A Reconnaissance Flight
To survey why things that used to run so well are now in a such a mess
by Carlos Mantica

This is intended to be an inspirational presentation. To some it may inspire pity, to others laughter, but I know it will inspire something in everyone. I am going to present some issues which anyone can regularly encounter in a variety of Christian groups and church settings today..

I have accumulated many years of "flight experience" in the things of the Lord, and I have come across many different Christian groups, associations, and movements in various parts of the world. And sometimes, in some places, I have found that things are not in a very good shape. Sometimes, somewhere, I have even found that things are in a frankly bad shape. Not usually, though. What I have usually found is that, even where things are in a better shape, a series of phenomena take place which seem to recur everywhere, and which are the reason why things which have been running well end up in  a mess.

I will be talking about things that we will almost surely find in places where things are running better, but which are the reason for things to be in such a bad shape. And if you did not understand what I just said, maybe you’re part of the problem.

In war, when a nation is planning to bombard an objective, it will usually carry out first what is known as a reconnoitering flight. Somebody takes a plane, and from the sky he observes and surveys the territory they are going to attack. If he can, he takes a picture of the targets, but without attacking any of them for the time being. Even though we are in no war with anyone, this talk is a kind of reconnoitering flight. We are offering no solutions to the problems we have found. We only intend to take a look at the field we will be working in. And with this preface I will land onto my topic.

Peter’s Principle
There were a set of books that became fashionable for some time in the United States, which tried to explain why it is that things come out wrong. The most famous was possibly Peter’s Principle. And the explanation Mr. Peter gives why things always come out wrong is stated like this:
In every hierarchy every person is promoted to his level of incompetence. Therefore, in time, every position tends to be occupied by someone who is incompetent.
In a company, for example, this guy is such a good salesman that, sooner or later, someone comes up with the bright idea that it is only logical to appoint him as the sales manager. This poor salesman, who has sold nothing since the day he was promoted, somehow manages to hide what he does not know, and surely, some time later, he is nominated as general manager. By then the company is going downhill because all the good salesmen it used to have are now occupying some kind of managing position, and they know nothing about management. But if the company happens to survive, because our manager works until midnight and has even taken a Dale Carnegie course, he will unavoidably be promoted to the position of president of the company.

We also find similar situations in the Christian sphere. This parish pastor was such a good administrator of his parish, that someone thought the least that could be done was to appoint him as bishop. One day they catch the Holy Spirit asleep, and… wham! .

Something similar could happen in our communities. So-and-so was such a good men’s group leader and the talks he gave were so beautiful, that the regional coordinator decided to promote him to district head. The last time I saw him he was doing much better, and they had already taken him out of the straight-jacket at the nut house.

We are constantly being promoted to our level of incompetence. I, for instance, used to be an average community coordinator, and as you see, I have been promoted into an international superstar. The only good thing is that, as a superstar, I have had to visit a lot of countries, and then I have been able to note how certain phenomena recurred almost everywhere as a law. So I began to name those phenomena, just as Mr. Peter did.

I am fully aware that nothing of what I am going to mention takes place in the contexts you work in, where, I am sure, everything is okay. But since nothing is fully well as long as it could be better, here it goes.

Murphy’s Law
The first law is not mine, but it is quite true. It says: “If something can go wrong, it will certainly go wrong.”

This is what is known as Murphy’s Law, whose fifth corollary completes the idea as follows: “Things, when left to themselves, tend to go from bad to worse.”

Sometimes I go to a given place and they tell me that Murphy’s Law does not work there. And not because things are well, but because they are so bad that they can’t go from bad to worse any longer.

But, in fact, many things came to their present condition due to neglect. They were left to themselves. No one took responsibility to make sure they went better. Most of the times this was so because those who knew, or thought they knew, or said they knew how to solve things, found it easier to devote themselves to criticizing them than to get involved into fixing them. So they turned criticism into a genuine ministry.

