Welcome to my personal website, Gaudium Mundi (Joy of the World).
My name is Ashley Evans and I am an Irish Jesuit priest who has just returned home after 27 years on mission in the education sector of Cambodia. Before that I spent two years in the refugee camps of Thailand and four years of studies in France. The primary purpose of this website is to pool information on my experiences and to share reflections on the challenges they pose. Currently, I am working as a spiritual director at Manresa, the Jesuit Centre of Spirituality in Dollymount in Dublin.
Before starting the large education project in Sisophon in September 2013, I had taught Mathematics and Philosophy in Khmer to large numbers of Cambodian students at the Royal University of Phnom Penh for over twenty years (1993-2013). I had also accompanied many scholarship students of the Catholic Student Centre of Phnom Penh on their various formation journeys across all disciplines.
For four years, I was responsible for launching the Xavier Jesuit School project at Sisophon in Banteay Meanchey province (2013-17). Latterly, I have been teaching at the Battambang Teacher Education College, the University of Battambang and the Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University there. At the same time, I was in charge of the Tep Im Student Hostel in the grounds of the Catholic Church at Battambang (2018-20). During my last year teaching, I taught courses on Abstract and Linear Algebra to highly motivated Khmer first and second year teacher trainees. Even though I had to teach the second semester online, owing to the Covid pandemic, the experience proved to be a fitting “swan-song” for my time in Cambodia.
Over the years, a group of students and teachers helped me translate books into Khmer which students could use as student manuals. We produced 22 manuals in Mathematics, 4 in Philosophy and 4 in Theology. I am proudest of the last three, “Readings in Philosophy from Plato to Karl Marx”, “Grace” and “The Mathematics of Finance”.
What’s in a name? Why call the website Gaudium Mundi?
My fellow Irish Jesuit, Tony O’Riordan who is on mission in South Sudan, has explained why he chose the name Spes Mundi for his website. Like Tony, I was also inspired by the Catholic Church’s Pastoral Teaching expressed in the final document of the Second Vatican Council entitled ‘Gaudium et Spes Mundi‘.
However, I was inspired by a different passage to Tony. The passage that really moved me concerned the inner voice speaking within our human conscience. This anthropology opens up the possibility of real dialogue with committed Buddhists.
However on a deeper level, the whole point of Christian communication is rooted in the Word of God. When Jesus Christ returns to the synagogue of Nazareth, he is handed the scroll of Isaiah on which is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”. (Luke 4:18-19).
When St Ignatius and his early companions began their “ministry of the Word” among the children and unlettered, they would often go to the local Church square. There, they would wave their hats and make noise to attract their listeners to whom they would explain simple doctrine and prayers. Sometimes the children listened, sometimes they played games, mocking or throwing stones at their enthusiastic preachers. St Ignatius was delighted with either outcome as the first led to the conversion of others and the second led to a deeper personal identification with Christ who suffers for love.
As I start to manage this personal web-page, I realise how inept my communication still is on the level of social media. But I hope learn and improve over time!
Dignity of Moral Conscience
16. Deep within their consciences men and women discover a law which they have not laid upon themselves and which they must obey. Its voice, ever calling them to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells them inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For, they have, in their hearts, a law inscribed by God. Their dignity rests in observing this law, and by it they will be judged. Their conscience is people’s most secret core, and their sanctuary. There they are alone with God whose voice echoes in their depths. By conscience, in a wonderful way, that law is made known which is fulfilled in the love of God and of one’s neighbour. Through loyalty to conscience, Christians are joined to others in the search for truth and for the right solution to so many moral problems which arise both in the life of individuals and from social relationships. Hence, the more a correct conscience prevails, the more do persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and endeavour to conform to the objective standards of moral conduct. Yet it often happens that conscience goes astray through ignorance which it is unable to avoid, without thereby losing its dignity. This cannot be said of the person who takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is gradually almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.
The Excellence of Freedom
17. It is, however, only in freedom that people can turn themselves towards what is good. The people of our time prize freedom very highly and strive eagerly for it. In this they are right. Yet they often cherish it improperly, as if it gave them leave to do anything they like, even when it is evil. But genuine freedom is an exceptional sign of the image of God in humanity. For God willed that men and women should “be left free to make their own decisions” so that they might of their own accord seek their creator and freely attain their full and blessed perfection by cleaving to God. Their dignity therefore requires them to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by their own blind impulses or by external constraint. People gain such dignity when, freeing themselves of all slavery to the passions, they press forward towards their goal by freely choosing what is good, and, by their diligence and skill, effectively secure for themselves the means suited to this end. Since human freedom has been weakened by sin it is only by the help of God’s grace that people can properly orientate their actions towards God. Before the judgement seat of God everybody will have to give an account of their life, according as they have done either good or evil.