Break

Sunset

Sunset on the levee

I must take a real break here, as I plow through a pile of work the next few days and then leave town for a few weeks this Friday.

Once I get settled on my journey, I hope to catch some quiet spaces to write.

In the mean time, it is a joy to think with you here as we run along the way to the Kingdom that is to come. May the Lord bless you abundantly.

Returning to Work

[The post that showed for today was not ready for posting, but here is my sub]

I am jumping back into the fire today [was written Wednesday] as I prepare for a series of classes and talks, so I will be sporadic for a stretch. I have enjoyed this space of vacation to write with a certain creative freedom. I leave with a sense of deep sadness and soaring gratitude. Ready now to return to labora, after this week’s retreat into the family oratory renewed my spirit.

Our time away ended with a family karaoke, singing everything from Kanye West’s crazy Lift Yourself to Regina Coeli in harmony to a finale of Ophelia by the Lumineers.

Until my next post, thank you for reading, and peace out.

We Didn’t Start the Fire

[Please excuse this 2nd interruption today. I will still be back ~May 7, but after watching Pope Francis’ May Prayer Intention just now (that made me cry with joy), I just had to re-post this post from February]

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“The laity have a secular genius which is properly and peculiarly theirs..”                                                        — The Second Vatican Council

Last month, I presented a talk on the lay vocation at the Gulf Coast Faith Formation Conference. My audience was made up of people who work in and for the Church, in ecclesial ministry. Like myself.

I thought I would share here my opening lines from the talk.

The best part of what I am going to share this afternoon with you [church ministers] is that I have great news: You don’t need to do a single thing to kick-start this extraordinary and world-shaking mission of the lay faithful that Vatican II said is ‘where it’s at’ for the ~1.2 billion Catholics worldwide.

This mission is already happening, already in motion everywhere, all around you. In fact, that mission is what built this Convention Center we are in, made the clothes you are wearing and the food you ate for lunch, the technology I am using, the vehicles that got you here, the fuel that powered those vehicles, the roads those vehicles drove on … and on and on and on. I could go on and on!

The mission of the laity is civilization building, culture making. What theologian Fr. Aidan Kavanaugh loved to call “doing the world as God would have us do it.” This worldly mission is what Catholics call not ministry, which is focused churchy-inward, but apostolate, which is focused worldly outward. Apostolate means apostle-ing, “being sent.” And for the laity this means being sent out by Jesus into the world to do the world God’s way. The apostolate of the laity is to reveal the sacred in the secular by so-loving the world with God the Redeemer.

Praise God, we church ministers don’t need to start up, create a strategic plan for, incite or organize this mission. Look! It’s already pulsing all around us, now, always and everywhere – burning, raging, pressing forward at every moment of every day. Turning the earth into a cultured Garden, into a City for God and man to dwell in together.This is the perennial human endeavor written into our spiritual DNA.

We ecclesial ministers serve well when we leave these secular laity feeling that theirs is the greatest of missions, and that our ministry exists to serve their mission. We serve well when we allow our best church-energies to spotlight and empower their mission to “do the world” as God intended.

[How did God intend the world to be done? See Christ.]

We ministers exist to enable lay men and women to become secular saints; become co-workers with God, called to join in His mind-blowing work of creating and redeeming this good and broken world one day, one deed, one prayer at a time.

You see, we didn’t start the fire. God set creation afire the moment He fashioned humanity in His image and likeness, entrusting His fire to us.

God set us in the world to become fire-casters, and how He longs to see it burn.

Okay, let me share a song that brilliantly illustrates the irrepressible dynamism of this world-mission. Watch how humanity rages, roars, presses on, for good or for ill, with or without us…

Let’s make it “with us”!

The Church exists as an outpost of God’s Kingdom planted in the world to infuse into culture and civilization the love of God given to us in Jesus. The Church’s very best energies, and the core focus of all her ministries, must be to harness the energies of this secular mission and allow the world to be consecrated to God.

To be “consecrated,” just as in the Mass, simply means bringing every aspect of day to day secular life into harmony with the inner structure of Jesus’ self-offering, “This is my Body given up for you, my Blood shed for you.” A consecrated world, symbolized by bread and wine, has been placed in service to love and offers no resistance to its final consecration on the Altar of the Kingdom.

So laity, let’s roll…

Don’t love silence while fleeing

It is not healthy to love silence while fleeing interaction with others, to want peace and quiet while avoiding activity, to seek prayer while disdaining service. We are called to be contemplatives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously carrying out our proper mission. — Pope Francis

A number of years ago, I worked with a Comboni Father who served as a missionary in Sudan in the 1990’s during the civil war. We spent a whole afternoon together one day talking about vocations, spirituality and secularization in the West. It was one of the most insightful conversations I’ve ever had. I have over twenty pages of handwritten journal notes summarizing the conversation.

