Term Paper: Pastoral Theology Ministry

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Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz

An Analysis of the Theology of Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz and Its Relation to Evangelical

Poverty

There are many people in the last 150 years who have sought to embrace what is today called the virtue of evangelical poverty. Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz is one of them. In her own words, Isasi-Diaz states, "I am an activist-theologian, and for me doing mujerista theology is one of the ways I participate in the struggle for the liberation of Latina women and our communities in the U.S.A."

For Isasi-Diaz, poverty is something from which modern communities need to be liberated. It is viewed as an economic evil from which spawn a number of social injustices and spiritual and corporal offenses. By working with impoverished Latino communities, Isasi-Diaz puts a twist on the phrase "evangelical poverty." Her mujerista theology is not based on a renunciation of wealth or sensuality as a means of attaining spiritual perfection but rather on the renunciation of all economical, political, and social obstacles that oppress Latino communities and keep them from attaining justice in this life. By uniting herself in solidarity to the poor Latino communities with which she identifies, Isasi-Diaz is able to achieve a sense of "evangelical poverty" -- the kind of Apostolic poverty that the mendicant orders of the medieval age (like the Franciscans) attempted to exercise in order to help reform the Church and introduce a better Christian ethic in the world. This paper will analyze Isasi-Diaz's sense of "evangelical poverty," show how its roots are found in Liberation Theology, and explain why (in the light of my own experience of working in an orphanage in India from 2008-2010) solidarity and "evangelical poverty" can achieve great effects when grounded in traditional Christian doctrine concerning the ultimate goal of life -- which is union with God in Heaven.

Isasi-Diaz expresses the importance of finding one's voice and giving breath to one's concerns for social justice: and, yet, in La Lucha Continues, she asserts the role that Jesucristo plays in the exercise of "evangelical poverty": "Jesucristo is not the one who gives us answers but the one who sustains us when there are no answers."

I felt the same sense of support in Jesus Christ while working with the poor in India. Oftentimes, the conditions of the orphanages were so poor that one wondered how the children could ever be happy. My uniting myself to their suffering was a help to them: they often expressed gratefulness at my presence among them -- at my desire to teach them about God, about history, and other subjects. They told me in their broken English that they did not want me to leave when my time was up. At such times, I realized that ultimately we had to unite ourselves to Christ, just as Isasi-Diaz states.

Isasi-Diaz certainly emphasizes the need for social equality and better conditions for the impoverished. What I observed during the course of my volunteer experience, however, showed that the children experienced a deeper and more profound spiritual growth when they were taught to love and live by the example of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, they found a friend, father, and God -- in other words, a rock that could support them through whatever trials they might face. Poverty was a way of life for them -- not one that they chose, but one that was forced upon them. My experience with "evangelical poverty" showed me that by uniting oneself to the poor, one could achieve a better sense of the suffering that they experienced and, if possible, help to support and comfort them. This I did through teaching and encouraging the children to be confident in Christ. By petitioning the master of the ashram (orphanage) and sharing my concern for the poor orphan children, I saw that one can indeed effect a better place for them. I helped improve their school, their dwellings, and provided them entertainment that they had not had before (by acquiring a projector with which I could show films and give the children something to look forward to at the end of each week). As Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz suggests, "evangelical poverty" is a road to reform, support, and sanctity by way of uniting oneself to the sufferings of the poor.

Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz

Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz's concept of "evangelical poverty" grows out of her combination of feminist theory with Liberation Theology, which she unites to form mujerista theology. It is not just a theology for women, but rather one by women. A mujerista is a liberator, a helper of Latina women, and mujerista theology is a designed to give voice to women and the Latino communities in which they live. Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz took up this struggle more than a quarter of a century ago, when she first enrolled in the feminist movement: "I was born a feminist on Thanksgiving weekend, 1975, when over one thousand Roman Catholic women met to insist on the right of women to be ordained to a renewed priestly ministry in our church."

This movement was a communal experience for Isasi-Diaz: It made her feel that she was finally part of something truly revolutionary, something actually making a stand. If the Catholic Church introduced her to the idea of salvation, the feminist movement introduced her to the idea that salvation could be achieved through solidarity with the oppressed and the lifting up of the voice.

Thus, Isasi-Diaz can write such things as, "I cannot conceptualize liberation apart from salvation; I cannot think of justice apart from grace; I cannot think of being kin to God, of being part of God's kin without being in solidarity with the poor and the oppressed."

For Isasi-Diaz, the Kingdom of God is no longer a spiritual place, where one unites oneself to Christ: It is, rather, a "kin-dom of God," where one unites oneself to a particular social group and participates in that group's "struggle for justice."

What is most important for Isasi-Diaz is not exactly the shedding of the Old Man and the putting on of Christ, as St. Paul teaches. For Isasi-Diaz, the most important part of being a Christian and striving toward "evangelical poverty" is, rather, almost the opposite: She emphasizes the importance of getting in touch with one's body, of undergoing "a process of self-identification and self-definition." Her theology, it may be said, is not based so much on the Person of Christ as it is on the person of one's self. It is, in other words, self-directed rather than God-directed. It is inward looking rather than outward looking. It is meant to achieve a kind of social revolution among men rather than a spiritual union with God. As she herself states, the modern world has "failed the poor and the oppressed."

"Evangelical poverty" is one way of addressing that failure: it calls for simple people to unite themselves to the poor and dedicate themselves to giving support, voice, and most importantly a Christian example of how life should be lived.

Of course, one modern idea is that God speaks to souls from inside oneself not from without. While this is contrary to what the Catholic Church has traditionally taught, it is nonetheless popular today to believe that the voice one hears inside oneself is more important than the Voice that has come down from generation to generation, century after century, in the teaching authority of the Church (whether in the form of the Epistles of St. Paul, the writings of St. Augustine, the Summa of St. Thomas, or the encyclicals of St. Pius X). To understand why such an emphasis has been placed upon the new self/inward-directed theology of Isasi-Diaz, one must examine her theology in more minute detail.

The Rise of Mujerista Theology and the New Approach to "Evangelical Poverty"

Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz emphasizes that "justice is an intrinsic element of the gospel message" and, therefore, that "justice is at the heart of all liberative praxis." But as she herself asserts, liberative praxis takes one element of the gospel message and places it at the heart of a new theology. The result may be considered an incomplete vision of the spiritual life as articulated through the life of Jesus. While Jesus was certainly concerned with justice, He was also concerned with a number of other things, such as fasting (as He did in the desert for 40 days), prayer (as He did before beginning His Passion), sacrifice (as the whole of his public life shows), devotion to His Mother (as the whole of His private life shows), etc. Isasi-Diaz's emphasis on the social teachings of Jesus is typical of the Liberation Theology in which her mujerista theology is doctrinally based.

That theology may be said to re-interpret the Lord's Prayer, which, according to Leonardo Boff, can now be read in this manner: "Liberate us from the evil one…embodied in an elitist, exclusivist social system that has no solidarity with the great multitudes of the poor. He has a name; he is the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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