Saturday, January 29, 2011

Making the Hidden Visible: The Role of the Laity in the New Evangelization - Part III

Pietro Perugino. The Delivery of the Keys. 1482.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand? For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light"  (Mk. 4:21-22).

(Light of the Nations)

Christ's gift of the Church and the priesthood: power over sin and the power of conversion 

36. Christ, becoming obedient even unto death and because of this exalted by the Father (Cf. Phil. 2:8-9), entered into the glory of His kingdom. To Him all things are made subject until He subjects Himself and all created things to the Father that God may be all in all (Cf 1 Cor. 15:27). Now Christ has communicated this royal power to His disciples that they might be constituted in royal freedom and that by true penance and a holy life they might conquer the reign of sin in themselves. (Cf. Rom. 6:12) Further, He has shared this power so that serving Christ in their fellow men they might by humility and patience lead their brethren to that King for whom to serve is to reign.

Christ's gift of the laity: the power to deliver all things--creation itself--from its "slavery to corruption."

Carolsfeld, "The New Jerusalem Descending From Heaven"
But the Lord wishes to spread His kingdom also by means of the laity, namely, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace. In this kingdom creation itself will be delivered from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God. (Cf Rom. 8:21) Clearly then a great promise and a great trust is committed to the disciples: "All things are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's" (1 Cor. 3:23).

What the laity must do to accomplish its mission:

The faithful, therefore, must learn the deepest meaning and the value of all creation, as well as its role in the harmonious praise of God. They must assist each other to live holier lives even in their daily occupations. In this way the world may be permeated by the spirit of Christ and it may more effectively fulfill its purpose in justice, charity and peace. The laity have the principal role in the overall fulfillment of this duty. Therefore, by their competence in secular training and by their activity, elevated from within by the grace of Christ, let them vigorously contribute their effort, so that created goods may be perfected by human labor, technical skill and civic culture for the benefit of all men according to the design of the Creator and the light of His Word. May the goods of this world be more equitably distributed among all men, and may they in their own way be conducive to universal progress in human and Christian freedom. In this manner, through the members of the Church, will Christ progressively illumine the whole of human society with His saving light.

da Vinci, John the Baptist Preaching to a Levite and a Pharisee
The power and influence of the laity's witness: like John the Baptist, preparing the world to receive the Word

Moreover, let the laity also by their combined efforts remedy the customs and conditions of the world, if they are an inducement to sin, so that they all may be conformed to the norms of justice and may favor the practice of virtue rather than hinder it. By so doing they will imbue culture and human activity with genuine moral values; they will better prepare the field of the world for the seed of the Word of God; and at the same time they will open wider the doors of the Church by which the message of peace may enter the world.

Learning to Discern: The laity must look to the Holy Spirit for guidance.

Because of the very economy of salvation the faithful should learn how to distinguish carefully between those rights and duties which are theirs as members of the Church, and those which they have as members of human society. Let them strive to reconcile the two, remembering that in every temporal affair they must be guided by a Christian conscience, since even in secular business there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God's dominion. In our own time, however, it is most urgent that this distinction and also this harmony should shine forth more clearly than ever in the lives of the faithful, so that the mission of the Church may correspond more fully to the special conditions of the world today. For it must be admitted that the temporal sphere is governed by its own principles, since it is rightly concerned with the interests of this world. But that ominous doctrine which attempts to build a society with no regard whatever for religion, and which attacks and destroys the religious liberty of its citizens, is rightly to be rejected.

Making the Hidden Visible: The Role of the Laity in the New Evangelization - Part II

John Herbert, "The Youth of Our Lord"

Jesus said to his disciples,
“Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket 

or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?
For there is nothing hidden 

except to be made visible;
nothing is secret except 
to come to light" 
(Mk. 4:21-22).

(Light of the Nations)

In connection with the prophetic function [of the laity] is that state of life which is sanctified by a special sacrament obviously of great importance, namely, married and family life. For where Christianity pervades the entire mode of family life, and gradually transforms it, one will find there both the practice and an excellent school of the lay apostolate. In such a home husbands and wives find their proper vocation in being witnesses of the faith and love of Christ to one another and to their children. The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present virtues of the Kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to come. Thus by its example and its witness it accuses the world of sin and enlightens those who seek the truth.

Consequently, even when preoccupied with temporal cares, the laity can and must perform a work of great value for the evangelization of the world. For even if some of them have to fulfill their religious duties on their own, when there are no sacred ministers or in times of persecution; and even if many of them devote all their energies to apostolic work; still it remains for each one of them to cooperate in the external spread and the dynamic growth of the Kingdom of Christ in the world. Therefore, let the laity devotedly strive to acquire a more profound grasp of revealed truth, and let them insistently beg of God the gift of wisdom.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Making the Hidden Visible: The Role of the Laity in the New Evangelization - Part I

Jesus said to his disciples,
“Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed,
 and not to be placed on a lampstand?
For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible;
nothing is secret except to come to light" (Mk. 4:21-22).

