[written in one sit without an edit, so pardon any mess ups]
“I will take the sun in my mouth
and leap into the ripe air
with closed eyes
to dash against darkness” ― E.E. Cummings
I gave 2 talks on Saturday at a catechetical conference, one on the spirituality of a catechist, the other on the mission of the Catholic laity in the world. I told attendees if they wanted a copy of my PowerPoint, I would be happy to share. The notes I will keep for myself as I work to turn them into a book this summer. If you want the PPTs, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
As often happens when I write and deliver talks, my view of everything is affected as my insights infest my vision. As I prepared this laity talk, my mind exploded with brand new insights — most of which did not make their way into the talk. Though they did muddle my talk a bit as I had too much going on in my head!
Most of these insights had to do with the God-given beauty, goodness, autonomy and integrity of the “secular world,” by which Catholics mean the nearly infinite panoply of good things that constitute the entirety of this world in its integrity, the created “temporal” order of time and space that we inhabit prior to death; and the culture-civilization that humanity builds in this temporal world to make it into the life-giving “garden” God made it to be. The whole of Scripture is the story of God’s creating and rescuing the secular to free it to be wholly itself, to reveal His Glory in its own integral structures — all being confirmed in Jesus, God-made-secular.
In Catholic Culture, deeply influenced by the hostility of atheistic secularism to theistic secularism, we tend to think of “secular” as a pejorative, i.e. as hopelessly tainted, of less importance than the “spiritual,” as intrinsically alienating from God, or maybe at best as just neutral “stuff” we have to endure or use as we make our way toward the eternity of heaven, which is obviously not secular. So devout Catholics tend to say things like, “I don’t get involved in secular things like I used to,” or “I used to be totally secular but now I am much more spiritual.” So when Vatican II says that “what is peculiar to the laity is their secular genius” and that their path to holiness is found in “secular professions,” it all seems so, well, wrong.
If we re-claim the Catholic sense of secular, we realize that such negative statements are misguided and buy whole-hog into the atheistic framing of the “secular” world as closed to transcendent meaning, cold, violent, directionless, godless, meaningless and wholly inimical to faith.
Okay, so I will stop and leave the rest for my book, God willing.
My simple point here today was to be this.
I went to Mass the next day at the Cathedral in New Orleans, with all this cycling in my imagination. As the Gifts of bread, wine and alms were brought forward at the Offertory, I had a disruptively intense experience of these Gifts as a highly compressed form of the “secular world” that had been cultivated by human labor and consecrated to the Kingdom of God by human love — more specifically, the labor and love of those people in that Church that morning. The Gifts were compressed artifacts of our work of civilization-building brought to the threshold of the Kingdom of God. I know this is not a novel insight, but it was a novel experience of the truth of the insight for me.
When I swallowed the Holy Eucharist at Communion, wow, it was a stunning awareness of all these insights fusing with the reality of the risen Christ in my mouth and my stomach. I at once remembered the above words of Cummings — which I have always loved. I indeed took the Sun into my mouth, Son of God-made-secular, now, in this Mass, made into our secular right there in Jackson Square. The secular offering of all of us baptismal-priests who had brought that morning the whole world with us into Mass, to give it over to heaven — not for desecration, condemning it, but for Consecration, redeeming it.
Then and there I saw the sacred was simply the secular in its most intensely God-imbued, God-inhabited, God-breathed, God-redeemed form, i.e. the in-breaking Kingdom Jesus Christ in His Church spreading like contagion throughout the universe from this Mass.
After Mass, I had to run fast to find a bathroom (the Cathedral has no public bathroom) — giving me a new understanding of the end of Mass words, “Go! Be Sent!” As I ran out into Jackson Square, in the French Quarter, in search of relief, there around me was wild, untamed, teeming humanity in the center of the secular City. There, with the Sun still in my mouth, I ran with me the Kingdom out Alive and leapt into the ripe air to face the darkness with light, eyes closed in trust of the so-Lover of the world.
There, I was missioned by God to run out and co-cultivate, co-civilize, co-redeem all of this with all of them, and with All of Him, Emmanuel, to gather the whole secular world up again (and again) for the next Mass. And the next Mass. Not to progressively eliminate the secular and make everything spiritual, but too knit heaven and earth, God and world, secular and spiritual together in a hypostatic union. Knit in me, in us who are by baptism the Body of our God, Jesus Christ. Forever. World without end. Amen.