Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pope Benedict on Lay Responsibility

Zenit ran an article on Pope Benedict's address given at the beginning of a four-day ecclesial conference for the Diocese of Rome on "Church Membership and Pastoral Co-responsibility." The article says that the Holy Father indicated that "laypeople are not merely the clergy's collaborators, but rather share in the responsibility of the Church's ministry."

"There should be a renewed becoming aware of our being Church and of the pastoral co-responsibility that, in the name of Christ, all of us are called to carry out," the Holy Father said. This co-responsibility should advance "respect for vocations and for the functions of consecrated persons and laypeople," he added.

The Pontiff acknowledged that this requires a "change of mentality," especially regarding laypeople, shifting from "considering themselves collaborators of the clergy to recognizing themselves truly as 'co-responsible' for the being and action of the Church, favoring the consolidation of a mature and committed laity."

The Bishop of Rome suggested that "there is still a tendency to unilaterally identify the Church with the hierarchy, forgetting the common responsibility, the common mission" of all the baptized ... "the command to evangelize is not just for a few, but for all the baptized."...

The Pontiff looked at the distinction between "People of God" and "Body of Christ," affirming that both concepts "are complementary and together form the New Testament concept of the Church." He explained: "While 'People of God' expresses the continuity of the history of the Church, 'Body of Christ' expresses the universality inaugurated on the cross and with the resurrection of the Lord." "In Christ, we become really the People of God," which, he affirmed, means everyone, "from the Pope to the last child." "The Church, therefore, is not the result of a sum of individuals, but a unity among those who are nourished by the Word of God and the Bread of Life," the Pontiff noted.


It's telling that for many Catholics, the idea of evangelization, or sharing their faith with someone else brings to mind the need to study, read some books on apologetics, dive into the Bible more, all of which are great. But isn't that a bit strange, too. I mean, if someone were to ask me about a friend - someone I love - I wouldn't do a Google search for information, or pull out my copy of their C.V., or ask other people what they knew about my friend. My first response would be to share what I know from my own experience. Granted, it's a limited knowledge, and I certainly wouldn't be able to tell someone else all there is to know about my friend, but I could tell some engaging stories, I'd imagine. Perhaps enough to help them want to get to know my friend themselves.

So it's for good reason that Pope Benedict recognizes the necessity of a mature and committed laity if they are to take co-responsibility for the being and action of the Church. That being and action is sharing the Gospel to every creature. The Second Vatican Council Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity states, "the whole Church is missionary, and the work of evangelization is a basic duty of the People of God." (Ad Gentes, 35) .

If the laity are to be mature, committed and effective at evangelization, the Holy Father is absolutely right that laypeople must draw close to sacred Scripture (and thus to Jesus), through means such as lectio divina. That means that we not only study Scripture from the aspect of reason and intellect, but also engage it in the presence of the Holy Spirit and encounter the Lord speaking directly to our hearts.

Evangelization begins through "living out charity," which is a great enough challenge, but we must also use words. "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence..." (1Peter 3:15b-16a) And, of course, the reason for our hope is found in the kerygma - the basic gospel message which we declare as the "mystery of faith" at every Mass: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. That is the reason for our hope - and that is why any basic proclamatino of the Gospel must include the cross - and an explanation of what it means.

The question is, naturally, how do we proclaim that basic message in a way that is accessible to post-moderns. That's one of the questions that Making Disciples tries to answer.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, January 5, 2009

Facing the New Year

I don't know about you, but as I face the New Year, I struggle with discouragement. When contemplating the future of the country and our world, whether in economic, social, or spiritual terms, it's hard for me to envision a positive future rather than more evidence of "a long defeat" (JRR Tolkien's phrase).  On a smaller, more immediate scale, I'm dismayed by the weight of all the burdens of prayer I seem to carry for friends and family - all the things that haven't changed in the last year, and in fact many of these situations have gotten worse.  Several of these situations involve people in serious trouble and/or who've fallen away from the faith.

I'm tempted to wonder whether my prayers do anything - whether begging God for mercy is meaningless in the face of the machinations of fate.  But then I stumbled across this great reminder from one of my favorite authors, Caryll Houselander:
I saw too the reverence that everyone must have for a sinner; instead of condoning his sin, which is in reality his utmost sorrow, one must comfort Christ who is suffering in him. And this reverence must be paid even to those sinners who souls seem to be dead, because it is Christ, who is the life of the soul, who is dead in them; they are His tombs, and Christ in the tomb is potentially the risen Christ. For the same reason, no one of us who has fallen into mortal sin himself must ever lose hope.
This is beautiful, and sobering.  I needed Caryll's help today in seeing Christ in these people.  My thanks to her for being a friend.

[Cross-posted at mystagogia]

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

"The Great Divorce" and the Challenge of Faith

Just a note to let you all know about a new essay of mine that's up today on Catholic Exchange entitled The Great Divorce and the Challenge of Faith (click on the title to go there).  It's a meditation on faith and our heavenly destiny, based on C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce with insights from Fr. Luigi Giussani's new book Is It Possible to Live This Way?

