An Approach to the Redemptive Meaning of the Title “Perpetual Help”

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Meaning of Redemption

In general, we do not refer to redemption in common speech; it would seem more common to talk, in different circumstances, about help, rescue. Sometimes you can hear the phrase “that person has no hope of redemption,” meaning that that person cannot be helped. It is often applied to people who lead “bad lives,” such as those involved in drug trafficking, crime, etc. In that same sense, you can also hear it said about places, “this neighborhood has no redemption,” that is it is outside God’s grace. But it is not usual to hear “that person needs to be redeemed,” or “we need redemption.” It is more common to hear “that person needs redemption, help, rescue” or “I need help.” In certain contexts, it is possible to hear “we need to be liberated.” From the point of view of Christian faith, we can say that although the language of Redemption, or Jesus as Redeemer, is not very popular, it does not mean that its content is not contained in the above-cited phrases. Which also means that its lack of use is symptomatic.

The language of Redemption may have become encapsulated in that of rescue, and acquired a certain legal connotation, and therefore, has become less existential – in the sense of something between a rescuer’s or moralist’s effort. Hence, it is used to be said in paradoxical or apparently unsurmountable situations, “I need to redeem myself,” that is, rescue myself or change. And here we see that only one aspect is attended to, and without the risk of erring, we would say the least important, although it should be considered.

The language of Redemption is the language God’s free and gratuitous rescue from the mystery of iniquity, which keeps our existence trapped, enslaved, under the reign of sin, in all its forms. In other words, we[1] do not redeem ourselves but rather are redeemed, rescued, freed, helped, succored, saved, by pure free gratuity. The consequence could be, if there were openness, docility, and diligence on our part, to be redeemed, to live redeemed, as new people, rescued and freed from all slavery. All this does not happen with a simple stroke, but rather through a very long, and sometimes arduous process, where the gift of Redemption demands and activates the response that allows for the beginning of a rescue – as a freeing and healing action.

The Redemption that Redemptorists are Called to Live and Preach

Our charism is lived in and from the centrality of Redemption:

The mission of Redemptorists is to bring people to the crucial point of Christian life: the love of God that is powerfully revealed in Jesus Christ. At the center of the life and ministry of the Congregation is the very mystery of redemption. We Redemptorists were born in the heart of an ardent disciple of Jesus, who burned with zeal for the redemption of all with a special preference for the abandoned poor. (Comm. 2, no. 15; my italics)[2]

It is interesting for Redemptorists, especially those living in and from Latin America, that the Document of Aparecida (DA, 2007) puts the theme of Redemption at the center as well:

An authentic evangelization of our peoples entails fully assuming the radicality of Christian love, which is embodied in following Christ on the Cross; in suffering for Christ for the sake of justice; and in forgiveness and love of enemies. This love surpasses human love and shares in divine love, the only cultural axis that can build a culture of life. In the Trinity-God, diversity of Persons does not generate violence and conflict but is itself the source of love and life. An evangelization that places Redemption at the center, that is born out of a crucified love, is capable of purifying the structures of violent society and generating new ones. (No. 543; my italics)

Redemption’s centrality, both in our case and the 5th meeting of the Conference of Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, has its meaning, which I would like to briefly highlight.

According to our Constitutions, our missionary work (Chap. 1) builds on the apostolic community consecrated to Christ the Redeemer (Chaps. 2 and 3) in order to be able “to bring Christ’s plentiful Redemption to all” (CC 20, 42-48), having a “preferential option for the poor” (Comm. 2, no. 11; CC 1-5), the “the most abandoned poor” (Comm. 2, nos. 12, 15, 17 & 38-39; C1).

This option for Redemption leads us to adopt “the way of absolute kenosis” (Comm. 2, nos. 13 & 42), walking through the mystery of the Incarnation, of the cross, the Eucharist and of Mary’s role as a channel of grace (Comm. 2, no. 14). These Alphonsian theological places have the characteristics of summing up the work of Redemption in a simple and direct way, and therefore, of being in tune with Christian devotion, both from Alphonsus’ as well as our time.

For Aparecida, the choice to put Redemption at the center of reality comes from a need to communicate Jesus’ life as Good News before different epochal challenges, telling us that: “The proper and specific mission of the Church is to communicate the life of Jesus Christ to all persons, proclaiming the Word, administering the sacraments, and practicing charity. It is welcomed to be reminded that love is shown more in works than in words” (no. 386). “We are impelled by the mission to bring to our people the full and happy life that Jesus brings us, so that all human persons may live in accordance with the dignity given them by God.” (no. 389). “For what Jesus proposes to our peoples, the fundamental content of this mission is the offer of full life for all” (no. 361). “…life is attained and matures insofar as it is surrendered in order to give life to others. That is certainly what mission means.” (no. 361). A choice that is to be made in a society that today more than ever hungers for meaning, albeit not always through a path of life, but rather by other means that lead us to abandon Jesus Christ, the source of life.[3]

