A few years ago, when The Benedict Option was becoming popular in certain Christian circles—primarily through the writings of Rod Dreher who is influenced by Alasdair MacIntyre—I was initially intrigued and drawn to this approach. The culture was, and continues to be, in a downward spiral. Anti-Christian sentiments and policies continue apace throughout the Western world, while many of our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world suffer violent persecution and even martyrdom. As Western Civilization continues to abandon its Christian roots in favor of nihilism, hedonism, consumerism, materialism, utilitarianism, and relativism, many Christians are wondering what our response should be to the situation.
Retreating from the world to build primarily Christian communities is attractive. I myself would like to find friends within the Church who desire greater prayer in small communities, whether it be through a weekly or monthly gathering to pray the Rosary or Vespers. I want holier friendships with my brothers and sisters in Christ that are grounded in the communion we share within the Mystical Body. I want to live a fully Catholic life, so it makes sense that people want to build up communities around monasteries and churches in order to weather the storms of this age.
The problem is that, for Catholics, the laity’s mission differs—while also sharing similarities—with consecrated religious such as Benedictines. We are not called to retreat from the world. We are called to go out to meet the world and bring it to Christ.
But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.
Even so, I thought that Bishop Barron should have gone further in his piece and looked to the laity. Especially in our time, the faithful Catholic laity are called to a particular vocation to evangelize in the secular world and are especially called to evangelize the culture. This is articulated in both Lumen Gentium and Christifideles Laici.
In no way do I think that Bishop Barron is calling for the ministerial priesthood to take up the laity’s role. However, I do think there is an issue that needs to be addressed, namely that the ministerial priesthood’s role within the Church is primarily to teach, to sanctify, and to govern the People of God and to make the Sacraments present to us. This is the primary mission of the priesthood. In so doing, the laity is equipped for their mission of evangelizing the world. The fact of the matter is, not only has Gaudium et Spes been greatly misinterpreted and poorly implemented in many corners, but Lumen Gentium and Christifideles Laici have been ignored in far too many parishes as well.
The ministerial priesthood is meant to help prepare those of us in the laity to go out into the world to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are sent forth at the end of Mass in order to bring people back to Christ. It’s much like the great sending forth when God speaks Creation into existence through the Word. It is the great exitus, as understood by St. Thomas Aquinas. Creation is then meant to return to God, reditus. We too as the Mystical Body are sent forth in order to bring all peoples to God through the Church. Our greatest desire should be to draw all peoples to Christ in the eucharistic banquet. Based on his previous works, Bishop Barron and I would probably agree that it is primarily the laity who are sent in that great movement (exitus) in order to bring others to the salvation extended to all peoples by Christ through His Church (reditus).
Practically speaking, the laity is not fully equipped to live it’s mission in the world. Bishop Barron rightly points out, the numbers of people leaving the Church are startling. Studies show that less than 20% of regular Church attendees are involved in ministry or donating to their parish on a given Sunday. Most of the time, the numbers are even lower than 20%. Yes, we need to evangelize the culture, but we also need to stop the hemorrhaging in our parishes. We should be drawing those who are already sacramentalized into a deeper encounter with Christ and, through the guidance of the ministerial priesthood, we must find ways to equip the laity to evangelize the world. How do we engage the people who are in the pews now, so they can go out to proclaim the Good News?
I recently started reading Bishop Robert Barron and John L. Allen Jr.’s book To Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age.I’ve read quite a few of Bishop Barron’s more theological books and I own both the Catholicism series and the most recent Pivotal Players series. He approaches evangelization in a deeply human and intuitive way. Many of his experiences are similar to my own. He emphasizes the beauty, depth, and richness of our Catholic Faith.
As I’ve written here before, beauty has had a foundational and significant impact on not only my reversion, but my spiritual journey as a whole. All of these experiences of beauty are grounded in Christ, most especially through an encounter both body and soul with Him in the Holy Eucharist. Barron leads with the beauty of the Faith fully realized in an encounter with Jesus Christ. It is a message that is so desperately needed in a culture that largely does not know how to relate to the beautiful, the good, and the true.