In other places, what happened is similar to an old story whose four characters are Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important task to do, and Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got very angry, because it was Everybody’s task. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it. But Nobody realized that Everybody was not going to do it. At the end of the story, Everybody blamed Somebody, because Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

The moral: one of the ways to leave things to themselves is to ask Everybody to do what Somebody should have done and Nobody did. And that is why things go from bad to worse.

On other occasions Anybody comes up, with more enthusiasm, commitment and spirit of charity than the others, and cries out, “Something must be done! It is urgent to do something!” And Everybody starts to do something.

The Activist’s Principle
But this reminds me precisely of what I call “the activist’s principle”, which goes like this: “Something must be done… no matter what, but something must be done.”

Unfortunately, we soon discover that doing something is not enough. I once had a very interesting experience that confirms this, and I would like to share it with you.

A few years ago, a very nice priest appeared at my office and, after the required greetings, said: “Don Carlos, I am here because I would like to invite you to be a member of the Board of Directors of a new institution, a very big and good one, a real blessing from the Lord.” For years I have avoided Boards of Directors, but for some reason that caught my interest. The priest then said: “A very wealthy and generous lady has donated several million pesos for the construction of a peasant training institute. The purpose is to teach peasants all the skills of their trade. The pavilions are now ready, and we hope to launch the Institute very soon.”

The priest went on, full of enthusiasm about the project. At a given point I asked, “Tell me one thing, Father – have you ever wondered how the wife and children of this peasant are going to make their living for the three or six months this course takes?” The priest stared at the wall behind me. It looked as if he had fallen into a shock, or into a state of mystical ecstasy. After some time he grabbed his documents, turned around, and left. I never saw him again.

All these good people had thought it was necessary to do something for our peasants, but the problem is that wanting to do something is not always enough as a solution. Those facilities are there, accommodating the minor seminary of the Archdiocese of Managua. The lady who donated the money is now in heaven, and so is the priest, because he died the following week. They are no doubt thinking together that something must be done for their poor Nicaragua. Maybe that’s why we are in the situation we are in.

The Cowboy’s Principle
There are two or three more principles in this line of improvisation. The next one is the one I call “the cowboy’s principle,” which is stated with a phrase that is very common among our peasants cowboys: “The saddlebags will be arranged on the road.”

Maybe yes, maybe not. But I also have several experiences concerning this. Any resemblance to individuals living or dead, anywhere in the world, is mere coincidence.
One day the telephone rings at my house.
“Hello, is that Chale?”
“Yes, who is this?”
“This is Father So-and-so.”
“Hello, Father, how are you?”
“Listen, could you give a talk the day after tomorrow?”
 Since the priest cannot see me, I smile on my side of the telephone and think, “Not again!”

“It’s a retreat for the youth,” he says.
“I see. And what do you want me to talk to them about?”
“Just whatever you want, my friend. You know how that is.”
“Well, but I would like to get some orientation. What is the intent of the retreat?”
“I want you to make them tremble! Shake them well!”
“Well, I’m not too good at that, but I’ve got a friend who is known as ‘The Electric Chair’ who could do a good job… But tell me something, do you have any follow-up plans after the retreat? …. Hello?”
A long silence follows, and communication seems to have been interrupted.

This Christian leader belongs to the Cowboys’ Party – the saddlebags will be arranged along the way.

The Dog-Behind-the-Car Syndrome
This kind of improvising is responsible for what I call “the dog-behind-the-car syndrome.”

I’m sure all of you have had this experience. You enter one of those small neighborhoods or towns in any of our countries where there seem to be more dogs than people, and as soon as you enter the town, a dog starts running after your car, barking like mad, and he follows you for half a mile until he gets bored and just turns around. Well, that may happen to other drivers, but not to me, because I take my time to study what it is that the dog does. So when the dog starts following me I first reduce my speed, I let him catch up, and then I stop the car. Something quite funny happens at that point. There are two kinds of dogs. The first of them seems to lift up his chest (you can almost see the smile of satisfaction on his foamy mouth), turns around and goes away trotting, full of pride at his deed. The second one bows down his head, sticks the tail between his hinds, and goes back full of shame and depressed. Neither of the two does anything with the car.

