Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What does a distinctively lay spirituality look like?

This is a question that I have been interested in for a while. Of course, there can be just about as many spiritualities as there are people, but the idea of distinctive spirituality for the lay state and mission is something that the Church needs and, as with all schools of spirituality, it is the Church's saints that articulate it. 

I have been reading The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day edited by Robert Ellsberg and have discovered in them a spirituality that bears reflection and possibly imitation for those of us who seek to live faithfully in the world. In late 1935 Dorothy wrote out a "rule" for 1936, which offers some fascinating insights. She pledged to go to Mass daily, make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, pray a portion of the Divine Office (the old morning office of Prime and Compline, which are most suitable for lay persons and families because of their brevity), pray the Rosary each day, to recollect midday for just few minutes, to do plenty of spiritual reading, "to practice the presence of God", make a daily examination of conscience, and "to be gentle and charitable in thought, word, and deed" (and that she certainly was!). This is a very simple rule and is accessible to people in all walks of life. It doesn't seek to imitate the life of a religious or remove her from the world, but takes the prayer and devotion of the Church right into the world in order to sanctify it. When we read what exercises she took on we must bear in mind her context: she was constantly surrounded and visited by the poor and destitute of New York who were often very far from the world of the institutional church. 

Perhaps this post will generate some discussion. What elements do lay spiritualities contain? What lay saints are you most drawn to? What is distinctively lay about their spirituality? How does our spirituality and spiritual practice as lay persons interact with the world we encounter when we leave the house in the morning? 

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Christifideles laici after 20 years

Last week the Pontifical Council for the Laity hosted a conference in Rome on the theme "Twenty years after 'Christifideles laici': memory, development, new challenges and tasks." Pope Benedict met with the participants in the conference and had a bit to say. Here is the story from Zenit: 

The Pope began by explaining how the Apostolic Exhortation "Christifideles laici" represents "an organic reassessment of Vatican Council II's teaching on the laity: their dignity as baptised persons, their vocation to sanctity, their membership of the ecclesial communion, their involvement in building Christian communities and in the mission of the Church, their witness in all areas of social life and their commitment to serve the integral growth of the individual and the common good of society".

The Exhortation serves as a guide "for discernment and for the intensification of the Church's lay commitment in the face of the social changes of recent years", said Benedict XVI. It also "indicates the 'criteria of ecclesiality' which are necessary, on the one hand, for pastors' own discernment and, on the other, for the development of associations of faithful, ecclesial movements and new communities".

"The current cultural and social situation makes this kind of apostolic activity even more urgently necessary, so as fully to share the treasure of grace and sanctity, of charity, doctrine, culture and works of which ... Catholic tradition is composed. The new generations are not only the chief recipients of such transmission, ... but also those whose hearts await proposals of truth and happiness to which to render Christian witness, as already happens in such a marvellous way. I myself was able to observe as much during the recent World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia".

Benedict XVI then went on to praise the Pontifical Council for the Laity for the importance it gives to "the dignity and participation of women in the life of the Church and of society" because "men and women, equal in their dignity, are called to enrich one another in communion and collaboration, not only in marriage and the family, but in all dimensions of society".

Finally, the Pope exhorted the pontifical council "to continue to show diligent pastoral care for the formation, witness and collaboration of the lay faithful in all those situations in which the authentic quality of human life in society is implicated".

He concluded: "I particularly reiterate the urgent need for evangelical formation and pastoral accompaniment of the new generation of Catholics involved in political life, that they may remain coherent to the faith they profess, uphold their moral rigour, capacity for cultural judgement, professional competency and passion for service of the common good".

I am moved to see that he is still talking about the experience of World Youth Day, which seems to have had a powerful effect on him. 

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Impregnate the world with the Christian Spirit

The Pope met today with the Bishops of Paraguay on their ad limina visit. He spoke specifically about the vocation of the lay faithful and the formation required for the laity to fulfill their mission.
Yet in order for the Christian message to reach "the furthest corners of the world", said the Holy Father, "the collaboration of the lay faithful is indispensable. Their specific vocation consists in impregnating the temporal world with the Christian spirit, and transforming it in accordance with the divine plan. For their part, pastors have the duty to offer them all the spiritual and formative means they need".

"One significant aspect of the mission of the laity is the service of society through political activity". For this reason, "they must be encouraged ... to practice responsibility and dedication in this important dimension of social charity, so that the human community of which they are part ... may progress in justice, in honour and in the defence of true and authentic values such as the protection of human life, of marriage and of the family, thus contributing to the real human and spiritual benefit of all society".
from the Vatican Information Service

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Monday, June 2, 2008

Needed: New Approaches for Britain

Godspy has an interesting opinion piece by Austen Ivereigh up now about the “Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill” that recently passed the House of Commons.