For Catholics one of the biggest mistakes we make in evangelization is getting too caught up in the culture wars. I made this mistake for a few years after my reversion. I thought: “If only we could explain Theology of the Body to people, then people would stop contracepting, ignoring Church teaching, the young would come back to the Church, etc.” Theology of the Body did have a profound impact on both me and my husband, but it didn’t cause my reversion. It took me a while to understand what took place within me that led me to give my life over to Christ and fully accept what the Church teaches.
The answer quite simply is that I had a real and tangible encounter with Jesus Christ. I saw Him through the beauty of the Mass. I wanted to give my life to Him because He had pierced me utterly at the deepest levels of my soul. I fell in love with Him and His Church. Only then was I ready to say: “Here, Lord. I give everything to you, even my sexuality.” Far too often, we lead with the Church’s doctrine and it doesn’t work. People are not converted by great moral theology, they are converted because they fall in love with Jesus Christ. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI put it best in Deus Caritas Est:
Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and decisive direction.
Those of us who are actively following Christ as disciples did not become Christian or remain Christian because we fell in love with ethics and the moral law. Instead, we fell in love with Christ and came to understanding all the demands placed upon us through Love. When we love others, we seek to empty ourselves. In our relationship with Christ, we are not only turning to Him in self-emptying love, we are conforming ourselves to Him, we are becoming more like Him. It is this self-emptying and desire to be in conformation to Him that leads us to throw our birth control pills away, give up lying and cheating, seek chastity, stop stealing, turn away from materialism and the lies of the culture in order to repent.
I will admit that after I wrote about leaving Facebook again, I struggled to deactivate. That is until God knocked me upside the head. This is the “letter” I wrote to my Facebook friends, many of whom have been very important to me at various times in my life.
To My Dear Facebook Friends,
I just had one of those jaw dropping (to me) moments of clear prodding from God. They don’t happen often, so He’s clearly trying to get my attention. During Mass I was contemplating all of the distractions in my life and how I had allowed Facebook to really distract me again. I was thinking about the things I need to do to help Michaela, my husband, and me on the path to holiness, especially in light of this Sunday’s Gospel reading which focuses on eschatology. I then thought about how I wanted to do prayers and read to Michaela this evening (yes my mind wandered a bit…I am a work in progress. 😉 when we got home. The book that came to mind is a children’s book called The Weight of One Mass. I bought it at a Catholic bookstore in MT when I was visiting this past summer. I really enjoy it, but it is not one Michaela usually picks. We haven’t read it in months and I chose it every time we’ve read it. We got home and after dinner I told her to go pick a book for us to read together. I kid you not, she walked out with The Weight of One Mass. Okay, Lord. I hear you. It’s time to pull the plug on Facebook and other distractions in order to focus on holiness.
There’s a lot of turmoil and anger in social media right now. The world is Fallen and full of suffering. It has always been this way and will continue to be so until the Parousia (Second Coming). The only way we transform the temporal order and fulfill our ontological and eschatological end is holiness. We can argue, battle it out, demonize one another, scream, rant, rave, plot our vengeance, and stomp our feet, but it accomplishes nothing. People are so charged, angry, and blinded right now that reasoned pleas for civil discussion are ignored and vilified. People have quite literally lost their minds.
Evangelization in the post-modern era poses unique difficulties. As I pointed out earlier today, we are no longer evangelizing peoples who worship gods outside of themselves, such as elements of nature. Today’s gods are ourselves. We are in a battle against billions of people who think they themselves are god. That truth is set by the individual; dependent entirely on their feelings and emotions, not reason and rational thinking. This leaves us to the whims of our neighbors beholden to their desire to be worshiped no matter what they do. This is dangerous and destructive. Remember this years from now when this thinking fails in tremendous and tragic ways. This is the dictatorship of relativism and the impacts of nihilism on our culture. We are seeing it on full display now.