And this is the dog-behind-the-car syndrome: When they catch up with the car, they don’t know what to do with it.

I am very amused whenever this happens, because it reminds me of many Christians who run after a candidate for Christ for several months, and when they finally succeed in taking him to a retreat they just don’t know what to do with him. They just turn around and go away. Some of them are just extremely proud of their achievement and move away. Others are puzzled, not knowing what to do now.

One thing is common to all these problems – improvisation, the lack of vision, of a clear purpose, of priorities, of planning.

If you belong to one of those groups where, week after week, year after year, at every meeting, they wonder what they are going to do for next Friday’s talk, then you already know what improvisation is.

If you belong to a team of leaders who devote all their meetings to put out the fires of that week, with an agenda dictated by the problems that come up, without planning for anything that would detect and fight the causes of so many problems, you are surely going to end up on a psychiatrist’s couch.

Once you have your plan ready, you go to the group that has requested your services, and you begin to get to know the local leaders. And what you usually find is… an absolutely obscure, confused situation! So you kneel down in thanksgiving – God’s hand is no doubt among them! In fact, that is the only explanation why they have not killed each other or have not yet done away with the little that remains.

Philip’s Principle
The explanation for so many problems that we find at the leadership level is what I call “Philip the Apostle’s principle.” I have no time to explain to you why I gave it this name, but if you read the Gospel attentively (or our chapter “The Men the Lord Chose”) you will discover that our friend Philip never did anything exactly well. Philip’s Principle goes like this: Every Christian is a human being, and what fails is usually the human being and not the Christian.

It is usually the human being that fails, and when the human inside us fails, everything comes out wrong. Unfortunately, people’s human maturity is often not sufficiently valued in Christian environments. Some time, somewhere, we have found problems that happened because someone failed in his Christian life. There was a big scandal – the spiritual advisor of a movement ran away with a movie star, or twenty corpses were found buried in the basement of the house of the community’s senior leader, or things like that. However, things are not normally like that.

Most of the times things are not going very well, not because people are bad, but because people are immature. Half the problems we come across are due to childishness on some leader’s part. One of them causes trouble because he has a superstar complex. The other has the complex of a banana republic dictator. The next one is resentful and does not talk to I don’t know whom, for I don’t know what reason, since who knows when. The other because he lacks good judgment. The following one because his intelligence is like gold – scarce. And still another because he’s outright irresponsible.

In my country, and in other places, we have paid high prices for the mistake of placing exotic people in visible leadership positions. The witness of their lives was beyond doubt. Some of them had a heroic conversion. Some were super-charismatic, able to raise a dead man and then bury him again, but they were people no one was willing to imitate or follow. They were problem people, people you could not trust or people you could not rely on. They were genuinely crazy, sometimes feminized, moody, unstable, or simply odd.

In my opinion, the main criterion in choosing our leaders should be their character. A mature man can be christianized. A crazy man can also be christianized, but most usually he will continue to be a crazy saint, because grace builds on nature.

In too many places, it is believed that the best candidate for a government position is the one who knows the most and who speaks the best—that is, the best informed individual. I would rather have a complete fool, with the simplest kind of faith, if he is a calm, composed man, patient, serviceable and without envy, who does not take airs, who believes all things, who bears all things, who hopes all things in the Lord.

In our personal lives and in our communities, we are often trying to solve problems, which is like spending your time popping zits, when the solution is to remove the infection that produces them. And the infection is always inside ourselves. This takes us to “Freud’s Principle.”

Freud’s Principle
One of the reasons why there are so many people like that is what I call “Freud’s Principle” (Freud, of course, is the father of modern psychiatry). The principle is: “If there were no problems, there would be no psychiatrists.”

In the modern world, everything is oriented towards problem-solving. A married couple has problems because the lady was spoiled as a young girl, and she was the daughter of spoiled girls for five generations; and the husband is Daddy’s little boy, to say the least, whose daily breakfast is scorpion soup. So the two of them go to the psychiatrist, to have him solve their problem. “Doctor, I have brought my wife for you to fix her.”

