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.

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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]

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Praying for Our Enemies

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust." Mt 5:43-45

A friend of mine pointed out to me yesterday that often at Mass here in Colorado Springs (and I'm sure in many cities) we pray regularly for the men and women in our armed forces. This makes sense since there are so many military bases around the Springs, and about 40% of the population is former military members. He asked me, "how come we never pray for our enemies? I've never heard anyone pray for Osama bin Laden, or Kim Il-Sung, or FIdel Castro."

He caught me off guard. In the Masses in which I lead the prayers of the faithful, I try to include a wide variety of groups of people, and often look through the paper before Mass for ideas. I've prayed publicly for criminals, illegal immigrants to this country, and politicians, but somehow I had not thought to include terrorists, enemy combatants, members of the mafia, drug pushers, the fallen executives of Enron, or heads of state of the "axis of evil." It hadn't really crossed my mind.

Now that it has, I will try to include these folks in our public prayer. I'll probably preface such prayers with "Jesus taught us to pray for those who persecute us..." Why? Because I'm a coward. I suspect some people would take exception to prayers for terrorists and suicide bombers. Yes, the things they do are despicable (I was horrified at the recent report that two women with Down's syndrome were fitted with explosives that were detonated by remote control as they walked through outdoor markets).

Yet, do we believe in the power of prayer, or not? Do we believe that God's grace is effective and capable of transforming lives - even the lives of our enemies? What would happen if Christians who want a swift return of our troops from Iraq and Christians who want to keep our troops there until Iraq has a stable government all began praying for a change of heart for the terrorists? Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Is there any chance at all that He may know something that we do not? If we aren't willing to trust Him, is He really our Lord? I suppose this is nothing new. He said to his own followers, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' but not do what I command?" Lk 6:46

Perhaps, however, it's time for us to change, and to take Him at His word.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Images of Holy Week

Christianity Today ran an article today about contemporary images of the events of Holy Week. Here's their short description of the images:

"During the Middle Ages, a tradition of prayer and reflection on images of the Passion formed into the Stations of the Cross, a sort of Via Dolorosa of the visual arts. This slideshow of contemporary art, although it doesn't stick to the traditional fourteen stations, can be used as a meditation on Jesus Christ's path to the Cross. Each artist's statement below the art explains how it connects to Christ's sacrifice."

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Prayer, Discipline and the Demands of LIfe

I have been re-reading "The Way of the Disciple" by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, and a couple of passages have struck me, particularly given a phone conversation I had today with a physician named Dan, whom I think of as an intentional disciple. Merikakis writes that the prerequisite attitude for becoming in earnest a disciple of Christ is "the willingness to abandon the old, what is behind us, and begin to desire to be created again by the power of God's Holy Spirit." (pp. 16-17)
He also writes of the importance – and danger - of discipline in our life of prayer.

"The Glory of God is always found in movements of love, in communication of life, never in static routine, cramped piety, thoughtless repetition of official acts, conventional observance, external religious acts that could easily become the letter that kills, the continuing tyranny of the old, sinful self. The Spirit, by contrast, is wind, fire, light, water, Glory: the unexpected, the transforming, the self-communicating, the self-outpouring Power that shapes by embracing and not letting go. The way of the disciple is necessarily a way of discipline, because discipleship is the living school in which we learn how to be like Christ by intimate association with him. The discipline of Christian life, whether in its secular or monastic form, is supposed to provide a structure that systematically excludes all the pseudo-adventures and pseudo-fulfillments offered by a frivolous world. Christian discipline is there to open the way for the real adventure of the soul's quest for God and God's quest for the soul, and it would be tragic if instead this discipline became its own end." (p. 27)

I asked my friend Dan, "What gets in the way of your relationship with God?" He answered "It's partly busy-ness and partly bad habit. I don't pray as much as I used to five or six years ago." He said he can be busy at work, but his pleasures also keep him busy. There are so many opportunities, and so many things he wants to do. It's as though he's being drowned in too many options.