This sometimes happens when you read two books at the same time - ideas can collide in an amazing way!

Here's a taste: 
Fr. Giussani thus radically reorganizes the categories of the faith vs. reason debate. Since faith is the foundation of our knowledge about the world, faith is the most reasonable choice to make when evaluating the testimony of someone you know and trust — especially if the encounter is exceptional in some way. He continues: “From a rational point of view, it’s clear that if you become certain that another person knows what he or she is saying and doesn’t want to deceive, then logically you should trust, because if you don’t trust you go against yourself, against the judgment you formulated that that person knows what he or she says and doesn’t want to deceive you.”[v] For Lewis’ fellow bus travelers to the heavenly valley, faith is actually the most reasonable response to the extraordinary encounters they are having, but in denying and rejecting the new vision, the visitors are acting in a most tragically irrational, unreasonable way. The human bond of trust they had with their now Bright friend or loved one should have enabled them to trust the information they were receiving and to allow themselves to be led by that love and trust into the mountains. But alas — they could not overcome their pride, their bitterness, their greed — that is, their insistence that Heaven’s infinite glory conform to their finite conceptions. And they go against themselves.
Enjoy!

Labels: ,

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Gift of Faith


Often in our prayers of thanksgiving, we offer to God our gratitude for the gift of faith. During this Christmas season, many of us might refer to our faith as "the greatest gift of all."

While faith is a gift from God, it is often modeled for us by others. My parents never missed Mass, unless they were sick. I remember driving for an hour with them to church one Sunday when we were vacationing in Arkansas (Catholic churches weren't all that common). My mom would pray often before starting the car.

I prayed fervently at times when she was driving.

I'll never forget getting up one night to get a drink of water when I was about seven years old and glimpsing my dad on his knees at the foot of my parents' bed as he said his night time prayers.

I knew my parents were people of faith not only from their prayer, but from the way they lived.

But I have a question for you, dear readers.

How would you describe your faith? What does this great gift look like in your life? What are its characteristics and qualities? How does it impact your daily life? How would you describe the faith you hope your children have? If you aren't quite living your faith as you'd like, what is your goal? Describe how you'd like your faith to be.

One caveat: if you use the phrase, "practicing Catholic" or "active Catholic," please describe what you mean by that.

I promise to share my own response to those questions in a few days.

Labels: ,

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Could the Gospel of John be evangelical?


While preparing last night to preach this morning, I looked at the "New Testament Message" commentary on the Gospel of John by James McPolin, S.J. At the conclusion of his commentary on the encounter in the third chapter of John between Jesus and Nicodemus, McPolin added a section titled, "The Gospel of Belief" which I found quite interesting. I'll share a bit of it with you.

"Faith is the key theme not only of Jesus' dialogue with Nicodemus and the rest of the chapter but also every chapter in the gospel is about faith, from beginning (1:9-13) to end (20:30-31). Therefore it has been rightly called the gospel of belief. Still, not once does the abstract word "faith" occur in the gospel because there is only the personal activity of believing which is almost exclusively directed towards the person of Jesus. One may believe something about Jesus, for example, that he is Messiah and Son of God (20:30-31) or give credence to him by accepting as true what he says (2:22). But the element of personal commitment to Jesus is expressed in the most frequent phrase: "believing into" Jesus: "He who believes in (to) me has eternal life" (6:47; 3:18)

This "believing in (to)" Jesus goes far beyond accepting his message for it is a movement towards the person of Jesus, an attachment to him as the promised one and Son of God in such a way that the believer appropriates the very life of Jesus. Thus faith means to enjoy a life-giving relationship with him and to give oneself to Christ in dedication and full confidence.... Furthermore, believing in Jesus leads to "knowing" him; but this knowledge extends beyond the understanding of faith (6:69) and includes the experience of the person of Jesus in understanding and love, and a fellowship and communion of life with him (17:3)..."

Yesterday on Fr. Dwight Longenecker's blog, "Standing on My Head," he mentioned that he had been a speaker at the Evangelical Catholic Institute at which Sherry also spoke. He received several comments from people who were skeptical about EC - one, who was very concerned about orthodox belief, even went so far as to claim there was nothing on their website even remotely Catholic. But here's a quick quote from EC's welcome page:

"Jesus' ministry represented a continual invitation to a life of purpose and abundance that is discovered through communion with God, fellowship with His people, and mission to the world.

The Evangelical Catholic extends this same invitation, welcoming you to experience the profound love of God and to reflect that love in relationship. This transformational experience serves as the foundation and wellspring of our ministry, our deepest calling, and the very mission of the Church universal-calling people to interior conversion in Christ, helping people to grow in their faith, discerning and sharing our personal gifts in his Body, and transforming society by the power of the gospel."