And the psychiatrist, to be sure, cannot solve the problem, except perhaps by prescribing some poison for the two of them, because the only problem is them. What we have here is a problem of character formation (or deformation).

In traditional families, every father knew that the child had to be formed, with the rod if necessary. Modern psychology tells parents that every form of discipline is bad for whatever reason, and that therefore the option for parents who do not form their children is to send them to a reformatory… or discard them. Which is exactly what is done with appliances that break down, or with poorly formed wives who no longer work or who deteriorate.

We think that the important thing is not to solve problems, but to form people, so that they will cease to be a problem themselves and stop causing problems to others, and learn to solve their own problems instead.

Every once in a while we come across problems that do need to be solved. But most of the times, what we find is problems of deformation in people. Deformation in their character, their values, their relationships. And in church movements and lay organizations nothing is done towards their formation as persons. These groups will usually settle for informing them with teaching, which is not the same. And this leads to the next principle.

Solomon’s Principle
This is what I call “Wise Solomon’s Principle,” which I would state like this: “He who knows, knows… and he knows… and he knows… and he knows…”

What I want to illustrate with this principle is the attitude of many people who want to know more everyday, as long as nothing else is asked of them but knowing. I know hundreds of people who militate in Christian movements, who have listened to so many talks that their ears have become antennae. They have full notebooks, where they keep the perfectly well-ordered notes they have taken in the last eighty-seven courses or retreats they have attended… but their lives are exactly the same as before. They are people who know everything you need to know about prayer, except they don’t pray. They know everything you need to know about evangelization, but they give no service in that ministry. Or they take a course in public relations, but they do not speak to their sister-in-law. They know the Bible by heart, but they do not let the Word of God confront them. Blessed are those who listen to God’s word… and put it into practice, says the Lord.

One of the greatest problems of the Church is that it has at its disposal many means for people to know more doctrine, but very few to show them a practical way to live it out. What we need is a scriptural teaching that is at once simple, practical and relevant.

Lack of experience in forming new leaders has resulted in several phenomena in church movements, which are often repeated in other contexts as well.

Some Phenomena

The most frequent phenomenon is that of cliques or apostolic mules, who are the ones that bear the burden, and who are the best sign that no new leaders have been formed or promoted. That is, they have not multiplied the mules.

All of this generates what I call gerontocracy in the Lord’s vineyard. This is a government by the same old leaders. There are sectors in the Church that are only renewed via the decease of their leaders.

Gerontocracy, cliques, sacred cows and old Israelites would become history if we knew how to apply two principles:

Pythagoras’ Principle
The first of them I have called “Pythagoras’ Principle”, for the great mathematician of ancient Greece. Not after my friend Pete Agoras.  It goes like this: “If you want to conquer, divide; if you want to succeed, multiply.”

There are leaders who only know how to divide. Many of them, through God’s grace, have learned to add. They know how to involve people into the work. But very few of them are concerned about multiplying.

The Shepherd’s Principle
This I can explain better with the second principle, which we could call “The Shepherd’s Principle”. It is actually a very simple principle of genetics, that says: “Sheep beget sheep, shepherds beget shepherds.”

I have never seen a shepherd woman give birth to a lamb, or a cow that gives birth to an engineer. Every individual generates what he is. Shepherds are supposed to generate shepherds, and leaders generate leaders, as the Argentinean preacher Juan Carlos Ortiz has rightly reminded us. In many groups, however, shepherds engender sheep, and sheep engender problems.

A different way to say the same is that many of our leaders generate admirers, converts, fans, partisans, followers, and many other things, but they do not generate new leaders. And a leader is supposed to generate new leaders instead of lambs.

The prevalent gerontocracy in many environments of the Church is an alarm that warns that many good ministries can disappear when their old leaders die, if we are not careful enough to apply this simple law of genetics.

The Principle of Uncle Sam
Many leadership problems and many of the Philips we find in the parishes where we serve, as well as in many a group, are rooted in what I call “Uncle Sam's Principle.” It says: “Volunteers needed.”