There is also the inner impulse of our identity, a reality that challenges us to rethink the world and rethink ourselves in relation to it. Communicanda 2 offers us at least two examples from reality: “Search for meaning and hunger for spirituality” (nos. 22-25); and “Reality of sin and evil” (nos. 26-28). An aspect to highlight of this reality that challenges us in our identity and service is that many today “hunger for some sort of redemption” (no. 25). Both our spirituality and Aparecida urge for a free and personal encounter with the person of the Redeemer and not merely with the abstract idea of Redemption (Comm. 2, nos. 13, 16 & 39; Comm. 1, nos. 18 & 20;  DA, no. 11). Another highly significant element is that which our charismatic identity and service have to face:

The experience of evil… …we are all too familiar with the malice of personal sin, which threatens to separate us from God and others and thus has serious repercussions in our communities and in society. Beyond the flawed choices of individuals, we also recognize the cruelty that is produced by social structures that generate injustice and death, even when well-intentioned people lead them. The luxury of some nations demands in a very real way the impoverishment of others. War is waged with a new rationale, whether as an instrument of terrorism or as a pre-emptive strike in the name of peace. (Comm. 2, no. 26)

This processional cross between life and death (Lk 7:11-17; DA no. 13), as Luke’s Gospel shows, between those that carry “a dead firstborn” and those that follow “the living firstborn,” leads us to opt for this latter procession, overcoming every “tear” of despair (“the only son of a widow”) and saying, with the Gospel’s prophetic strength, like Jesus: “Rise!”

This configuration is possible if we are “signs and witnesses of the kingdom” (Comm. 2, nos. 29-31 & 45), for “The proclamation of abundant redemption is a call to see this broken world from a contemplative perspective that allows us to discover the ways of the Spirit” (Comm. 2, no. 31), since it is this “contemplative perspective” which helps us “as we try to glimpse the forces that militate against the Kingdom of God and discern the signs of redemption that allow us to continue our mission with hope and determination, which includes the struggle against all that would enslave men and women” (Comm. 2, no. 32).

It is this mysticism which allows us to join Aparecida’s call, when it tells us that “The Church is called to a deep and profound rethinking of its mission and relaunch it with fidelity and boldness in the new circumstances of Latin America and the world” (11) and that “The Church needs to be jolted to prevent it from becoming well established in comfort, stagnation, and lukewarmness, aloof from the suffering of the continent’s poor” (362). As Redemptorists, we understand this very well, for “There is no room for bourgeois self-satisfaction or complacency in our vocation” (Comm. 2, no. 37).

In and from Redemption presupposes its double movement. On the one hand, conversion (metanoia) and, on the other, the principle of mercy, and as a result of a kenotic dynamism that expresses itself through “a process of dynamic solidarity” (Comm. 2, no. 41). God becomes an infant, that good news that comes to us freely, only demands conversion to receive God’s kingdom, present in Jesus’ historical flesh. It demands to advance through history exercising the principle of mercy, the good Samaritan’s principle, which takes care of an abandoned and excluded humanity, takes it on, with its darkest facets, in order to guide it to the source of new life, a life of communion and participation. Redemptorists know that through their community life, they should manifest that “evangelical solidarity, which commits the Congregation to the poor, deprived and oppressed” (Comm. 2, no. 42), since “Redemptorist community is itself a proclamation of the Good News. It is the tent which God pitches among the abandoned poor in order to communicate his compassion” (ibid.; see Comm. 1, no. 20).

I believe that we can say with Aparecida, that a formative process is required – that puts Redemption at its center, as a maturation path where we become disciples and missionaries of the Redeemer.

The Redemptive Meaning of the Title “Our Mother of Perpetual Help”

From what is said in the above section, we can draw at least three elements that the icon of Our Mother invites us to always have present. They are like truths that, upon contemplation, we could embody more easily in the simple and daily life, always grasped by Mother Mary’s hand. She can thus become an important part of our formative process as disciples of the Redeemer.

In the first place, she puts and points to the Redeemer as center, within the mystery of the Incarnation-Redemption. As we saw, these are neuralgic elements of our Redemptorists spirituality, and very much in tune with the Document of Aparecida. She is our Mother of Perpetual Help because she chooses and invites us to choose the better part, that which cannot be taken from us. She listens and accepts Jesus as God’s Incarnate Word, rich and eternal, but who has become poor and small in order to come into our entangled personal and communitarian story. A Word-Presence that comes to our aid, offers constant support and help, be it to rescue us from sin or assure us in our maturation as Christians.

Secondly, as Perpetual Help, she invites us to be what she is, a welcoming place, by attraction, of all those in need of compassion and mercy. With her gaze, Mary attends to and attracts us so that we may feel welcomed and at home with the mystery of Redemption, and thus begin a process of conversion. She rescues us with the plentiful compassion and mercy which God himself has made flesh in Her. These two characteristics, given as God’s gift to Mary and us, more than mere qualities, become attitudes. Mary of Perpetual Help invites us to be compassionate and merciful to ourselves and others. This is the only way that we will be rescued, freed and redeemed from all evil, anguish, fear, and oppression. She allows us to reach the truth that makes us free, the root of our identity, that is, love, which conjugated, becomes compassion and mercy. Being compassionate and merciful implies understanding, accepting and forgiving in ourselves, the world and others, all that challenges or impedes us from being God’s true children. This is why her gaze is not sympathetic but rather empathetic. She is not sad but rather assumes the drama of Redemption with empathy. Her gaze is an invitation to understand our way of thinking, feeling, without judgment, just the intention of rescuing and saving life, in which, we have often chosen ill-advised and wrong paths.

