The Model UN is an excellent program to introduce high school students to the dynamics and issues of the United Nations. Students represent various countries and present issues of those nations in the form of debate. Chicago Hancock High School professor Andrew Martinek brought ten students to New York for a UN program last week. I had the fortunate opportunity to meet the students and answer questions as a NGO representative of Augustinians International. The Model UN can help students broaden their horizons on international concerns in a more globalized world.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent and the call to conversion. Conversion is also about transformation. The United Nations is about the business of transformation toward a better and more beautiful world. Written by Dominic Arcamone, Conversion as Transformation: Lonergan, Mentors, and Cinema is an engaging book on self-development and the search for authenticity. The book can provide much inspiration during this season of Lent.
About the book:
The process of human transformation is complex and ongoing. This book presents a framework for understanding human transformation through the insights of Bernard Lonergan. The reader will be introduced to terms such as the turn to the subject, consciousness, subjectivity, and intersubjectivity. It will explore terms such as horizon, feelings, values, self-esteem, sublation, conversion, dialectic, and religious experience. The book explores transformation through the way mentors have authored their own lives, told their own stories, and taken possession of their interiority. Transformation is illuminated through the lives of saints and ordinary men and women who did extraordinary things, such as St. Augustine, Dag Hammarskjold, Vaclav Havel, Franz Jaggerstatter, St. Therese of Lisieux, Fredrich Nietzsche, Katherine Ann Power, and Marie Cardinal. Transformation is also illustrated through the medium of cinema: Babette’s Feast, The Mission, As It is in Heaven, Romero, Dead Poets Society, Ordinary People, The Godfather trilogy, Three Color trilogy, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Dial M for Murder, and Twelve Angry Men. While the book treats religious, moral, affective, intellectual, and psychic conversion as moments of transformation, it argues that ecological conversion requires all of these so as to meet the most serious challenge of our time.
“Today the international order vibrates in dangerous uncertainty. Multilateralism is under attack. Toxic feelings and nationalistic ideologies contaminate digital space. Opinions and bias become ‘reality,’ truth is suspect and mendacity finds a home. Written in a clear style, Arcamone challenges the reader to explore the dynamics of desire and the critical link between the inner self growing in authenticity and its creation of beneficial exterior structures. If we want to change the world, we need to understand our attitudes, ways of thinking, valuing, and deciding. Coming to know ourselves this way reveals to ourselves what we need to change. New students as well as those more familiar with Lonergan’s insights will benefit from this important work. I highly recommend this book for anyone, especially diplomats and NGO representatives, who are in the business of changing structures and creating a better world.”—Robert Dueweke, OSA, NGO Representative to the United Nations
“Arcamone demonstrates an in-depth understanding of the multifaceted dynamics of conversion as he links highly developed insights to accessible themes, images, and symbols. Take up and read, you will enjoy the journey.”—John Francis Collins, Lecturer & Christian Life and Ministry Discipline Coordinator, Catholic Institute of Sydney
“Dominic Arcamone has written a profoundly pastoral, practical, and intriguing book of theology. In the quest for authenticity Dominic shows his creativity as a communicator by taking us on a cinematic tour of his favourite movies, drawing us into the conversion and transformation of characters and personalities which remind us of our own quest for authenticity.” —Dennis Carroll, Senior Pastoral Care Coordinator, Catholic Healthcare
Dominic Arcamone is a retired mission manager in healthcare. He has also been a sessional lecturer for the Australian Catholic University from 2007 to 2015, writing and teaching graduate and postgraduate courses in theological subjects. He has a B.Th., MTh, MA (Counseling and Pastoral Care), D. Min, Dip. Adult Training and Assessment, and PhD. Since the events of 9/11, he has also focused on the problem of religion and violence and published his first book with Wifp and Stock, Religion and Violence (2015).
