Tag Archives: Spirituality

Beyond the Perpetual Discernment Mentality

Anthony OleckAnthony Oleck

MTS Student, History of Christianity, University of Notre Dame

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Many young Catholics today seem to exhibit a strong tendency toward what one might term “perpetual discernment syndrome.” I am certainly not an exception to this category, and it was in noticing such a tendency in some of my own decision-making processes that led me to recognition of it in others. There have been times, for example, when ‘let me pray on it’ or ‘I need to discern God’s will’ were simply an excuse to put off committing to a decision.

This tendency to over-discern every decision and every situation ad nauseam could be traced to any number of causes, and at times can even simply be a mask for a deeper fear of commitment (alluded to above).  But it seems to me that it can also derive from an underlying assumption that God has a very specific and meticulous plan and purpose for one’s life, and that every step, every moment, every decision is assigned a very specific place within that plan. With this assumption firmly in place, each decision in our lives becomes an occasion for renewed anxiety and fear of “messing up.” When presented with two doors, we cannot bring ourselves to enter Door A out of a fear that God has planned for us to choose Door B. Unsure of which is the correct path, which one is truly a part of the plan, we find ourselves ‘paralyzed by the possible’ (to borrow a phrase from Samuel Bellafiore’s September blog post); we stare blankly at both doors, telling ourselves and those around us that we cannot choose either because we need to “discern.” “Discernment,” in cases such as these, seems to be more aptly labeled “indecision.”Whats-behind-door-number-3Let me be clear: I am in no way opposed to engaging in healthy prayer and discernment, especially when it comes to big decisions in one’s life (one might even call this being “responsible”). I am not an advocate (my girlfriend can attest) of rushing headlong through life’s many doors, without taking an appropriate amount of time to prayerfully consider the options in order to hear God’s voice. I do believe that God has a plan and a purpose for our lives, and I do believe that each one of us has a vocation that the Lord is calling us to.

Nevertheless, there can also be a danger in the mentality that assumes every step and every moment of our lives to have been plotted, and the only thing left for us to do is keep our eyes on the road beneath us, taking care to step in the footprints that have already been perfectly laid out. winding roadOr, to use a more seasonally appropriate analogy, it can even be tempting to think of vocation as a kind of giant Easter Egg Hunt, with God’s will being contained in very small and limited objects hidden in the various brush and shrubbery that are the decisions we face throughout our lives. We have only to uncover the egg, and inside will be God’s specific and precise directive for that moment. It is this mentality that I want to challenge.

Perhaps this reflection from Hans Urs Von Balthasar (written in 1927 during a retreat before his entry into the Jesuit novitiate) can offer a way forward for us, then:

Even today, thirty years later, I could trace my steps back to that remote path in the Black Forest, not too far from Basel, and rediscover the tree under which I was struck, as if by lightning … and what suddenly entered my mind then was neither theology, nor the priesthood. It was simply this: you do not have to choose anything, you have been called! You will not serve, you will be taken into service. You do not have to make plans of any sort, you are only a pebble in a mosaic prepared long before. All that I had to do was simply leave everything behind and follow, without making plans, without desires or particular intuitions. I had only to remain there to see how I could be useful.

Sometimes I wonder if Christ knew the specifics of His mission. Did He ever concern Himself by worrying about Gethsemane, Jerusalem, the cross, the crown of thorns, Judas, or Pontius Pilate? Did he know that He was to be betrayed by Judas, crucified on a cross, between two criminals, on a Friday afternoon?jesus-in-garden-of-gethsemane Did he pause at every juncture, afraid to move forward from fear that his action will fail to realize the Father’s specific plan for His life? It is possible that He did. It is also possible, however, that His forty days in the desert, the forty days that we commemorated and participated in with our own practices this past Lent, were spent in preparation for a mission the specifics of which He knew not.

Perhaps Von Balthasar is in some ways urging us to cultivate a life that is grounded in the Incarnation, oriented toward Heaven, and attuned to His will. Within this framework, discerning God’s will becomes first and foremost a state, rather than an action.  If we realize, as Von Balthasar did, that we have simply to “leave everything behind and follow, without making plans,” then perhaps we will shed the timidity and insecurity that tends to characterize a perpetually discerning mentality, and instead blaze a trail with confidence, zeal and hope into the true heart of God’s will.

Practicing Lent: Where Humility is Truly Present

Tim KenneyTimothy J. Kenney

’14 MTS Candidate 

Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

So far my favorite class this semester has been a seminar on Teresa of Ávila. It’s been a great blessing for someone with interests in theology and spirituality to have the opportunity to read and discuss the writings of such a beautiful saint. This week, we are reading the first part of The Interior Castle, what the scholar and translator Kieran Kavanaugh calls her “spiritual masterpiece.” We’ve read through quite a bit of her writing so far so I was somewhat taken aback–but mostly really really excited–when I saw this in his introduction. I mean, everything so far in the course has been great, and a person who has devoted his life’s work to studying St. Teresa thinks this is the best? Bring it on.

Even though this reading is for a class and has an academic grounding, it would be pretty hard not to involve myself personally in the text. Teresa wasn’t writing treatises or grand comprehensive theologies. She was writing to the sisters under her direction who were pursuing a life of holiness. They wanted to know how best to serve God and in what ways this should be desired and lived out in their vocation as Carmelite nuns. As someone whose prayer life is in constant need of improvement, it was hard to turn a blind eye to the places Teresa’s writing was speaking directly to where I need to grow. Her books are practically bursting with how important humility is to the spiritual life and developing this virtue is the foundation upon which everything else stands.

Immediately prior to the passage quoted below, which is taken from Dwelling Place 3, Chapter 1, Teresa describes how important it is not to jealously desire spiritual favors (e.g. contemplation) from God. These favors are given to some and not others according to God’s will. It does not indicate a lacking or inferiority in one’s soul to never be granted these gifts. This life of prayer and devotion to God is never complete or fulfilled but rather necessitates constant attention and effort, so even the person who has received great favors still has much room for growth. We the reader must always desire that God lead us closer to Him. The Sisters in particular cannot assume this work is done once they renounce all possessions and things of this world. They must persevere in desiring more and more intimate union with God, always seeking greater conformity with His will. Then came the passage that really jumped off the page for me.

“This perseverance includes the condition…that you consider yourselves useless servants…and believe that you have not put our Lord under any obligation to grant you these kinds of favors. Rather, as one who has received more, you are more indebted.”