Though the passage of this bill is certainly a setback for the pro-life movement in Britain, it should also serve as a call to a greater practical commitment to life in British society, particularly through the dedicated involvement of lay people willing to respect and affirm life through their own actions and initiatives. The policy statements of the bishops and the minority of committed pro-lifers in the Commons failed to stop the progress of this bill. Perhaps, now it is time for Christians in Britain (and indeed throughout Europe and America) to step back and return to basics, and seek to change the laws and culture “from the bottom up” like William Wilberforce did in the 18th and 19th centuries when he embarked upon another sort of campaign in defense of human life. There are some excellent opportunities here for lay people to work effectively in the public square on these issues, but we must first recognize that our commitment to life extends beyond the voting booth, policy statements, and Marches for Life.

More initiatives from the grassroots that seek to promote respect for life, especially through crisis pregnancy centers, care for babies with disabilities or terminal illnesses, the care of the poor and sick whose lives are considered “worthless” by the culture, and other efforts to dissuade women from abortion and convince the public of the immorality of abortion by boundlessly loving mothers and children will go a long way in turning the tide of popular opinion just as the human faces of slaves and the exemplary witness of committed Christians did nearly 200 years ago. Without a doubt, this bill is a huge defeat for the pro-life movement on the public policy front, but it opens up tremendous opportunities for new, innovative initiatives in Britain and should encourage those of us who live elsewhere to a renewed commitment to work on behalf of life.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Our Sorrowful Mother's Ministry

My name is Joe Waters and I am the summer intern here at the Catherine of Siena Institute. I am a Masters of Divinity student at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina and my work with the Institute this summer is in partial fulfillment of the pastoral field education requirement for my degree. One thing I hope to do this summer is profile a number of exciting lay initiatives that we have discovered through our work across the country. 

The first such initiative that I wish to profile is Our Sorrowful Mother’s Ministry in Vandalia, Illinois. OSMM was founded in the late nineties by two laywomen, Debbie Pryor and Vanessa Keck, who decided to host a conference in their small town of 6,000 people after a rather disappointing trip to a Catholic conference in Chicago. The conference was initiated for the evangelization of their parish, but with little support from their parish or the wider community they successfully relied on registration fees from participants to fund the conference. And it worked! Since that first conference (1997) they have put on ten large conferences with nationally and internationally known speakers. Though they have shifted the focus of their ministry to healing and reconciliation they continue to have a large conference every year in the late fall and now have monthly healing retreats as well. These retreats are always led by at least two priests and feature daily Mass, Eucharistic adoration, the sacrament of penance, time for private prayer, spiritual direction with certified spiritual directors, and healing prayer. The retreats cover fascinating topics such as “Deep Healing in the Ocean of God’s Mercy,” “Inner Healing through Our Lady of Reconciliation,” and “Healing the Heart’s Wounds.” They now have two houses, one of which is used by priests and religious, and by the initiative of the Bishop of Springfield the Blessed Sacrament in reserved in OSMM’s chapel. 

Having spoken on the phone recently with both Debbie and Vanessa their commitment to the Lord and the Church deeply impressed me. Both of them are intentional disciples who went through tremendous conversion experiences that set them on this path of reaching out to the suffering and wounded. Our world is in great need of healing and reconciliation, and it is beautiful to find lay apostles dedicated to bringing the Gospel’s message of healing, reconciliation, and mercy to the world. 

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Living Royally



A month and a half ago I posted on Steve Bigari (link in the title of this blog), the former owner of fourteen McDonald's franchises and the founder of the America's Family Program. America's Family focuses on bringing together employers, workforce centers, and community agencies, including community colleges, to provide six major benefits to stabilize the shaky critical life needs of entry-level workers and their families– health care, child care, transportation, housing, communication, and education – benefits not usually associated with “fast food” jobs in Colorado. At this time, over 25,000 low income service workers benefit from participating in the program.

Mr. Bigari was quoted in an article in the local Colorado Springs paper as saying, "This (America's Family) is not a job. It's a mission."

It sounds like Mr. Bigari has responded to a call from God. He literally "sold everything" (at least he sold his source of income, the fourteen franchises) to follow Jesus. His discipleship didn't lead him out of the world, but more deeply into it; into the lives of the working poor whom he encountered as employees, but began to see as fellow children of God.

I bring up Mr. Bigari again because today we celebrate Blessed Frederick Ozanam (1813-1853). In 1831, while studying law at the University of the Sorbonne, certain professors there mocked Catholic teachings in their lectures (something which still happens today, sadly). Frederick defended the Church.