SEE ALSO: https://bclonergan.org/news/new-book-on-lonergan-conversion-and-cinema LINK
Wipf and Stock Publishers
199 West 8th Avenue, Suite 3, Eugene, OR, USA.
Tel: (541) 344-1528; Fax: (541) 344-1506 https://wipfandstock.com/catalogsearch/result/?q=DOMINIC+ARCAMONE
General Inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org Ordering Inquiry: Orders@wipfandstock.com
Conversion as Transformation is ACTIVE (Feb 1 2020) and it will be available for order via: W & S Customer Service: Immediately; www.wipfandstock.com: in 2 weeks; Amazon: in 2-4 weeks; Ingram: in 4 weeks; Kindle: in 2-4 weeks
ORDER ON AMAZON: https://www.amazon.com/Conversion-Transformation-Lonergan-Mentors-Cinema/dp/1532678924
ORDER ON WIPFANDSTOCK: https://wipfandstock.com/conversion-as-transformation.html
Booklet on the United Nations
ENGLISH LINK: https://visit.un.org/sites/visit.un.org/files/visitorcentre_booklet_english_web_2017.pdf
ESPAÑOL LINK: https://visit.un.org/sites/visit.un.org/files/visitorcentre_booklet_spanish_web_2017.pdf
FRANCAIS LINK: https://visit.un.org/sites/visit.un.org/files/visitorcentre_booklet_french_web_2017.pdf
The United Nations is celebrating its 75th anniversary with the theme: Shaping our future together — 2020 and beyond. This is a time to pause and to ask ourselves what is the purpose of this global institution? Does the world need a UN? Do we embrace multilateralism and the democratic process? The Preamble to the UN Charter states that the purpose of the UN was to prevent war in the present and future generations.
For more information: https://www.un.org/en/un75
Testimony by Michael Stevanovich, Augustinians International youth representative from Lehigh University:
This Wednesday, six youth leaders from around the world sat on a panel with the Secretary-General at UN Headquarters in New York on Wednesday to share their visions for a future that includes the voices of everyone including youth from around the world. This event which placed students alongside ambassadors and prominent UN officials. Amongst the issues discussed were multilateralism, youth empowerment, and climate change. When addressing multilateralism, the panelists highlighted the key role that civil society must play in ensuring a United Nations that represents all voices. Furthermore, we must engage and educate those left behind by multilateralism to heal the divides in our global community. While this event was centered on Youth engagement, the panelist recognized we have much further to go, to address the most pressing issues facing our plant we must embrace Youth as decision-makers and not simply just consultant.
While this forum highlighted some of the key issues facing the next generation, it failed to outline a clear vision to address these issues. This is where Augustinians can play a key role in the UN. As a part of civil society, we must hold the leaders of the UN accountable to more than discuss these issues but rather demand a clear vision forward. To take the critical actions needed to address these key issues we must not only hear the voices of the powerful nations and the corporations but the margins in society that are most affected by these problems and have the greatest insight into the change we need. As Augustinians, we must bear witness and be a voice for those on the margins to ensure that the next 75 years of the UN will truly include all voices.
We welcome Sr. Jana Anne Akan to our team.
Jana Anne Akan, OSA (Sisters of St. Rita)
Sr. Jana Anne is an Augustinian Sister with Sisters of St. Rita in Racine, WI. She has been involved with social justice work and lay ministries mostly in Los Angeles and Racine. Started her ministries through St. Vincent de Paul Society as an active member by serving the homeless. Later, got involved with prison ministry and ministered the youth at Central Juvenile Detention Center in Los Angeles. She has taught Religious Education in Los Angeles and Racine. Currently volunteers as communion/pastoral care minister and works as a Hospice Chaplain.
Any Augustinian sister who wants to know more about our work at the United Nations should contact me, Fr. Bob, at email@example.com
Link to article on pilgrimage AND gallery of photos
Trail of Blood and Tears: A Spiritual Journey to Central America
By Robert Dueweke, OSA
The shocks shook me out of a deep sleep. The blasts sounded like bombs or explosives, but I wasn’t sure. Again the sounds cracked the cold night air like thunder claps. Bam-bam-bam. Then I heard the rumbling of heavy trucks down the cobblestone road outside the walls of my adobe bedroom. The frightening sounds played tricks on my waking mind. I imagined trucks transporting soldiers with machine-guns. My blood turned ice cold, chilling my whole body with fear. Are we under attack? Is the army going to kill more civilians? I made an act of contrition and, for a second, wondered why I had so little faith.