For a moment I wondered whether this last line meant this perseverance was only important for Sisters who had “received more.” It is what follows this line, however, that absolutely drove the message home and showed me how central this point is to all of us.

“What can we do for a God so generous that he died for us, created us, and gives us being? Shouldn’t we consider ourselves lucky to be able to repay something of what we owe Him for His service toward us? I say these words ‘His service toward us’ unwillingly; but the fact is that He did nothing else but serve us all the time He lived in this world. And yet we ask Him again for favors and gifts.” (Interior Castle III:1.8)

TeresaofAvilaI’m well aware that too much of my prayer is focused on myself. So much of the time I spend with God is devoted to what I need or what I’m stressed about. But here Teresa takes it a step further and asks if, in the times we think we are being the most humble or selfless, we are in fact acting for our own gain. It is well attested in the Christian tradition, and more that most in Teresa’s own life, that God grants great favors to those who serve Him. But when I do pray for others or serve them as my neighbor, it shouldn’t be so that I too can experience contemplation or receive a greater reward in heaven. We are called to serve because we must, because of the sheer immensity of God’s generosity. When we do not appreciate simply how amazing the gift of our salvation truly is we demand more from Him and, in doing so, fail to realize we are actually asking for less.

Its not that we’re wrong in desiring to receive something, its that we’re not recognizing that we’ve already been given more than we could ever think to ask for. Because of this, we ask even more of an already prodigal God. “We are fonder of consolations than we are of the cross” (III:1.9). This is where I think this passage is particularly fitting for reflection during the season of Lent. How often do we look at Lent as a time of earning our salvation? It’s already been given! We can’t earn what we don’t deserve! Don’t think of this as cause for inactivity, but rather a demand that we commit our entire lives to serving God and rejoice in the opportunity “to repay something,” no matter how insignificant that may seem. Exactly how amazing and unbelievable the Paschal Mystery is, which is too often lost because of how familiar and mundane it has become to our consciousness, is precisely what Teresa is trying to remind us of. Even if God never gives us anything else as spiritual nourishment, let what we have received be enough.

“Be convinced that where humility is truly present God will give a peace and conformity – even though He may never give consolations – by which one will walk with greater contentment than will others with their consolations. For often, as you have read, the divine Majesty gives these consolations to the weaker souls; although I think we would not exchange these consolations for the fortitude of those who walk in dryness. We are fonder of consolations than we are of the cross. Test us, Lord – for You know the truth – so that we may know ourselves.” (III:1.9)

St. Teresa of Avila, pray for us.

Peace Be With You

Tim KenneyTimothy J. Kenney ’14 MTS Candidate, 

Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

Catholics do a lot of weird things at Mass. We sit, we stand, we sit again, we stand again, we sit again, we stand again, we kneel, we stand again, we shake hands with people, we kneel again, we walk up to the front, we walk back to our seats, we sit again, we stand again, and we leave. Seems like a lot of work. But, maybe we’re just over-achievers, because we always insist upon making an already demanding task that much harder by throwing in added challenges. Where are we going to sit? Front? Don’t want to seem too eager. Back? Don’t want to be stuck with the crying babies. We settle into a pew and then squeeze as much conversation out of the next 5 minutes as we possibly can, assuming we’re not late as usual. We sit and silently criticize the music, the readers, the altar servers. The homily is either too long or too bland or too preachy. We all add in a multitude of additional challenges throughout the Mass—everyone’s got their own specialties.

Once we get to the start of the Eucharistic Prayer, a cold sweat spreads throughout the congregation like a plague. Slowly, one by one, everyone realizes we’re getting close to the big one, the one you spend days beforehand worrying over and weeks afterward reliving (at least some of us do). The sign of peace is nearly upon us. While everything leading up to that moment is centered upon the celebration of Christ’s sacrifice in the Eucharist, almost inevitably, even if it’s just for a moment, sometime between the Sanctus and the Great Amen, the thought crosses your mind of who is around you and where you’ll go first for the sign of peace.

At first glace it seems completely disconnected from the other Mass parts surrounding it. We’re praying, singing, praying the Our Father (sometimes holding hands), then suddenly shaking hands and hugging, and back to singing. I want to look experientially at how we do the sign of peace as a way of showing how we often miss the beautiful liturgical significance iSignofPeacen this moment. I’ll start with the basic structure of events for anyone unfamiliar with the Catholic liturgy and then highlight two major variations that are the most revelatory.

The Standard Model for the sign of peace: shake hands with/hug family and those in the rest of your pew, and if there’s time the pews in front and behind. Crushing handshakes are reserved for siblings. Moving more than a step from your spot is excessive, unless Grandma is there. Always move down the pew to hug Grandma.

Variation #1, a favorite of the older crowds (see any daily Mass): quickly turn, nod to everyone around you, maybe wave or throw up a couple peace signs. If it takes more than 30 seconds you’re doing it wrong. In general, speed tends to be the name of the game for daily Mass, which isn’t terrible. Those who attend daily Mass are often people on a tight schedule or lunch break. However, the sign of peace is not something than can be reduced to near non-existence without somehow changing our participation in the Eucharist. Contrary to what I said above about the sign of peace as a random event in the Mass, we don’t change gears in the sign of peace, but rather are literally enacting our prayer. We’re proclaiming our love of God through love of neighbor, extending to them the same blessing and hope for peace the newly risen Christ offered the 11 gathered in the locked, upper room. Even more directly, we just asked God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We are asking God to forgive us using the same standard by which we forgive others. Personally, I hope God is far more forgiving than I have been with those who have injured me. Still, upon making this prayer to God, we then immediately get a chance to put our prayer into action by extending peace to our JesusPeaceparents, siblings, friends, and all of those around us who have almost certainly trespassed against us. Peace. Not just forgiveness, not just a clean slate, but peace in our community. If we don’t actively extend this before receiving the Eucharist, how can we make it manifest in our world as the Body of Christ when we leave the church?

Variation #2 tends to be a favorite of young crowds (college dorm Masses are special offenders): empty the pews, form an inner and outer circle rotating in opposite directions, and proceed to bro hug everyone in the congregation. The reality of this situation is that, while it is an impressive display of love and community, we have to ask why this is really happening. In offering us peace, the priest is standing in the place of Christ in His sacrifice and extending love to us. By encouraging us to offer one another the sign of Christ’s peace, we’re sharing the love we have received from Him with one another. It is an expression of an immense filial love that shows we’re coming as a community to the feast. The problem arises when this love, brotherly love, is celebrated for its own sake and takes away our focus from the Eucharist, which is sitting consecrated on the altar waiting for the hugs and inevitable conversation to stop.

