The dawn is for visions and the twilight for dreams

“Our old shall dream dreams and young shall see visions”. (JI 3:1).

Recently, when I was in Perth, Australia, I was reminded of my age when a journalist began an interview by saying me, “Now that you have entered the twilight of your life…..” Suddenly I knew I had opened the door to dreams.

And what better place to enter this new consciousness than in Australia where its aboriginal people still insist on calling life “dream time.”

Life is an incredible and beautiful cycle in which the dawn is for visions and the twilight is for dreams. The young have visions. And these visions create the energy for them to become. Yet the vision can never be fully realized in one’s lifetime and so visions become dreams for the old. And these dreams, like good wine passed on to the young as new visions.

I remember well the vision being passed on to me by the dreams of an old Belgium priest, Father Joseph Cardijn, founder of the Young Christian Worker movement. His dream declared that “a young worker is worth more than all the gold in the world.”

Receiving the vision is a powerful experience. The very nothingness of life, as imposed and manipulated by modern culture, is suddenly hit with a creative lightning bolt. Non-meaning is replaced by meaning.

The words of the Gospels, “I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly”, begin to take on real meaning. The vision brings to life the incredible gifts which each one of us is called to put at the service of the other and our world. This new vision generates its own energy to remain faithful to the task of working in the vineyard of creation. It is this dream that I want to pass on to you.

Youth leadership

You have asked me to speak on youth leadership. The first question that must be asked about leadership is, Where does one want to lead others? This is an all-important question. The very complexity of the modern world has given birth to an escape-hatch mentality. This escapist
type of faith makes a reality the world of Karl Marx that religion is the opiate of the people. The present fundamentalists and new cults are growing like mushrooms over the landscape.

Their leaders are, of the “pied piper” variety, lead youth away from the work in the vineyard towards a make-believe world.

The basic energy of this approach is “chicken love,” a huddling together before the coming storm. This is the ultimate opiate; it makes drugs look like prescriptions sold by the old medicine people.

My dream of leadership is to lead others deeper and deeper into creation. The beauty of the Creator is etched in the very atoms and cells of each person and the universe. It is plunging into creation that
we walk humbly with our God.

Our involvement in the world must be as invisible and thorough as is the work of salt when it is sprinkled on food. It presence is evident only in the taste.

The where of leadership is all-important Do we believe in the incarnation? Do we believe that Jesus came not to redeem us out of the world but rather redeemed us to aid him in the task of accomplishing creation? The where is all-important; the type of leadership is also of great importance.

My dream is of a world without leaders. Leaders demand followers. How many still believe in the old axiom – some practically raise it to a divine law that God created some to rule and other to be ruled. How much time is wasted in looking for the natural leaders?

In my younger days, we were organized in gangs of 20 or 30 or so guys, the insiders knew who the leader was but the outsider did not know. The visible leader was often the one that announced the
decisions but the real leader was the one who had influence. The insiders knew him. The outsiders did not.

Every person is called to some type of leadership based on influence. Every person is called to participate in the process of decision-making. The emphasis must be put not on forming leaders
but on enabling each person to become themselves. It is through this becoming that one’s hidden gifts are discovered and put to the service of the whole.

These gifts are varied, from organizational skills to management skills, from public speaking to keeping the books etc. It is rather rare to find an individual who has the whole range of gifts. Gifts my be in the possession of the individual but in their development that become service to the whole.

If we ever hope to transform the world which demands the total release and development of all the gifts of every person, the emphasis mut be put on the development of each and every person. The
leadership syndrome has become a museum piece. The new type of leadership that must be sought after is that of being a servant, a suffering servant, a witness.

Leadership as witness

Pope Paul VI in his exhortation on evangelization wrote on this new type of leadership: “People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers, in experience than in teaching and in life and action than in theories.”

We are called to lead others to themselves. The witness must march to a different beat, out of step with the surrounding culture and witness to another way of life. We are called, as Catherine de Hueck, the holy woman of the Ottawa Valley, was fond of saying to ” preach the Gospel by living it.”

Millions are seeking not after leadership but after truth. Few are called to leaders but all are called to be witnesses.

I dream of a church that has as its aim and object the salvation of the human person, not from the world but rather for the world. We are called to transform the world and not be transformed by it. The
church is called to a deadly combat with the “powers and principalities of this world” which are busy molding the person into their image of nothingness.

The question of the dignity of the person runs like a thread through every one of the eight encyclicals of the present Pope. He writes: “when the individual is not recognized and loved in their dignity as the living son of God, the human being is exposed to more humiliating and degrading forms of manipulation.”

Pope John Paul II writes again on the person: “The individual person can never be reduced to anonymity that comes from certain structures and systems. The individual is not just a number, an
impersonal link in a chain, a cog in some machine.”

This type of exploitation of the person is miles beyond the type that afflicted my father’s generation. At that time the person was exploited physically. The marks of this exploitation were long hours of
work, children at work, no labor legislation, no security, no unions, etc.