In the morning, I asked about the bomb-sounding blasts. A group leader said the sounds were harmless, only the customary fireworks for a birthday celebration. Thus began my ten-day spiritual journey in January 2019 to Central America.
A spiritual journey to Central America
The Maryknoll Society of Priests and Brothers organize an annual pilgrimage retreat for clergy and religious brothers that trace the footsteps of modern-day martyrs in El Salvador and in Guatemala. Our pilgrimage group consisted of seventeen participants from different parts of the U.S. and Canada and five Maryknoll missioners who personally knew and worked with the martyrs.
Who thinks of martyrs these days, those men and women from the past who courageously lived and died in service to the people and to their faith? Like the statues and stained glass windows of a church, I discovered that martyrs are found in the memory of the community.
Through the eyes and experiences of the suffering poor and the martyrs, this retreat offers an opportunity to reflect on our faith, mission, and relationship with God. The shedding of blood is the context; listening and observing are attitudes the participants need on this retreat.
Trail of Blood and Tears: The Hidden Story
On the first morning, we departed the colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala, and traveled six hours to the San Salvador Cathedral of the Holy Savior in El Salvador. Our first stop was the gravesite of Archbishop Oscar Romero, now saint. A bronze sculpture of the bishop in the state of rest was placed over the tomb. A red marble glass, the size of a golf ball, was inserted over his heart. It indicates his death by an assassin’s bullet in 1980. We then drove to an isolated area in the countryside where the four American female missionaries were tortured, raped and executed that same year. The retreat team then led us to the University of Central America. In 1989, in the middle of the night, at their residence on campus, a death squad killed six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter. By the end of the day, our group was emotionally exhausted. I felt numb and did not know how to think. Each stop was a place visited by evil but also a “holy ground” to be venerated.
After several days of reflection on these terrible events, we returned to Guatemala. Our van crossed over a mountain pass that opened to the view of a large, deep blue, lake surrounded by volcanoes. On the shore of the lake lies the town of Santiago Atitlán. Oklahoma City priest, Fr. Stanley Rother, now blessed and the first American martyr, gave his life here in 1981 for his Tz’utujil Maya parishioners.
In Santiago Atitlán, we also heard testimonies from survivors of massacres that happened around the country. We heard from the bereaved who lost family members to kidnappers or death squads. Their loved ones were never seen again — their remains thought to be in an unmarked mass grave.
In Guatemala, the army launched a murderous campaign of fear and a reign of terror against defenseless natives of the Mayan communities. Throughout the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996), an estimated 700 massacres were carried out ending the lives of 250,000 innocent people, mostly Mayas.
Always working in the middle of the night and in an inhuman frenzy, the soldiers barged into the thatched roof huts, broke down doors, and killed everything that moved – the elderly, pregnant women, and infants. The slaughter was done in the name of anti-communism, an unfounded accusation by wealthy landowners, military, and business leaders. Church leadership, since colonial times, often sided with the wealthy elite to protect its own interests.
Catholic leaders and ministers who helped the poor with their basic needs and preached social justice were targeted. We learned about a bishop, 17 priests, and 2000 catechists were slaughtered because their work with the poor was considered to be subversive activity. To ask questions about the economic and political structures that kept people in poverty was an aggression against the state and labeled as communist activity. Sadly, such accusations of aggression also occurred in El Salvador, in other countries in Central, and in Latin America.
Many courageous people committed to social justice risk their lives – still, to this day — collecting evidence and stories from rural Mayas through the Church’s Office for Human Rights.
Why did the army massacre its people? What forces lie behind the hidden story of so much racism and hatred? The Guatemalan government’s systematic violence began in 1954 as a reaction against the “Ten Years of Spring” – a period that included agrarian land reform supported by the previous, democratically elected, administrations. New laws gave poor farmers access to uncultivated land to grow their crops of corn and beans. It was the first legislative attempt to bring Guatemala into the modern era. Signs of progress took root. And yet, the wealthy, powerful few, objected to the direction the country was taking. So, too, did that country in the north.
The U.S. government wanted to have nothing to do with such progress; land reform was trumpeted as communist. This was a lie for the sake of economic and political dominance. The truth was that land and agricultural reform were bad for American investments, especially for the interests of the United Fruit Company. Bananas continue to be cultivated with the imposed servitude and blood of indigenous workers.
