I just got off the phone with a theologian from Opus Dei, whom I met on a trip last May. We hit it off immediately and exchanged ideas that made us feel like long lost brothers. Our electric conversation was about “my theological jam” (fitfully attempting to use a vogue phrase), the mission of the laity to discover “transforming union” with God, not by becoming otherworldly but by virtuously and passionately engaging in temporal, secular, mundane, worldly activities.
In fact, we had a moment in the conversation when I had to put the phone down and catch my breath under a spell of near-fatal awe. Here’s the substance of what he and I explored over about a five minute stretch of the whole conversation:
Consecrated in Baptism as royal priests, we faithful have been empowered as Christ’s Body (for real) to bless, consecrate and offer up in sacrifice to the eternal Father the temporal order under our sway. Aside: the “temporal order” is all of the time-bound affairs and concerns of us civilization building earthly mammals stamped with God’s image.
But here’s where my phone fell. He said, “the laity are tasked with giving Christ leave to become fully secular in every imaginable form … we are Christ making a living as a computer programmer, a maid, a CEO, a professor, an engineer, a politician, a widow, a spouse, a father, a physician, a Canadian citizen, a musician, a passenger on Southwest airlines, a small business owner, a driver, a cancer patient, et alia.”
The Baptized, in a state of grace, allow Christ to save and sanctify every nook and cranny of life in the world.
For most of His life, Jesus was a small business owner before He began His public ministry, and precisely as a carpenter-artisan He was making a new heaven and a new earth in the hidden shadows of His tiny Nazareth workshop.
Christ longs to become all things in all men, longs to “take up” as His own all that we are in every age, in every place, at every moment, because He loves all that He has made (Wisdom 11:24), loves to the extreme all that has fallen into death, and longs for all to be raised up and joined to Him in mercy and love.
By becoming Incarnate, God assumed human flesh and soul, culture and labor, relationships and suffering, time and space. Even sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13). In Christ God united to Himself the entirety of the fallen created order to redeem her, that He might “marry” her in a new creation.
As we spoke, I thought of the extraordinary words of Isaiah 62:4-5:
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate;
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your Builder marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
These are no mere metaphors. The Triune God wishes to draw the “land,” all things to — and into — Himself through us (John 12:32).
Through us. Take in for a moment the grandeur of that prepositional phrase. Look at your hands, hold your calloused palms upward, and, with a fiat, lift the whole cosmos Up to Him.
Virtuously living secular lives in the world — in all worthy professions, in marriage and family life, in every labor and leisure, in culture and civic life — the laity give Christ the freedom to send out His wedding invitation to the whole of creation. Every moment is pregnant with a fresh resurrection.
Saints’ relics are the material signs of our consent to the Proposal, and of jubilant matter awaiting the final consummating resurrection at the End when the Bridegroom will delight and rejoice over His Bride for all ages (Romans 8:20-21).
Here in this world, men and women called to remain deeply embedded in secular affairs are — hear me — supremely dignified, as they allow Christ to be where He most desires to be and do what He most desires to do: so love the world (John 3:16).
In such a world vision, those who suddenly find themselves on fire for God will know this Fire within first forges not world-fleeing saints, but world-freeing ones. Ite, missa est…