It’s our own problem, not the Lord’s. [2]

Liberation theology as Dom Hélder Câmara describes it is applicable to many of the problems we face. For good or for ill, our choices as individuals have a collective impact on others and future generations. How we treat each other is a marker of our freedom in God. Câmara reminds us:

We all believe that all human beings are children of the same heavenly Father. Those who have the same father are brothers and sisters. Let us really treat each other as brothers and sisters! . . .  We all believe that freedom is a divine gift to be preserved at all costs. Let us liberate, in the highest and most profound sense of the word, all the human beings who live round about us. [3]

[1] Hélder Câmara, The Conversions of a Bishop: An Interview with José de Broucker, trans. Hilary Davies (Collins: 1979), 170–171.

[2] Câmara, Conversions, 124.

[3] First address as Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, April 12, 1964. See Dom Hélder Câmara: Essential Writings, ed. Francis McDonagh (Orbis Books: 2009), 41.

Story from Our Community:
When I entered my fifth rehab for addiction and alcoholism, I remember sitting at meetings wondering silently: Who am I? and What am I to do now? I was introduced to Richard Rohr, began to support CAC, and my sobriety led me to contemplate while awake. I have learned that I do not change my life, so much as I cooperate with Providence in allowing my life to be directed and changed. I have momentary breakthroughs. Today I am sober, and sober-minded, and am learning to ‘grow-up.’ I did not, nor will I get back, all that I have lost. In the end, it is rubbish. It is passing, as am I. But God remains. —Michael G.

Image credit: Monastery Window (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
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