Part 1: The See-Judge-Act Process

It wasn’t just that we gathered leaders in Hispanic ministry who serve in the Diocese of Fresno; it was also the way in which we gathered. We organized the Bishop Steinbock Hispanic Ministry Convocation around the desire to initiate a dialogue with a diversity of leaders serving a diversity of Hispanic communities in the Diocese. No easy task, in and of itself, but the real work was structuring the two-day event around a particular process: See-Judge-Act.

In this 3-part series, we will look carefully at the See-Judge-Act process in order to uncover its importance to the Convocation and the related steps that will soon follow. Equally important, I hope this series brings attention to the See-Judge-Act process as an effective model for local ministries, including those serving today’s U.S. Hispanic people.

What is See-Judge-Act?

In simplified terms, See-Judge-Act is a process intended to engage and understand a community (See), in light of the Christian narrative (Judge), so that new relational interactions may be imagined and acted upon(Act).1

To say it another way, See-Judge-Act is a process that looks for and listens to a community’s daily life experience (See). From that encounter, themes emerge and challenges are named, which require deeper understanding and reflection, leading to a dialogue between the community’s life experiences and sacred scripture, Christian tradition and theological ideas (Judge). With new insights gained from the dialogue, the process provokes a new praxis by and for the community, that is, a new way of interaction that brings about personal and community transformation (Act).

First appearing in the early 1900s, Belgian Cardinal John Cardijn developed the See-Judge-Act process in order to raise the consciousness and inspire responsible actions among the young people of his time. Later championed in Latin American, Caribbean, and U.S. ecclesial documents,2 the power of the process is that it centers on the reality of the people, the present day situation of a community, which makes the process particularly important for disadvantaged communities whose reality is often undervalued and ignored.

Yet, even with widespread attention and use by bishops writing to and for Hispanic pastoral leaders, the practical local use of the See-Judge-Act process by Christian communities has waned in the U.S. While today we see the See-Judge-Act process effectively used in community organizing and pastoral planning (often as a one-time process), and we hear of the beautiful experience of the process in the National Encuentros the relational dynamic that defines the process remains underdeveloped as a ministerial tool for local pastoral leaders – and that’s the dynamic we wanted to recover and model for the Hispanic Ministry Convocation.

To that end, we kept the primary goal of the Convocation simple: gather, listen and be together, letting our diversity in language and culture unify and not divide us. The response from the leaders was overwhelming, as their voices and spirit of communion gave meaning to our time together and purpose to our future plans. The energy of the Convocation affirmed our intuitions, and created in us the momentum to proceed in reimagining the See-Judge-Act process as a practical model for local ministry.

In view of our intended renewal of the process, I will briefly present three guiding principals that shape the relational dynamic experienced in the See-Judge-Act process. In this part of the series, I will offer the relationality of being as the primary principle, and in subsequent parts I will discuss Paulo Freire’s concientizacíon (raising conscious awareness) and Pastoral de Conjunto (Communion in Mission) before I conclude the series with a look at the future of the See-Judge-Act process for local ministry and for the post Hispanic Ministry Convocation gatherings.

I Am Not Just Me, I Am a “Person-in-Relationship”3

First and foremost, the See-Judge-Act process is rooted in the belief that people are relational beings. This reality defines the essence of who we are and shapes our identity as partners in life, “sharers in the very life of God.”4 For Hispanic theologian Roberto Goizueta, human relationality is the foundation for his theology of accompaniment: “The ultimate goal of all human action is nothing other than the active participation in relationships and the enjoyment of those relationships, wherein the particularity of each person can be affirmed and allowed to flower.”5

In developing a model of accompaniment as an expression of the potential for human action, Goizueta brings into view the tension that exists between human relationality and the isolated sense of self associated with individualism.6 While a discussion on the pros and cons of individualism are beyond our scope, Goizueta calls our attention to any experience of self that reduces the fundamental nature of a person’s relational identity. In Goizueta’s view, “To be an isolated, autonomous individual is, literally, to have no humanity, no identity, no self, it is to be no-thing, a no-body.”7

In the well-known Genesis story of creation and the fall (Genesis 2:4b – 3:24), this tension between relationality and isolation is dramatically played out, as God intimately creates the man and the woman and then implores them not to eat from the tree that will bring about their separation. After they eat the fruit, it’s as if we can hear the pain in God’s voice as God calls out to them, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9) And in the end we catch a glimpse of God weaving clothes for the naked man and the woman (Gen. 3:21) as the ultimate act of love and accompaniment.

