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Realities We Could Not Have Guessed PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 20 November 2007 07:55
Susan's comment below and my response reminded me of something I wrote years ago.

I thought that I would share a few excerpts from a presentation I gave in Seattle in 2001 which has since been published as one of our little $2 vision booklets: Making Disciples, Equipping Apostles.

"Another essential aspect of adult formation that we haven’t given much attention to is the task of helping lay men and women develop a truly Christian worldview. All of us work out of a set of assumptions about life and reality, whether we are conscious of those assumptions or not. These assumptions make up a worldview that determines how we understand the meaning of our daily lives, how we relate to each other, and is the basis upon which we make those daily decisions that affect the world around us.

Adult Catholics are regularly exposed to worldviews that are destructive of the dignity and happiness of human beings and contrary to the faith. Being formed as a Christian adult enables the teaching of the Church to make visible and challenge many of the assumptions that we have picked up just by living in this culture.

Unfortunately, we have tended in recent years to look upon wrestling with the content of the faith as an optional form of self-enrichment for the few lay people who are so inclined. The intuitive, heartfelt, and experiential have been regarded as sufficient foundation for the majority of lay people while ideas, doctrine, and thought are assumed to be the province of bishops and theologians. We have confused being an intellectual with understanding and discerning the real life implications of fundamental truths.

Few Catholics are gifted intellectuals but all of us need to be familiar with the essential of the Church teaching because through her we have access to revelation. Revelation contains truths that God must reveal to us because we human beings could not discover them on our own. These truths are beyond the grasp of our reason, intuition, and experience and yet they are critical to our happiness and destiny as human beings. Most of us will never read St. Thomas Aquinas for fun, but we can still ponder the significance of St. Thomas’ insistence that the ultimate destiny of human beings is perfect, eternal happiness. You don’t need an Ivy League education to ask “Is this true and if so, what does that mean for me and those I love?”

The lives of many remarkable Catholics testify to the liberating power of Christian revelation: A wonderful example is Henriette DeLille who was born in antebellum New Orleans to a free family of mixed race. The women of her family were expected to become the elegant mistresses of wealthy white men who were usually already married. When 14 year old Henrietta began helping a religious sister teaching the catechism to slaves, she recognized for the first time that a very different life was possible for a woman. Before the Civil war and in the face of strong family opposition and repressive racial laws, Henrietta founded an order of African American sisters that identified with and ministered to slaves and the poorest of the poor in the black community.

Encountering the truths of revelation often moves individuals to address critical issues that we have not yet recognized as a community. Such was the case of Bartholomew De Las Casas, a young grandee who was perfectly comfortable with the 16th century Spanish practice of enslaving the native peoples of the “new world” until he heard a Dominican preach against the whole system of slavery. That sermon was the initial spark that enabled De Las Casas to see the cruelty of slavery and changed the course of his life. He became a Dominican and spent the rest of his long adult life advocating ceaselessly for the recognition and protection of the human rights of native peoples.

Both Bartholomew and Henrietta were cradle Catholics who already had access to the sacraments but it was exposure to the teachings of the Church that enabled them to recognize and live truths that contradicted the assumptions and values of the society in which they lived. Exposure to Christian revelation liberates us from the peculiar blindnesses of our own culture, time, and place, and opens up huge new vistas of who we are as human beings, what our destiny is, and what our lives can be about. Being steeped in Christian revelation gives us a trustworthy standard by which to evaluate the torrent of half-baked assumptions, complex ideas, and contradictory choices presented to us every day.

To make the essentials of the Church’s teaching available to lay men and women at the parish level will require a great effort but it is worth it. We need a remedy that will clear our minds and open our hearts to realities that we could not have guessed. The ability to critically evaluate the truth and implications of a proposed idea or action is particularly important for American Catholics because of the power that each of us has to influence the world around us. We elect our own leaders, form our government, determine our social policy and shape the future of our nation and the world. We are the apostles to this world, and we stand in Christ’s place. We must see our world as he does. As C. S. Lewis observed: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” (The Weight of Glory, “Is Theology Poetry?” 1944, p. 92)

The nagging fear that lay Catholics will be bored to tears by doctrine has never been borne out in our experience. Over the past 10 years, we have taught over 27,000 adult Catholics how to discern the gifts and call of the Holy Spirit in live workshops across North America and in Australia,Indonesia,and Kenya. When we first offered the Called & Gifted workshop, we too were afraid that participants would be bored by the theology of the lay office and mission in the Church. Priests were puzzled as to why we would teach lay people concepts that they had wrestled with in seminary. Parish leaders would tell us that six hours of solid content was asking too much of those who attended. To our constant delight and astonishment, many attendees have told us that the theological portion of the workshop is the best part and a number have even informed us that the weekend is too short!

Our teachers have consistently found that if we present the essential truths of the faith with clarity and conviction, people do not find the Church’s teaching mystifying but compelling. The central doctrines of the faith are not abstractions for would-be scholastics longing for a return to the middle ages. The truths of revelation are alive and they speak profoundly to the hunger of 21st century hearts.

I was vividly reminded of this a couple years ago when my husband and I hosted a group of a dozen adults who were studying Josef Pieper’s wonderful book on the three theological virtues: Faith, Hope, and Love. I was touched to see deeply introverted men weep, so moved were they by the Church’s teaching on the virtue of love.

The same heart-felt reaction occurs regularly in our workshops. When Catholics first realize that they are apostles in their own right, that they are "sent ones" who literally stand in the place of Christ in the world, they are not bored, they are absolutely electrified. As one participant put it so beautifully: "I used to think that I was not worthy to kiss the sandals of Jesus. Now you're telling me that I'm to put them on and walk like they fit - that I stand in His place with my daughter, at work, with my friends. This is revolutionary!”

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