Saturday, October 8, 2011

Stances of Grace, Living the Faith

I happened across a new book by Michael Novak and William E. Simon entitled Living the Call: An Introduction to Lay Vocation.  After reading an opinion piece on Fox by its author, I was reminded by similar notes I sounded years ago in an essay I penned called "Stances of Grace."  Mr. Simon's new book on living the faith looks to be very timely indeed, and I look forward to reading it.  I hope up you will pick-up a copy (or get it via Kindle, as I did) and share your thoughts!

I hope you enjoy my essay below.  It should be perhaps noted that as a writer sometimes I will "recycle" elements from previously unpublished works within published essays.  Other than very simple references, I don't believe "Stances of Grace" has been used before in this way.  Should I be in error, I hope the publisher will excuse any writer oversight!

"Stances of Grace"

We are often reminded of the need to live each day for Christ—not just during Sunday Mass alone.  The idea being that we too often compartmentalize ourselves; our church and spiritual lives on one side and our secular lives on the other.  As a recent convert to the Catholic Church, the merging of these two distinct halves has been something I have personally struggled with, and I believe that the Eucharist has been instrumental in helping me to slowly, and with faltering steps, become the whole person God intends me to be.  While it’s easy to observe the necessity that we, the Body of Christ, must carry the Church from the inside to the outside of our church walls, it is more challenging to identify how exactly we bring Christ to the world through our daily examples.  

Our attitudes often betray the essence of who we are, or who we are in danger of becoming.  I remember one episode recently when I was driving to an evening Bible study, and I noticed that the car behind me was tailgating.  I tried to ignore the driver until he pulled alongside at a light down the block.  As I glanced over, I was stunned to recognize a friend.  This fine and upstanding gentleman apparently did not think twice of expressing his own frustration at being late for some appointment by behaving in a discourteous way towards a person he mistakenly assumed to be a stranger.  We are all guilty of thoughtless and selfish behavior at times, but how do we take the church outside when we feel frustrated or angry with our fellow man?  We all have pet peeves, and, when those internal buttons are pressed, we feel the need to express our displeasure.  In fact, sometimes a restrained anger can serve a legitimate purpose. 

If we don’t oppose what’s wrong, for instance, we are simply condoning it.  Remember Christ and the temple moneychangers.  Our Lord wasn’t any too pleased, and He expressed himself in a definite and concrete way.  It’s when we feed and nourish those feelings of anger that the likelihood of achieving any lasting good from the situation slips away, and we place our soul in peril.

Sometimes a mnemonic aid can help when trying to learn or apply a difficult concept. My daughter, for example, use to find it helpful to learn her multiplication tables by putting them to music.  The melody helped her to connect the dots and more quickly retrieve the memorized information.  Is there a way to apply something similar to our spiritual lives?  Perhaps one way to do so is to recall the variety of physical stances one takes during Mass: standing, sitting, kneeling, waiting in line to receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord, and greeting our fellow parishioners. If we think of the church every time we find ourselves in a similar physical position, then we're beginning to take the church from the inside to the outside.  

When I find myself becoming irritated while waiting in line, my mind may recall waiting in line to receive the Eucharist.  Since Christ died for all of us, it’s true that every person we meet within our hectic daily schedules is someone for whom His blood was spilled, and, therefore, a fellow member or potential member, of the Body of Christ.  As C.S. Lewis reminds us in The Weight of Glory, there aren’t “ordinary people”.  We all have everlasting souls.  Cultures and civilizations will vanish, but that grocery clerk you may be inclined to snap at has the profound gift of an eternal soul and may be in heaven with you throughout eternity.  If we can apply a kind of internal reverence to our daily lives, we are offering those routine activities up to Christ, and we infuse them with deep meaning.  In this way, we are also acknowledging that we our identity is greater than what our daily life may trick us to think.  That is, our identity should not be tied too closely to our work or vocation, if our work is secular in nature.  When we understand this, we are transforming the mundane to the eternal and creating stances of grace as we strive to live Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 10:31: “whatever you do, do for the glory of God.”

A second, but related, approach to engaging our culture and society is to use our specific gifts and talents to create a better world, doing works for God.  In this way, we are also being imitators of Christ.  At times, though, there seems to be a puzzling tendency among some Catholics to engage only in the superficial issues.  There is frequently a strong inclination among some well-meaning Catholics, for instance, to take on issues dealing more with environmental stewardship, social justice, or simple political correctness than the pure and simple ministry of Christ--or controversial issues such as abortion.  It sometimes boils down to something akin to a misplacement of cause and effect.  Take, for instance, the issue of environmental stewardship.    

It is certainly a valid concern in this day and age, but how is this issue often handled in our parishes?  Wouldn’t we understand environmental stewardship more clearly if we first examined the life a great saint—such as Saint Francis?  This saint’s love of nature was hinged on the fact that it was (and is) created by God.  In other words, nature points to God.  If we have a solid spiritual foundation, this connection is quickly grasped.  As Saint Augustine wrote in Confessions, “There are many, in fact, who find your creation pleasing, because it is good, but what they find pleasing in it is not you.  They choose to look for happiness, not in you, but in what you have created.”  In a culture where environmentalism might be described as a kind of religion in and of itself—even if it’s a religion purporting to abandon all religions--I think we would be wise to ensure that we are preaching Christ first and foremost. 

There is a possibility that some Catholics view issues such as abortion more along the lines of "fundamentalist" causes instead of Christian causes. I am not saying that we should stop talking about hot topics such as Global Warming, but I suggest that we also stand united with our separated brethren to ensure that our voices are raised in unison against the real evils of our day.  Some of our other causes may simply be clever distractions foisted on us by the enemy.

My wife and I sometimes sit and watch those who receive the Eucharist at Mass and meditate on the mystery of it all.  The believer who approaches the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ is a sinner, but the person returning to his pew becomes a little more like Christ.  If you will permit another quote from Saint Augustine, he wrote the following concerning the Eucharist in Confessions, “I am the food of full-grown men.  Grow and you shall feed on me.  But you shall not change me into your own substance, as you do with the food of your body.  Instead you shall be changed into me."  In our efforts to carry the church to the outside world, we should strive to preach the saving story of Christ daily in our clearly expressed thoughts, words, and deeds.  In this way, we are working and cooperating in the saving work of Christ by being examples of His boundless love to a lost and fallen world.

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