Caminemos con Jesus, by Roberto S. Goizueta

Book Review


Title:   Caminemos con Jesus: Toward a Hispanic/Latino Theology of Accompaniment

Author:  Roberto S. Goizueta

Publisher:   Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2003

Reviewer:   Nell Becker Sweeden, Ph.D. student in Practical Theology

In Caminemos con Jesús, Roberto Goizueta offers the U.S. Hispanic popular Catholicism as a lens through which to engage theological aesthetics, anthropology, and rationality. Goizueta works toward a theological and cultural pluralism founded in a preferential option for the faith of the poor through the process of acompañamiento. Central to his exploration is U.S. Hispanic popular Catholicism as a particular socio-historical context through which Catholic Latinos and Latinas do their theology. This theology is set within the context of everyday sayings, symbols, practices, and narratives of the people. Goizueta draws upon popular Catholicism’s expression of faith in the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe (La Morenita), Jesus and Mary defined relationally to each other and to us, the person as sacrament, a theology of collaboration, community as the birthplace of self, and the ‘in-between’ (mestizaje) existence of migration. Through such enactment, practices, and narratives of the people, Goizueta hopes to offer a methodological model for doing theology from a particular socio-historical context.

Through the Guadalupe story, Goizueta develops a relational anthropology and seeks to center both anthropology and theology in praxis, or human action (77). Drawing from Latin American Liberation Theology, Goizueta accentuates orthopraxis through the following two statements, “To know God is to do justice. To love God is to love one’s neighbor.” Influenced by Karl Marx’s notion of human action or praxis as transformative, Goizueta believes, with Gutierrez and other Latin American liberation theologians, that the “praxis which grounds theological reflection is variously defined as historical praxis, Christian praxis, and liberating (or liberation) praxis” (87).

Goizueta’s main contribution to the discussion is how he integrates aesthetic experience as a lens for interpreting human action (89). He finds that, particularly, in contrast with rational, logical thinking, aesthetics provides an important lens for interpreting empathetic love (91). Borrowing from Vasconcelos, Goizueta stresses how aesthetics express a unity between persons (96). Ultimately, Goizueta seeks to develop a correlation between aesthetics and ethics (or justice). The two must be held in tension to preserve the integrity of each. The aesthetic character of human action must be mediated by justice to prevent the physical objects of the Eucharist, for example, from merely becoming religious symbols; the eucharistic elements must also be understood as economic products—as they are grown and produced by persons and socio-economic structures. In this sense, one must hold together the political and economic dimensions of aesthetic action (125). The celebration of every human life, for Goizueta, must be coupled with the ethical-political option for the poor. In this sense, the church’s witness to God’s glory and beauty has everything to do with its witness to God’s love and justice (125).

Goizueta’s places his proposal before a postmodern challenge, in which truth and knowledge are always radically particular, contextual, and in flux (135). He seeks to develop a theological aesthetics that reaches beyond both modern and postmodern reason through popular Catholicism’s foundation in relationship and lived human experience (relational, embodied, and affective) (140). The universal truth of U.S. Hispanic popular Catholicism, Goizueta claims, is mediated by U.S. Hispanic praxis, and is, therefore, a ‘situated universal’ (156). At the same time, U.S. Hispanic popular Catholicism is rooted in the relational anthropology of the praxis of other particular persons and communities, so that the truth emerges from this relationship between ‘others.’ In sum, he argues that truth (and the foundation for theological pluralism) is grounded in praxis in the interrelationship with others (157).

In turn, this relational anthropology is the basis for Goizueta’s theology of accompaniment arising out of U.S. Hispanic popular Catholicism and specific commitment to the preferential option for the poor (173). According to Goizueta, the lives of U.S. Hispanics and the lives of the poor are identified with the home and with the city. Theology must, therefore, be located in homes and cities. To walk with the poor, one must locate oneself in the geographical places of the poor; this is the place for an experiential form of knowledge. This accompaniment must transcend the socio-political barriers, boundaries, and borders to find “God who is at home at the crossroads” (210). This act of accompaniment is rooted in the act of walking with Jesus and the accompaniment of his body and blood in the Eucharist. Jesus’ eucharistic presence is identified with everyday life; it is a sacramental act, an experiential from of knowledge.

