What is the Spirituality of Social Transformation? Can it be Attained?


Understanding the Spirituality of Structural Transformation

The word “spirituality” can mean different things to many people. In essence, a spirituality in the Christian tradition is basically a way of life that imitates Christ’s life. Spirituality is a radical living of what one preaches, witnessing to the radical demands of the Gospel (PCP II, n. 282). The Second the Plenary Council of the Philippines speaks a particular type of spirituality for committed Christian to combat social and structural sins and transform society according to God’s plan–the spirituality of social transformation.

The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II) seems too broad in describing of what precisely this spirituality of social transformation in actual social practice and how can this be practiced by ordinary Christians in daily life. It just described it as a way of life marked by an enduring and intimate commitment to Jesus, a love for him that does not count the cost (PCP II 278), a way of life that is constantly called to a profound transformation of one’s life and living the spirit of the Beatitudes in a world of poverty, oppression, exploitation, and conflict (PCP II#272).


It is said to be a spirituality that is inspired by the preferential option for the poor, seeking the Kingdom as its primary rule, a spirituality that shares the Good News in the midst of deprivation, hope in situations of cynicism and pessimism (PCP II #280), and a spirituality that listens to and heeds God’s word, discerns and follows the Spirit in the Scriptures, in the Church and in history (PCP II 281).

Social Transformation as an Integral Part of the Christian Faith




As mentioned above, the Christian faith is not pietistic and individualistic. It has a social or public dimension as this is witnessed in the context of a community. Evangelization is not only about saving the soul but saving the entire person with body and soul. Moreover, a person is not an isolated individual. S/he is a social being who lives in society. S/he influences society, but society also influences him/her. The Church preaches total salvation as the individual is intrinsically linked with the liberation of society from structural sins. Thus, to save the individual implies saving society. Now one cannot liberate society without having a spirituality of social transformation. If the orientation of the individual believer is purely pietistic and individualist, then it is less likely that s/he engages in social actions inspired by the Christian faith and by the teaching on the preferential option for the poor.

The Major Problem in Achieving the Spirituality of Social Transformation


The major problem with the concept of the spirituality of social transformation of PCP II is its lack of indicators of what exactly this spirituality is and how it can be lived out in a structured way by Christians in practical life. The priests and religious seem to have a structural privilege with regard to practicing their spiritual and prayer life. Their spirituality and mission are guided by the charism of their founders and religious orders and by the institutional teachings and rules of the Church. The institutional Church as well as the structures of religious orders have laid out some sort of structure that provide the fundamental principles and methodologies which support and sustain the kind of spirituality they want to live. Since the Church has already been bureaucratized, a fairly fixed structure has already been established by the institutional Church on how priests and religious can generally nurture and live out their spiritual life. In short, the kind of spirituality priests and religious want to pursue is aided by some formation or socialization structure to fully actualize it.




But this structured spirituality enjoy the religious and the clergy seems to be not the case for lay people. Structuring their own spirituality is not that easy, given the secularization of the world they live in and the diverse nature of their job, family, culture, and social class. There is no clear socialization structure on the kind of spirituality they want to pursue. It is still largely individualist in approach compared to priests and religious. Of course, they can always join some religious organizations or lay institutes to nurture the spirituality they aspire to achieve. But most of the time, the great multitudes of lay people are thrown in the world without being attached to some kind of a religious structure that continually nurture their spirituality. Given secular character and preoccupation of their vocation, lay people are often left alone to pattern their own spirituality with much the aid of a structure to regularize their formation process. With regard to the social teachings of the Church, they are often in their own personal discretion on how to actualize in the world what they learned from the Church’s teaching authority. Given the low level of awareness among Christians on the Catholic Social Teaching, it is uncertain whether the lay people do care at all to pattern their spirituality according to the Church’s social doctrine.

Some Practical Problems of a Spirituality of Social Transformation


First of all, the spirituality of social transformation proposed by PCP II sounds foreign to the religious and cultural awareness of many Filipinos who are more personalistic and kin-based in their cultural understanding of a community. This is one reason that they have a difficulty of understanding the Church as a “community of believers” who come from different ethnic, kinship, and cultural background. For most Filipino lay Catholics, the Church is the “sambahan” or “place of worship” and not the baptized community. A sociological research by Ricardo G. Abad on social capital reveals that Filipinos has difficulty of relating with the social world beyond the family, relatives and friends. This narrow and personalistic view of the community prevents Filipinos to be involved in something impersonal and abstract such as the state, the Church, government, or the society at large. That is why many Filipino Catholic do not find it necessary to do social or transformational action beyond the social circles of relatives and friends. If people are not well catechized on the CST, particularly on why and how the spirituality of social transformation be achieved and sustained, then this injunction of PCP II of seeing God in social liberation would only remain theoretical.


Another obstacle in the development of this spirituality, as pointed above, is ignorance of the laity on the social teachings of the Church. Correct theory or understanding is necessary in order to achieve correct or appropriate social action. How can people create and live out this spirituality of social transformation if they are ignorant of the social doctrines of the Church and their proper applications in society? And how can they learn these doctrines if they are not enough priests, religious, or lay teachers in the Church who can teach them? Sufficient and updated knowledge of the Church’s social teachings, a sound sociological knowledge and analysis of the social situation, a strong commitment to prayer life, and a social structure that guides social action as well as an ongoing Christian formation to believers and advocates are necessary to create a sound spirituality of social transformation. These are some of the important requirements in achieving the spirituality of social transformation.

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