Determined to halt such reforms by democratically elected governments, U.S. political and military involvement in Guatemala had a direct impact on creating conditions for the deaths of thousands of poor people. The present-day poverty, assassinations, and corruption are a result of American foreign policy meddling in the political and economic affairs of just Guatemala, but throughout Central America. This is the hidden story of what the U.S. government continues to do in the name of its citizens. These appalling political and economic strategies have been widely documented.
Their Story, Our History
“This is an unusual form of retreat/pilgrimage: you will be implicated in their martyrdom, the massacres with those who died, with those who survived and live with the everyday martyrdom of the poor. You dared to walk with them; you are implicated. Now you can tell their story; now you can tell your story.” Maryknoll brother Mary Shea.
The martyrs “spoke truth to power” and shed their blood as witnesses to the Gospel in their solidarity with the people they served. The ancient Latin theologian Tertullian wrote that the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.
I witnessed a church alive with a Vatican II spirit of communion and participation at a Sunday Eucharist in the parish in Santiago Atitlán. Blessed Stanley Rother had left the country because his life was in danger, yet he returned to be with his parishioners: “This is one of the reasons I have for staying in the face of physical harm. The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger.” He was ultimately murdered by a C.I.A. -trained death squad. His heart and blood are buried in a parish shrine; they are also sources of life and presence in traditional Mayan beliefs. These symbols speak of the triumph of goodness over evil. The same is true for the blood of martyrs in El Salvador. Philosopher and theologian Ignacio Ellacuría, slain with the six Jesuits at the university, wrote of his friend and archbishop: “With Monseñor Romero God passed through El Salvador.”
What have I learned from this pilgrimage experience? As a representative for the Augustinian Order at the United Nations, my understanding of dictators and autocratic regimes has become more personalized. I see more clearly the link between the bloody history of Central America and the migration of people to the U.S./Mexico border. I learned what you, dear reader, find objectionable: the scandalous involvement of U.S. administrations, in the name of its American citizens, and in the so-called fight against communism, in sacrificing human lives on the altars of business corporations throughout Central America.
We, as Americans, must know this hidden story, the history of U.S. foreign policy. The frenzy over building the wall on the southern border is an attempt to block out and erase forever that history. As the American philosopher George Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
When I reflect back on those imagined bombings that first morning in Antigua, I realized it was a moment of grace. For a brief moment, I experienced what the martyrs might have experienced: the shock and fear, as well as the struggle to pray for the strength to stare into the darkness and to commit oneself into the hands of God.
Through the eyes and experiences of the suffering poor and the martyrs, this retreat offers an opportunity to reflect on our faith, mission, and relationship with God. Personally, I learned more about my emptiness and poverty. I also recognize that mission embraces a radical dependence on the power of love. This is how I am “implicated” and this is what I must preach: expose the evil of the lie and welcome the poor, the stranger, and the refugee as the Crucified Christ seeking compassion and hospitality at our nation’s borders. The real border wall is the one erected in our mind and heart that shuts out questioning and forgets our history.
Thomas Melville, Through a Glass Darkly. The U.S. Holocaust in Central America, 2005.
Optional resource: –https://uscatholic.org/articles/201901/why-so-many-risk-it-all-cross-border-31620
Fr. Art Purcaro, OSA, describes the beginnings of the Order’s decision to be involved with the United Nations.
It is hard to believe a year has gone by since we all started working together. It has been a
pleasure and a blessing to work with everyone in Augustinians International. Each person’s
insight, knowledge, and expertise has been an asset in guiding me throughout this journey. I’ll
never forget the first time I entered the United Nations. I was thrilled and uncomfortable all the
same time. I was surrounded by leading change makers in, arguably, the most powerful place in
the world, and I’m only nineteen. “How did I get here?” I asked myself. Now, I walk around the
United Nations like its my local grocery store. I feel apart it just just like everyone else there.