But the workers of that time were able to use their inner spaces to tap their creativity and develop a worker movement that has made our world just a little more human and just. Today, the very sacred
spaces have been invaded and manipulated so that creativity has become passivity. How can the Church do battle with our culture which is trying to disarm the persons from inside.

Modern Exploitation 

Pope John Paul II does not mince his words when he tackles this situation: “Human beings are created by God, redeemed by Christ, made temples for the Spirit and called to a life of oneness with God. In the light of this, every violation of human dignity cries out to God for vengeance”.

What then is the task of the church in the Third World when physical exploitation is still the order of the day , and n the First World where spiritual brainwashing is on the program. The Pope gives a
remarkably clear and concise view of the task before us:

“to re-discover and make others rediscover the inviolable dignity of every person makes up an essential task, in a certain sense, the central and unifying task of the service which the church and the lay faithful are called to render the human family.”

These are indeed very powerful words, worth of study and meditation. The restoration of the dignity of the person is the central and unifying service of the church. I had always thought the central task of the church was to reveal Jesus to people. At first sight, one would think there is a contradiction between restoring one’s dignity and revealing Jesus.

Is it possible to reveal Jesus to people who do not believe in their own person? Can those who do not love themselves come into communion swith others? How deep is the spiritual crisis of the day?
Human beings have to be restored to their dignity before they can really understand Jesus.

With this task, the Pope takes us beyond social and even cultural analysis which are solid methods of building up a more just society and brings us face to face with the task of turning stones into living
stones. All this becomes possible when the person makes the most basic act of faith: “I am important”.

Without this act, nothing is possible, with this act, all is possible. This is the starter that moves individuals in becoming themselves.

Again let us listen to the doctor of the modern soul, Pope John Paul !!: “The sacredness of the human person cannot be obliterated, no matter how often it is devalued and violated, because it has its unshakable foundation in The Creator….The dignity of the person is the indestructible property of every human being.”

This truth fires our hope that we can win over the forces trying to domesticate the person.

The hows

I dream of a church that allows great freedom for without freedom the twin gifts of imagination and creativity cannot hope to develop. We need these gifts to work out the hows of restoring the dignity of each human person. There are no clear cut methods that one can apply, for we have never faced this type of problem before.

Let us be humble before the task at hand and say that we do not know how to restore the dignity of the person. Yet this must be our starting point. The liturgy, catechetics, preaching, theology, etc., all must wait for that incredible act of faith, “I am important.”

One of the key elements of restoring the dignity of the other is the amount of time we can share with the other. We must erase from our vocabulary that time is money; rather time is friendship. Real
friendship is based on eternal time, it is the royal road to dignity.

Faith in one’s importance does not happen by looking into a mirror or even by taking self-awareness programs; rather, it happens through friendship: “What does my friend see in me? After all, I am nothing. Maybe my friend sees something in me that I still cannot see.” The friend’s act of faith gradually foster faith in oneself.

Is not this the method of Jean Vanier who works with the wounded people of our time? Are we not called to be friends with the millions of walking wounded, wounded right to the depths of their souls?

The spiritual sufferings of the First World make the sufferings of the Third World look like child’s play. In the poor countries, suffering is very visible but we hide behind our bloated egos the nothingness of our lives. How weak are our words to heal and yet how powerful is friendship to heal the spirit!

I speak so because I was there. I ask forgiveness for breaking the rules; witnesses are called to speak only when they are asked to testify. Yet I must speak out, if only to thank those who restored my
dignity.

I would like to thank those priests and laity who did not count the hours and weeks and months in the process of my conversions from nothingness to dignity. They had to listen to my ego prattling words
without roots, like an infant learning how to talk.

Their patience was divine. I thank them for their words which then meant nothing yet even in their nothingness, the memory registered them like seeds which were to come to life later.

How powerful is the memory? It continues to record even when it has no visible reaction. It records the very beats of a mother’s heart when you were alive in her womb and also in the “womb” of your friend. The bud of a flower contains the whole memory of the plant and suddenly, it flowers.

How many friendly words are present in the womb of life and suddenly they flower and one is born again not of flesh and blood but through friendship. This is the incredible shout of life, the primal scream of dignity.

Friendship

How great are the friends who revealed me to myself! With their friendship, the shades were lifted from my unconsciousness. The culture of matter could no longer fashion me in its image. Where
once I walked through life in a trance, how I had really been born again.

My youngest son recently asked me: “Hey dad, where were you when the atomic bombs hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki?” I had to admit that “I had not been born yet”. My dignity was still to be restored. I was surrounded by war, injustice, exploitation, brainwashing, advertising etc. and I walked through it all as in a trance.

The gestation period for a human being is nine months. The gestation period of birth to consciousness is not known. It came for me though a small group of young workers meeting regularly to discuss what was happening around them. The basic method was to see reality, judge whether this reality helped one to become or kept one in a trance, and then act.

Let me take you through a session, an inquiry into family life. “We don’t really care what you think”, the process said “What are the real facts of your family life?”

The facts were that we spent little time at home. Our real home was the corner store. We knew the owner of the store better than we knew our own parents. The last time that I had gone out with my
parents was when I was eight years old. This was the unvarnished reality.