It’s as if an astronaut, after devoting so much energy and focus to training and preparation, climbed out of the cockpit with 30 seconds left on the countdown and said, “Wow, that was really something!” We’d say, but with all the effort you’ve put in, you’re supposed to go to the moon! Meanwhile, we have been prepared by the entire liturgy for so much more than the sign of peace! We have been called to the feast, to receive Christ in the Eucharist, and yet suddenly we decide we’re satisfied with just being part of the community. Yes, the sign of peace is an expression of love, but it’s not perfect or complete. It has to remain a means to the end that is communion in Christ. This in no way diminishes filial love, but rather elevates it. The best part of all this is that, by expressing our desire for peace and then participating in God’s agapic love, we’re equipped with the filial love we need to actually make this peace manifest in the world. We don’t merely leave the sign of peace behind because the Eucharist is better, the Eucharist completes the sign of peace by so uniting us with Christ and filling us with love that we are now able to live peace.

We’re talking about real peace, peace that is intimately tied to love. SwordsPlowsharesIt isn’t peace for its own sake, it’s peace as the by-product of divine love. This is the peace we’re called to offer one another at Mass and receive in the Eucharist. It’s a strong and firm peace, not something wishy-washy. It’s beating your swords into plowshares not because we have collectively agreed to stop fighting, but rather because we love one another so completely that we no longer even recognize their previous purpose. It is easy to simply say the Eucharist is important and that we should more fully incorporate love and peace into our relationships. The thing that is hard and that is so absolutely fundamental is that we celebrate the liturgy and receive the Eucharist, not for a functional end, but out of love for God and a desire for relationship with Him and with each other in this unity. A life of love and a life of peace, a complete embodiment of the liturgy in our daily life, is the shared vocation of all humanity. Call it altruistic, call it unrealistic, call it whatever you like, because that’s exactly what God’s calling you to.

Good Friday: Intercessory Prayer and the Confidence of the Cross

TimOMalley-211x300Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

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Intercessory Prayer and the Confidence of the Cross

Infants and young children are quite clear about their needs.  A baby cries, a mother feeds the child, the baby’s tears cease.  A child falls down and cuts his knee, his father hugs him, gives him a kiss, washes out the wound, affixes a Band-Aid, and the child resumes his play.  A young girl approaches a family friend at a party, asking them to read her a story, and the family friend (unless they are a horrible person, incapable of love), of course, does.  There is such confidence in these requests, particularly in a loving family, because the child knows that most of these simple intercessions will be fulfilled.  The need, the petition, and the fulfilled request are virtually simultaneous moments in the life of the child.

Yet, as we grow older, we lose some of this confidence.  Perhaps, it is because we have learned that our parents cannot grant all of our desires.  They cannot take away from us the disappointment of being turned down for a first job, or the sorrow at watching a relationship—once so full of promise—come to an end.  They cannot ensure that we will get into the college of our dreams, or that once we’re there that we’ll succeed.  They, and no creature for that matter, can answer for us those “depth” questions that arise in the human heart as we grow:  “What is the purpose of life?”  “Why is there death in the world?”  “Is moral uprightness really worth it, when injustice seems to be rewarded more often than not?”

A similar dynamic, dear friends, is often at work in our formation into intercessory prayer.  When we are young, we have confidence that God will answer our most simple requests quickly and with ease.  Yet, as we grow older, more attentive to the ways that our prayers seem to be unfulfilled, we may give up intercessory prayer except in the most extreme moments of life.  We have cried out that our friend may not die, and yet we have not been heard.  We have asked God that our poverty might be relieved, and yet we have not been heard.  We have sought God’s voice in helping us choose a path, and yet we have not been heard.  For most of us, the answer to this silence is not giving up faith in God but readjusting our expectations of what God can provide us in the first place.  We ask for less and not more.  We hope God has a plan, but when we’re asked to articulate it, we’re less than clear what such a plan might be.

The General Intercessions on Good Friday are an antidote to this subjugation of intercessory prayer.  Having heard Christ’s passion, we respond in trust with a barrage of intercessions for the salvation of the world:  that God will guide the Church, increase its faith, and make it effective sacrament of love; that the Pope might be strengthened in his role as servant of Christians; that all ministers, all lay people might reveal this faith in the world; that the catechumens might receive an increase in faith and understanding in preparation for their baptism; that Christians everywhere might be one in the fullness of faith; that the Jewish people might participate in the fullness of redemption, perhaps in a way that we cannot yet imagine (see, Paul’s reflection upon this in Romans); that those who do not believe in Christ may walk nonetheless in sincerity of heart, becoming perfect witnesses of God’s love in the world; that those who do not believe in God may perceive in Christians lives of love and mercy, attracting them to God; that God might lead those in public office to work for freedom, security, and peace; and, that the sick, the dying, the traveler, the captive, the oppressed, the hungry, and the diseased might be strengthened by God, and the source of their suffering blotted from the earth.  We pray this while standing and kneeling, taking time to allow the words of the prayers to become our prayer.

Yet, how can we trust that these prayers may be answered?  Indeed, on Good Friday, we are reminded that it is not we as individuals who prayer these prayers; we do not stand as those alone, isolated monads expressing wishes that remain unfulfilled.  Rather, our voice is Christ’s voice.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses this quite beautifully:

Jesus also prays for us—in our place and on our behalf.  All our petitions were gathered up, once for all, in his cry on the Cross, and in his Resurrection, heard by the Father.  This is why he never ceases to intercede for us with the Father.  If our prayer is resolutely united with that of Jesus, in trust and boldness as children, we obtain all that we ask in his name, even more than any particular thing:  the Holy Spirit itself, who contains all gifts (no. 2741).

So, the General Intercessions that we pray on Good Friday are kind of extensive elaborations upon Christ’s own prayer, bestowed at the Last Supper:

that they may all be one.  As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (Jn. 17:20-23).