How do we reach people who worship themselves? Something Christians all need to ponder very seriously. The mission is the same no matter who is in power or what happens in the future. We are called to be saints, even if our family, friends, neighbors, etc. give us over to be fed to the lions. We live our faith in truth, charity, and hope. Holiness is infectious. If we fulfill our mission and work to become holy saints, then others will be attracted to the joy, peace, and love of God within us. Once we encounter the Living God, truly encounter Him, the moral issues fall into place because we see as God sees rather than how *we* want to see. It makes little sense to many now, but the Cross is hope. Sacrifice is freedom. I had to walk in tremendous darkness before I could fully see it and I am still only beginning to get the paradox. In reality we can only grasp in faith at paradox, but we still have a deep understanding through the eyes of faith.
I write about holiness and the call to sainthood a lot, even though I fail daily. But our parish priest’s Homily was exactly on this topic tonight. Too many “coincidences” not to be the Holy Spirit prodding me to relinquish my grip on my distractions. I need to focus on personal holiness and my family. I will check in again at some point, but sparingly. I will continue to pray for all of you. Good-bye for the present. Take good care of yourselves. Pax Christi.
Tonight I saw a comment (social media provides me with a lot of food for thought) that implied the issues of the West, transgenderism, homosexuality, divorce, adultery, etc. are not the same as the murder, rape, persecution, and poverty overseas or in Third World countries. This was, of course, in response to the Bruce Jenner situation. I do not wish to write on that topic because there are people who would do a much better job on it than me. I pray for him and discuss it with people who bring it up to me, but I do not feel called to that discussion. This comment got me thinking. Have we forgotten about the unique dignity of every single human being? Have we forgotten that Jesus loves every single person? Yes, there are great horrors going on, but many of those are on our own street behind closed doors. The penalty for sin is death and destruction, so how can we think that our culture is somehow better off? How can we think that we don’t need to be concerned about the one lost soul we meet? What does Scripture say?
The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed this parable. “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. Luke 15:1-7
We can easily fall into the mentality of the Pharisees. I know I do it at times. We can decide that certain evils are greater because we have a visceral reaction to them. Who among us is not appalled by the rape and murder of children overseas? Those are great evils to be sure, but they are not the only evils impacting souls. When Blessed Teresa of Calcutta would come to the U.S., she would observe a great poverty in our country and in the rest of the West. It was a poverty of loneliness, the feeling of being unloved.
The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
Our country is being torn apart by broken homes, hedonism, materialism, and relativism. The by-products of these philosophies are everywhere. People are screaming out to be loved, but they don’t know where to go. They don’t know the answer. They have never been shown. Instead they have lived lives of abandonment, pain, anger, confusion, and frustration. This is exacerbated and deepened in a culture that lies to them. A culture that tells them that if they only do whatever they want, they will feel better. But, no. This is a quick fix and it leads ever deeper into the pit of destruction and despair. How many women are crying alone in their apartments tonight because they believed the lie that promiscuity would bring them love and acceptance? How many men are drowning out their desire for a deep and lasting love through sexual conquests only to return to their lonely lives afterwards? How many teenagers and adults are struggling with same sex attraction and hating themselves? How many of those live with that deep hate, not because people like me tell them that homosexual sex is a sin, but rather because they know that that sex has not filled the ache they feel within themselves? Homosexual or heterosexual, filling the void through sex doesn’t stop the deep hunger for Love. How many children sit home alone and never see their parents because they are working too many hours? How many parents are trying to buy their child’s affection to make up for their absence? How many children are crying tonight because they were told divorce was coming for their parents? How many inner city kids are craving the attention of a father they have never met or a mother they seldom get to see? How many husbands and wives are living with the pain of adultery? How many people are drowning out their sorrow in drugs and alcohol at this very minute? How many of us (me) use social media to dull the isolation they feel? THIS! This is the poverty of our country.
