Arts and Culture

Christianizing Culture

Seventh and last in a series

In last week’s column, I quoted a statement from Bernard Cooke’s “The God of Space and Time” (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969, pp. 208) and a phrase from the statement has been on my mind all this week. Cooke was commenting on the role that members of the Mystical Body of Christ might take in the world and he wrote that through their union with Christ “the experience of human life becomes Christianized.”

My initial reaction to the statement was enthusiasm and excitement. I began to think of ways that I might participate in the Christianizing of human life. I thought of essays I might write, projects I might initiate, also how I might improve what I contribute to apostolates in which I am already involved. However as I continued to think about Cooke’s statement, second thoughts and doubts entered my mind. My initial enthusiasm and excitement began to wane and be replaced by questions.

Can Christians so influence contemporary society that the experience of Christians and even the experience of those who claim to be nonbelievers becomes Christianized? Is such a goal just wishful thinking, just a pleasant dream but a dream not rooted in reality? These questions have been on my mind all week. To try to answer them I had to plunge deeply into some truths that Christians profess. The basic truth that restored my confidence and hope is that the risen Christ has sent his Spirit into the world to offer support and help as people try to make the world a better place and to cooperate in the Christianizing process.

Christians are not alone in the world. If they were, if the Spirit had not been sent, if the Spirit is not at the root of all good acts that are happening, then Christianizing the contemporary world would be an impossible goal. With the Spirit, hope becomes the proper attitude and the commitment to be Christian witnesses becomes a glorious and deeply realistic vocation.

During this last week as I reflected on my role and the role of others who are trying to do God’s work, my mind kept returning to what Christians believe about the Holy Spirit. I believe that love is the strongest force in the universe. Love created us and Love redeemed us and Love is sanctifying us. Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is Infinite Love. What can Unlimited Love not accomplish? What can Unlimited Love not achieve? I believe that the presence of the Holy Spirit to human persons changes everything. What seems impossible becomes possible. What seems an unachievable goal becomes a realistic goal.

In recent years I have embraced the view that disappointment is an acceptable reaction at times when our plans don’t work out but discouragement is never the proper response for the Christian. The battle has been won. Our task is to be channels of grace, witnesses to the presence of God’s love in the Church and in the world. When I was a young priest I think I believed that I saved and redeemed people.

I don’t and neither does any Christian. Jesus saves and redeems and the Spirit continues Jesus’ work. Those of us who believe that we are called to participate in the Christianizing activity proper to followers of Christ should rejoice and be glad and be confident because of the presence of the Spirit in the church and in our lives.

Cooke writes the following:

“The prophetic activity of the Church is, then the prophetic activity of the risen Christ himself. In and through Christians, both in their individual lives and in their existence together as a community of faith, the risen incarnated Word continues to speak in the world the saving love of his Father.

To put it another way, the Father continues to speak his Word to men through the Church. This saving action of the Father in sending his life-giving Word takes place in proportion to the unity of consciousness between Christ and his followers, in proportion to the Church’s depth and accuracy of faith. Paul’s exhortation to the Philippian community has great practical importance: ‘Have this mind …which was in Christ Jesus.’ ” (p. 197)

What an awesome vocation Christians have! It should lead to a profound joy that nothing can destroy.

Of course, not only Christians respond to the presence of the Spirit. In my life I have witnessed enormous good done by people who might describe themselves as “non-believers.” I wonder if anyone is accurately described as a nonbeliever. I think one of the most profound statements that Pope Francis has made is the following:” I am absolutely certain that God is part of everyone’s life.” Because Of Pope Francis’ certitude I also have become certain that God is part of everyone’s life.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.