Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Passionately Living in the World

In the comments to my "Exile" post below, Indian Catholic provided this link to a homily given by St. Josemaría Escriva at the University of Navarre in Spain, back in 1967. (I'd expressed a desire below for wanting to read some of St. Josemaría's writings. And this is as good a place to start as any, I guess.) He suggested it would be helpful during this so-called "exile."

You bet it is!
This profound and consoling truth, which theologians call the eschatological significance of the Eucharist could however, be misunderstood. And indeed it has been, whenever men have tried to present the Christian way of life as something exclusively “spiritual”, proper to pure, extraordinary people, who remain aloof from the contemptible things of this world or at most, tolerate them as something necessarily attached to the spirit, while we live on this earth.

When things are seen in this way, churches become the setting par excellence of the Christian life. And being a Christian means going to church, taking part in sacred ceremonies, being taken up with ecclesiastical matters, in a kind of segregated world, which is considered to be the ante‑chamber of heaven, while the ordinary world follows its own separate path. The doctrine of Christianity and the life of grace would, in this case, brush past the turbulent march of human history, without ever really meeting it.

On this October morning, as we prepare to enter upon the memorial of our Lord’s Pasch, we flatly reject this deformed vision of Christianity.
I assure you, my sons and daughters, that when a Christian carries out with love the most insignificant everyday action, that action overflows with the transcendence of God. That is why I have told you repeatedly, and hammered away once and again on the idea that the Christian vocation consists of making heroic verse out of the prose of each day.
I have just said, sanctify your everyday lives. And with these words I refer to the whole program of your task as Christians. Stop dreaming. Leave behind false idealism, fantasies, and what I usually call mystical wishful thinking: if only I hadn’t married, if only I hadn’t this profession, if only I were healthier, if only I were young, if only I were old.... Instead turn seriously to the most material and immediate reality, which is where Our Lord is
Oh, go read it all. (Emphases added.) I think people don't realize just what a profound role for the laity groups like Opus Dei (and the other movments) promote. In a Catholic culture that considers the "real" stuff to be in the institution of the Church, in the hierarchy, in the offices and ministries of the Church, one can see why such a radical (in the sense of going back to the roots) appreciation of the sanctity of work and ordinary life could have been seen as problematic (St. Josemaría's work was, I think, periodically proscribed prior to the Council).

In the post-conciliar world, much has been made about the role of the laity. But, often (and this tends to be the case in more liberal circles, I suspect), I think "lay empowerment" is understood as a kind of clericalization of the laity -- of a laity that can "do" more and more of what earlier only priests did. [I heartily recommend Russell Shaw's little book on clericalism: "To hunt, to shoot, to entertain: Clericalism and the Catholic Laity"] This is deeply clericalist thinking, which suggests that the only real role of the laity in the church is to act like priests (and religious).

The idea of course is still dominant in the Catholic mindset: that to be truly religious, one has to be removed from the world and its distractions, to be more like Father (or Sister). And the corollary, that the call to holiness, to participate in the mission of the Church is again, only Father's or Sister's. The essential task of the Church, evangelization, is of course everyone's.

In the US (and in the West), we've seen the rise of lay ministry -- part- or full-time lay workers who work in parishes and other church organizations. [It's a concept that's non-existent in India]. Many on the Catholic right criticize this development, arguing (not unjustly) that it eclipses the true role of the laity that the Council promoted -- an evangelized, mature, fully formed laity that would promote the Gospel in the secular realm. [Sometimes the criticism is just uncharitable vituperation. Not the exclusive domain of the Catholic right, for sure!]

I don't see this as an either/or, or the separation between "religious/priestly ministry" and "lay ministry/apostolate" as being watertight. Just as there is a true and genuine complementarity between the apostolate of the ordained and the lay, I think there is enough room for a healthy appreciation of the good that lay ministers (understood as intra ecclesial work) do [Heck, until very recently, I was one!], and of promoting collobarative models of ministry in parishes. As long as one understands (and promotes) that this is not the only role of committed Catholics, and actually strives to form mature, committed disciples of Christ of all the baptized.

[Hmm. Didn't intend to start this out as a discourse on the role of the laity. But there you have it.]

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