Gustavo Gutierrez: Spiritual Writings, Daniel G. Groody (editor), Orbis Books, 2012

Daniel G. Groody (editor), Gustavo Gutierrez: Spiritual Writings, Orbis Books, 2012, 256pp, £12.99, (available from Alban Books).

A review by Frank Regan

Every good theology is founded upon a good spirituality. Theology enables us to talk the talk. Spirituality energises us to walk the walk. Faith, the gracious gift by which we know ourselves loved by God, precedes all. Faith illumines the mind to know what we believe and moves the heart to practice our Faith, committing ourselves totally for the life of the world, life in abundance.

The theology of liberation (TL) is a theology, a talking about God, rooted in the journeying of the poor and the mystical tradition. It is the practice of social transformation and community prayer and celebration in the midst of a world straining to know who God is and what God’s mysterious plan is. Its method is: See the reality; Judge it, bringing to bear our Gospel values; Act on what we see motivated by our values. The method is our spirituality, as Edward Schillebeeckx pointed out thirty years ago.
I was less than a year in Peru when Gustavo Gutierrez gave his first lecture on the Theology of Liberation. The following month, August 1968, he travelled to Medellin, Colombia as peritus to the Episcopal Conference of Latin America. The bishops were meeting in order to translate, as it were, Vatican II into a pastoral language and practice for Latin America. They issued documents on Peace, on Poverty in Society and in the Church, and also a letter to the poor of the continent apologising for having preached the Gospel almost totally unmindful of their real situation and almost totally deaf to their groaning for liberation.
They announced the theme of liberation as a struggle against all those factors which threaten the lives and very humanity of the poor, as the possibility of living in the fullness of life and as an experience of reconciliation with God and freeing from the bonds of sin. The poor themselves were to be the protagonists of their own process of liberation.
Liberation theology is sensitive to the plight and struggle of the poor in the here and now. It meant that one who attempted to make theology had to live close to the poor with the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other. Liberation theology is a practical theology, contextual, related to the lives, experience, faith and practice of the poor.
At last we have a volume dedicated to the Spirituality of Liberation (SL) as elaborated by Gustavo Gutierrez, father of Liberation Theology. It speaks of the God of life, the option for the poor, Christ who announces the Reign for the life of the world, the Spirit at the heart of the community.
Briefly, the book has a Trinitarian organisation. The first section deals with the personal encounter with the Jesus who walked the roads of Galilee. To meet with him is to begin the spiritual journey which finds its historical density in the lives of the poor. In this section we read of the relationship between politics and mysticism. In the light of that, the bishops at Puebla (1980) could say that political commitment in favour of the poor is a way of rendering worship to God.
The second section is about knowing God in God’s mystery, intimately. The process begins and is sustained in silence, for that is the language of God.
The third section is about life “according to the Spirit” who urges us to follow Christ in bringing about and waiting for the Reign of God. The Spirit wafts where she will and is a Spirit of oneness. According to the Spirit we discover the unity of gratuity and justice, the unity of salvation history and human history, the unity of contemplation and action and the unity of the universality of God’s love and of God’s preferential option for the poor.
Gutierrez always spoke of spirituality as a global vision which encompassed all of human life and history. He always added that it was an experience of joy.
This is a book to be prayed on. It will move us once again to drink from our own wells and to savour the presence of a God of life who cannot be narrowed to within the confines of our own sectarian parameters.
Frank Regan