From this beautiful Hebrew story of love, intimacy, separation, fear, hiding, and unending union, we come to know what life is (relationality) and what life is not meant to be (isolation) – and in both experiences God is present. Repeated throughout the narrative, we see the movement from being alone to intimate union, from separation to communion, and from the experience of being ashamed and afraid to the experience of being clothed by God. As the grand pattern in the Hebrew creation/fall story, this movement of life is God’s movement with us and for us,8 accompanying us toward a deeper participation in life: “Since the person is always, by definition, a person-in-relationship, ‘life’ is always life-in-community.”9 It makes sense, then, that any Christian process that engages in the lives of people must also seek to move within this relational pattern.

This ultimately means that the See-Judge-Act process must be committed to the basic movement of life, God’s movement with us, from isolation and displacement to “active participation in relationships and the enjoyment of those relationships.” In service to this, the See-Judge-Act process opens us to See people-in-relationship who experience both joy and brokenness, as we bring to the foreground the isolated parts and displaced people of the community. It opens us to learn and Judge, by hearing the Christian community’s experience of God and God’s response in similar broken times throughout history. And it opens us to imagine and Act upon the movements from broken experiences to personal and social healing – “so that each person can be affirmed and allowed to flower.”

Guided by this movement into active relationality, we are able to see both the beauty of the See-Judge-Act process, and the need to contextualize and adapt it for effective use in local daily ministry. The difficulty, of course, is that any true process built on relationality is messy, it’s labor intense, it takes long to develop, it’s difficult to measure, and it involves a lot of trial and error. But that’s ministry isn’t it! And while the Convocation represented just the beginning of the process, it reminded us that the gathering-of-people, for the sake of gathering, is a good thing. And it created in us a collective desire to move forward in the See-Judge-Act process and share our experiences with you as we move along the way.

In Part 2 of this series, we will continue to discuss the Convocation and unpack the See-Judge-Act process by looking specifically at the power of awakening personal and communal consciousness through the telling of our own stories. This narrative approach to concientizacíon adds an empowering dimension to the See-Judge-Act process and the communal actions that result.

– Copyright Vince Olea 2011

– Photographs are copyrighted and used with permission of the Diocese of Fresno. The Diocese of Fresno requires written consent for printing and publishing of these photographs. Convocation Photographs taken by Kevin Ford Photography.
1. Added to the process are two important movements, Evaluate and Celebrate.
2. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Guadium et Spes (7 December, 1965) was produced using the see-judge-act methodology, which was a monumental shift in perspective at the time.
3. Term taken from Robert Goizueta. “The Symbolic World of Mexican American Religion,” in Horizons of the Sacred: Mexican Traditions in U.S. Catholicism. eds. Timothy Matovina and Gary Riebe-Estrella, SVD (New York: Cornell University Press, 2002) 130.
4. Catherine LaCugna. God For Us: The Trinity and Christian Life. (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1991) 228.
5. Roberto S. Goizueta. Caminemos Con Jesús: Toward a Hispanic/Latino Theology of Accompaniment. (New York: Orbis Books, 1995) 130.
6. For an in depth examination of modern liberal individualism see: Roberto S. Goizueta. Caminemos Con Jesús. 55ff.
7. Roberto S. Goizueta. Caminemos Con Jesús. 50.
8. LaCugna develops Karl Rahner’s distinction between God-in-God’s-self and God for us in Catherine LaCugna. God For Us: The Trinity and Christian Life. 168-169ff.
9. Robert Goizueta. “The Symbolic World of Mexican American Religion.” 130.