We tell ourselves that this poverty, pain, and immorality is nothing compared to ISIS, Boko Haram, China, or any country living in barbarism. We don’t equate the two because we don’t want to have to look in the mirror. We don’t want to have to examine our own sins. The sins of others are greater than our own. We don’t want to look at how we are preventing Christ from reaching the people near us. The shouting and yelling at others about their sins does nothing, but make people dig in their heals. Meanwhile, Christ is looking for every single lost sheep. He will leave the 99. He will leave the 6 billion for the one. Have we Christians forgotten that truth? A truth that is so profound, so big, so unbelievable, but somehow we have forgotten to share it with others? We are not Christ, so our yelling at others will accomplish nothing. Instead, we must offer an invitation in charity and truth.
No we cannot confirm people in their sins. We cannot lie to them in order to make them feel better about their choices. But we will never bring people to the pews if all they see is us screaming about their sins. Isn’t this the point Pope Francis is making? He’s not changing Church teaching. He’s pointing out that hurt, wounded, aching, unloved people, need to have a real encounter with the Risen Lord. We need to share our joy and not only reserve it for the people who we decide are worthy because it is quite clear that Christ is interested in each and every single person. We need to show them how Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church is the answer to the longing of their heart. That Christ is the answer to their loneliness, brokenness, and wounds. That the Holy Eucharist is the answer to the meaning of life. To be a saint is to be fully alive. WE need to be willing to enter into their brokenness and pain. We need to be willing to hurt with them because that is what the Mystical Body does. Can you imagine what it is like to have never known love? To only know how to use hedonism to fill up that deep void? They must ask themselves in confusion: Who is This? Love me?! It has to be blinding like it was for St. Paul. It has to be difficult to accept and completely foreign. These are the people we are called to reach out to, but we cannot do it on our own terms. I mean our own individual terms. We must use the greatness of Catholicism, but allow people to find their footing. We need to walk the journey with them in charity and truth. I have known these very people throughout my lifetime and I have failed them. I have failed them.
There are unspeakable horrors around the world. I sit back and watch the news in pain for people most days, but I have no control over what happens in Nigeria or the Middle East. I do weep with them. I do have control over my family, friends, community, parish, and social media interactions. All I can do is fast and pray for those parts of the world I cannot impact, but I do have the ability to share my faith with people who do not understand it at all. To patiently bear their burdens, questions, confusion, flight, and struggle. It is not easy to be converted. It is not easy to agree to conform one’s life to the Most Holy Trinity through Baptism. It is not easy to die to self. It is not easy to let go of greed, lust, envy, gluttony, pride, anger, avarice, and sloth. It’s a life long spiritual battle, but one that we engage in with Christ by our side. It is easier when we fall in love with Christ. Things that seemed impossible slowly get easier. We need to show people how to fall in love with Jesus Christ in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit by our own example. Christ leads us to the abandonment of sin. That is the only way they will abandon sin and begin the life long battle. They will want to die to self because they love God. Do we? Do we want to die to self because of our love of God? We have to ask ourselves that every single day too because we fall and sin and must return to Him in our weakness.
Let us remember in our daily dealings there are a lot of hurting people who need Christ. There is a lot of evil in our own neighborhoods that needs redemption. There is not a single soul who Christ does not desire. A lost soul is a horrific thing. The people in our country who are trapped in the lies of hedonism, materialism, and relativism are prisoners of the Evil One. They too need the Paschal Mystery to break loose their chains. Think about that the next time you call someone a “freak” or other ad hominem. These people are lost and we know the Way. Are we showing people the Way?