Though rooted in everyday faith practices, Goizueta’s methodology and theological analysis can be thick with technical language. What I take from Goizueta’s analysis is the rootedness of faith in both aesthetical and ethical praxis. For Goizueta, relational anthropology is understood in an aesthetical experience of unity and love that must be mediated through ethical interaction in which the justice of another is appreciated and upheld. This mutual interaction between persons reflects beauty and justice, and, as Goizueta claims, points toward experiential truth. The expression of faith is an act rooted in the intersection of the beauty and justice of God in Jesus Christ. This intersection is nurtured at the crossroads in the ‘in-between’, mestizo/a existence of U.S. Hispanic theology. This hybrid existence is an important point of integration for the people of God toward not only right knowledge, but right relationship with one another and with God.

For Goizueta, this intersection with a relational anthropology is the foundation for theological and cultural pluralism. From my own perspective, the integration of aesthetics and justice is necessary in a Christian community of faith because of the commitment to love one another as a reflection of God’s love toward humanity. Love of God and love of neighbor should always be held together, rooted in both aesthetics and justice, and thus should naturally give rise to a theology of accompaniment within the body of Christ. I draw upon Goizueta’s relational anthropology within ecclesiology as an impulse toward further faithfulness in witness to God’s peaceable reign understood through a living tradition and community of faith.

Additionally, Goizueta’s particular attention to popular expression of faith and how this embodies both aesthetics and justice offers important insight into understanding ecclesial formation in light of migration. Additionally, his attention to a theology of accompaniment speaks to the role of the church in traveling with migrants on their journey. In light of these insights, some further questions for exploration are: how might the integral relationships between aesthetics and justice be expressed and lived out ecclesially for and with migrants? That is to say, How is this manifested in their ecclesial contexts? What are the practices and ways of life that embody a theology of accompaniment? Goizueta locates accompaniment within the city and in particular neighborhoods, but what does a theology of accompaniment look like for a particular community of faith in a neighborhood? Naturally, each of these questions remains to be explored within a particular community of faith.

Goizueta opens his book with an important analogy for how a community of faith accompanies migrants. Reciting the poem taught to him by his father, a Cuban exile, Goizueta describes the migrant’s existence through the words of Antonio Machado: “‘Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.’ (Traveler, there is no path, the path is forged as one walks.)” (1). This reality for migrants is paralleled with the ecclesiological invitation, “‘Caminemos con Jesús.’ (Let us walk with Jesus.)” (1). Goizueta borrows these words from a Holy Thursday liturgical procession offered by the Mexican-American parishioners of San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, Texas. He describes his own life as living between these two statements: “No hay camino”… “caminemos con Jesús” (1).

These are the cries of the exile who resides in the “solitude and loneliness of an alien country” (1). Yet, as Goizueta notes, the inviting words, “Caminemos con Jesús,” arise from the same person who has discovered a new home in the midst of exile. This home is different from a stable and secure, physical place. Rather, here, these words are shaped into an ecclesiological invitation, now a home as “a community of persons, who as exiles themselves, are together ‘Walking with Jesus’” (1).

Within these images lies the tension between theology of place and theology of pilgrimage embodied within a faith community living in the midst of global migration. The language of the liturgy and the bodily movement of the procession integrate being in exile with Jesus walking amongst the Body of Christ. Attention to language, liturgies, narratives, and practices speak to how a faith community lives together with and walks with migrants. It challenges a community of faith to continually self-reflect—How are we accompanying and journeying with our neighbor, a migrant, and our savior, Jesus?