Tuesday, April 17, 2012

We Lay People Must BE The Church In The Secular World

I imagine there has always been a serious discernment issue concerning the role of us Christians in secular matters, especially in the world of politics.  In everything we must be centered in Christ, who is the Author and the One Who completes our faith, and we must not be trapped into focusing on power, position, and prestige or looking to any political leader as a savior or messiah in place of Christ.  Only JESUS CHRIST is our Savior.  I have been reminded that “salvation is through the Church” and not through politics. However, I think that there is a difference between the role of the institutional Church/hierarchy/clergy and our personal salvation and the role of the laity within the Church called to act as a bridge between the Church and the secular world not only to evangelize and help bring people to Christ and the Church but also to do our part in impacting the world and seeking to right what is wrong, especially in a nation like America where the government is “of the people, by the people and for the people” and where citizens have the power to make a difference.

The role of the institutional Church/hierarchy/clergy is to send missionaries into the mission field and to "equip the saints" by providing us with teaching on the Church's perspective of what is going on in the world, by facilitating our understanding of the Scriptures, by presiding at Mass, giving us the Eucharist, hearing our confessions and providing counsel when and where needed, and administering the other sacraments.  The pope and the bishops publicly declare the Church's position on the issues.  

We as Catholic Christian lay people are thus equipped to go out into the world in our various professions and live the Gospel and make a positive impact on the world.  I believe that it is essential that we Catholics go to Mass, receive the sacraments, get married* and *lovingly and faithfully raise children (*if we are called to marriage—some people, like myself, have been called into the single vocation), fulfill the duties of our specific jobs, and take care of our parents.   Although it is very important to do all these things well first and foremost, I do not believe that our role as lay people necessarily ends in our homes, our schools, our workplaces, and our parishes.  I believe that we are called to do more for our country and for the world than to wait in our homes while people in the world who have not come to Christ or nominal Christians who are not living according to Gospel values continue to make the world worse and worse and we all die and go to heaven while those whom "the Church" has not reached goes to hell and the rest of the world goes to hell in a hand basket!  If we are true Christians, the Gospel should permeate every aspect of our lives, and as Christian lay people we are called to permeate the various walks of life and the social and political climate of our times with the values of the Gospel that we have heard and believed and that are nurtured by worship, Word, and sacraments in the institutional Church.

We need the Church, of course!  But we also need to BE the Church and to pervade the world with the Gospel in every area of life!  Politics is one of many areas.  The Church can teach us that abortion is wrong, and Church organizations can minister to women in crisis pregnancies and their babies.  

But the Church doesn't change the laws--we need people in government to change the laws.  It is for the Christian politician to end the funding of Planned Parenthood, to make laws restricting and hopefully ending abortion, to discern how best to exercise compassion and social justice to those who are poor and marginalized, and to discern how to deal with the scourge of terrorism.  The pope can tell a president, "don't go to war", but it is the president who has to decide how to protect our country from potential acts of terrorism--something that the pope cannot do.

It is for the Christian filmmaker, producer, director, actor, actress to decide not to make films or TV shows that glorify immodesty, premarital sex and/or homosexual activity but to make and promote films and TV shows that show how young people can be chaste and wait to have sex until they are married, how married couples can meet the day-to-day challenges and trials that can occur during their married life and remain faithful and devoted to each other and have true joy rather than "the pleasures of sin for a season" and to raise their children to be godly people who love and serve God and people, and how a person struggling with same sex attraction can find healing and live a chaste life that might have its ongoing struggle but can be happy and fruitful.  It is for the Christian singer/songwriter/musician to write,  perform, and produce music for both the Church and the world that will honor God and reflect Gospel values, whether it is music written for the Church, contemporary Christian music, or secular music without specifically religious content.  

It is for the Christian doctor, nurse, and other medical professional to insist that he/she will never perform or enable an abortion, to counsel a woman carrying a child with Down syndrome that although this child's life will present many challenges, he/she is still a valuable human being who has potential to achieve more than he/she realizes--with the proper help--and can be more of a blessing than she can ever imagine, to insist that a patient with diminished brain function or in a coma be provided with nutrition and hydration, and to affirm by word and actions the Church's teaching on the sanctity of human life at all stages from conception through natural death.  

It is for the Christian teacher or therapist in a Catholic or other Christian school who can teach religion but also the Christian teacher or therapist in a secular school who is not permitted to speak directly about God, Jesus or religion to love the children he/she teaches, to affirm the value of each child and his/her gifts, to teach sharing, caring, and other Gospel (while not specifically “religious” in areas where this is not permitted) values by his/her love, word, and example, and to wear his/her cross so that someday hopefully this child will grow up and see a cross and make a connection between that cross, the teacher who loved him/her and provided a beautiful example, and JESUS and the Church.

It is for the Christian working in the corporate environment to demonstrate integrity, hard work, the value and dignity of every human being above numbers and production, charity, good will, and joy in an atmosphere that has become increasingly de-personalized and demoralizing.

We also need Christians who will report the news to help us see what is happening in the world from a Christian perspective rather than the liberal views of the secular media.  