From LUMEN GENTIUM  (Light of the Nations)

 35. Christ, the great Prophet, who proclaimed the Kingdom of His Father both by the testimony of His life and the power of His words, continually fulfills His prophetic office until the complete manifestation of glory. He does this not only through the hierarchy who teach in His name and with His authority, but also through the laity whom He made His witnesses and to whom He gave understanding of the faith (sensu fidei) and an attractiveness in speech (Cf. Acts 2:17-18; Rev. 19:10) so that the power of the Gospel might shine forth in their daily social and family life.

 They conduct themselves as children of the promise, and thus strong in faith and in hope they make the most of the present, (Cf. Eph. 5:16; Col. 4:5) and with patience await the glory that is to come (Cf. Rom. 8:25). Let them not, then, hide this hope in the depths of their hearts, but even in the program of their secular life let them express it by a continual conversion and by wrestling "against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness (Eph. 6:12).

Just as the sacraments of the New Law, by which the life and the apostolate of the faithful are nourished, prefigure a new heaven and a new earth (Cf. Rev. 21:1), so too the laity go forth as powerful proclaimers of a faith in things to be hoped for (Cf. Heb. 11:1), when they courageously join to their profession of faith a life springing from faith. This evangelization, that is, this announcing of Christ by a living testimony as well as by the spoken word, takes on a specific quality and a special force in that it is carried out in the ordinary surroundings of the world.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Saving Work of Christ Culminates in His Church

The Catechism of the Catholic Church opens up the Scriptures to us. 
Read Scripture and the Catechism together daily!
N. Lionda, "Great High Priest," Late 20th C


Brothers and sisters:
Since through the Blood of Jesus
we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary
by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil,
that is, his flesh,
and since we have “a great priest over the house of God,”
let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust,
with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience
and our bodies washed in pure water.
Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope,
for he who made the promise is trustworthy.
We must consider how to rouse one another
to love and good works.
We should not stay away from our assembly,
as is the custom of some, but encourage one another,
and this all the more as you see the day drawing near
(Heb 10:19-25).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church
on How and Why We Are Justified Before God

1992 Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life (Cf. Council of Trent (1547): Denzinger-Schonmetzer, Handbook of Creeds and Definitions 1529).

1996 Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life (Cf. Jn 1:12-18; 17:3; Rom 8:14-17; 2 Pet 1:3-4).
1997 Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an "adopted son" he can henceforth call God "Father," in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church.

2003 Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church. There are sacramental graces, gifts proper to the different sacraments. There are furthermore special graces, also called charisms after the Greek term used by St. Paul and meaning "favor," "gratuitous gift," "benefit" (Cf. Lumen Gentium 12). Whatever their character - sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues - charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church (Cf. 1 Cor 12).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

When We Find God, We Find Ourselves

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken (Psalm 62:1-2).

Caravaggio, "The Conversion of St. Paul"
Today the Church commemorates and celebrates the Conversion of St. Paul. Before meeting the risen and glorified Christ on his way to Damascus, before the Lord completely changed him and thus his name, Saul of Tarsus was an over-zealous Pharisee, who like some of his predecessors and peers, saw the new Christian faith as a threat to the true faith of Israel.  In that spirit of zeal, he had decided to go to Damascus to find and to arrest as many of the followers of Jesus as he could.  

But Saul's zeal was in fact not founded in his love for and faith in the Lord, but rather was inspired by his own pride. Like some of his peers, he had chosen to ignore the wisdom of his teacher, the very celebrated Jewish doctor Gamaliel, regarding how the Jewish leadership should regard Jesus and His followers.

In Acts 5:12-39, we read that the Apostles had been preaching in the Temple and healing the sick, drawing great crowds. Out of jealousy, the high priest and the Sanhedrin had them arrested and thrown into prison, but they miraculously escaped. When the same members of the Jewish high council heard that the Apostles were somehow back in the Temple once again, "they became furious and wanted to execute them. But a Pharisee whose name was Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the council and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time."

"Then he said to the council, 'Men of Israel, pay close attention to what you are about to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and nothing came of it. After him Judas the Galilean arose in the days of the census, and incited people to follow him in revolt. He too was killed, and all who followed him were scattered. So in this case I say to you, stay away from these men and leave them alone, because if this plan or this undertaking originates with people, it will come to nothing, but if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them, or you may even be found fighting against God.'"

For the moment, Gamaliel had convinced the Jewish authorities to release the Apostles after having them flogged.  But like some of his peers, Saul did not heed his teacher's advice, and in his pride, was not willing to stand back and let God show them whether Jesus and His teachings were "from God."

But in His great compassion, the Lord comes to meet us wherever we are. In His appearance to Saul, it was as though Christ had come a second time, and this time just for him.  In a flash of blinding light that threw him to the ground, and in a voice whose authority he could only immediately and helplessly acknowledge and obey, we see what was perhaps the greatest living witness to the true identity of Christ, with the story best expressed in Paul's own words:

“On that journey as I drew near to Damascus,
about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me.
I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me,
‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
I replied, ‘Who are you, sir?’
And he said to me,
‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.’
My companions saw the light
but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me.
I asked, ‘What shall I do, sir?’
The Lord answered me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus,
and there you will be told about everything
appointed for you to do.’
Since I could see nothing because of the brightness of that light,
I was led by hand by my companions and entered Damascus (Acts 22:6-11).