Someone comes up with a very serious, very good, and very large project, and then the leader of the charismatic prayer meeting or the pastor in the parish announce from the pulpit, “Volunteers are needed. Those who want to help, please raise your hands.” And you feel like crying, “Heelp!.”

I have a great admiration for enthusiastic people who are willing to serve, such as volunteers often are. But Christ’s lesson is that he does not hire the first who shows up. Christ never worked with volunteers. When a fellow came by and said, “Lord, I will follow you wherever you go,” what he responded was, in so many words: “Yeah, but who has called you?”

Christ calls his disciples one at a time and will spend the whole night in prayer before choosing them. He chooses them because he knows the kind of persons he needs for the job. And if, despite having chosen them and formed them patiently, we know that one of them was a failure, just imagine what would have happened if he had called for volunteers. “If anyone would be my disciple, let him raise his finger and follow me.”

Ecclesiastic Principles

Up to this point we have dealt with more or less personal faults of people who are more or less ignorant. What follows is much more serious because it does not have to do with defects among the laity, but among priests and even at the level of the whole church. I will mention only the most evident.
Nathanael’s Principle
You come to a place thinking that, with the scarcity of workers in the vineyard, and with the fruits you can show as credentials, you will be welcome in that other plot of land of the vineyard, but the first thing you find is what I call “Nathanael’s Principle,” because it was Nathanael who said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

A second statement of this could be, “Every initiative from a layperson is bad or suspicious, unless proven otherwise.”

Prudence continues to be a virtue, and priests need to be prudent. They are supposed to care for us and to watch over us so we won’t go astray or get into trouble. But Scripture says that, when a sheep was stuck among the bushes, Christ took it on his shoulders and carried it home. So this is what we ask of them: that they take us on their shoulders, that they orient us and correct us, but that they will not reject us or quench our hearts’ infinite thirst to serve the Lord, because what they regard with mistrust is, in the end, nothing but the fruit of that infinite thirst to serve the Lord and an enthusiasm that, to be honest, not even their rejection will be able to stop.

Some brothers and sisters think that I am anticlerical. That’s not true. I simply agree with that definition that says that a pessimist is an experienced optimist.

Out of love, I am sharing the things that experience has taught me, not in order to criticize but in order to offer solutions, as far as we are able, to the problems we find.

One of the most serious problems we find is the general dislike, in most parts of the world, for the things of God. This is a real tragedy, and it is worth wondering about the reason for that dislike.

Bonnin’s Principle
And, possibly, the first reason for this dislike is what I call “the Principle of Eduardo Bonnin” (who was the founder of the Cursillo Movement). What Bonnin’s Principle tells us is that “everything in the Church seems to be organized to satisfy a thirst that does not exist, and nothing is organized to provoke that thirst.”

The Church is full of institutions, associations, movements, entities, schools, works of all kinds, where good people can express and quench their thirst for service. But very few things exist in the Church that are destined to awake that thirst.

One day the Lord had mercy on his Church, and gave to it the Cursillo Movement. I think this movement was the first (at least in this century) to consciously seek to awake that thirst in human beings, with the disinterested purpose to have each person then satisfy that thirst according to his call and in the place where God has planted him.

There are now many more people who are concerned for awaking the thirst for God, but usually with the purpose to sell their particular product – their association, their movement, their work. We need to have a deep respect for each individual’s personal call and vocation, and to regard with joy the fact that the Lord often calls them to places or missions which are different from ours.

Our work as leaders also includes continuing to awake that thirst. What we find in many places is dislike, lack of thirst. People are content. Some are satiated. Others are frankly fed up of the things of God. This is especially true in the case of young people. Perhaps we thought that it was enough to awake the thirst, and we neglected to continue awaking it. Perhaps that is why the Lord is repeatedly calling us back to the first love, to our early thirst.

The consequence of so many years when everything in those contexts was oriented towards channeling or satisfying the thirst which once, for some reason, was awakened, has been that, in too many places in Latin America, what we find today are not Christians, but baptized pagans. I have noted sometimes that in the past the Church used to baptize converts, but our problem today is to convert the baptized.