It is the gift of love, of unity that seek.  Of course, this does not take away the painfulness of our often unanswered prayers any more than the mystery of the Resurrection erased Christ’s wounds.  His anguish echoes through the ages (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”) (Ps. 22:1).  Thus, when we ask for something that we do not get, including very good things (the health of a loved one, the gift of a child, a job to care for our family), our prayer is not just heard but it becomes Christ’s prayer—his cry upon the cross.  It becomes the prayer of the saints, who have joined their prayers with Christ’s, who know our sorrow yet rejoice God’s glory.  And the sacramental nature of this prayer means that the sorrow that we feel in uttering seemingly unanswered words can be transformed (through the gift of the Holy Spirit) into a longing for divine life, into a sincere hope for perfect salvation.  So, on Good Friday, let us ask God’s intercession as a child does, confident that they will be heard.  And let our hearts be opened to the surprising way that God hears these prayers.  A savior on a cross.  A king made subject.  The Word of God made flesh, becoming a lamb led to the slaughter.  A world transformed by a preacher from Nazareth.  For, it we become used to God’s surprising way of love, his prayer of being “God with us,” then we may begin to hear his voice anew:  in the cries of the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the lonely, those who know Christ’s cross all too well.



“Never Shall They Enter My Rest”: The Dangerous Commitment of the Invitatory Psalm

TimOMalleyTimothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

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In the past, while praying the Invitatory Psalm (Ps. 95) for the Roman Rite’s Liturgy of the Hours, I have often found myself unconsciously troubled.  The psalm extols the wonder of the Creator, exhorts Israel (and now the Church) to “bow down and worship” before the divine shepherd, and warns the reader of the psalm to listen to the voice of the Lord (unlike our ancestors at Meriba and Massah, who challenged the commitment of a God who dared to enter into history in the freedom of love).MeribahIncident

Thus far, a perfect morning psalm, one that elicits worship and praise for the beginning of a new day.  The Christian in praying the psalm is brought into the presence of the living God, entering the temple, and offering the sacrifice of praise appropriate to the Christian life.   Yet, the psalm text (not counting the final doxology) concludes not with the same divine praise with which it began but a rather dire stanza:

Forty years I endured that generation./I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray and they do not know my ways.’/So I swore in my anger, ‘They shall never enter into my rest’.

Just like that, the psalm closes.   No further promise of redemption but a stern warning, chilling to the one that takes such prayer seriously.  In fact, the latter portion of the psalm is full of the darkness of human sin, of the hardness of the human heart even as Israel professes its desire to worship the Creator.   The English translation of the psalm in the Liturgy of the Hours does not adequately capture the Scriptural memory of “hardness of heart” (the official translation declaring, “do not grow stubborn, as your fathers did in the wilderness”; the Latin is hodie si vocem eius audieritis nolite indurare corda vestra).  The hardness of heart, which seized Pharaoh in his refusal to allow Israel to worship their God, his reduction of the people of Israel to servants rather than God’s own people; the JudgmentSolomonhardness of heart that led to Israel’s forgetfulness to worship the LORD in the desert, to obey his commandments, including the commitment to remember the suffering of the widow and the orphan.  The hardness of heart of Israel’s kings, of a nation looking to seize power and control at all costs—Solomon’s use of the Temple not simply for divine worship but as a way of entering into political alliances.  And of course, the hardness of heart of all of humanity–responsible for the crucifixion of the God-man.   An act of violence that is now perpetuated throughout the world as human society, including at times the Church itself, has too often imagined that violence and intrigue and secrecy are politically expedient ways to operate.   Do not harden your heart.

By recalling such hardness, the present day worshipper is invited to a process of self-examination, whereby we come face-to-face with our own hardness of heart.  The historical context of the psalm, most likely, is a processional psalm for ancient worshippers, singing a hymn of praise on the way to the temple.  Commenting on the conclusion of this psalm, W.O.E. Oesterley writes, “The abrupt ending of the psalm with the words, so that I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall never enter into my rest’, sets in relief the stern warning directed, by implication, against those who were now standing at the entrance of the temple” (The Psalms, 421).

Those who participate in the divine worship of the Church today are implicated by this stern warning.   The mere practice of participating in worship, of praying the Hours, of attending daily Eucharist, is not enough.  Attendance at worship is not a moment of magic, one that absolves us of “hardness of heart”.  Rather, the one who prays this psalm before the Office of Readings or Lauds, makes a dangerous commitment to cultivate a supplenessLiturgyoftheHours of heart, one that the Christian calls caritas.

Therefore, the one who prays this psalm each day should (together with the entire Church) feel troubled.  We should know that the prayer that we offer in the morning commits us to listen to the voice of the Lord—a voice that comes to us in the often invisible poverty of the neighbor in need.   It is a commitment to submit our bodies, our entire existence, as a living sacrifice to the Lord (Rm. 12:1)—an ethics of praise intrinsic to Christian prayer.   This psalm that begins in praise, in worship, is ultimately (like the entire Psalter in the early Church) an invitation to a process of self-examination of our hearts, a promise to surrender the entirety of ourselves to the logic of divine love revealed in Christ.

The consequences for ignoring this fact are, according to the psalmist, dire:   we will be cut off from divine rest.   Inevitably, each of us will discover, perhaps more often that not, that our once supple hearts (or at least hearts that we thought were supple) have been hardened by sin.  We know that God again and again invited Israel to enter into rest, rescued Israel from captivity, and in the fullness of time revealed the mystery of human possibility in the God-man, Jesus Christ.  God never gave up on humanity.  Likewise, the fact that this psalm begins the Liturgy of the Hours as an exhortation to be aware of our hardness of heart is a matter of hope.   For the Christian who prays the Office dares to enter into the liturgical prayer of the Church with hope that the hardness of heart will be PriestofPraisehealed, softened through the tears of repentance, through the affective transformation of praise, through joining our voices to the Christ’s priestly voice of praise.

In conclusion, the Christian who prays the Invitatory Psalm of the Liturgy of the Hours is making a dangerous commitment to the fullness of Christian charity.   But, we are making a commitment, which we alone are not capable of achieving.  Instead, we know that the priesthood of Christ can heal us of our hardness of heart, slowly attuning us to hear the voice of the Lord in the worship that we enact, in the neighbor in need.   Entering into the healing gift of the psalms in the hours, we join with Augustine in his Confessions:

Through your own merciful dealings with me, O Lord my God, tell me what you are to me.   Say to my soul, I am your salvation.   Say it so that I can hear it.   My heart is listening, Lord; open the ears of my heart and say to my soul, I am your salvation.   Let me run toward this voice and seize hold of you (I.5.5).

Ultimately, perhaps this is what makes praying the Invitatory Psalm so dangerous.   Not simply that we are committing ourselves to offer our lives to the living God, but rather that in praying this psalm, we are opening ourselves to receive the very Spirit that will heal our hardness of heart.  After all, inviting God to work on us, to reconfigure us into the image and likeness of God, is always a dangerous commitment indeed. 

