Arts and Culture

Influencing One Another

IN LAST WEEK’S column, I quoted from an excellent essay in Commonweal (April 10, 2015) by Cardinal Walter Kasper: “Open House: How Pope Francis Sees the Church.”

I confessed that I was fascinated by the expression “a mysticism of the people,” and that I wanted to understand just what it means. I have been thinking about several statements that Pope Francis has made and also about Cardinal Kasper’s comments about how Francis views the Church. I still don’t understand “a mysticism of the people” completely, and I never will because it involves the profound mystery of God’s loving presence to everyone. However, I want to share what I think it means.

With Vatican II and even before the Council, many theologians have stressed that lay persons should not be considered second-class citizens in the Church, but rather because of their baptism are called to be witnesses to the faith. Though Pope Francis has not changed any doctrines, he has dramatically changed the atmosphere and that is very important. Francis’ impact on both Catholics and others reminds me of the impact that Pope John XXIII had. My hope is that Francis’ vision will impact every level of the Church, from the hierarchy to the laity. In commenting on the Holy Father’s vision of the Church, Cardinal Kasper writes the following:

“Francis wants the participation of the entire people of God in the life of the church – women as well as men, laypeople as well as clerics, young and old. On the basis of baptism and confirmation, all are missionary disciples; they should be included in decisions. Lay ministers ought not be restricted to intraecclesial tasks; they are supposed to have an impact on advancing Christian values in the social, political, and economic world and should be engaged in applying the gospel to the transformation of society. The education of the laity and evangelization of the professional and intellectual life pose, therefore, a significant pastoral challenge.” (p. 12)

Recently, while teaching a class at St. John’s University, I was discussing with some of my students the philosophy of Karl Marx. One of Marx’s most important insights is that people co-exist with one another and consequently can strongly influence on one another. Marx’s vision was that we should live as brothers and sisters. He believed that everyone should receive according to his or her needs, and everyone should contribute according to his or her talents.

In some ways, that vision is beautiful. Marx believed that when people live as brothers and sisters, they have no need for God. Marx thought that there was no God, and that people projected God as a solution to the injustices they experience.

Of course, I disagree with Marx about the existence of God, but I do believe that if we live as brothers and sisters, really caring for one another, we will be discovering God’s message to us in new ways. Others can be instruments and channels of God’s love for us – and we to them.

One away that this can happen is by giving good example. Think of the inspiring example of Mother Teresa and of John Paul II, especially as he was dying. Another way is by praying for one another. Right now as I am typing this column, there probably is a monk or a cloistered nun somewhere in the world praying for me and for others. Those prayers are not useless. Every time I celebrate the Eucharist I pray for every person, both living and deceased.

The phrase “a mysticism of the people” suggests something else to me that I don’t comprehend completely. It would seem to have something to do with the Holy Spirit’s presence to everyone that leads to people not only giving good example and praying for one another, but also somehow being channels of God’s grace, even to those they have never met.

I am sure that “a mysticism of the people” is also related to the doctrine of the communion of saints, which tells us that those in heaven, purgatory and on earth can influence one another. While good example and prayer are marvelous ways of helping one another, I suspect there is more to Pope Francis’ notion of “a mysticism of the people.”

Father Robert Lauder, philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, is the author of the recently published “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).