I’ve learned so much in my time at Augustinians International and through my role as a youth
representative. I fully understand the complexity and functions of United Nations and its organs,
and, at times, I’ve been frustrated by it. I had hoped for their to be a bigger voice for civil society
and for there to be more concrete, positive change. However, it has been important for me to
recognize and remember the value of the United Nations and appreciate the small wins. When
faced with the wicked problems of today, it is easy to be discouraged or wishing there was more
that could be done. Because if it can’t be done at the United Nations, then where? However, it’s
okay if after a two hour briefing the AIDS epidemic has not been solved. It’s okay if after a two
day conference the relationship between United Nations agencies and religious affiliated NGOs
has not been perfected. At some point during these meetings, someone was inspired. That
inspiration will transform into action, but it may not be immediate. You have to ask yourself,
would the world be a better place without the United Nations, and the answer is no. If the United
Nations is not providing fast change, it will produce change eventually. After all, AIDS patients
access to treatment has increased, and there was a forum for dialogue between United Nations
agencies and religious affiliated NGOs to discuss how to progress. These are the small wins. The
one’s that take time, but it’s all worth it. I may not have changed the world this year, but I
learned so much. To me, that’s invaluable. I was able to meet new people, explore world issues,
discover new information, network with other organizations, and expand my horizons. I am very
thankful for Augustinians International, the United Nations, and Lehigh University for bringing
me this experience. I cannot wait to see for what next year has in store.
What We Accomplished This Year…
● Attended a two day conference on “UN Strategic Learning Exchange on Religion, Development,
Peace and Security” in June
● Met Fr. Dueweke for the first time in New York in June
● Learned what being a Youth Representative entails and practiced my elevator pitch at the
orientation in September
● Updated our Youth Representative profiles on the Augustinians International website
● Fr. Dueweke and Jack Tierney visited Lehigh on September 28th where we discussed our goals
for the year and toured North Bethlehem
● Attended a high-level event on Peace, Security, and Climate Change Nexus in Africa during
Africa Week in October
● Dined and debriefed with Fr. Dueweke after the Africa Week briefing
● Created a report based on Bernard Lonergan’s philosophy to critically reflect on our time at the
Africa Week briefing
● Met the Augustinian OSA Peace and Justice Secretariat in New York on October 24
● Attended a workshop with Mary Frances Schurtz-Leon on “Networking in a Cross-Cultural
● Co-authored a blog post on the crisis in Congo
● Attended the “Right to Birth” briefing on World Aids Day in December
● Researched organizations to help Fr. Dueweke’s friend’s daughter for her water project in South
● Facetimed Fr. Dueweke and Jean Soto to discuss Augustinians International’s plans
● Attended a “Amplifying the Voices of Rural Women”
● Met with Fr. Dueweke for lunch to catch up after the “Amplifying the Voices of Rural Women”
● Attended a briefing on “The Value of Peacekeeping: Stories from the Field”
● Sat in on a leadership workshop with George White
● Attended the conference “Students Seeking Solutions” organized by our very own Veronica
● Fr. Dueweke and Jack came back to Bethlehem to reflect on the year and our journey ahead
April 22, 2018
(Fr. Bob Dueweke met with the Youth Reps and the intern to evaluate this year’s work at the UN. The following reflection is based on that discussion.)
Yesterday I met with Emma and Anastassiya, Youth Representatives from Lehigh University, and Jack, Augustinian intern from Chicago, to review the year’s program and experience at the United Nations. Important points for reflection emerged during our lively conversation at a diner near the university.
Last week Lehigh University had an all-day conference on the Sustainable Development Goal #6 at the United Nations. This SDG #6 focuses on water and sanitation. Various panels were held throughout the day in which experts shared their ideas and experiences related to water. I asked the question whether anything is accomplished at these commission meetings and conference side events at the UN. The response from all was “probably not.” So, why are we at the UN if we feel we accomplish nothing? Perhaps we have to grapple with the meaning and role of the term “accomplishment.”
The idea of “accomplishing something” is another way of saying we have “concrete results,” which is appropriate for the university STEM course environment. There we observe something new emerges as a result of expenditure in time, resource, and money. We make task lists to measure “what we accomplish” and what psychic energy is required to accomplish whatever the goal might be. We set goals and measure for ourselves whether we have reached it as we would in physical exercise. But there are caveats.