As we spoke about discerning one’s vocation, he said (as I wrote in my journal later), “Those who think of the spiritual life as first about personal fulfillment or feelings of well-being will never persevere in the kind of prayer that makes one holy and changes the world.” We explored that idea at length, and he made some excellent points:

Why do we pray? Well, first because we owe God an infinite debt of gratitude. Everything belongs to Him, and nothing is owed to us. The first prayer is a grateful prayer that is about God, and not about me.

We also pray to acquire the Holy Spirit so God might have a free hand to carry out His will in and through us. We pray to submit our clay to the Potter’s hand. All is yours, Lord, do with me as you please. And what is it God wishes to do with us? He wants to carry out His love. To love us, and love the world through us. Which means we need virtue. No virtue, no love.

So why do I pray? To allow God opportunity to break down my vices and build up my virtues. St. Teresa says prayer is primarily for watering the virtues. Which makes growth in virtue the real test of prayer.

Prayer is consenting to God waging war on my sins so he can have freedom to enter the world and accomplish His will. Virtues are open gates for God to enter creation by means of me.

This is the Our Father: Our Father, do what you wish, in me, for the good of us, we, everyone else. My children, spouse, parents, neighbors. They need me to be full of virtue for them!

When I become weary in prayer, my deepest motive to remain faithful can’t be, “I’m not getting much out of this so I will just do something else that pleases me.” Rather, “Oh! My dear Father, and the whole world, you are relying on me to persevere! I will rise up now and press on in my prayer! For you! For you! Let Him enter, the King of glory.”

When we pray like this, we can face any obstacle and we never oppose prayer and our work. We find a joy that endures and not simply mood swings to anchor our life of faith.

#prayforhimnotjustme

Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. — Romans 12:10

The ordained ministry or ministerial priesthood is at the service of the baptismal priesthood. — Catechism #1120

Sometimes a picture, or an Instagram post, is worth a thousand words.

This one captures brilliantly a theology of how the ordained ministry of priests rightly relates to the “baptismal priesthood” of the laity.

Andrew Gutierrez is a seminarian at Notre Dame Seminary, where I teach, preparing for future priestly ministry in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. He is an exceptional young man with a deep faith, a keen intellect and a servant heart, and he will soon be ordained as a deacon. His decision to be a priest is a radical commitment in today’s culture that is rightly honored, and his willingness to say Yes to the call of Jesus rightly demands the prayer of the People of God. But…

Andrew, and all who are ordained, are set apart from the world by Jesus with a core mission: to empower, encourage, equip and exalt — to serve — the “front lines” vocation of lay men and women whose mission is to consecrate the secular world to God by “risking their lives for complete strangers, enduring hate speech” for the sake of the justice, peace of the Kingdom; for the love of God and neighbor.

In keeping with this, in this Instagram post Andrew recognizes and honors his brother Martin’s life, family, work and witness, and begs prayers for his brother. In doing this, he is doing a very priestly thing. And he is

And all of this reminds me of St. John Paul II’s request to bishops and priests to recognize and honor the life, family, work and witness — the holiness — of lay men and women, so we can usher in a new era in the Church of canonized secular saints.

Particular Churches especially should be attentive to recognizing among their members the younger men and women of those Churches who have given witness to holiness in such conditions (everyday secular conditions and the married state) and who can be an example for others, so that, if the case calls for it, they (the Churches) might propose them to be beatified and canonized.

It was Andrew and Martin’s proud father, Martin O. Gutierrez, soon to be ordained to the permanent diaconate in New Orleans, who sent me this Instagram post, saying:

Feel free to use it. I am so proud of these two men and of my daughter. My daughter-in-law awesome too. Sofia is the icing on the cake.

And that’s how family in the Church is supposed to work. Such beauty will save the world.

Happy feast of St. Joseph the Worker

“God has a Papa’s heart”

Greetings in the risen Lord! It has been a busy stretch for me at the end of the academic year, hence the absence of posts. I hope to resume this weekend, but could not resist sharing this tender paternal encounter.

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“For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God.” — Pope Benedict XVI

The Pope’s response to a very hard question contains a remarkable insight — salvation, in the final analysis, is revealed in the degree of our likeness to God.

We will be judged on the Last Day based on our likeness, as 1 John 3:2 implies, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” And 1 John 4:7-8, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

This was the foundation of the Pope’s theological reasoning to this child. And note the divine likeness flashing throughout this whole experience…