As I write this post, tears well up in my eyes for all of the times I have failed in this exact same call. In all of the ways that I fail to show love to the people around me and even the people I encounter on social media. I have a daughter who needs my complete and total love, but I get lost in selfishness some days and fail her. I do the same thing to my husband. These are the people Christ entrusted to me. How many other people have I encountered in my life and failed? Jesus wanted every single one of those people for His own and I failed to serve Him. All power rests in Him, but He uses each one of us to further the mission of bringing the world to Him. Let’s stop being afraid. Let’s stop ignoring His call. We need to trust in Him. He can bring about the conversion in even the most hardened of hearts and he can heal the sins of our age. . We have to be willing lives of courageous virtue and holiness. We cannot just use words to draw people in, our joy and way of life should point to Christ. We have to be willing to love as He loves and search for the one soul he puts in our tracks each day.
We walk this earth broken, ravaged by sin. Each of us carries deep hurts from our experiences with other people. It could be family, friends, work, church, etc. Wherever there are people there is such brokenness. The problem for each one of us is that we forget that fact. We become blinded by our own duties, experiences, and beliefs. We see the world as ourselves and no other perspective matters. We forget, that as Christians, we are called to bind the wounds of the world. I forget constantly.
I am a mother. My primary role is to protect, teach, and care for my child. How often do I forget that all she yearns for is my love? My authentic, selfless, and total love. She was created with that longing. It is in her nature as a child created in the “image and likeness of God” to desire that love. I am to show her how to fill that restlessness and ache. I am to love her and then show her to the way to Love. I am to direct her to the very reason for her being and that is to look and live in love with the Holy Trinity. To see that it is in God’s very nature, in his essence to love. He can give no less than his infinite, gratuitous love. He is love itself. Yet, even though within me lies that call, how often do I turn away? How often do I turn away from showing my daughter the answer to the question that will haunt her until her time here on earth ends?
It is not just the people within our families who are clamoring for love, acceptance, and peace. There are so many people who do not experience those things within their families, so they seek it in others. How often do we, do I, fail to recognize that need within my neighbor? I am not talking about physical necessities. I am talking about how often I fail to respond to the poverty of love in the people I meet. How often do I refuse to enter into the suffering of someone else out of fear or apathy?
Christ came to bind our wounds. He came to rescue us from sin and death. Pondering the awe of the 2nd Person of the Blessed Trinity becoming man, is stifling. The Creator of the universe looked on his beautiful creation. He looked upon his crowning achievement, man, and knew it was good. How do we repay him? We abandon him to worship ourselves. Even though we violated the very nature of God in disobeying him and choosing a counterfeit, he still would not abandon us. He could have left us in our sin and death. Isn’t that what we do to one another? No, he humbled and lowered himself and took on human flesh. He walked among us. He entered into history that we might know and see him. He endured our sin. He went into the vast ugliness of sin and accepted scourging, mockery, hatred, abandonment, and torture. He even went to the very ends of sin: death and hell.
In light of the Risen Christ, who gave everything to conquer sin and death, we must choose who we want to be. Do I want to bind up the wounds of others? Do I want to show Christ to my family and every person in my path? Will I give myself as an offering day-in-and-day-out to the people God has entrusted to me? Will I choose to follow in his steps? Will I cling to my heart of stone or allow Christ to replace it with a heart of flesh? These are not questions that we asks ourselves once. This is what each one of us must choose to assent to every single day. If I am going to choose to love God, then I am going to have to continue making that choice no matter the pain, anger, fear, or weakness that I may face. Am I going to allow God to be greater than my sin? Can I truly let him come into the deepest recesses of my being and heal my wounds? I cannot bring the healing salve to others if I do not allow God to heal my hurts.
In a society that thrives on individualism, it is easy to forget and admit our brokenness, weakness, and insecurities. I forget so easily that I am a member of the walking wounded. That includes over 6 billion people who are on this planet right now. All of us are wounded, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. As Christians, we have the answer to all of the longing and emptiness of this life. We have the Living God. We are under the care of the Divine Physician. It is now our call to go out and show Jesus Christ to the world. We must start within our families and move out into the world. God bless. Happy Feasts of All Saints and All Souls.