On a recent medical mission to Africa, he lost ten pounds. Not because the food was bad - it wasn't. It's just that is was the same every day, with no snacks. He observed that the choices we have and the things we can do get in the way of quiet and prayer. While he always feels the need to set aside time each day to intercede for people he loves, and to give God a chance to influence him, he doesn't spend time in silence the way he does on retreat with the Trappists once or twice a year. In spite of good intentions to devote one day off a month in silence, he doesn't do it. (At least not yet – I have hope for him!)

I can echo much of what Dan said, and I spend the better part of my days alone and in silence, sitting in front of my Mac. I have a morning ritual of Mass and prayers, with liturgy of the hours again in the evening and before bed. But at times even these are challenging, as I struggle to keep my mind focused on God, rather than what I'm going to make for breakfast, or when I'm going to have a chance to go to the gym, or how much I've got to work on one project or another. I also struggle with the attempt to keep God in mind throughout my day, even as I read about Him! I seldom consciously offer my work as an act of praise, and I often forget to cultivate gratitude.

I don't have much temptation from the pseudo-adventures and pseudo-fulfillments Merikakis writes about, if by these he means things like television, video games, movies and the like – being a poor friar helps there, as well as having a lot of work to do. But I DO have the temptation of becoming caught up in the work of the Institute. It's good work, and important, I believe. But the danger is that I can forget that if it's going to succeed, it's because of the grace, power and will of God, not because I spent twelve hours in front of the computer yesterday.

I don't think I'm that different from most of you (who, by the way, are sitting before a computer as you read this…) But how do you attempt to abandon your old self and "put on Christ" while taking the kids to school, for example? What disciplines help you to remain open to the surprise of the Spirit (and you have to admit that seems a little counter-intuitive; discipline opening us up to the unexpected!) Whether you are lay or ordained, what disciplines help you to remain detached from your work or pleasures? Is our full life denying us the "fullness of life" Jesus invites us to enter?

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Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Formation Opportunity

Since one of the topics we've discussed on this blog is the difficulty some Catholics have in talking to others about their relationship with God, I thought I'd introduce a new formation program that can help in this area. It's called "Formation for Spiritual Companionship," and I'll give a little more information about it in a moment. But first, a little about the organization that produced it.

The Dominican parish of Blessed Sacrament in Seattle, WA, is not only the birthplace of the Catherine of Siena Institute, but also the Institute for Christian Ministry. The latter was founded by Fr. Leo Thomas, O.P., to help lay people be spiritual companions to one another and to provide and sustain training for spiritual healing. You can click on the title of this post to go to their website.

When I was director of the St. Thomas More Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Oregon, several parishioners asked me if they could go through the Ministry of Healing Prayer formation program that ICM produces. At first I was a little nervous about something called "healing prayer," but I trusted the wisdom and faith of the folks who were proposing this, so I supported their initiative. I was very impressed with the thorough two-year program ICM provided that formed members of the Newman Center to pray with and for those who desired spiritual, physical and emotional healing. Their formation was solidly grounded in Catholic teaching, prayer and common sense. I often recommended the ministry to those whom I had anointed in the sacrament of the sick as an ongoing support, and when I had knee reconstruction after a basketball injury, I asked to take part in a prayer service for me. It was a wonderful experience of the love of the Christian community for me.

Now ICM has just produced a new formation program entitled Formation for Spiritual Companions. According to a flyer describing the program, the formation "has elements of spiritual direction, but is a relationship of peers...Over a span of time, the relationship can bless companions in a number of ways as it gives them:
1) Someone to talk to about spiritual things, which gives a sense of being heard.
2) a person to be accountable to for some or several areas of their Christian life.
3) a partner to pray with.
4) a person who provides encouragement and support.

In addition to showing participants how to be companions, this program offers spiritual formation through worship times and some of its presentations. The latter teach elelments of Christian spirituality and give a deeper understanding of the One we worship and trust."

It looks like this formation process has a similar format as the Formation for Healing Prayer, in that video presentations provided by ICM are incorporated in the lessons. While I don't have access to the whole program, if it is produced as well as the Formation for Healing Prayer, it is well worthwhile.

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