Thirdly, she shows us that this task of being Perpetual Help is not an isolated or individual one, or disconnected from the source of Salvation/Redemption. Mary aids and helps, that is true, but not in her own name or initiative. She helps because, in our difficulties, she invites us to meet the mystery of the Incarnation-Redemption, as was said above. Moreover, and above all, she helps us in and from her presence in the heart of the community, as a place of Salvation/Redemption. She attracts us so that together with her and her Son, the Redeemer, we may form the community of the redeemed; men and women who seek the true path of freedom from their poverty and limitations.

These three elements are, in some way, like those three dimensions we cannot lack in our charismatic life. These are the Christological, moral/spiritual and ecclesiological dimensions. Mary reminds us about them and invites us to live them in a simple and direct way, through the contemplation of her image, epiphanic presence of God’s Great Mystery in our midst, carrying out his plentiful redemption, with her and in conjunction with us, in the today of our story.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help and Redemptorist Identity and Mission

To conclude, let us say that Our Mother of Perpetual Help helps us, Redemptorists, to grow and better understand our identity and mission, from the mystery of the Incarnation/Redemption. And she does it not by offering us an explanation but rather by including us in a process of liberation through which our identity and mission become more clear. As Redemptorists, we should preach Redemption through an invitation to complete this process of liberation from all sin and a configuration of a life of grace, a life of agapic communion. In Mary, we discover the deep and simple meaning of community and fraternity, elements of our divine origin.

Mary helps us understand the redemptive meaning of suffering, as we pilgrim between God’s solace and the sufferings of the present time. Mary, who with her gaze, her colors, her human presence, receives and nourishes us in the time of divine presence, calls us to redemptively assume all creation, all of historical reality, for that which is not assumed, is not redeemed, as St. Irenaeus wisely said. She, with her hand pointing to Jesus, reminds us that all humanity and all creation are oriented toward Salvation/Redemption. She, with her gaze toward us, reminds us that all creation is under the benevolent and redemptive action of grace. She, in her icon with all its elements, reminds us that, on the one hand, the offer of Redemption is nothing more than the expression of God’s manifestation toward us, as He is, communitarian love that cannot but save, rescue, include, redeem, free. And, on the other hand, she reminds us that we can perpetually enjoy God’s help, precisely for what was said above, which is that God is love, and therefore cannot but come to our encounter to lead us back to the path of fraternal love and solidarity, his image and likeness.

Thus, before Our Mother of Perpetual Help, our human condition recovers its dimensions and takes on life’s mystery more fully. Our human condition is limited, frail, vulnerable and unstable, and at the same time the place of magnificence and transcendence through the gift of life, love, care, respect and an endless amount of other elements that dignify us. We are, like Mary, made of clay and grace, we carry a great treasure in clay vessels. We live and preach this beautiful and paradoxical truth.

Finally, Mary invites us to grow in our identity and mission by joining God’s redemptive work (see CC 2 and 6), concentrated in her and Jesus, under the grace of the Holy Spirit. And she does so by calling us to “follow the example of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, by preaching the word of God to the poor,” “by responding with missionary thrust to the pressing pastoral needs of the most abandoned, especially the poor” (C 1). Like Her, to be attentive and ready “to evangelize the poor” through “the liberation and salvation of the whole human person” (C 5). She, woman of new life, icon of passion and plentiful redemption, helps us become “witnesses of the Good News of the grace of God,” which leads us to “proclaim before everything else the very high destiny of the individual and of the whole human race,” knowing that albeit “all are sinners,” “all have been chosen, redeemed and gathered together in Christ” (C 7).

Thus then, following Alphonsus’ steps and contemplating Our Mother of Perpetual Help, we, Redemptorists, “follow Christ the Redeemer with hearts full of joy; denying [ourselves] and always ready to undertake what is demanding, [we] share in the mystery of Christ and proclaim it in Gospel simplicity of life and language, that [we] may bring to people plentiful redemption” (C 20).

Footnotes:

[1] By “we,” I refer to the whole Redemptorist family of religious and lay men and women, in an inclusive way.
[2] Joseph Tobin, C.Ss.R., Sup. Gen., Communicanda 2: Redemption (Rome, 6/4/2006).
[3] See Aparecida, nos. 11-14, 21, 28-29, 95, 99, 99e, 145, 147, 154, 167, 175a, 181, 226a, 240-243, 246, 248-249, 251, 254, 257-259, 263, 270, 273, 278a-d, 280c, 289-290, 297, 305, 312, 319, 336, 343, 350, 364, 417, 446c, 500, 548-549; Message, no. 2.

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Antonio Fidalgo, C.Ss.R. (Province of Buenos Aires)

Translated from the Spanish by Mr. Miguel Valerio (Dominican Republic)

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