I find it disturbing that a Catholic might read this and suspect that somehow it's creeping Protestantism.

We are hearing from the Gospel of John throughout this Easter season. Is our Catholic culture such that we don't recognize the call - the demand - for personal conversion and relationship to Jesus? How can I participate "fully, actively, and consciously" in the Mass if I'm not consciously seeking transformation in the encounter with Christ's body, blood, soul and divinity? How effective is the grace poured out upon me in any of the sacraments if I'm not willing to allow Christ to prune all that is unfruitful and un-Christlike from me? Can we say with St. Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me" (Gal 2:19b-20a)? How can I participate fully in the Mass if I'm not willing to offer myself in loving obedience to the Father with Jesus in his one, perfect sacrifice?

The assent to doctrine alone does not constitute a saving faith. Orthodoxy is necessary, but right doctrine alone does not save us. Otherwise, the Pharisees wouldn't have come under Jesus' critique. The Council of Trent, in chapter 7 on justification, says, "For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of His body. For which reason it is most truly said, that Faith without works is dead and profitless..." Faith informed by love of God and neighbor, made joyful by the hope of salvation that is ours in Christ is a living faith - a faith that transforms our lives. It is a faith that is, at its foundation, a relation with Jesus.

Is the Gospel of John evangelical? Of course! The word evangelical comes from the Greek for "Good News!" And, of course, it's Catholic. After all, we included it in the canon of inspired texts!

Let's hear the call to become Beloved Disciples of Jesus that is contained on each page. Moreover, let's respond to that call.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Some thoughts on justifying faith

I sometimes wonder if people who stumble across our blog might wonder just how Catholic it is with all the talk about intentional discipleship and the personal relationship with Jesus. That language often invites rejection from Catholics who fear a "me and Jesus" stance towards faith that disregards the importance of community. I would propose the contrary. Intentional discipleship impels us towards community.

In the 16th century, when the Reformers cried, "justification by faith alone," the bishops at the Council of Trent decreed that only faith that is active in charity and good works (fides formata, i.e., "well-formed faith") possesses any power to justify us (Gal 5:6, 1Cor 13:2). This well-formed faith, which is our response to grace, is what Sherry and I are calling intentional discipleship. The teaching of Trent stated that a faith lacking in charity and good works is dead in the eyes of God and insufficient for justification (James 2:17).

The Church's teaching tells us that the faith which justifies the believer begins with a firm belief in what God has revealed and is intimately linked with a conversion of heart and a desire to live a new life. That new life is characterized by love for others and contrition for one's sins and the adult to seek baptism – or, if already baptized – confession. Both of those aspects of a new life require me to have a regard for and participation in community. Real love is not just a sentiment, but a desire for the good of others that leads to action. Contrition for sin requires that I examine my relationship with others and begin to see how I have harmed them by both actions and the lack of action. Intentional discipleship is anything but, "me and Jesus."

So what does it mean, then, that the lines for confession are so short these days? I suggest it's not just that we've lost a sense of sin, which is definitely a part of the problem. But we've also lost our sense of honest self-awareness as well as a sense of adventure! We may well have also lost the communal aspect of being a person of faith as well. We're complacent and self-satisfied with the way things are – particularly the way WE are - and aren't ready for the radical change to which God invites us.

An article appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette January 2 that caught my attention. It was entitled, "You're Not That Hot," and reported that researchers have discovered again and again that many people systematically misjudge their competence, virtues, relevance and future actions. We consider ourselves to be smarter, luckier, better looking and more important than we really are. Might as well add "more moral" to that list.

Until we begin to emphasize that faith is the beginning of God's work of transforming us, calling us to a new life, life in its fullness, we will not only see short lines for confession, we'll find a dearth of intentional disciples. The Gospels relate how Peter, Andrew, James and John abandoned their lives as fishermen to follow Jesus. They were literally willing to "live without nets." That's what we must be willing to do, too. By "living without nets" I mean not only the willingness to change careers, if necessary, as those fishermen did, but to live without relying upon the "common sense" attitudes our culture teaches us and our egos crave. We must be willing to abandon ourselves to the teaching of Jesus that remains so counter-cultural and counter-intuitive: loving our enemies; loving our neighbor NOT as we love ourselves, but as Christ has loved us (Jn 13:34); imitating Him who came "to serve, not to be served" (Mt 20:28); forgiving those who offend us. This is not "me and Jesus" faith.

Of course, we cannot do this on our own, but only in cooperation with God's grace. We cannot do this without the support of a rich sacramental life in which we encounter Christ's presence among us. We cannot do this well without the support of other intentional disciples who are on the same difficult, yet joyful journey. Finally, we cannot do this if our lives are not saturated with prayer, including the quiet prayer of contemplation in which we present ourselves to God as we truly are: needy, poor children who depend upon our Father for everything. All of these are integral to the formation of a well-formed, justifying faith.

Labels: , ,