"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Revisiting the Universal Call to Holiness with "Twelve Guideposts Godwards"

In the research for my dissertation I did over the summer, I spent a lot of time with Homiletic and Pastoral Review, which was (and is) a popular publication directed primarily toward clergy. Granted, it's easy to get distracted by the 1950s and 1960s ads, like the one for a special program for "late vocations" to the priesthood, i.e. "ages 17-25", the numerous Toomey ads for "year-rounder cassocks," and, later the Rambusch ads for "updating" churches (accompanied by "before" and "after" pictures). But most of my reading has been focused on the change in the sacrament of confession and practices of the virtue of penance.

In all this research, I found a little gem of practical advice. Fr. Joseph M. Champlin wrote this article entitled "Father Confessor and Future Sister," HPR Vol. LXIII, No. 2 in November of 1962. As you can probably ascertain from the title, it was written in order to give advice to a confessor who might be hearing the confessions of a young girl who is interested in religious life. But the reason that I find it interesting is that I think there is a common misunderstanding about Vatican II's "universal call to holiness" (Lumen Gentium, Chapter V), especially when paired with "full, active, conscious participation" in the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, No. 14) and what is commonly called the "priesthood of all believers" (cf. Apostolicum Actuositatem, No. 3).

The universal call to holiness obviously implies that everyone - lay and ordained - are called to be holy. But unfortunately it is frequently represented to mean that whatever the laity do is automatically considered holy.  The universal call to holiness ought to inspire the laity to seek holiness through spiritual practices and the sanctification of work and daily life, not to ignore growth in the spiritual life as though a "universal call" means laity are de facto holy while priests do all the spiritual work of prayer etc.

I said that the universal call can be particularly problematic when paired with a misunderstanding of full, active, conscious participation in the liturgy and the priesthood of all believers. Ironically, this is a sort of post-Vatican II clericalism that still exalts priests as automatically holier than the laity, and attributes this holiness to their role in celebrating the Mass.

Sometimes, therefore, the laity mistakenly think that the way they become holy is - like the priest - to "do something" at the liturgy. Such examples of "doing something" include being a lector, a Eucharistic minister, a choir member, a gift-bearer, or an usher. Becoming a permanent deacon has also been upheld as a great way to be involved with the liturgy. But just to clarify, once you're a deacon, you're ordained, not lay. And if we take this as our paradigmatic example of "full, active, conscious" participation in the liturgy, women will unfortunately be excluded.

I don't think there is anything bad about laity fulfilling these functions of lector, Eucharistic minister, and so on. I've definitely spent a fair number of my Masses serving in these ministries. But the primary way the laity participate - fully, actively, consciously - at the Mass is by PRAYING! I remember it wasn't until very late in my childhood that I realized when the priest said, "Let us call to mind our sins," that I was supposed to be, well, calling to mind my sins. So also, it took a liturgy class for me to discover that when the priest says, "Let us pray," and then pauses, he's expecting the congregation to be praying silently for a few moments in preparation for his own spoken prayer. I'd often absent-mindedly spent those little pauses thinking about what I was going to eat after Mass.

Anyway, here's the problem I'm trying to address. Occasionally it happens that we might meet a Catholic who has recently come alive in her faith - perhaps she's a re-vert to Catholicism or a convert. Or perhaps he might have never fallen away from Catholicism, but just now feels a desire to intensify his practice of the faith out of a newfound thirst for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (as Evangelicals would say).

One way of responding to such a person is to say: "That's great! Wanna be a Eucharistic minister?" Or, a particularly savvy pastor might have in mind a particular area where he needs assistance and take advantage of the person's enthusiasm and skills such, "Excellent! We need a 3rd grade catechist on Tuesdays!" Again, let me affirm that being a Eucharistic minister or a catechist can be a great way of serving the Church. And each of these activities (not to mention joining service organizations like St. Vincent De Paul Society, Rosary Society, Knights of Columbus) can truly help people to advance in holiness by providing avenues for good works and the company of others seeking holiness.

On the other hand, the universal call to holiness cannot be summed up as simply greater participation in ministries at Mass or Church organizations. Nor is the "priesthood of all believers" meant to imply that we all have to be involved in some aspect in the liturgy beyond the prayerful and liturgical actions associated with praying the Mass. In fact, that decree on the Apostolate of the Laity specifically says that the laity are consecrated for the royal priesthood "not only that they may offer spiritual sacrifices in everything they do but also that they may witness to Christ throughout the world.The sacraments, however, especially the most holy Eucharist, communicate and nourish that charity which is the soul of the entire apostolate."(3)

Rather, the sanctification of daily life must be a constant aspiration and struggle, not lived out in a few hours each week, but in every moment of the day. For that little flame of desire for holiness to become a fire, it must be fanned by a regularity of practice and constant discipline. But while this can be challenging for those of us with active family lives, this spiritual discipline is a more practical and useful beginning than are some of the the Church ministries or organizations that require us to be away from our families, whether during Mass (my husband's and my service as Eucharistic ministers and lectors basically ended when we got outnumbered by kids in the pew with us) or during the week (a great way to destroy a family is to have husband or wife gone every night participating in Church activities).

And this is where I thought Fr. Joseph Champlin's advice for a young girl considering religious life (which is canonically a lay state, by the way) could be useful for revisiting the universal call to holiness. His suggestions are all traditional Catholic practices, but unfortunately in this day and age, there are far too many of us that are ignorant of them. Whether for our own personal spiritual development, or for the next time we have a chance to advise someone who has recently come alive in the faith, here are Champlin's

“Twelve Guideposts Godwards”

1.       Confession – have a regular confessor and go frequently (e.g. monthly, weekly)
2.       Mass- attend with missal every day if possible
3.       Communion – receive every day
4.       Visits to the Blessed Sacrament – visit Jesus daily to honor Him and to receive strength in daily trials
5.       Examination of conscience – one minute each night about how well you have served God
6.       Aspirations – pick out a few indulgenced aspirations and say them often during the day
7.       Rosary – say it every day when you can 
8.       Spiritual reading – a few minutes each day, especially before bed, read some spiritual book      recommended by the confessor
9.       Obedience – be obedient to parents, teachers, confessor, daily crosses
10.   Cross – don’t complain and accept daily unpleasantries
11.   Moodiness – learn to control emotions, avoiding extremes and maintain calmness
12.   Cheerfulness – maintain an exterior smile even when troubled in heart


There are a few other basic Catholic practices that Champlin fails to mention, probably because he assumes the young lady would already be doing these, as were most Catholics of the time period. So I would add to his list, making a morning offering in order to dedicate all the work of the day to God and saying the Angelus at noon. Regular use of holy water, especially before bed, and time for mental or contemplative prayer are also beneficial.

Of course, it may be challenging to add in all these practices all at once. But if introduced gradually, I think most of us can find the time for them (especially if we cut out distractions in various forms of media, e.g. Rosary instead of listening to the radio in the car, and limiting Internet and television time). And these practices should help us to sanctify our family life, increasing our patience and willingness to make sacrifices cheerfully for the good of spouse and kids.

Champlin had high hopes that the reward for such good direction of a "future sister" would be the benefit of many prayers from the convent. But I have to say that even if such a lady discerned not to become a nun, the development of these practices in her life would still be of benefit for the Church. For, in responding to the universal call to holiness, nourished by the Eucharist and full, active, conscious participation in praying the liturgy, such a person would no doubt serve well as royal priest witnessing to Christ throughout the world, making spiritual sacrifices in everything that she does. 

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