Arts and Culture

Power of Witness

Sixth in a series

The passages in Bernard Cooke’s “The God of Space and Time” (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 19669, pp. 208, $4.95) that stress the importance of the Church’s mission to carry on the work of Christ have made a deep impression on me. I don’t think many of Cooke’s ideas are new to me but the way he presents them I have found exciting and inspiring. I think it is the way that Cooke writes about the Mystical Body and the role of Christians in that Body that has touched me deeply. He has reminded me of dimensions of the Mystical Body that I never wish to forget. Cooke writes the following:

“Mankind’s experience of space and time is meant, then, to be changed by the presence of the risen Christ to the Church. It must be remembered, however, that this occurs only through faith, through the Christian community’s conscious acceptance of the reality of the risen Lord, present and active in its life. Presence in the true sense can only exist when there is conscious communication of some kind between persons. Christ’s presence to his followers is dependent on their awareness in faith of his self-gift to them. If they are aware of Christ’s gift, and accept him in friendship, their experience of life becomes changed and enriched. The world in which they live and the time in which they move become filled with his presence, the experience of human life becomes Christianized.”(p.192)

I am afraid that some followers of Christ, and I include myself among them, occasionally forget the power they have with Christ and his Spirit to change the world. While it is important that we be realistic and not become dreamers out of touch with reality, whenever it is a choice between pessimism or optimism, I hope I choose optimism. Whenever it is a choice between sadness or joy, I hope I choose joy. The Joy that Christians should have is deep and can coexist with disappointment.

I am thinking of many of the apostolates that exist in Catholic parishes today. Those people involved in some parish apostolate such as liturgical ministry or catechetics or being part of a team that visits wakes and prays for the deceased are involved in something that is not only not trivial but that has the potential to influence others deeply. In fact, the involvement might influence deeply even those involved in the apostolate. Reading Cooke’s book has reminded me of my experience of moderating discussion groups in which people read about the mystery of the Mystical Body of Christ and then shared their thought and insights with others. For me, the experience was a powerful, even thrilling, experience of the Spirit inspiring people. Even as I write this column I am wondering if I will be able to find time to become involved with a parish discussion group when the pandemic passes.

An image returns to me that I hope I never forget. I believe I have mentioned it previously in this column. I was moderating some teenage discussion groups one summer when I was a parish priest. The discussions were going very well and we decided to have a general meeting and to invite a guest speaker to address all the groups. After the lecture, during the question and answer session, a teenage girl stood up and said, “A month ago the Mystical Body of Christ did not mean anything to me. Now it is the most important reality in my life.” I believe that kind of reaction can still happen today. When believers gather together to discuss their faith and to strengthen it, anything can happen because of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I believe that Pope Francis is very wise to warn us about allowing the Church to become too insular, too preoccupied with problems within the Church, and in the process neglect the mission of the Church to reach out to others. The missionary dimension of the Church is part of its nature. In fact, reaching out to others might be one of the most important ways to solve problems within the Church.

I love Cooke’s expression that our experience of life can become Christianized. What part of life cannot be Christianized? Only sin cannot be Christianized. Every other part of human existence can be transformed. This transformation will not shrink human experience or make our lives narrow and parochial. Rather the opposite should happen. The Christianizing experience should deepen and broaden our lives. This might strike us as an impossible experience. I do not think it is impossible. The Holy Spirit is Infinite Love. Why would anything be impossible? Love has conquered death. Why should it not be capable of transforming 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.

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