Practical Mercy: The (Human) Dignity in Making Time

Dorothy Therese

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When I was a summer intern at a nearby Christian non-profit organization, I spent a week watching all the school-aged kids who lived at the shelter.  We needed to fill up our time together, so we chose a story from the children’s Bible, created costumes and assigned roles, and acted it out for all the families at the end of the week: the healing of Jairus’ daughter (Lk 8:40-56).

Jesus Raises Jairus' DaughterLater that day, I pulled out my video camera and asked one of the little girls what she learned from the story.  She responded, “God always has time for us!”

Today, I’m a full time case worker at the largest shelter in town.  I took the job eight months ago as a recent graduate of a professional lay ministry program who wanted to serve God’s vulnerable people and proclaim the good news to the poor.  And now…I am tired.  Yesterday I accidently worked an eighteen hour day, an experience that helped me appreciate all you parents out there, on call twenty-four hours—hats off to you.

I arrived at work at 5:45 AM for a building-wide drug test, which means several staff members watch hundreds of people pee in cups.  All morning I was convinced my hands smelled like pee.  At one point during the tests I stuck my head out of the bathroom and shouted, “Who’s next!?”, to which one of my clients responded, “Good morning to you too!”  Ooops, good morning—sorry for waking you up at 6 AM to question whether you are actually drug free… I suppose I wouldn’t love that either.  Then there was the kicking people out for their drug use, watching guests cry and look defeated, and learning so much as I watched my boss hug one of the culprits and tell her to remember not to stop moving forward because we are still here for her.

BusynessI drove another mom to work after we told her she’d have to take the drug test when she got home, which would be an exception for her.  I spent the rest of the morning in meetings learning about local mental health resources, contacting Child Protective Services slightly frantically, visiting with children’s services folks who decided one of the mothers needed to be asked to leave, meeting with guests one-on-one, and helping set up for a ladies’ party, where my first ‘meal’ of the day was a well-rounded dinner of crackers, cheese, and accidentally-diet root beer.  The party ended at 10 PM, and it startled me, in a refreshing sort of way, to be thanked by a few of the ladies as I stood in the cafeteria chatting with a guest.

It was 10:30 PM when I collapsed in my boss’s office just to find out that the working mom from this morning would also be kicked out because she had not taken the test at all that night, but had left town for ‘a family emergency’ that would last a couple days.  My wise, kind, and confident boss looked at me with such telling eyes when I responded: “Well, she could be telling the truth!”  I just wanted to call the mom and tell her how much I love her.

I drove home that night through the snowy streets of my little town at 11:45 PM feeling numb but satisfied by a hard day’s work.  I ran around all day (quite literally, because I walk so quickly at work that it looks like running), and still I was stopped every twenty feet and had to shout, “I’m in the middle of something!”  In those moments I get frustrated thinking no one respects my time, but later when I’m alone in my office working and a homeless mother wanders in just to say hi, telling me I seem so busy lately, I blush—am I really in this job to “get things done”?  What was the point of all that rushing around—it seemed so important at the time.  But didn’t I take this job to be in relationship with the poor?  When did my job switch from relationship building to crisis management?  Is that why I’m here?

Jesus Heals the Woman with a HemmorhageWhen Jesus is on his way to heal a frantic Jairus’ only daughter, he stops by a woman of faith who so longed for healing she just wanted to touch Jesus’ tassel, and he says, “Daughter, your faith has saved you, go in peace” (Lk 8:48).  The crowds think his stopping to help this poor woman has ruined everything—he was on his way to save someone important’s little girl, how could he dream of stopping for anyone else?  But Jesus knows better: “Do not be afraid, just have faith and she will be saved” (Lk 8:50).  Everyone thinks he is crazy: he is not being practical with his time!

I see myself so clearly in those crowds, in the people who are frustrated by another woman’s need, who believe that everything else to be done must be so much more important.  After all, I need to organize all my files for an audit, and call about that parenting class, and attack bed bugs with my bare hands, and contact that lawyer, and help my exhausted co-worker, and investigate new resources for a mother’s unique needs.  These are all good things, aren’t they?  Why do people keep knocking on my door with more and more needs?  Why do people need so much?

But we all know that our first and foremost role as Christians is to love as Christ loved: radically.  We’re surrounded by people and a culture that tells us how important it is to be “successful,” to accomplish as much as possible with all our gifts.  Meanwhile, right in front of us stands God’s creation, asking for our help, for a few minutes of our attention, for a smile.

Sometimes after work I go home and just really want someone to listen to me talk about the intensity of my day, the heartbreak and the joy.  And my roommates look up from their books and listen.  It would be ridiculous for me not to offer this to the folks at our shelter, some of whom haven’t been hugged in years, who just want someone to look them right in the eye with the silent recognition that they do have dignity.

God always has time for us.

Reflections on the Creed: Part 10

Sr. Ann Astell

Professor, Notre Dame Department of Theology

Contact Author


This is the tenth in a series of articles first printed in “Today’s Catholic.”
We are grateful for the permission of the editorial staff
to republish them here.

Previous articles in this series:
Reflections on the Creed: Part 1
Reflections on the Creed: Part 2
Reflections on the Creed: Part 3
Reflections on the Creed: Part 4
Reflections on the Creed: Part 5
Reflections on the Creed: Part 6
Reflections on the Creed: Part 7
Reflections on the Creed: Part 8
Reflections on the Creed: Part 9

“I believe in the communion of saints…”

“I believe in the communion of saints.” According to Jesuit theologian George Maloney, this statement of faith is “the one least understood among Christians and therefore the one that has least importance for practical Christian living.”

In issuing a “universal call of holiness” (Lumen Gentium, Chapter 5), the Second Vatican Council clearly intended to foreground this dogma, to render it understood and practical in the modern world, and to place it at the heart of the Church’s self-understanding. The communion of saints constitutes the Church in its very sociology. To be a member of the Church is simply to be called to sanctity — called by Christ and called by the saints.
What does “the communion of saints” mean and how is it important for our lives? The creed does not declare our belief simply in the existence of saints, but in the communion of saints, in their vital connection with each other.

St. Paul’s great realization was that the saints are the members of Christ’s Mystical Body, united in the “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father” (Eph 4:5). By this definition, the “communion of saints” is the very life of Christ, which binds Christians together. Sharing the Scriptures, the teachings, charitable works, the joys and sorrows of Christian living, and the sacraments — above all, the Eucharist, which is Christ Himself, the food of martyrs — they live out and actually increase the communion of saints.