Obviously we are concerned about the salvation of individual souls—especially of the souls the LORD has put in our care and those who are dear to us-- but we must also be concerned about making a positive impact on the world in our various professions (which, I realize, include areas more numerous than those  to which I have referred in this blog), in our voting decisions, in communicating with our political leaders, in supporting candidates who represent our values, and by speaking out and writing in accordance with the gifts and calling given to us by the Holy Spirit.  The hierarchy and clergy have their important function of bringing people into the Church, helping individuals achieve salvation, nurturing us through Mass and the sacraments, and communicating Church teaching, but for the most part it is up to Christian lay people to take what we have received and “go in peace to love and serve the LORD” by trying to save our broken world.  I would suggest that it is often through a lay person's influence that a person not of our faith becomes interested in coming into the Church.  

I would also suggest that in addition to our participation at Mass and in our individual ministries within our parishes, we lay people need to be able to get together in a kind of "holy huddle" to pray and support each other in our mission, whether it is in a prayer group, a Bible study, the lay expression of a religious order, or a combination of these.  The priests give us the sacraments, which are essential for us to be nurtured, they preach and teach us, which is essential for us to know how to apply the Gospel to life (which is how I view the purpose of homilies), and they provide the counsel we need, but they don't walk in our shoes, so we not only need the priests, deacons and religious, (as essential as they are), but we lay people also need each other.  

As Christians IN the world but NOT OF the world, and as lay Christians who “bridge the gap” between the Church and the secular world, we are the ones who are best in the position to CHANGE THE WORLD! 

May the Holy Spirit quicken each one of us in our hearts and give each of us the wisdom and courage to know and do what is ours to do to shine the light of Christ into every corner of our world, especially here in America.

© Copyright 2012 by Arlene B. Muller

Monday, April 9, 2012

Living Between Good Friday and Easter: Awaiting Easter Dawn

With the election of Barack Obama, the strongest pro-abortion president in US history, and especially with the passage of Obamacare without the Stupak-Pitts amendment (the amendment that would have guaranteed that no abortions would be funded except under the conditions of the Hyde amendment), under the guise of a promised executive order, the pro-life movement in America was dealt two very severe blows.  As I experienced feelings of disillusionment, disappointment, frustration, and discouragement after all the prayer and written communication to try to ensure that unborn babies, people with disabilities, people who are elderly, people with chronic or serious health conditions, and the conscience rights of health care personnel and facilities that oppose abortion would be protected, I needed to relate this experience to something in the Gospel.  I recognized that my feelings in some respects were in some degree connected to my perception of what the apostles must have felt with the realization that JESUS, their Master, had actually undergone crucifixion, had died on the cross, and had been buried.  It was in some way connected to the feelings of the women who left the tomb where the lifeless body of JESUS had been placed.  How could this have happened?  How could God have let it happen?  How could He have abandoned them?
History and faith demonstrate that this was not the end of the story.  While the unthinkable (yes, unthinkable to them, even though JESUS had tried to tell them several times) had happened and while all seemed lost, the LORD was, in fact, doing the great work of gaining the salvation of all who believed and would come to believe in Him and rescuing the just souls from the prison of Sheol and bringing them to heaven.  God had already arranged that the event of great horror and suffering, which appeared to be the worst thing that could ever happen, would be the way to the best thing that could ever happen, our salvation and the resurrection of JESUS CHRIST from the dead.  Death was to be swallowed up in victory at a time when faithful followers could only feel mired by defeat.  However, in the absence of understanding, it was as if a deep cloud had covered the area and deep fog hung over the land.
Although people in the pro-life movement, unlike the disciples who hid for cover in the Upper Room, have continued to press on and even gain several important victories, there still hangs a veil of gloom over our land while a strongly pro-abortion president remains in residence in the White House, promoting his pro-abortion agenda and showing a serious lack of respect for religious freedom, the right of conscience, and the rights of the unborn.  Where is God in all this?  What is He doing?  Will He ever reveal His Presence and once again act on our behalf?
The election of a genuinely pro-life President in November would be a sign of our vindication.  It would reassure us that God still raises up people who are determined to seek and follow Him and to work to defend the most vulnerable.
It seems to me that God is raising up Rick Santorum for such a time as this.  Rick Santorum is not God, not a messiah, not a savior, and not even a saint, but a fallible human being like the rest of us.  If elected President his goals would still be subject to the decisions of Congress, and he would still be attacked by the liberal secular media. However, he is a genuine Catholic who strongly believes in the rights of those most vulnerable and has a great track record of defending the unborn.  He is a father who is concerned for the life of his precious daughter who has a chromosomal abnormality whose continued existence on this earth is very fragile and who, due to severe developmental delays, has a life that is not always valued by medical professionals and whose plight would probably become even worse if Obamacare goes into effect.  At first his campaign yielded a small percentage of support until he almost miraculously beat the odds and won the Iowa primary.  This was the first sign of hope that perhaps the dawn is near, and there have been many subsequent signs of victory as well.
At present it appears as if the odds are still against Rick Santorum, but sometimes Easter miracles still can happen.  We do not yet know if God will intervene miraculously in this upcoming election or will once again allow Americans to be left to their own devices to choose the candidate that appeals to the worldly and fleshly concerns.
For me, if Rick Santorum wins this election it will be as if the clouds have lifted, the rainbow has appeared and an Easter morning will have finally dawned.  It will be a sign that God is  smiling on America and the pro-life movement once again.