And this also explains why things are in a bad shape. Ninety percent of the problems we come across everyday in our communities and in the Church is simply due to the fact that our best leaders are not converted enough.

We often find brothers who one day ceased to be bad guys and became good guys, and we rejoice at the fact that they have not gone back to their old life. That’s what we call perseverance. But we also realize that very few of them are today more converted than the day their first retreat ended.

The Kelvinator Principle
A second cause for this phenomenon is a principle I have termed the “Kelvinator Principle,” that is, the principle of the refrigerator. As we know, refrigerators are used to prevent foods from decomposing. The principle of the refrigerator is stated thus: “Everything in the Church seems to be organized to prevent the good ones from decomposing.”

The reasonable thing would be to work for the bad ones to become good and for the good ones to be better each day. But almost no one works for that. They work to prevent the good ones from becoming bad. There seems to be no place for the bad in Church organizations, and yet the Lord came to save what had perished, and told us that it is the sick and not the healthy who need a doctor.

Caution! I’m not saying that there is no room for the bad in the Church. Of course there is… but on the condition that they become instantly good. Even our communities are in danger of becoming a “Club of Saints,” instead of being a group of human beings, with all the problems that being human involves, who want to be holier each day and are very sorry that we are not yet holy enough, but who are still far from being what God wants us to be. When communities become clubs of saints, their small groups tend to become contests of verbal holiness, and the smallest fault is regarded with horror. I often remind my brothers that our community is not a club of saints, but a meeting place for those who would like to be saints.

In some Church contexts, this absence of a place for the bad in the Church results in what I call “the syndrome of the refrigerator salesman in the North Pole” – nobody wants them.

Since everything in the Church seems to be organized for the greater comfort of the good, the bad have no interest in the things of the Church or of the Lord. And this is quite serious. They think that the Church has nothing to offer them, when, on the contrary, it is the only group that has what they need. And this may be due to the fact that the Church has entered the business of selling refrigerators, when the Lord came to kindle a fire in the world, and what he wants is for it to burn.

Paper Pastoral Projects
Perhaps the most notable result of this reality is what I call paper pastoral projects. Our bishops, pastors and even lay leaders develop beautiful plans. Recently they have incorporated all the techniques of modern sociology. They print them in a beautiful pamphlet which they distribute among those concerned; but that pastoral project, so beautiful, so wonderful on paper, just stays there printed, because there is no thirst, no hunger; because in the North Pole no one is interested in buying that pastoral refrigerator, or that refrigerated pastoral project; because in the lukewarmness or glacial cold of their hearts there is no place or no use for that pastoral refrigerator which then becomes a paper pastoral project.

DuPlessis’ Principle
I think this lack of interest for the things of God is especially true in the case of our youth. Then another principle emerges. Maybe this is the wisest principle I have heard, and I call it “DuPlessis’ Principle.” David DuPlessis, also known as Mr. Pentecost, whom Pope Paul VI once decorated for his ecumenical efforts, once heard a voice that said, “God has no grandchildren.”

For many days he wondered what that sentence meant, until he finally understood. John’s Gospel, in fact, says, “to all who received him… he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). Through conversion and baptism we become children of God, but God has no grandchildren. Our children will not in turn become children of God in the full scriptural sense, unless they are in turn evangelized and converted. They will continue to be baptized pagans, as most of us once were. And this is also something very serious we should meditate on.

Our communities will not always be what they once were, unless every new generation in our communities has a living experience of the living God, and sincerely chooses to follow him to the end.

But someday, someone, somewhere, ever more for God’s grace, begins to establish the priorities of Jesus Christ, to take seriously the Christian’s mission to proclaim the good news of salvation, and begins, as we did, to evangelize like mad. He begins to awake hunger for God and to seek out the bad ones. Men begin to get converted, churches are packed full, the parish bursts out. There is a revival. Our hearts are full of joy, and our mouths are full of praises and thanksgiving. But then something begins to happen. It is the first few symptoms of what I call “the revolving door syndrome”.

