Where there is hatred let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon . . .
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life".
This famous prayer, traditionally attributed to Saint Francis, has traveled the world, winning hearts and inspiring minds with its simple and persuasive witness to the power of unconditional love. As Leonardo Boff shows in his moving reflections, this love not only brings each person the promise of eternal salvation, but also provides the basis for social peace, redeems the world, and constitutes the hidden meaning of the universe.
Boff starts with the intuition that "all is Mystery and the bearer of Mystery" an inexhaustible source of love, that wishes to be known. This Mystery is God known under a thousand names revealed in Christianity as a communion of Divine Persons. He goes on to relate this Mystery to the story of Jesus and the history of Christianity, which takes part in the common mission of other religious and spiritual paths "to keep alive the sacred flame of the divine presence in each person, in history, and in the entire cosmic process."
Its central thesis argues that since the fourth century the church has fallen victim to a kind of power that has nothing to do with the gospel and everything to do with the dynamics of power with all of its inevitable abuses. This historical reality, enshrined in the monarchical model of the church, was undermined at the Second Vatican Council and replaced by that of the church as people of God. This 'laical' model is closely allied in Boff's exposition with the notion of the church as sacrament of the Holy Spirit: the church as "sign and instrument of the now living and risen Christ, that is the Holy Spirit." A pneumatic ecclesiology such as this would lead the church back to its primitive dynamics of community, cooperation, and charism. It would create a church in which everyone shared equally and where flexible and appropriate ministries conformed to needs as they arose. Is such a church possible? Is it not simply the utopian dream of idealists and sectarians down through the ages? No, says Father Boff, given the incredible growth throughout Latin America of comunidades eclesiales de base, base communities, where the people express and achieve their desire for participation and where the hierarchy divests itself of its titles and ecclesiastical baggage, creating a common desire for community and equality. This model of the church has acquired an unexpected historical possibility: the new church is in the process of being born. This church, the church being born from the faith of the poor, has rediscovered for itself--and for the church universal--the living presence of the dangerous memory of Jesus Christ.