With these facts in the open, we started to judge this reality. Again the power of the culture intervenes. We insisted that we were not doing anything wrong. We were living like very one else. We were at peace with the cultural standards of the day. Nary a thought of an alternative culture. Yet the process led us to wonder if it was normal that we knew the owner of the corner store better than we knew our own parents.

The clash between this reality and a possible new ideal leads to action. It is action that forms the person. We must always see the action through the eyes of the person who is finding consciousness
without knowing where they are going. The first actions are like those of a baby taking its first steps. The joy of the parents is total, for the infant it is the first step towards the Olympics.

My first action was to invite my dad to go to a movie. We saw John Wayne in Red River. Not only did I enjoy the movie but I also enjoyed my dad’s enjoyment. This was my first step, not just towards my parents but also to the acceptance of my Italian heritage.

This same process of education led me to attend my union meetings and made me active in my labor union local. Action plants the idea in life and starts to change the person and the culture in which he lives. The see, judge and act method of education is very revolutionary but remains still at the periphery of the educational establishment. The establishment is still the prisoner of planting seeds through ideas.

This is inferior education. It is action that forms the whole person and produces culture.

I dream of a Christian formation that does not take people out of the world and deposit them in an artificial community. This happens too often in the churches. As soon as one discovers the pearl of great price, one starts to buy it so as not the lose it. The chaplains of the Young Christian Workers movement knew this game well.

Every month or so we had a little chat with the chaplain. In our discussion we would talk about our activities etc. With some pride, I would answer that I spent time at home listening to music, reading
and praying. “What were you doing with your free times before you got active in the movement?” “Well I went out with the boys, some drinking, dancing, sports, etc.”

The conversation made me realize that I was cutting myself off from my friends. I was busily burying the pearl of great price but in so doing I was cutting myself from my old friends and joining an artificial community of new friends. Suddenly, I realized that I was developing my escape hatch.

Later, I was to discover that friendship is what God is all about. Perfect friendship is another name for God was present in my pre-church friendships. What I had to do was to purify it and make it stronger and above all not to cut myself off from my old friends.

When I was young, there were a few old chestnuts that summed up the culture of the day. A favorite one was it takes only “only one bad apple to ruin a whole barrel of apples.” The founder of the YCW Cardinal Cardijn demolished this chestnut by saying, “but the person is not an apple.”

Another old chestnut was that one had to be formed before one could do any good. This chestnut then was systematized for the person to go on a study course with a curriculum and when the head was full of knowledge, then the person was formed. Real formation is learning how to love, for it is love that forms the person. One can only become a loving person by loving.

A young worker discovers the mystery of love at a meeting and on the way home helps someone to push a car out of the snow. The worker gives a thimbleful of love and gets back a liter. Love is infinite energy.

Anger and consciousness

The road to consciousness is not an easy road. There are many dangerous pitfalls on the way. One of the major obstacles is the period of anger. When you are in a trance, the culture canchip away and you pay little attention. As soon as you become conscious of the forces that have kept you in “nothingness”, you grow in anger.

It seems that everywhere you turn, there is a force that tries to contain you in its prison. Anger grows as you discover that modern advertising is designed to slip messages beyond the scrutiny of your consciousness. Anger increases when you find out all the manipulation goes that goes on, incredible waste of resources that goes into the arms industry.

Just anger is an incredible energy but it must be handled with care. It is not easy to live close to a friend who is being born to consciousness going through the labor pains of a new birth. My friends held my hand as I vented my anger on the large corporations, banks and all those in authority. They were able to channel this anger away from the path of destruction along a more constructive road.

Role of the Church

The central and unifying task of the church is to restore a sense of dignity, importance and self-esteem to the person. This task demands that the church not only awaken the person to their dignity but even more is organized to assure a nurturing role to allow the person to become fully alive.

The worst possible thing that can be done to the person is to bring them to consciousness and then leave them to the mercy of the culture. It would be like feeding lambs and then leading them to the slaughter. Better that they remain unconscious.

The church must develop structures that can accomplish the task at hand. When our culture was Christian, as in my father’s day, the community and the parish were one. The parish was a geographical church.

There will always be room for a geographical focus. Yet this space-bound form of church is not sufficient to embrace the vast mobility of our people.

Another factor is that, with the breakdown of the community, people organize themselves in small groups. How does the church organize itself to aid these small groups to celebrate life ? This demands a church that goes out to people rather than a church waiting for people to come to it.

Conclusion

I dream of a church that goes out to those who suffer from the pain of their nothingness, a pain so deadly that not even hard drugs can alleviate the pain. I dream of a church that becomes one with the
sufferings of people.

I dream of a church that will become a salt factory and produces salt that will once again give taste to life.

I dream of a church that will produce witnesses to the incredible dignity of the person created by God and redeemed by Jesus.

I dream of a church not bewailing the loss of youth but rather one that goes out to youth.

My dream time is nearly over. It is time for your vision, for without vision we perish.

Romeo Maione
May 27/2000
Published in The Prairie Messenger


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