The Revolving Door Syndrome
The revolving door syndrome means that, quite soon, the number of those who enter is equal to the number of those who leave. Years go by, a hundred retreats are given, a hundred short courses, a hundred seminars, and the number of those who remain evangelized is the same. Those who remain, in Bonnin’s words, are usually the holiest, who are always few; the most stupid, who are always more… and those who attended the latest retreat.

We need to ask ourselves why this is so. Maybe one of the viruses that produce this syndrome of the revolving door is what we could term the perpetual childhood of God’s children.

“To all who received him he gave power to become children of God,” but for some reason the children of God continued to be children. (This is what St. Paul accused the Corinthians of.) There was no one there seeking their progressive and integral conversion. Maybe the leaders themselves were immature as Christians, and they generated disciples in their own image and likeness.

I often insist that it is us, with our own lives, who set the standard of Christian life in our communities. And this is where another principle comes into action – the one I call “Sinbad’s Principle.”

Sinbad’s Principle
This principle says: “Don’t make waves!”

I know places where people’s growth stops, stagnates, not because there is no life, but because it tends to level at what I call “a Christian standard of life”, which is usually determined by the leaders. And this is a big responsibility.

In the movements I once militated in, a man would come out of a retreat with his soul full of dreams, of commitment and of a spirit of charity. He then sought for ways to channel those things. In the experiences of other people he would seek a model to express his own Christian life. If what he encounters is institutionalized mediocrity, impoverished dreams, conditioned commitment or minimized love, he will accept that standard of Christian life as his ultimate goal, as his measure of perfection.

But, all of a sudden, an uncomfortable being comes around. It is someone whom love is leading to new levels of commitment. At his small group meeting he shares this with humility and naturalness, but his commitment is far too jeopardizing for us. So Sinbad cries out: “Don’t make waves! Don’t rock the boat”! Don’t wake me up from my sweet sleep. Don’t make things complicated for me. You don’t need to be a fanatic! No extremes, please!” Saints are always uncomfortable for others, and a group leader comes around who feels in the obligation to help them come back to earth.

Peace returns to our hearts once again. It is the peace of a graveyard. The boat is safe. There’s nothing to shake it, nothing to horrify it, nothing to disturb it. Even the saint will learn the lesson that there is no need to exaggerate, and so he takes on his leader’s standard of living, or the standard of living of his retreat rector, who ten years ago was also willing to give up his life for the Lord, but who has now become older and more prudent, and has learned the lesson that there is no need to exaggerate.

What I do thank the Lord for is for having placed along my way several true saints and at least a couple of martyrs, who many a time caused me shame because of my mediocrity, but who always increased in me the desire to be like them – holy uneducated people.

But there are places where the highest ideal seems to be focused in preventing the boat from sinking, even if it never moves forward or gets anywhere, even if people are not taken to the point where God wants them to be. We then settle for being well-behaved citizens, without even suspecting that there exists a whole new world and an extraordinary, new life, where love has no limits, where commitment involves laying down your own life, and where our dream would be to have more lives so we can also lay them down for Christ and for the brethren. We settle for polishing the boat’s deck, but we keep it anchored at port so that everyone can come aboard easily.

Another application of Sinbad’s Principle has to do with the necessary evolution of our communities. When there are changes, there always comes up a Sinbad who cries: “Don’t make waves! Don’t move my boat!” But I have never seen a boat that doesn’t rock when it is moving forward. If it doesn’t rock, it’s because it’s anchored.

What I am intending to illustrate is the situation of those places where everything is going so well, really so very well, that nothing should happen, lest things change. Everything must be done according to the most rigid orthodoxy, which is almost always mixed with the way we have been doing things for the last 20 years.

I would not want to say whether this is right or wrong. However, common sense tells me that something that does not move cannot get anywhere, and certainly will not get very far. It can only mean that we have already arrived. Or that we have not even lifted the anchors.

Since the world and the Church continue to move ahead, this can mean at a given moment that we have been left behind. I am not in favor of change for change’s sake, but I do understand that things that are alive have movement, and things that do not move end up in atrophy.

