Pope Francis continues his Gospel procession into the heart of the Church, showing himself in word and deed to be a ‘common teacher’ for the common wo/man, speaking incisive Gospel truths in a plain and accessible language. I daily find myself not only moved, but changed in the way I think about my faith theologically and existentially.
Some examples of those insights that have most moved me:
1. Then-Cardinal Bergoglio addressed the conclave,
The Church, when it is self-referential, without realizing it, believes it has a light of its own; it ceases to be the mysterium lunae and gives rise to this evil that is so serious that of spiritual worldliness. . .Put simply, there are two images of Church: the evangelizing Church taking leave of itself which religiously hears the Word of God and faithfully proclaims it. . .or the worldly Church living in itself, of itself, for itself.
The mysterium lunae, or “mystery of the moon,” is an ancient symbol of the Church’s vocation to reflect a light not its own; the light of God’s revelation in Christ. This reminds me of a priest I met in Scranton, PA who once said in a homily in the 1990s: “We bear in ourselves a borrowed Light that is given us by God to illumine the paths of those who walk in darkness, but we seem bent on turning it into a spotlight that shines on us for all the world to see. To see us! While the un-redeemed self says, “What of me?” the redeemed self always says, “What of Thee?” And I have to say that as long as the world sees only us illumined, they will remain in darkness and, on the Last Day, will ask us in the presence of God: “Why did you leave us to stumble and fall?”
2. Pope Francis reminds us that our mission is always to the ends and edges of the earth,
The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to. . .the existential peripheries: those of the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and of religious indifference, of thought, of all misery, into the existential peripheries.
A Trappist monk at New Mellaray in Iowa was sharing with me his insights on one of my favorite topics, the lay vocation: “The Church has done no favor to the laity in making them think that their uniquely Christian mission is best served when they get involved in church activities and ministries. While those help us locate our center of gravity in Jesus and his Church, the laity are supposed to find their holiest mission in unchurchy places — the streets, the office, the pool hall, the dance club, the county jail, the ball field, the construction site, the hospital, the home. Too many young and zealous Catholics think they’re supposed to be like me, living reclusive lives safe from the world. But the fact is only if they are out in it is the world to be safe.”
Then I quoted for him my favorite Dr. Jim Keating line, “The essential vocation of the laity is found in suffering well the dismissal rite of the Mass.” Go, be sent.
I myself used to be very church-centered in my thinking about radical expressions of lay holiness — be radical, do ministry. But in the last ten to fifteen years my thinking has fundamentally changed as I ‘get’ the Church’s vision expressed in the V2 Council documents. My own career-vocation to work in and for the Church (which I gratefully love) is not normal, not the norm for the vast majority of the laity. The laity are in the first instance called to live and work and dwell on the far side of the visible Church’s property line, making Christ visible, audible, tangible in those places where Christ is unseen, unheard, untouched, unknown. And the primary form of that lay mission, which alone can thrust the Church out into the amphitheater of a watching world, is to be found in secular work, culture, civic involvement, marriage and family life.
Reminds me of a young and newly married man who, soon after his wedding, went to that monastic mecca of the East, Mt. Athos, for a month-long retreat to “get the graces he needed for his new life.” He arrived at his chosen monastery, and when he had settled in he met with the monk who would be his staretz, or spiritual guide. When he explained to the monk that he was newly married, the monk immediately said: “Go home. Leave this monastery and return to your wife. Why do you seek God here when he awaits you there?”
Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life
This seems to me to be the trajectory of the Eucharist — gathering the tinder of our life in the world and placing it on the altar so that Heaven’s Fire might make of our earthly lives a Burning Bush flaring back out into the world to set all things ablaze with divine glory.
I remember once when I brought my oldest child to Eucharistic adoration in Tallahassee. After about 30 minutes he became increasingly restless, and finally, frustrated by my commitment to ignore his relentless tugs, grabbed my wrist and pulled me out of my seat toward the exit, all the while saying in hushed tones: “I’m hungry, let’s go!” Instead of being upset, as I usually would, I felt a profound sense that this was the very reason for my time worshiping the Living Bread: to be yanked back out into the world to feed my son.
From the midst of this vision of the lay mission we can see vividly illustrated what Gaudium et Spes magnificently affirms in its opening lines:
The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.