By Professor Anton Meemana
I had personally known Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, OMI since 1988 and for me it had been a friendship as well as an apprenticeship for 25 years. We had been involved in numerous conversations about diverse topics such as politics, religion, theology, Catholic social teachings, other theologians, ecology, ethnic problems, contemporary Sri Lankan situation, Buddhism, spirituality, contemplation, meditation, etc., which have tremendously contributed to my personal synthesis and theological formation and transformation.
In my 21 year stay in the Philippines, I met him a good number of times and had long conversations. Some of the questions he would always ask me were, “ Do you meditate? Do you still pray?”
I did not expect such questions from a liberation theologian. That also means I was greatly mistaken about my perception about such theologians. Stereotypes do a great harm to a balanced understanding of a person. I began to understand that the ongoing process of theologising need be a fruit of prayer and contemplation and theology is not a mere intellectual enterprise. The theologian searches for truth and looks at it with admiration and tries to live that truth out.
Prayer and Justice
A man of prayer is a man who lives a just life. A man who prays always stays away from committing any injustice. By living humbly and justly, one becomes capable of promoting social justice. Witnessing to Christ is witnessing to truth and witnessing to truth means witnessing to justice. Truth, justice, love, Christ and Catholic Church cannot and should not be considered as separate realities.
A Christian is essentially a just and humble person and therefore every unjust situation is an occasion for a creative response. When we begin to evangelise, we also get evangelised by the situations and people. God makes use of every situation to reveal Himself most intimately to us. Authentic evangelisation is a direct fruit of being evangelised.
Theologising itself is an ongoing spiritual journey. It is true that Fr. Balasuriya took some real risks in trying to formulate a new theological synthesis, Theology is a fruit of the ongoing transformation, formation, information and conversion of the theologian. Fr.Balasuriya took his Christian faith seriously and explored its depth dimensions very honestly. He was a very honest man which is a major Christian virtue. An honest man takes risks even though it could temporarily damage his reputation. To theologise is to risk. In taking risks, one’s interior strength, character and faith is publicly and fundamentally revealed. A man of faith is man who risks everything in order to serve his true Master. He was a very courageous man which is a gospel value.
Most of our theological formulations are in need of further articulation, clarification and amplification. We live as good as we theologise and reflect. Every man and woman is a potential theologian but may not have the vocation of a professional theologian. Theology invites us to deepen our understanding of faith. All theologising is about human salvation. One can hardly live a meaningful life without theologising.
Passion as Spirituality
Social injustice is a Christological issue which is an occasion to introduce Christ to the world. We introduce Him to others by witnessing to Him even in the midst of social injustices. One becomes a Christian to the extent one serves non-Christians.
Passion for social justice is an authentic ingredient of Christian spirituality. Every injustice is an injustice against Christ, for he suffers the most from it. Every honest struggle to amend situations of injustice is a struggle on behalf of Christ and the kingdom He preached. Justice is an universal longing of every human being. An unjust society is not a humane society.A society, where injustice is the central governing force, is an idolatrous society where Satan reigns supreme. True religion is one that promotes social justice and equality. There have always been authentic practitioners of religious traditions as well as inauthentic practitioners. That is, those who strive to remain loyal to the core teachings of their traditions and those who betray the core teachings. Every religion contains life-giving and liberating potentials as well as enslaving, binding and blinding elements and promoting just social arrangements is a matter of how one explores and remains faithful to the central teachings of the tradition one belongs to. Fr. Balasuriya’s life-long odyssey to analyse burning social issues from a Christian perspective and to share the fruits of his life-long labour with wider society is an evangelical mission. He was a seriously practising Christian, deeply interested in the liberative and emancipatory potential of other religions too. Passionate life is a truly incarnate life.
Fr.Tissa Balasuriya must be understood from the perspective of his own theological synthesis and from the perspective of the catholic tradition which are not diametrically opposed. Christian praxis is knowledge born out of contemplation which is the ultimate Christian praxis. A man for others is a man of God, always at the service of God’s people and every human person is a child of God. What is most beneficial to humans is what concerns God most.
Most people make a very shallow distinction between theory and practice without thinking about it deeply. When they come across a new idea they would lazily tend to say it is not very practical. Intellectual laziness and apathy has become a hallmark of our era. Without in-depth intellectual debates and explorations, a society will not progress. This quite unfortunate dichotomy between theory and practice is not a sound concept. One cannot be truly practical unless one tries to grasp things theoretically. Theory means proper understanding, objective understanding and the deepest intelligibility of myriad phenomena. Theory also means objectivity according to the best of human intelligence. The most practical man is the most theoretical man and a truly-theoretical man is also a profoundly practical man.
The ultimate theory is theology and therefore the ultimate practice is theology, which enhances the quality of one’s life. God reveals Himself in and through paradoxes which are the most adequate method in trying to grasp the workings of the Divine Mystery in human history. Fr. Balasuriya was faithful to that Mystery. That was the reason he continued to muse on theological issues and social concerns until his death, for theology was his whole life. Although he is no longer with us, he still continues to influence us and inspire us theologically and spiritually. If Sri Lanka is to progress, his voice on behalf of the voiceless need be heeded.