While in college, Frederick organized a discussion club. In this club Catholics, atheists and agnostics debated the issues of the day. He was obviously unafraid to encounter people who did not share his beliefs; doing so allowed him to better understand their positions, and made him more aware of their critiques of his own. The freedom to engage people so different from himself had a life-changing effect. Once, after Frederick spoke on Christianity’s role in civilization, a club member said: "Let us be frank, Mr. Ozanam; let us also be very particular. What do you do besides talk to prove the faith you claim is in you?"

It's a question that all of us who claim to believe in Christ need to be asked - and must answer.

Frederick was stung by the question. He soon decided that his words needed a grounding in action. He and a friend began visiting Paris tenements and offering assistance as best they could. Soon a group dedicated to helping individuals in need under the patronage of St. Vincent de Paul formed around Frederick.

This is an example of Christian freedom; the ability to look courageously at the world around us and ask, "What needs to change in order for people to live in dignity?" Frederick Ozanam and Steve Bigari found their lives moving in a different direction because of that question.

Both men began living with a deeper purpose. God blessed the work of Blessed Frederick Ozanam. Within ten years there were 25 St. Vincent de Paul conferences. When the revolution of 1848 left 275,000 people unemployed, the French government asked Frederick and the St. Vincent de Paul Society to supervise the government's aid to the poor, so effective were the conferences!

One of the greatest struggles Catholics seem to have these days is trusting a call from God, and many of us don't believe we even have such a call. But if we are willing to look at the world around us, recognize what human needs seem to move our hearts, discern our spiritual gifts given to us by God at baptism, and take the first step in responding to those needs, we might be surprised at what God chooses to do through us.

We are called to change the temporal order by Christ and His Church. That's living royally!

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Gifts of Cain and Abel

Monday morning at Mass I heard again the story of Cain's murder of Abel (Gen 4:1-16). I recalled in my homily how the one picture I remember from my childhood illustrated kid's bible was the picture of Cain offering what looked like partially rotten "first fruits" from his harvest, and thinking that it was because he did not offer his best to God that his sacrifice wasn't acceptable. But, of course, the Scripture does not give any reason why Cain's sacrifice was not looked upon with favor, at least not that I can see. Nevertheless, God is still in relationship with Cain, speaking to him, encouraging him much like a father would a disappointed son.

But immediately after my homily, I began the preparation of the gifts, and realized, there I was, offering to God "the fruits of the earth and work of human hands" which in a few moments would become the precious Lamb of God. I was stunned, and deeply moved, because I'd never made that connection before. The offering of Cain, our humble offering of ourselves, the work we've done, the good we've accomplished with the grace of God, the efforts to bring compassion and forgiveness and justice and love to the world are, for reasons only each one of us can guess, not acceptable in and of themselves as an offering to God.

But, rather than be crestfallen, we can give thanks (eucharistein) to God. For through the action of the Holy Spirit, our own sacrifices are united to the one perfect sacrifice of Jesus, which we see sacramentally re-presented to us and into which we are invited to enter. And so the fruits of the earth become the "best firstling of the flock." The unacceptable sacrifice of Cain becomes the favored sacrifice of Abel, the one slain by his brother. Rather than crying out from the soil for vengeance, the blood of Jesus cries out for forgiveness.

The common priesthood into which all Christians are baptized carries with it an awesome opportunity and responsibility. The laity, in particular, are called to consecrate the world to Christ. Every priest offers sacrifice, and the sacrifice of the laity is your struggle to be agents of the kingdom of God at your desks, your lab bench, your family dinner table, the basketball court - everywhere your path takes you. And this effort, the product of our cooperation with God's grace, is then brought to the altar and consciously offered to the Father in the Spirit through Jesus. The sharing in the one loaf (of which we heard in today's Gospel) strengthens us for the task of continuing that consecration of the world, and the fellowship of those who gather around that altar-table can enable us to work together in that task.

Thanks be to God!

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Missionaries as "Seekers of Lost Sheep"

Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI is one of my favorite authors because he regularly seems to be able to connect the Church's teaching and Christian spirituality to contemporary daily life. On his current website he offers a brief reflection on the missionary nature of the Church in which he makes the following observation:

"Jesus' mandate is still there: Leave the ninety-nine who haven't strayed and go after the one who has strayed. Today, however, the default seems to have shifted and it's perhaps more a case of leaving the one and going after the ninety-nine."

In other words, we may be spending too much attention on those who are in the pews, rather than those who might be there, but aren't. He goes on to observe,

"And this requires that our teaching and preaching, and our reaching out to the world in general, must contain more than only catechesis, explanations of our creeds, clarity around dogma and morals, and even the repetition (however valid, needed, and timeless) of the language of Scripture and the creeds. Those things need to be done, but that is only part of the task. The other part, equally needed and perhaps more difficult, is the task of relating these things (Scripture, the creeds, our dogmas, our moral teaching) to the energy, the color, the endeavors, the longings, the health, the sickness, the virtues, the sin, the beauty, and the pathos of our world.