This mysterious bond in Christ is so deep, so real, that each one’s prayers, good works, suffering, and striving for sanctity affect the others. This holds true not only of Christians in direct contact with other — who see each other, work together, belong to the same family or parish. No, the communion of saints affects a spiritual connection between persons that overcomes the limits of time and space.

In Christ, what I do and offer in charity makes a difference in the lives of others — no matter in what hidden corner I stand. The Servant of God Joseph Kentenich (1885-1968) taught his followers this motto: “I sanctify myself for others.” What I eat at my table affects the hungry. What money I spend affects the poor. What and how I pray affect the prayers of others.

Belief in the communion of saints calls us to a deep responsibility for each other here and now. It also gives us hope, knowing that the saints who have preceded us on the earthly journey continue to intercede for us in Christ. As J. P. Kirsch explains, “The departed saints … are concerned about those still struggling.” The saints in heaven care for those on earth.

Because the saints in heaven are united with God, each Christian’s union with God on earth is also a communion with them. To live out of the truth of this communion, to realize its potential, is to crack open what is for many an unbreakable barrier, to achieve a vital communication between heaven and earth, between those living in time and those living in eternity. Our God is “the God of the living, not the dead” (Mt 22:32).

Whereas the Feast of All Saints invites the whole Church to look upward to the saints in glory, the Second Vatican Council gives us the same vision from the opposite direction. It invites us to see the Church on earth as the saints in heaven see it and call it to holiness. What unites the two perspectives is the faith of Christians, ancient and ever new, in the communion of saints.

Call Off the War: Let’s Put an End to Liturgical Politics

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D.

Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

Editor, Oblation:  Catechesis, Liturgy, and the New Evangelization

Editor, Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization

Contact Author

As a senior at the University of Notre Dame in 2003, I received permission to take a graduate course offered by Maxwell Johnson, entitled Liturgical History.  Here, for the first time, I came to see the possibility of treating liturgical prayer as an authentic site for theological inquiry.   Until then, my “study” of the liturgy was limited to a reading of the ordo before setting up for Mass as the sacristan of the undergraduate seminary.  Johnson’s course had me hooked.  I was fascinated by the development of liturgical texts and practices in light of an array of theological and cultural influences.  I began to see the liturgical context of all theological inquiry.   And I appropriated the vision of the 20th century liturgical renewal as I worked on a thesis with Max Johnson in the spring semester, seeking a deeper grasp of the historical, theological, and pastoral implications of The Liturgy of the Hours.

In the intervening years, my passion for liturgical studies has flourished all the more.  I immersed myself in both liturgical and sacramental theology and the patristic period, finding the subtle ways that liturgical prayer shaped the preaching, teaching, and theological inquiry of Augustine of Hippo.  I’ve grown fascinated with the appropriation of liturgical texts (and themes) in English literature and novels.   And my interest has increased, not simply out of a scholarly desire to “master” Augustinian thought, but because I sought a way to develop a liturgical mystagogy capable of transforming the lives of contemporary believers.   To seek a healing of our desires, our limited understanding of God, of the dis-ease with which we approach our bodies, of our failure to see vocation as a form of “liturgical” self-gift for the transfiguration of the world.

Yet, throughout my studies and now in my directorship at the Center of Liturgy, I have often found that liturgical prayer (rather than a site for genuine healing) has become simply another form of the culture wars that have embroiled both politics and the Church today.  I have attended conferences, where any mention of Benedict XVI or concerns about the de-sacralization of liturgical prayer have been greeted with suspicion and derision.  Simultaneously, I have encountered students (and professors at other liturgical conferences), who seem to at best tolerate the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.  The Notre Dame Center for Liturgy is often measured according to the same ideological standards.  Where are we in the liturgical wars?  Am I, as director, on the right or left?

This form of liturgical politics is ultimately exhausting and detrimental to the flourishing of the Church.   Happily, the function of the liturgy as ideological marker is increasingly absent from the students who I teach.  I have an array of students, who prefer Eucharistic liturgies filled with polyphony and chant, incense ascending above the altar.   Likewise, I teach just as many undergraduates whose preferred liturgical style includes drums and harps and guitars.  Each of these groups kneel during the Eucharistic prayer (even if there are no kneelers) out of devotion to the sacrament, not as an opening volley to a liturgical tete-a-tete.  They participate in Eucharistic adoration as a way of renewing their own sense of Eucharistic gratitude, not because they have a private and individualistic sense of the sacrament.  They have often perfectly embodied the ideal of the Second Vatican Council that the Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ, which moves the Christian community toward a more authentic vision of love for the neighbor.  And the two sides, often enough, are actually friends.

Most importantly, they seek to understand the liturgical life of the Church as integral to vocation; to the concrete ways that they commit themselves to a form of self-gift in the world.  They do not spurn the world (though sometimes, they need to learn to talk about the relationship between faith and culture in a more sophisticated manner).   They do not reject the holiness of the ordinary:  of human sexuality, of meals cooked and enjoyed with friends, of happenstance conversations with friends.  Rather, they seek to offer up every aspect of their lives to the Father, and liturgical prayer is the privileged technology for this offering.

The problem with liturgical politics (and the liturgy wars) is that it gradually suffocates this spirit of prayer.  Ironically, it turns liturgical prayer (a participation, ever so brief, in the heavenly peace of the city) into an act of war.  We grow to suspect that the hymn chosen at a particular celebration of the Eucharist is intended to communicate some implicit ideological theme.   We hear chant and assume that the music director is dialing back the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.  We “use” the liturgy to institute our own ideas of what reform should look like, rather than celebrating liturgical prayer as an authentic encounter with the living God.

So what to do?   The end of liturgical politics will require a bit of ascesis on all our parts; a new discipline of charity, of self-gift.  I’ll admit on a personal level I prefer Eucharistic liturgies with incense and chant, the sound of the organ filling the sacred space.  But to be Catholic includes more than personal taste, even if that taste has been refined through liturgical study.   It involves understanding that beauty in liturgy is essential.  But beauty is found fundamentally in the action performed, in the ritual movement, in a heart lifted up to the Father as a gift of love.  When I attend a liturgy that does not “conform” to my preferred liturgical style), the proper response is one of self-gift not suspicion and demonization.  For the action that is performed is still the Eucharistic gift of love, the Eucharistic offering of self for the life of the world.   Those occupying the formal position of “liturgist” in a parish should have the same attitude in liturgical celebration.   The Catholic “liturgical” tent is wide, and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with recognizing this fact, rather than forcing the same liturgical style on every member of a parish.