There is validity in applying a “scientific” approach to what we do. Yet, setting goals and fretting over concrete results can become warped when they are an obsession and the only criteria for measuring accomplishment or progress, and, worse still, for calculating our sense of self-worth. I am by what I produce. The assumption that goal-setting and result finding are the only metrics for evaluation eliminate other options, perspectives, and questions found in understanding reality. Such assumptions are especially limited when considering the longer viewpoint in time with issues concerning social transformation.
Chaos as measurement
The commissions and departments at the United Nations certainly use goal-setting and they measure progress in terms of results. But these so-called results are often short-term. Presenting a side event on one of the SDGs is a concrete result. Panelists give papers and organizations publish manuals. When we consider the longer viewpoint in terms of decades or generations, we might doubt the lasting effect of the short-term “concrete result.”
One might sense instability and chaos in what one wants to achieve. Failure to achieve anything concrete engenders drowning oneself in activity in order to numb the mind of asking and answering further questions. In some manner, we, as NGOs, must squarely face the instability of not accomplishing anything. This is an integral part of progress and requires that we reflect on why we are doing what we are doing. This tension of instability and the feeling of wasting time belongs more to a spiritual dimension of work than to a STEM environment. Yet we also know about scientists in quantum mechanics who will avert to a spiritual kind of language to explain subatomic observations.
Void as spiritual dimension
It is important to define what is meant by the term spiritual. The notion of spiritual is larger than the meaning of a spirituality as a way of life that belongs to a specific religious tradition like Christianity, Buddhism, or Islam. Rather, the term spiritual is much larger and includes the dimensions of spirit that artists like El Greco or Mozart tap into to give expression to that desire of reaching out for the more. The sense of the spiritual I have in mind here is that sense expressed by the United Nation’s second Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld in his design of the “Meditation Room” at the United Nations. He wanted a place of silence that points to “the more” of the imagination and yearning of the spirit within the deliberations and discussions at the UN.
The Meditation Room is highly symbolic; it is also a symbol highly forgotten by both staff and visitors to the UN. In an interview with the journalist Pauline Frederick, Hammarskjöld worked with artists to convey a sense of silence and stillness that “should be the center of the United Nations.” He said “We want to bring back, in this room, the stillness which we have lost in our streets, and in our conference rooms, and to bring it back in a setting in which no noise would impinge on our imagination.” When the room was opened in 1957, Dag Hammarskjöld gave this description to visitors (full text): “We all have within us a center of stillness surrounded by silence . . . . There is an ancient saying that the sense of a vessel is not in its shell but in the void. So it is with this room. It is for those who come here to fill the void with what they find in their center of stillness.”
For an outside observer, silence and stillness appear to be motions of “doing nothing” or “wasting time.” Nothing is “produced” and results cannot be measured. So, what “fills the void” when nothing is produced or considered “successful”? How does one tap into a spiritual dimension to respond to the inner emptiness of feeling like a failure when the rest of the world values the worth of something or someone by the measure of its product? This uncomfortable feeling afflicts everyone who is committed to social transformation for making the world a better place. St. Augustine writes much on the notion of the “inner self” as interiority, the place where “God is closer to me than the blood is to my bones.” This is the point of departure for exterior activity. Perhaps we can find solace from the teachings of interiority from those social prophets who have gone before us, such as Augustine, Teilhard and Merton.
Voices of social change: Teilhard and Merton
The Jesuit paleontologist/geologist Teilhard de Chardin continues to make an impact on our understanding of social change and instability in light of the long evolutionary process:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time
It is important to trust the process. At times, the process can involve the repetition of a pattern of experience. A typical pattern is a student attending classes in a routine manner over several years with the hope of gaining insights that are integral to learning. Something new evolves from within the student’s pattern of experience. The new is contingent on the pattern or repetition of experience. This pattern is observable in the sciences like chemistry and biology. The Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan calls this process emergent probability.
We see how value plays an integral role in the commitment to the pattern of experience in the writings of the social critic and Trappist monk Thomas Merton. In a letter to the New York social activist Jim Forest, Merton responds to his friend’s frustration in the work of social justice, especially in the movement for nuclear disarmament. Merton writes:
Do not depend on the hopes of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea [of failure and dashed hopes] you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, . . . it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.
