Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Acknowledge, O Christian, Your Dignity!

Reflections on CFL: Paragraphs 16 and 17

JPII concludes his introduction to the dignity of the lay faithful by focusing on our "prime and fundamental vocation": "the vocation to holiness, that is, the perfection of charity."

As the pope rightly states, this isn't just a moral command. It stems from our connection to the Church and its great mystery. As "branches" of the "choice vine", we are to grow "with the same holy and life-giving energies that come from Christ." But we must cooperate with the Spirit to grow in holiness.

How many of us contemplate whether we are striving to live out this call? If we aren't, we are doing the Church a disservice. For:

"men and women saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult circumstances in the Church's history. Today we have the greatest need of saints whom we must assiduously beg God to raise up."
Does anyone doubt that the Catholic Church in America is in desperate need of such saints? Isn't that what we all hope are bishops were and might still become? As we think about the current scandal -- immersed in its details --, let us think seriously about JPII's focus on the need for saints. I can think of nothing better than saintly laymen to shame, by the example of their holiness, lax bishops and priests into recognizing that they are not adequately devoting themselves to the Gospel. Some may think this too pious of a dream. I think JPII shares the spirit from which it stems, though:
"The eyes of faith behold a wonderful scene: that of a countless number of lay people, both women and men, busy at work in their daily life and activity, oftentimes far from view and quite unacclaimed by the world, unknown to the world's great personages but nonetheless looked upon in love by the Father, untiring laborers who work in the Lord's vineyard. Confident and steadfast through the power of God's grace, these are the humble yet great builders of the Kingdom of God in history."
The laity clearly need formation, which may lead some to think this is a chicken-and-egg problem. Still, our dignity as Christians calls us to strive for holiness, whatever the difficulties, "as an undeniable and demanding obligation and as a shining example of the infinite love of the Father that has regenerated [us] in his own life of holiness."

"The vocation of the lay faithful to holiness implies that life according to the Spirit expresses itself in a particular way in their involvement in temporal affairs and in their participation in earthly activities." A life of integrity.
"The unity of life of the lay faithful is of the greatest importance: indeed they must be sanctified in everyday professional and social life. Therefore, to respond to their vocation, the lay faithful must see their daily activities as an occasion to join themselves to God, fulfill his will, serve other people and lead them to communion with God in Christ."
Putting this into practice, of course, is often tricky. Yet I wonder if we are too quick to discount the little things, like a quick prayer before a meeting, the kind word for a co-worker. To me, one of the key questions is whether I ever think about my life in Christ outside of mass or Church. In other words, does the fact that I am a Christian impact my daily life. I don't think the answer is a hyper-religiosity. I remember riding in a car with someone who insisted that we pray the rosary so as to not waste the time. Fine, but I would have preferred that she kept her thoughts on the road at the time. I think, though, too many of us don't bother to ask the question, assuming that we already live out the call. Our dignity demands more than that:
"Upon all the lay faithful, then, rests the exalted duty of working to assure that each day the divine plan of salvation is further extended to every person, of every era, in every part of the earth."
If nothing else, this call us to be ready, as St. Peter tells us, to testify to the hope we have within. I can remember one vivid example of seeing such a moment more fully. I was flying back home from Boston. Having the same last name as another person on the plane, I was mistakenly assigned their seat and eventually had to move to a vacant one across the aisle. Just before the plane took off, I heard a young man ask if he could sit in the exit row -- the row I was in -- where there was more room. He sat down next to me. I don't know why I knew this man was going to talk to me about Christ, but I did. I casually asked him about the book he was reading and he began to share the Gospel with me. We talked for some time and I quickly realized that he was a new Christian (and a Catholic at that -- have to love those born again Catholics!) riding high on the emotional lift of his conversion. It was like meeting the me of three years earlier. He later wrote to thank me for our conversation, thinking that I had shared more with him than he had with me.

My point in telling that story is that for a moment I was willing to recognize that Christ had a place in even the mundane event of a Boston-Detroit flight. Do we remember this when the example isn't as vivid?

Next Post: More Reflections on Paragraph 17 of CFL: St. Joseph Moscati


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