Call to holy action.
Readers may notice that the title of this is article combines the names of two well-known Catholic conferences: the "Call to Holiness" and the infamous "Call to Action." The combination is intended to prompt readers to ask the following question: What is meant by call, holy, and action?
What does "call" mean?
We Catholics often use the term vocation to refer only to a call to the religious life, maybe partly because so many of our greatest saints were priests or nuns. However, while acknowledging the contributions made by those who respond to a genuine vocation to the religious life, we should also remember that most Catholics are not called to serve in that capacity, but rather to perform secular jobs that also contribute significantly to God's plan.
In fact, because they work in a secular environment, Catholic laymen are first-line representatives of the Church and, as such, have a special obligation to work with skill and dedication. Needless to say, a Catholic worker who appears lazy and shiftless behaves scandalously. But there is another side to the same coin, and it has to do not with laziness but with zeal. Catholics who perform overt religious acts in public more often than not draw attention to themselves rather than to the grandeur and efficacy of the Catholic faith. Other Catholics also believe they are justified in neglecting their jobs to pursue "holier," more noble ends. These matters bring us to a discussion of holiness.
What does "holy" mean?
Charles Dickens gives us an excellent example of what happens when one focuses on "higher" things while ignoring a vocation previously answered. Mrs. Jellyby, a character in the novel Bleak House, is a wife and mother who neglects her family to devote herself to an African "charity" project. Since this work makes her a burden on the family, rather than an asset to it, her husband eventually goes bankrupt, and her hungry, poorly clothed children grow up like savages. When her African project finally fails, Mrs. Jellyby still does not notice the devastation she has wrought. Instead, she shifts all her attention to women's rights, and thus Dickens offers his readers a further, and in 1852 a prophetic, insight into a certain character type.
Probably many of us know people who, like Mrs. Jellyby, are blind to the self-centeredness that can masquerade as charity or holiness. What the Mrs. Jellybys of the world forget is that when we answer God's call to do a job, we are bound to do that job to the best of our ability.
What does "action" mean?
Pope John Paul II has urged us to gather our strength, build for the future, and prepare for what he calls that "new springtime of Christian life which will be revealed by the Great Jubilee." When we think about the powerful anti-Christian culture that threatens to engulf us, however, we might be inclined to question the Pope's rosy outlook. We need to resist that temptation and, instead, ask what we laymen can do to help bring about a new springtime of Christian life. Or, in other words, we should ask what is meant by action. The answer is in Tertio millennic adveniente: "Apply the teachings of Vatican II to the life of every individual and of the whole Church." How, we may ask, can we reach such a lofty goal in light of our particular vocational responsibilities?
Bringing the Church to the world
The obvious first step is to study the documents of the Second Vatican Council. When we do so, we will find that the Council does not direct us to shape the Church to fit the world. In fact, it tells us to do just the opposite, which is to bring the Church to the world in order to change the world. To do that, however, we must recognize a very large obstacle in our path: a hostile cultural climate.
For example, the document on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) consistently reaffirms the dignity of the human person and the nobility of marriage and the family. When Catholics broach those topics in secular society, however, the world responds only in terms sanctioned by the anticulture. As we all know, many politicians and legal authorities have now declared that the Christian concepts of family and marriage are obsolete and that the state confers rights only on members of groups it designates.
In discussing how we might get around this obstacle, we need a working definition of culture. In simple terms, a culture is the sum of the beliefs, hopes, morals, and social practices of a people. As such, culture provides us with a lens through which we view ourselves and our world.
The murky lens of our culture, which is really an anti-culture, or Culture of Death, tends to block out the light of the gospel message. To evangelize effectively, therefore, we must either change or replace the anti-culture. Failing to understand the nature of this problem was the first error committed by those people within the Modernist movement who, though perhaps well-meaning, were badly misguided.
Some Modernists were (some still are) bent on doing away with Catholicism once and for all, but most were mere foot soldiers in the vast army of the intellectually indolent. Many of the latter believed that the anti-culture is compatible with the Christian message--or at least that the modem world would be receptive to their particular version of it. According to the official word, all we had to do is change our medieval appearance and take to the streets. Meeting potential converts on their own ground, they believed, was the way to bring the Church into the future. Consequently, many priests and religious, inspired by "experts" in all fields of endeavor, toed the line, and much of the laity fell in behind, only to be overwhelmed by;
* educators who stripped Catholic children of their heritage by ignoring or casting out beliefs and practices essential not only to Catholicism, but to any kind of civilized behavior,
* scripture scholars who insisted on aberrant translations of biblical texts as a way of bridging the gap between Catholic doctrine and what they falsely identified as scientific thought,
* theologians and liturgists who made (and continue to make) countless and often absurd revisions to just about everything that goes on within church walls. Their objective is to disguise transcendent reality, which a hostile culture finds unpalatable. And finally,
* gurus of the Culture of Death, viz., leaders within all the professions, who reject Christian values in favor of a host of causes that have proved to be both anti-Christian and anti-humanist.
As a byproduct of the Modernists' attempt to "teach the world to sing," the Mrs. Jellyby Factor ruled the day. Wives left their homes and children to seek personal fulfillment in commerce or the professions. Husbands got in touch with their sensitive sides in full cooperation with the movement to feminize society. And priests, having found celibacy too tough, left to marry and, afterwards, left their wives when they learned that, compared to married life, the priesthood is a cakewalk. Some priests became politicians, environmental activists, novelists, etc. Nuns traded their habits for miniskirts and went among the masses to preach a politicized gospel.
In summary, the Modernists' efforts over the past three decades have led to disaster. Under their influence, a widespread defiance of Humanae vitae grew and flourished. That rejection of truth, in tum, led to the scandal of an apparently divided Church. At present, the anti-culture or "Culture of Death" reigns supreme in much of Asia, Europe, and North America. Many Catholics, not to mention the non-Catholic population, now accept abortion as a necessary component of a "quality" life, and Catholics in even greater numbers insist that artificial contraception is their absolute right.
A major miscalulation
Modernists react to perceived shortcomings (some real, some not) within the Church, and when they happen across a real issue, they misinterpret it and offer the wrong solution. In my view, the largest of these issues has to do with the relationship between the clergy and the laity. The average lay Catholic's attitude toward the clergy is rooted in a social structure that ceased to exist centuries ago. In earlier times, only noblemen and priests could obtain an education, and as a result, a priest's job ranged far beyond the sacristy.
Modemists noted this obvious truth, but then failed to define the division of labor appropriate to our era. They could not see that an educated laity should have, long ago, taken responsibility for secular culture. Vatican II is crystal clear on this point: "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" (Gaudium et spes, No. 31). Modernists have chosen to perpetuate pre-conciliar thought by agitating for women's ordination, apparently in the belief that no unordained person--man or woman--can further God's plan for the world.
In contemplating action, the laity must realize that many priests and nuns bear a burden that is not theirs to carry. It is time the Catholic laity assumed its proper role, and in the next installment, we will look at ways of changing modern culture and restoring direction to a world in desperate need.
Casey Ahern is a freelance writer based in Lethbridge, AB.
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|Date:||Nov 1, 1999|
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