What I find intriguing about Merton, and good advice for NGOs, is to concentrate on the “results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.” This is the work of the spiritual dimension of the human being. When we feel like we are wasting our time and going nowhere with our projects, we must think of the “value” and the “truth of the work itself.” At the United Nations, we embrace and project the value of communion, unity, equality, democracy, dialogue, and participation. These are core values. Theologically, we call them Eucharistic values, that is, the possibility worth struggling for that the human race can gather around one table. No matter how small the so-called accomplishment. These values deliberately contradict the dominant narrative that war is the only option for life on Earth. This option views the other as a potential enemy, one who cannot be trusted, defenses must be built, and pre-emptive strikes are normative procedures for maintaining peace. In this narrative, peace is nothing more than a temporary cessation of war. War is anti-Eucharist; war is a lie.
Evaluating work at the UN: successful or fruitful?
The so-called Just War theory is obsolete. St. Augustine adapted this theory from St. Ambrose with the intention of preventing war. But times have changed, especially in the post-Hiroshima era when nations have the capacity to destroy earth itself. When mechanisms for conflict resolution are in place, and where conflicting parties are invited around the UN table, the option for war must be a decision of last resort and have exhausted all channels of diplomacy.
No doubt, the UN system needs reform if it is to be effective and credible. Wrongs must be made right. Transparency and gender equality at all levels of decision making must become normative at the UN. We can ask “Is the world better with or without the UN?” If the system is broken, which it is, then, it must undergo serious reform. We must remember that the purpose for the UN is to prevent war. However, we do need to ask questions like when “When do we wage war?” and, “How will civilians, the poor and marginated be protected?” Again, Dag Hammarskjöld reminds us that the “UN was not created to lead mankind to heaven, but to save it from hell.” Trusting in the value and the “truth of the work itself” is trusting in that we can live together without destroying ourselves. That trust is something that cannot be measured, calculated, or produced in a concrete way. Yet, it can seem our work is a failure rather than a success.
In evaluating our working at the UN, with its countless meetings and conferences, we need to reframe the experience, of which frustration and darkness are common, with a new terminology. Changing words can change our perception and provide new insights. As one friend mentioned, “it is not about being successful, but being fruitful.” The fruitfulness of an endeavor is buried in trusting the process as a whole, with all the moments of instability, confusion, frustration, chaos, lack of success or fulfillment one might experience along the way. Components of such fruitfulness imply dialogue, discernment, exchange of ideas and feedback, not positive or negative feedback, but accurate feedback. There is a sense of growth. As a person of faith, one contemplates “Have I grown in faith and love? Do I have hope, or do I live under a cloud of despair?” Is my work at the UN fruitful? I can take this idea a step further: “Have I planted seeds of peace? Do I give them time to germinate in the dark earth? Am I patient with doing nothing?” St. Ignatius of Loyola describes this type of person as a contemplative-in-action.
Planting the seeds of peace. This is what we do as contemplatives-in-action. We are to help create a new human consciousness, a new global soul that embraces all forms of life and inanimate matter into a cosmic whole. We are tasked to create not robots of a fantasy Westworld, but a new flesh-and-blood ultra-human, a term used by the scientist and Franciscan sister Ilia Delio (see her blog “Becoming Ultra Human. An Exploration of God, Sex, and the Future of Everything” at http://www.becomingultrahuman.com/blog-1/
Obviously, as students at the university, we need to obey our professors and design programs with goals and deadlines and projected outcomes; the school requires it and we should not rebel. Nevertheless, we need to maintain a sense of balance with the unexpected and be resilient with the cultural dictates of the unsuccessful. Social transformation and change happen at another level of ultra human consciousness that cannot be measured, but the experience can be one of fruitfulness and trust in the process of the long term. We live the value of communion and the “truth of the work itself.” It is a question of how we understand being contemplatives-in-action. We need to recover this dimension at the UN.
We should go ahead and fill in the blanks under “Expected Outcomes.” Remember there is another blank in the deeper part of our soul where everything gyrates around a center-point of stillness and silence. When one sits in quiet as a pattern of experience, something stirs deep. From within that inner void emerges “UNexpected outcomes.”
And that is a high probability.
Robert Dueweke, OSA