Through the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we find that the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul comes not so coincidentally in the midst of our meditating on Jesus' ministry of physical and spiritual healing, as read in the Gospel of Mark at Mass. In his conversion, Paul exemplifies and serves as a witness to this same power of Christ to heal those who are sick and in need of deliverance from evil.

Saul's conversion happened while he yet had great sin-- the desire to harm others-- in his heart. In his own pride, in following his own will instead of God's, in supposing that he was protecting the faith of Israel by eliminating the followers of Christ, he was nevertheless acting out his deepest yearning for God and for the coming of His kingdom on earth.

The yearning for God is universal. We see it in the drug addict, in the prostitute, in the thief.  All these, like all of us, are mistakenly seeking, in things and in other people, joy, peace, and immortality. But little do we know that in the midst of our sins, in the very ends we pursue while harming ourselves and others, all the while God is there, waiting to give us, in Himself, the desires of our hearts.  It is only when we let God be God over us that He, in turn, gives us ourselves and our true identity, receiving from Him everything we need, including, in our encounter with the person of Jesus, the Way to complete freedom and wholeness.  What followed Paul's vision of the Lord is available to all, just for the asking:

"A certain Ananias, a devout observer of the law,
and highly spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,
came to me and stood there and said,
‘Saul, my brother, regain your sight.’
And at that very moment I regained my sight and saw him.
Then he said,
‘The God of our ancestors designated you to know his will,
to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of his voice;
for you will be his witness before all
to what you have seen and heard.
Now, why delay?
Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away,
calling upon his name.’” (Acts 22:12-15)

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Son, the Scribes, and the Strong Man

James J. Tissot, "Woe Unto You, Scribes and Pharisees"
 The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said of Jesus, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” 

Summoning them, he began to speak to them in parables, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house. 

Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” For they had said, “He has an unclean spirit” (Mk 3:22-30).

Jesus has just worked a miracle but the scribes refuse to recognize it "for they had said 'He has an unclean spirit'" (v. 30). They do not want to admit that God is the author of the miracle. In this attribute lies the special gravity of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit -- attributing to the prince of evil, to Satan, the good works performed by God himself ... That is why our Lord says that he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven: not because God cannot forgive all sins, but because that person, in his blindness towards God, rejects Jesus Christ, his teaching and his miracles, and despises the graces of the Holy Spirit as if they were designed to trap him (cf. St. Pius V Catechism, II, 5, 19; St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 14, a. 3). CF. note on Mt 12:31-32.
--from The Navarre Bible: St. Mark

The Catechism of the Catholic Church opens up the Scriptures to us. 
Read Scripture and the Catechism together daily!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church on "The Proclamation of the Kingdom of God"

543 Everyone is called to enter the kingdom. First announced to the children of Israel, this messianic kingdom is intended to accept men of all nations (Cf. Mt 8:11 10:5-7; 28:19). To enter it, one must first accept Jesus' word: 

The word of the Lord is compared to a seed which is sown in a field; those who hear it with faith and are numbered among the little flock of Christ have truly received the kingdom. Then, by its own power, the seed sprouts and grows until the harvest (Lumen Gentium 5; cf. Mk 4:14, 26-29; Lk 12:32).

546 Jesus' invitation to enter his kingdom comes in the form of parables, a characteristic feature of his teaching (Cf. Mk 4:33-34).
On "The Signs of the Kingdom of God"

547 Jesus accompanies his words with many "mighty works and wonders and signs", which manifest that the kingdom is present in him and attest that he was the promised Messiah (Acts 2:22; cf. Lk 7:18-23).
548 The signs worked by Jesus attest that the Father has sent him. They invite belief in him (Cf. Jn 5:36; 10:25, 38).  To those who turn to him in faith, he grants what they ask (Cf. Mk 5:25-34; 10:52; etc). So miracles strengthen faith in the One who does his Father's works; they bear witness that he is the Son of God (Cf. Jn 10:31-38). But his miracles can also be occasions for "offense" (Mt 11:6); they are not intended to satisfy people's curiosity or desire for magic. Despite his evident miracles some people reject Jesus; he is even accused of acting by the power of demons (Cf. Jn 11:47-48; Mk 3:22).
549 By freeing some individuals from the earthly evils of hunger, injustice, illness and death (Cf. Jn 6:5-15; Lk 19:8; Mt 11:5), Jesus performed messianic signs. Nevertheless he did not come to abolish all evils here below (Cf. Lk 12 13-14; Jn 18:36), but to free men from the gravest slavery, sin, which thwarts them in their vocation as God's sons and causes all forms of human bondage (Cf. Jn 8:34-36).

550 The coming of God's kingdom means the defeat of Satan's: "If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Mt 12:26, 28). Jesus' exorcisms free some individuals from the domination of demons. They anticipate Jesus' great victory over "the ruler of this world" (Jn 12:31; cf. Lk 8:26-39). The kingdom of God will be definitively established through Christ's cross.