In our community we became aware that, without doing anything to achieve it, we are today a radically different community than we were 18 years ago; that the world around us is also different; that we ourselves are not any longer the same; and that, therefore, we cannot continue to function as if nothing had happened.

Change always brings problems, and many an individual will feel tempted to cry out, “Don’t make waves!” Let us ask the Lord for wisdom so we can discern things that must be permanent and unchanging in us, and things that need to be continually adapted to our new realities.

But we must now return to the problem of the revolving door and its causes, and thus we move to Palau’s Principle.

Palau’s Principle
I have given it that name because of something I experienced many years ago. Luis Palau is a Protestant preacher who once visited Nicaragua. And since, as I said before, I have a lot of leisure time, and I have a very good friend who has a lot of leisure time and invited me, the two of us went to the stadium where Palau was preaching, just to see what tips we could catch.

Palau began to preach and, to be honest, I have heard better things. But when he was about to finish, something took place that shook me very strongly, and which I had never seen or heard before. What happened was simply that, as he finished preaching, he invited all those present to make a decision for Jesus Christ and to step forward. I was frozen! I had studied with the Jesuits for 18 years, I had attended a Cursillo retreat, I had given and received countless seminars and retreats, and no one had ever told me: “Make a decision!”

So this is Palau’s Principle: Make a decision.

It is embarrassing, but I think that only Catholics have received permission to spend their whole lives without ever being called to make a decision, to choose for Christ. The Lord had said: “If any man would come after me, let him… take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). No one ever invited me to take that step. The involvement of our intelligence is encouraged, but not the involvement of our will. No one ever invites us to turn our deep convictions into firm decisions… so the door continues to revolve.

I will end this talk with the last principle. It is the most tremendous of all, the most devastating, although, thank God, it is the one that occurs least frequently. But in any case it is the most dangerous and most subtle one, the one that can disguise itself as an angel of light, the one that can by itself frustrate God’s plan for you.

Ralph Martin’s Principle
In a talk he gave at a Latin American Charismatic Conference, Ralph Martin said that we often take this attitude – we see that God is raising something around us, and then we say, “Here is the charismatic renewal, what a wonderful thing! What are we going to do with it?” Or, “Here is the Neo-catechumenate, what an extraordinary thing! What can we use it for?” Or, “Here is the multitude, how can we make use of it?” Almost imperceptibly we move one step forward and we say, “Here is Christianity, how can we use it?” And finally, “Here is God, what an interesting, beautiful and great thing! How can we make use of him?”

Quite unfortunately, this is no exaggeration. We live in a country where everyone wants to utilize God and make Jesus Christ a tool for their own ends. Christ then becomes a banner, a symbol, a cause, an appealing figure that can therefore be exploited, manipulated, turned into an instrument to carry water to my own mill, to attract people to my group, to second my purposes, to bless my plans, to give prestige to my projects or ideas.

But these are just the most obvious issues. The Lord is continuously raising things in his Church. We are living at a privileged time in history, when the Lord has raised and continues to raise wonderful works in his Church. And the Lord has a plan and an aim for all he does. The Lord has a purpose, and it must be our role to be faithful to God’s purpose. The Lord has placed us as leaders of a concrete work of his for us to be at his service, with a view to a concrete mission, and not for us to serve in it according to our preferences.

Let us make sure, in our work, that we are helping communities so they will never become an end in themselves. Let us make sure we are respecting those communities whose concrete call is different from ours, helping them if we can, but without ever attempting to impose our own call on them. And of course, let us invite all those whom the Lord has called, to work arm in arm with us in this common mission.

> See other Living Bulwark articles by Carlos Mantica

This article is adapted from the book, From Egghead to Birdhood (hatch or rot as a Christian), (c) copyright 2001 Carlos Mantica.

Carlos Mantica is a founder of The City of God community (La Cuidad de Dios) in Managua, Nicaragua, and a founding leader of the Sword of the Spirit. He served as president of the Sword of the Spirit between 1991 and 1995.

Top photo credit: aerial view of a group of people (c) by Madrabothair at Bigstock.com

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