Spirituality for Today – June 2016 – Volume 20, Issue 11

Catholics In The Modern World

Bernard J. Callaghan

A photo of city skyline at sunrise.

Newly married, John leaves his office, hops a subway, and grabs a bus which takes him to his suburban bungalow. His bride Mary greets him at the door with a warm embrace and kiss. "The roast is almost done," she says, so John flicks on CNN. But just as they are sipping their wine, they witness a mass murder on the Iraqi desert. Grabbing the remote, John switches to a rerun of "Little House on the Prairie." "The world," he exclaims, "has gone to the devil!"

With the media drenching us in violent stories, we may agree with John. However, if we have encountered the Lord, we still believe He is in charge. The immanent Lord is always present to us, but are we present to Him. The challenge for the Catholic, other Christians, and indeed people of good will, is to witness to God's presence in a world that, since the 18th century Enlightenment, has been removing God from our culture. What can we do?

First, acknowledging evil does exist, we must embrace the world (God's creation) with a faith rooted in the Holy Spirit, scripture, the sacraments and the Magisterium. Sin is a reality, but God's word tells us grace is stronger, so we should not bury our heads like ostriches.

St. John Paul II is our model. In contrast to St. Pius the X who necessarily had to confront the Modernists attacking the early 20th century Church, St. John Paul II engaged the world. For example, as a young philosophy professor in Poland, he did not eject the Marxists from his class but dialogued with them. A Catholic phenomenologist, he believed God becomes present to us through our experience, sacred and profane.

Second, through prayer we manifest God's presence to a spiritually hungry world. But such a statement raises the question what is real prayer. According to Blessed Mother Theresa, living prayer develops through silent dialogue with the Lord. The Psalmist writes, "For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation" (Ps. 62: 1). Pope Francis also says of prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament: "Speak…talk…think…meditate…listen," [but] "let ourselves be looked at by the Lord. (The Church of Mercy, page 16). As he did with Jesus before he chose his apostles and before Jesus' crucifixion, the Father empowers us through prayer at critical moments like standing for pro life. Prayer, then, is essentially resting in the Lord, so his Spirit can empower us to action like Blessed Mother Theresa, Thomas Merton, and above all Jesus.

Third, to witness to God's presence we have to know what does seeking the Lord mean today? Again, in the Psalms the verb "seek" in the imperative mood appears eleven times in verses like these: "It is your face, O Lord, that I seek"(Ps. 27:8), and "O, God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you…(Ps. 63: 1). The imperative mood of "seek" seems to suggest more the human side of seeking, but is there more to seeking then the drive we feel?

In Jeremiah's letter to the remaining exiles in Babylon, we hear the Lord speaking through the prophet: "When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me, with all your heart, I will let you find me….And I will restore your fortunes" (29:13-14). "I will let you find me" reveals the paradox of seeking the Lord: we do not find him; he finds us first, (he lets us find him) but we have to be open to the encounter. In other words, Jeremiah is reminding us, seeking the Lord is a reciprocal process with the Lord always the primary Seeker, like Francis Thompson's narrator in "The Hound of Heaven" being pursued until he surrenders to the Lord. Remembering that the Lord is always the Seeker fortifies us for encounters with those who have lost a sense of the Transcendent, i.e. the pro choice camp, the corporations refusing a minimum wage, or the agnostic professor attacking the Church.

Fifth, for witnessing to God's presence today, we look to Pope Francis' initial blessing. When Francis appeared on the papal balcony, one might have expected him to lift his hands and bless the people below on the square. Instead, he asked for a moment of silence during which the crowd was to pray for him. Within the thousands were Catholics praying traditional prayers, or ones from the heart, Christians of many denominations, people of good will, agnostics, and atheists: humanity itself. The Holy Father was asking for silence so the Holy Spirit could work in all open hearts. Who can tell how the Holy Spirit moves, but one indication of the Divine is the Francis effect, how one humble, welcoming Church leader has touched the hearts of believers and nonbelievers.

Pope Francis in this Jubilee Year of Mercy embodies relating to a godless world. Without judgment or condemnation, he reaches out to the lost and the poor. Following his example, we are to be merciful to those who have no place for God. The circumstances may range from speaking for the faith in a pub to voting for life in the euthanasia debate raging across North America.

Finally, returning to John in our opening paragraph, we can now ask has the world really gone to the Devil? Our hearts tell us he can still influence us strongly, but our faith reveals Jesus, through his Cross and Resurrection, has conquered sin and death. Moreover, we are co-redeemers especially in a world devoid of absolutes, of God. The Holy Spirit empowers us through humble and repentant hearts to witness to Christ in a world crying out for God, despite the pervasive horror. Our role is to manifest with boldness that Presence not only at Church and at home, but also in society itself. Like Isaiah and Jeremiah, our response to bringing God back into our culture should be: Send me.