Simultaneously, it must be realized that the purpose of liturgical prayer is not strictly about us.  The root of liturgical politics is often a kind of self-worship.   It’s not about creating a beautiful experience for us to enjoy, an opportunity for us to celebrate our culture, an occasion for the Church to demonstrate herself as triumphant victor over secularity, and on and on.   Liturgical prayer is always an encounter with the Triune God, mediated through the Church.  An encounter that ideally results in the joining of our very humanity with the life of God.  Not simply a general sense of our humanity but the very particular narrative, which I bring to the liturgy that I attend.   The widower, who comes in sorrow, should discern in liturgical prayer an opportunity for an encounter with Christ just as much as the family of six perceives in liturgy a vibrant opportunity for prayer that is taken up into family life itself.  Liturgical politics “deforms” the liturgy, turns it into a sectarian exercise, where the only ones who are welcome are those who look, sound, and act like me.  The rite of the Church (and following the rubrics of said rite) are intended to protect this primary function of the liturgy, to keep it from becoming an expression of self instead of an encounter with Christ.

Putting an end to liturgical politics won’t be easy.  It will require authentic charity (and the presumption of good will) among bishops, clergy, liturgy committees and professional liturgists alike.  It will necessitate real dialogue, disagreement that does not disfigure one’s dialogue partner but is open to the possibility of a genuine encounter.  It will involve the examination of those half-truths, the partial narratives, that we have adopted to buttress our position.  Such charity is a “theological virtue”, one bestowed by God not through human effort alone.  And as Thomas Aquinas reminds us, the final end of the Eucharist (the res tantum) is union with the mystical body of Christ.  True and authentic, self-giving love, with all those who abide now in Christ.

Thus, in this year of faith, in this year in which we look more closely to the liturgical renewal brought about by the Second Vatican Council, let us also put an end to liturgical politics.  Not simply to be kind and tolerant to one another.  But because the real work of the Council remains undone:   to renew the vigor of the Church’s love for Christ, to manifest the brilliant charity of Christ within the modern (and now post-modern) world itself, and to offer the possibility of transforming every aspect of human culture into a gift of love.


The Spirituality of the Lay Ecclesial Minister – Part 2

Daniel Whitehouse

MDiv. Candidate, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

This is the second in a series of articles geared toward developing an understanding of the lay ecclesial minister in terms of spirituality. The first article, The Spirituality of the Lay Ecclesial Minister – Part 1, laid a foundation for this understanding through a discussion of the participation of the lay faithful in the threefold mission of Christ as priest, prophet, and king. This installment will endeavor to clarify the secular nature of the vocation to lay ministry.

The decree of the Second Vatican Council on the Apostolate of the Laity, Apostolicam Actuositatem, declares: “[t]he Church was founded for the purpose of spreading the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth for the glory of God the Father, to enable all men to share in His saving redemption, and that through them the whole world might enter into a relationship with Christ.… All activity of the Mystical Body directed to the attainment of this goal is called the apostolate, which the Church carries on in various ways through all her members.”[1]

The document continues to develop the language of a ‘oneness of mission’ in which all share through a diversity of ministry. John Paul II designates the uniquely lay expression of ministry when he states, “[the] lay faithful has its own manner of realization and function, which, according to the Council, is ‘properly and particularly’ theirs … designated with the expression ‘secular character’.”[2] This secular character, by which the lay faithful is often described, deserves a closer examination.

Aurelie Hagstrom examines the secular character of the laity throughout the relevant conciliar and post-conciliar documents positing three possible interpretations of this character. The term could refer to: a sociological phenomenon which grounds itself in the actual de facto “life situation of the laity,”[3] a theological/ontological reality grounding itself in baptismal identity,[4] or a dimension of the whole Church “that finds expression in a particular way through the laity.”[5] While each position has its own strengths and weaknesses, Hagstrom notes that the third interpretation is particularly strong in its assertion of the secular dimension of the entire Church.[6] She goes on to state that though the Church’s mission is to the world—having a secular character and demanding the responsibility of all the Church’s members—“the laity have a particular relationship with secularity, which characterizes their participation in the mission.”[7] Therefore, the lay faithful are not bracketed from the internal life of the Church by virtue of their secular character; rather, they participate in the Church’s secular mission. As another scholar affirms, “In ascribing a secular character to the laity, the council did not mean to exclude them from activity within the community of the Church.”[8] Apostolicam Actuositatem also gives voice to this reality by stating, “the laity … exercise their apostolate … in the world as well as in the Church.”[9] Hagstrom ultimately claims, “because the Church’s mission is both spiritual and temporal, the laity are called to the building of ecclesial communion (ad intra) as well as to the transformation of the world with gospel values (ad extra) … the secular character of the laity is not posed in opposition to their participation in the inner life of the Church.”[10]  The secular character of the laity’s participation in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king is fundamentally oriented towards the secular mission of the Church even if it finds expression ad intra.

Having established the spirituality of the layperson within the threefold mission of Christ and demonstrated the referent of the ‘secular character’ of the lay faithful, the next article in this series will direct our attention to the increasing numbers of lay men and women serving the Church ad intra through lay ecclesial ministry.


[1] Second Vatican Council, Apostolicam Actuositatem (AA). 18 November 1965, Papal Archive, The Holy See. <http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651118_apostolicam-actuositatem_en.html>, 2.

[2] Pope John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (CL). 30 December 1988, Papal Archive, The Holy See. <http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_30121988_christifideles-laici_en.html>, 15.

[3] Aurelie A. Hagstrom, “The Secular Character of the Vocation and Mission of the Laity,” Ordering the Baptismal Priesthood: Theologies of Lay and Ordained Ministries. Ed. Susan K. Wood, 152-174 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003), 153.

[4] Ibid, 170.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, 171.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Zeni Fox, “Laity, Ministry, and Secular Character,” Ordering the Baptismal Priesthood: Theologies of Lay and Ordained Ministries. Ed. Susan K. Wood, 121-151 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003), 143.

[9] AA, 143.

[10] Hagstrom, 172.

