Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Word of God seeks a listening heart

As a convert to the Roman Catholic Church who became a somewhat reluctant cleric, I am still struck, almost 23 years after becoming Catholic, by how obsessively clerical Catholics often are. What I find even stranger is that this tendency is actually stronger among what I would identify as more liberal Catholics, or, to use Fr. Timothy Radcliffe’s less polemical term, “kingdom” Catholics, which he opposes to “communio” Catholics (with Radcliffe, I am convinced we need both). If Vatican II can be said to have clearly emphasized one thing, it is the universal call to holiness rooted in baptism. To my mind, Trent aside, this is the true and constructive response to the Protestant reformation. The lay state is not in any way inferior to the clerical state. Being a Christian is about serious engagement with the world, not beating a retreat to the safety of the sanctuary, or a deep desire to preach to the already converted.

While it is true that, unlike bishops, priests, and, to a lesser extent, deacons, lay Catholics don’t administer the sacraments (though in some circumstances lay people may baptize and, when licensed by their bishop, even witness marriages) their ministry is sacramental. If, at a fundamental level, a sacrament is a visible and tangible sign of Christ’s presence in and for the world, then by virtue of our baptism, we, in our very persons, are to be sacraments!

Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, states this rather clearly:
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 (par. 31)
It seems that for many Catholics the fundamental sacrament is ordination instead of baptism. In his final interview, given shortly before his death, which has been graciously translated by Fr. Joe Komanchak, Cardinal Martini outlined three ways for renewal, for revival (revival is not only a Protestant word!), in the Church. Taking the least controversial of his three suggestions, he said, "Vatican II restored the Bible to Catholics. ... Only someone who receives this Word in his heart can be among those who will help the renewal of the Church and will know how to respond to personal questions wisely. The Word of God is simple and seeks as its companion a heart that is listening. ... Neither the clergy nor Church law can substitute for a person’s inwardness. All the external rules, the laws, the dogmas were given to us in order to clarify the inner voice and to discern spirits." How could any serious Christian, one who knows the Word of God, possibly disagree?

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