As I mentioned in last week’s column I am hoping that Msgr. James Shea’s Essay “From Christendom to Apostolic Mission: Pastoral Strategies for an Apostolic Age” (University of St. Mary’s Press: Bismarck, North Dakota, 2020, pp. 94, $13. 95) is both read and discussed by many.
I believe Shea has made an important contribution to help Christians both understand contemporary culture and to bear Christian witness in that culture. Shea’s basic thesis is that Christendom, which is a society that is shaped by the Christian vision and narrative, no longer exists, and what is needed is a deep, personal commitment on the part of Christians in order to help them remain Christian and have an impact in the contemporary world. There is a need for conversion even among many who might identify themselves as Christian.
If Shea’s analysis of the contemporary scene is correct, I think part of what is needed in our lives are three profound acts of faith. These profound acts of faith could lead to an individual renewal in the life of each person who makes them.
That renewal of an individual might have widespread repercussions. It could lead to the coming of a second spring in the Church.
I would never wish to underestimate the power of an individual’s commitment to touch many. Any person in whom the Holy Spirit lives has enormous power, a power that none of us can completely comprehend.
The first act of faith is an act of faith in the existence of the Risen Lord. There is no evil in the contemporary world more powerful than Christ. We can be tricked, perhaps by the devil, into forgetting that.
No matter how long or how deeply we reflect on the power of the Incarnate God, we will just be glimpsing the mystery of Infinite Love.
This is why I believe that discouragement should not be an option for the Christian. I think disappointment is permissible but not discouragement. Perhaps plans and projects that involve our commitment do not succeed the way that we hoped they might. Naturally when this happens disappointment is a normal reaction and I think a legitimate reaction. However, Christ’s death and resurrection means there will be ultimate victory even when we experience temporary failures. In a sense, the battle has already been won by Christ.
The second act of faith is faith in the Church. We are a community of sinners, but we never want to forget that in spite of any faults or failures on the part of members of the Christian community the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. Ultimately the Mystical Body cannot be defeated because its head is Christ and it is animated, nourished and driven by the Holy Spirit. I think it is quite legitimate to observe and notice and even discuss weaknesses in the Mystical Body of Christ but we never want to miss the bigger picture. To be a member of Christ’s Mystical Body is a blessing and grace we probably will never appreciate as profoundly as we might.
The third act of faith is an act that each Christian should make in himself or herself. Each of us has a unique gift to offer. I am not thinking of any special talent that an individual might have such as ability to play a musical instrument or ability to teach or ability to be a leader. What is the unique gift? Ourselves! Everyone can bear witness by their commitment to God. The depth of that commitment will lead to countless ways in which the person will make a gift to others. A person’s commitment to God will help the person live as a gift to others. Noting that animals are limited by what is available to their senses at any moment, Shea writes the following:
“But humans are capable of transcending the immediate circumstances of time and place and carrying a whole world in their minds, reaching back into the past and going forward into the future, embracing other places and realizing even invisible realities. This is why each individual has been called a ‘microcosm’ of the universe, because each of us carries a whole cosmos within us, and we gauge how we are to act depending on the features of that cosmos. Much of what it means to be converted in mind is to receive and embrace the Christian imaginative vision of the cosmos to see the whole world according to the revelation given in Christ, and to act upon that sight with consistency.”(p.8)
Reading Shea’s essay has raised in my mind some questions about my own commitments. I think that alone is a blessing that might be received by anyone who reads Shea’s essay.
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.