Arts and Culture

The Greatest Drama of All Is Christian Vision

My experience of reading Msgr. John Shea’s essay “From Christendom to Apostolic Mission: Pastoral Strategies for an Apostolic Age” (Bismarck, North Dakota:University of St. Mary Press, 2020 pp. 94, $13.95) has been that each time I pick it up to read or re-read some section, provocative insights seem to leap off the page at me.

Under a section of the essay entitled the Christian Way of Seeing, Shea has written the following paragraph:

“Christianity is the most shockingly momentous view of what it means to be human that has ever been seriously believed and pursued. The weight of this momentousness is both thrilling and terrifying. Much of the flight from Christianity, when it does not stem from boredom with a watered down conventional version of the Faith, is precisely a flight from the seriousness of existence at the heart of the Christian vision, a refusal to attempt to scale the heights that all humans are called to in Christ” (p. 70).

I believe this statement about Christianity, but I wonder how often I have challenged people with those ideas.

Have I told these insights to people or tried to remind those who may have once believed them but for some reason have allowed the power of their truth to slip from their minds? I believe that there is no way of living that is more exciting, interesting and beautiful than the life presented by Christian Revelation, but do I convey my belief in my sermons, teaching, and writing?

Do I convey it in conversations I have with friends or acquaintances? I am not trying to imagine myself as constantly preaching to people. That would be, I think, a disastrous mistake. It might involve me in some kind of “commando Christianity,” going around trying to force people to profess faith in Christ. I believe deeply that because of human freedom we cannot force any adult to do anything that would profit that person. An unfree conversion would be worthless.

Still, Shea’s essay is often on my mind, and I am trying to imagine what can be done to foster apostolic mission in an apostolic age.

I am involved with some older priests (like me!) in an informal discussion group in the Immaculate Conception Center, which is our residence. We have had three meetings on the Catholic novel. Graham Greene’s novels, “The End of the Affair” and “The Power and the Glory,” and George Bernanos’ “The Diary of a Country Priest” are novels the group, consisting of about 10 priests, have discussed.

The meetings have gone well. The priests are eager for our next discussion, which is going to be on Shea’s essay.

The priests attending the meeting represent over 300 years of priestly ministry. That adds up to a great deal of priestly experience! I am eager to hear what they think of Shea’s essay.

Shea has written the following:

“In the Christian vision, to be a human is to be involved in an extraordinary adventure. The greatest adventure stories ever written are only echoes of it, pale shadows of what the lowliest human is in truth undergoing. This drama began before we were born and will continue after we die, and each of us has been given a unique role to play in it” (p. 70).

I have come to believe that one of the most important truths about each human person is that every person has been called to make a gift of self in love, and that self-gift cannot be given by any other person.

In other words, if someone does not make his or her self-gift then that gift goes ungiven. A part of God’s providential plan goes unfulfilled. Of course Jesus’ self gift is so powerful that we can be saved even if some people do not respond to God’s call. But Jesus, though he made his own self-gift, cannot make the unique gift that someone else has been called to give; only the unique individual can make the self-gift that he or she has been called to give.

If we believe that deeply, then we can have some idea of how important we are in God’s plan. We really are irreplaceable! If Shea’s essay convinces many that they have special roles to play in God’s plan and that only they can play those roles, the essay will have proven to be a wonderful gift to the Christian community.

When Christians read and discuss the challenges that lie before them in the contemporary world, anything can happen. Jesus promised that when two or three gather in his name, he will be there in the midst of them.

Jesus’ presence makes me very hopeful. With Jesus present, anything can happen!

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.