More and more people feel themselves thoroughly disconnected from our church circles and our church language, and the fault isn't all on their side. We need missionaries to the world, people like Henri Nouwen, who can stand solidly within the church and invite the world, with all its desires and grandiosity, to join us, not as adversary but as family."

I believe this is a crucial point, and one that we need to hear today again and again. While it is true secular society in the west is more and more hostile towards Christianity, we Catholics do not have the luxury of returning spite for spite or condemnation for condemnation. Nor can we in good conscience simply circle the wagons and ignore the world. That would be to abandon the mission Christ has given us.

Cardinal George of Chicago once said, "what you do not love you cannot evangelize." So rather than look with suspicion upon the world around us, that world in which the laity live and work, clergy and laity have to collaborate to come up with effective ways of relating the rich heritage of Catholic thought and wisdom to the secular world.

We cannot afford to distance ourselves from our brothers and sisters like the elder brother in Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son, even if our brothers and sisters have not yet begun the journey back home. Unlike the elder brother who stayed home "slaving away" (as he put it) for his father, we are to go seeking for our wandering brothers and sisters, and invite them to the table set by Jesus for us all. That is the work the Father has given us.

The big question is, how can our parishes become places where these kinds of conversations take place? I would offer a few general suggestions.

1) Homilists will have to regularly turn to the theme of the Church's missionary imperative, "Go and make disciples," in order for this fundamental aspect of our life as Christians to be on our horizon;

2) Parish planning needs to include a conscious turn to the secular world, and include lay men and women who are active in the civic life of the town or city to help parish leadership understand the needs and dilemmas facing the local area;

3) We need to evaluate our existing programs and ask how they either reach out to secular society or form the laity for that mission. That will include, of course, catechesis, spirituality, sacramental life, prayer, etc. But the relationship Christ forms with us through these means cannot simply end with the individual's relationship with Christ. That would, indeed, be a "me and Jesus" spirituality. Christian spirituality has a "me and Jesus and you and Jesus and all of us together in Jesus" aspect, i.e., a consciously communal sharing in the relationship with Christ, or it is not entirely authentic or complete.

4) When we do address secular concerns we have to remember the old Thomistic dictum, "that which is received is received according to the mode of the receiver." In other words, we need to acknowledge and understand the secular worldview and present the Church's insights into human nature, the common good, justice and human rights in such a way as to be intelligible to those with whom we are speaking;

5) That means we need to be willing to listen to those whose ideas are opposed to our own, and to ask intelligent questions that uncover the presuppositions (sometimes unconsciously held) that are the foundation of those ideas.

Do you have any other observations or suggestions?

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What's a Lay Person to Do?

If you've been wondering what are the presuppositions of many of the contributors to Intentional Disciples, I suggest you read Russell Shaw's book, "Catholic Laity in the Mission of the Church." I read it last autumn with great excitement as I discovered, at last, someone who seemed to be speaking the same language, and who had made similar connections between a variety of papal encyclicals and apostolic exhortations as had Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.P. and Sherry Weddell. Before you buy the book, however, you can get a taste of it here and by the quotes I offer below.

Mr. Shaw is a layman who has served the Church for many years as a journalist. His book covers the role of the laity in the Church from Apostolic times to after the Second Vatican Council. He also offers some insightful comments regarding the pernicious disease of clericalism, both in clerics and in members of the laity. Most exciting to me, however, is the fact that nearly half of the book is devoted to discussing personal vocation, the laity in the mission of the Church, and the apostolate and spirituality of the laity. In the book, as well as in the article linked above, he describes what the laity "should be doing."

1) Giving priority to lay apostolate in and to the secular world as the preferred, though not exclusive, form of lay participation in the mission of the Church;

2) Cultivating an authentically lay spirituality incorporating central elements of lay life and experience like marriage and work;

3) Discerning, accepting, and living out of the unique personal vocations of lay persons as the essential framework for their apostolate and their personal holiness.

He also advocates the need for promoting a new Catholic "subculture" as a necessary means for supporting the evangelization of the culture. But he's no romantic naively longing for the "good old" pre-Vatican II days. He writes, "Simply returning to the Catholic subculture of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s is not possible, nor would it be desirable if it could be done. Along with its undoubted strengths and virtues, the subculture of that era was triumphalistic, intellectually shallow, and overly defensive. Hardly what is needed now, if the evangelization of culture is the goal.
The new Catholic subculture must instead be built upon an infrastructure of dynamically orthodox institutions, programs, and movements committed to forming and motivating Catholics for the evangelization of the secular world. Here and there, it may be starting to happen. If it is to succeed, lay women and men must play a key role."

Sounds like he's thinking about the Catherine of Siena Institute, doesn't it? I'll have to e-mail him a link to this blog and our website!

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