When I began this series of reflections it was in response to some of the events of this summer which has been challenging to those who are Christian. How are we to witness our faith to those around us? The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity from Vatican Council II proposes this vision to Catholics, “Our own times require of the laity no less zeal, in fact, modern conditions demand that their apostolate be broadened and intensified…Since the laity, in accordance with their state in life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ” (The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, #1 & #2). St. Paul wrote about this too shortly before his martyrdom in Rome, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Perhaps the Vatican II fathers, St. Paul and those of us who love to back pack have something in common; we need a good map and compass to avoid pointless wandering.
Joe Paprocki and Julianne Stanz consider this same point as they ponder our role as Christians regarding openness to the world. “We need to familiarize ourselves to the ‘terrain’ of this world. The Holy Spirit was poured forth so that we could proclaim the gospel to all nations. This serves as our map, compass, and ultimately our GPSS – our global positioning spiritual system. Without such a system we would wander aimlessly, without direction, With it we can stay in touch with the field in which the seeds of the gospel are to be sown: the world. We are called, however, not simply to immerse ourselves in the world but to survey it, engage it, and challenge it so that it may be transformed in and through Christ” (The Catechist’s Backpack, XIII in Introduction).
So let’s test our map. You and I spend our days with our spouses and children, at work with colleagues and customers, in the ball parks and auditoriums. We live our life primarily outside of our local parish’s walls and away from the priests and religious whose work shows us how God’s love story includes each of us. Although every day can be, and many times is, a new adventure we know our terrain pretty well. The question for you and me is how well do we experience God’s movement in our lives? How do we know what these seeds look like to sow them into the fields in which we find ourselves? Why not try the process below which a Benedictine monk outlined years ago to help me experience God’s movement in my life (it works really well with what Joe and Julianne wrote above):
- Survey the soil (world) – Listen to the hopes and concerns of those around you paying special attention to those who are marginalized in your local community, around the nation and the world. How do the hopes and dreams measure up to the standard set by the Gospel; for example the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10) or the Judgment of Nations (Matthew 25:31-46)?
- Work the soil (engage the world) – How are the hopes and concerns of those around me when viewed with the gospel calling me to conversion of heart? Is there a possible action found within the corporeal works of mercy that will help me respond as a Christian disciple to the person or situation that is immediately in front of me?
- Tend the garden (challenge the world) – What care needs to be done to my heart so that I cultivate the fruits of the Spirit? Before responding to the challenges of the secular society, have I checked my pride at the door and entered into dialogue with humility? (Although my friend is a Benedictine, he finds the Jesuit practice of the Daily Examen very helpful.)
Perhaps the prayer below, attributed to Brother Lawrence, may be a fitting conclusion to this reflection:
Lord of all pots and pans and things,
since I’ve no time to be a great saint
by doing lovely things,
or watching late with Thee,
or dreaming in the dawnlight,
or storming heaven’s gates,
make me a saint by getting meals,
and washing up the plates.
Warm all the kitchen with Thy Love,
and light it with Thy peace;
forgive me all my worrying,
and make my grumbling cease.
Thou who didst love to give men food,
in room, or by the sea,
accept the service that I do,
I do it unto Thee.
Reflection written by John Gaffney, Diocesan Director for Evangelization & Catechesis.
Julianne Stanz will present a workshop for catechetical leaders in the Diocese of Des Moines on March 3, 2016.