The Spirituality of the Lay Ecclesial Minister – Part 1

Daniel Whitehouse

MDiv. Candidate, University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

The Second Vatican Council, in its dogmatic constitution on the Church, exhorted all members of the Church to recognize and pursue their vocation to holiness stating, “all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”[1] This universal call to holiness is the fundamental vocation of all people, as Christ Himself directs us to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48, RSV). Upon hearing the invitation to perfect charity, the question quickly becomes: ‘how?’ The response to this question of expression is largely determined by many factors including: particular vocation[2] (whether it be ordained ministry, consecrated life, marriage, or single life), personality, and occupation. The emerging role of the lay ecclesial minister could seem to push on the categories of spirituality, convoluting lay and ordained manifestations of holiness and tending towards clericalism in the laity.

This series of three articles will explore the concept of spirituality as it pertains to the lay ecclesial minister. The first article will highlight both the participation of all the lay members of the Church within the threefold mission of Christ. The second will discuss the secular character of the lay vocation. The third will treat the unique features of the spirituality of the lay ecclesial minister, positing that the spirituality of the lay ecclesial minister is an authentic manifestation of lay spirituality, integrally oriented to ministry and organically linked to the Church.

Christifideles Laici, John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation on the lay faithful, provides a very thorough overview of the lay mission and vocation echoing from the Second Vatican Council. The document begins with a commentary on Christ’s parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt 20:1-16, RSV) stating that, “[t]he call [to work in the vineyard] is a concern not only of pastors, clergy, and men and women religious. The call is addressed to everyone: lay people as well are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world.”[3] The expression of this mission for all the lay faithful is founded upon incorporation into the threefold mission of Christ as priest, prophet, and king through their baptism.[4] This spirituality of proclamation, sanctification, and service in Christ is intrinsic to all the faithful; however, the lay faithful share Christ’s mission in a degree and essence of their own,[5] based on both their state in the world and their apostolate. Briefly treating the threefold mission of Christ of priest, prophet, and king in relation to the layperson will elucidate a proper understanding of a genuine lay spirituality from which we can move forward.

First, we turn our attention to the priestly mission of Christ to sanctify. John Paul II affirms lay participation in this mission by stating: “[t]he lay faithful are sharers in the priestly mission, for which Jesus offered Himself on the cross and continues to be offered in the celebration of the Eucharist for the glory of God and the salvation of humanity.”[6] The baptismal priesthood participates, according to John Paul II, in Christ’s Priesthood through a willingness to sacrifice in order to both glorify God and sanctify the world. Lumen Gentium also expresses the particularly lay dimension of the priestly mission stating:

“[Christ] also gives [the laity] a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men…. For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become ‘spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’ Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.” [7]

In and through uniting his or her prayer, activities, work, recreation, rest, hardships, and family life to Christ in the Holy Spirit, the layperson not only gives glory to God but also works towards the sanctification of the world.  Though exhibited differently, the ministerial priesthood and the baptismal priesthood are complimentary and have a common root in Christ.[8]

Next, the prophetic mission of Christ is also made present in the layperson by virtue of their baptism as John Paul II contends, “[t]hrough their participation in the prophetic mission of Christ, … the lay faithful are given the ability and responsibility to accept the gospel in faith and to proclaim it in word and deed, without hesitating to courageously identify and denounce evil.”[9] While the hierarchy of the Church—those ordained to ministry—preach and proclaim Christ officially, the lay members of Christ are prophetic through the sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful), witness of life, and convincing speech such that “the power of the Gospel might shine forth in their daily social and family life.”[10] The essence of prophecy for the layperson is that he or she would bear witness to the truth of Christ by his or her words and deeds, as well as contend against wickedness and sinfulness in everyday life. Lumen Gentium gives pride of place in the lay prophetic endeavor to the Christian family, wherein husband and wife testify to faith and love for one another and their children.[11] Evangelization by word and life is the means by which the world will come to hear the Good News of Christ: “it remains for each one of [the laity] to cooperate in the external spread and the dynamic growth of the Kingdom of Christ in the world.”[12] Even without bearing the authority of the hierarchy, every baptized person, in a manner proper to his or her particular vocation, is charged with the great commission of our Lord: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20a, RSV).

Finally, according to John Paul II, the lay faithful participate in the kingly mission of Christ in two ways. First, John Paul II states that the laity “exercise their kingship as Christians, above all in the spiritual combat in which they seek to overcome in themselves the kingdom of sin, and then to make a gift of themselves so as to serve, in justice and in charity, Jesus who is Himself present in all his brothers and sisters, above all in the very least.”[13] The mission of Christ’s kingship concerns the re-ordering of all creation with its ultimate telos (goal or purpose), namely, the perfection of charity and union with God. Therefore, lay people should seek to govern their own passions and desires in order to overcome sin, so that they can serve God and one another properly. Secondly, John Paul II continues:

[I]n particular the lay faithful are called to restore to creation all its original value. In ordering creation to the authentic well-being of humanity in an activity governed by the life of grace, they share in the exercise of the power with which the Risen Christ draws all things to Himself and subjects them along with Himself to the Father, so that God might be everything to everyone.[14]

With this in mind, sharing in Christ’s governance is demonstrated to include both a personal and communal role, although markedly different from the ordained manifestation of the kingly mission. The laity “must learn the deepest meaning and the value of all creation, … its role in the harmonious praise of God … [and] … [t]hey must assist each other to live holier lives even in their daily occupations,” in order that “the world may be permeated by the spirit of Christ and it may more effectively fulfill its purpose in justice, charity and peace.”[15]

The lay faithful, as demonstrated above, are called to participate in the threefold mission of Christ in an essence and to a degree harmonious with their particular vocation;[16] however, “what specifically characterizes the laity is their secular nature.”[17] Given this reality, the next clarification to make is the nature of the lay vocation, which will be treated in next week’s article in this series.

[1] Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium (LG). 21 November 1964, Papal Archive. The Holy See. <http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html>, 40.

[2] Second Vatican Council, Apostolicam Actuositatem (AA). 18 November 1965, Papal Archive, The Holy See. <http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651118_apostolicam-actuositatem_en.html>, 2.
[‘Particular vocation’ and ‘state of life’ are used interchangeably.]

[3] Pope John Paul II, Christifideles Laici (CL). 30 December 1988, Papal Archive, The Holy See. <http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_30121988_christifideles-laici_en.html>, 2.

[4] Ibid, 14.

[5] LG, 10.

[6] CL, 14.

[7] LG, 34.

[8] Ibid, 10.

[9] CL, 14.

[10] LG, 35.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] CL, 14.

[14] Ibid.

[15] LG, 36.

[16] AA, 2.

[17] LG, 31.