"Are we prepared to promote conditions in which the living contact with God can be reestablished? For our lives today have become godless to the point of complete vacuity. God is no longer with us in the conscious sense of the word. He is denied, ignored, excluded from every claim to have a part in our daily life." - Alfred Delp, S.J.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A layperson is a layperson is a layperson...

S. Benedict Joseph Labre

“The Spirit pushes us to take a more evangelical path but we resist this.” - Pope Francis

I found this quote on Spike is Best blog:
"The layperson is a layperson and has to live as a layperson with the power of baptism, which enables him to be a leaven of the love of God in society itself, to create and sow hope, to proclaim the faith, not from a pulpit but from his everyday life. And like all of us, the layperson is called to carry his daily cross — the cross of the layperson, not of the priest." --Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in an interview, now Pope Francis
His words resonate with my own sense of 'vocation' as a Catholic, as well as some of the things I've been reading by others, since Pope Francis was chosen to lead the Church.

As I've mentioned in the past, years ago I tried my vocation in religious life, attracted as I was by the call to 'pray without ceasing'.  An attraction which led me away from enclosed monastic life in pursuit of life as a pilgrim.  Inspired both by St. Benedict Joseph Labre, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, as well as the Russian type - popularized by 'the Baroness' Catherine Doherty.  I failed in that too - although never giving up the hope to live a prayerful - some might be tempted to call it, contemplative life.  I've failed in that too.  But I keep trying.

"The power of Baptism... the strength of the Spirit."

At time I thought, "I must belong to something" - imagining being a baptized, confirmed Catholic wasn't enough.  A third order maybe?  So I was admitted to the Secular Franciscans and professed.  Then a priest thought I should be a Secular Discalced Carmelite because of my knowledge of Carmelite spirituality and love of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.  I obediently tried, obtaining permission to 'transfer' - but I dropped out.  I was never able to live up to the social expectations.

To say I 'failed' at this or that is on one level a way of admitting I wasn't 'faithful' to what I was called to be.  I tried to be what I thought I was supposed to be.  You want to pray?  Become a monk.  I tried to fit a mold, to find a niche, to fit an expectation, to become something.  All the while ignoring the immediate: ordinary life.  It's about the sacrament of the present moment, and that kind of stuff.

All along my thoughts and prayers return to Benedict Joseph.  Gradually I understood that my vocation is to be an ordinary layman, a baptised, confirmed, Roman Catholic layman.  To embrace ordinary life.  To be 'Christian' as my real name proclaims - a Christian in a secular world - right where I am.  I had a wise spiritual director who recognized the action of grace in my soul and he agreed.  This was long before I encountered the teachings of St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer.

‘No, we are Christians, I was baptized, I made Confirmation, First Communion ... I have my identity card alright. And now, go to sleep quietly, you are a Christian. But where is this power of the Spirit that carries us forward?” - Pope Francis, Homily, 4/17/13

When I began reading St. Josemaria, his 'Way' resonated with me immediately.  For a moment I thought - "I should join Opus Dei!"  Almost immediately I knew that wasn't my call, nor was it the response I needed to have to his 'spirituality'.  Is his 'Way' really a particular school of spirituality?  I've never asked anyone, so I don't know.  I simply see it as practical direction on how to become a saint in today's world.  Every school of spirituality the Church sanctions may be implemented by anyone I suppose, but I do not see 'customized' spiritualities as practical for myself, or the majority of laity.  By customised I mean, that a Franciscan should only follow Franciscan teachings, Carmelites follow Teresian, and so on.  I'm probably wrong about that - so pay no attention to it.  Nevertheless,  it helps to explain why I do not believe there can be a special 'gay spirituality'.  But that's another post.

Pope Francis said we need to be, “faithful to the Spirit, to proclaim Jesus with our lives, through our witness and our words.” - Vatican Radio
There is no great point to this post except to say that I think what the Pope said while still a Cardinal goes very well with what St. Josemaria taught about the ordinary layman's proper and specific role in the Church.  In an interview Escriva said:
"I simply point out, because a complete doctrinal exposition would take a long time, that Opus Dei is not interested in vows, or promises, or any form of consecration for its members apart from the consecration which all have already received through baptism. - St. Josemaria
Furthermore, similar to St. Paul's exhortation in one of his Letters, St. Josemaria taught:  No change in one's state in life.  Nothing different from ordinary faithful Catholics.  Each person should and can sanctify himself and evangelise in and through his own particular state in life.  In the place and condition he finds himself in the Church and society.   As the Pope said:
"The layperson is a layperson and has to live as a layperson with the power of baptism, which enables him to be a leaven of the love of God in society itself, to create and sow hope, to proclaim the faith, not from a pulpit but from his everyday life. And like all of us, the layperson is called to carry his daily cross — the cross of the layperson, not of the priest." --Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in an interview, now Pope Francis
I'll be writing my thoughts about this going forward.


  1. What you say here resonates well with my own experience. I look forward to reading whatever more you can share on this topic. I would also love to read more about your wandering pilgrim days too.

    St Benedict Joseph, pray for us!

  2. I second what John said. I admire those I know who made the decision to join secular orders but at this time I just don't feel like I have to do that to carry my cross. A deceased priest friend asked me to consider joining the third order Augustinians. Then someone else asked me to please come to a meeting of the secular Franciscans. I always found myself drawn to the Carmelites. But I have yet to feel a strong magnetic pull toward wanting to join any of them. That may change some day but for now I'm staying put.

  3. "Furthermore, similar to St. Paul's exhortation in one of his Letters, St. Josemaria taught: No change in one's state in life. Nothing different from ordinary faithful Catholics."

    While I understand the gist of this, it is also one of the things that bothers me about what St. Paul wrote. How does anyone then get married, or how does anyone decide to go from ordinary lay life into religious life?

    As someone who plans to be married, and who really thinks that is my calling, it's disheartening to read St. Paul and other saints basically say it should be avoided unless you can't keep your pants on (St. Alphonsus said he can recommend it to no one unless they have trouble with chastity). But I want to marry not just because of the physical and emotional joys in that state, but because I really want to love someone and live for someone, and to have a family and raise them well.

    That would, of course, involve a change of state, and I don't mean moving to Texas.

  4. My pull towards religious life never went beyond the intellectual or the desire itself. For various reasons i never actually pursued it. And now being past the age most orders have as the cut off I'm accepting that it was just never meant to be. I must confess that i still harbour thoughts of one day maybe exploring becoming a Benedictine oblate... An integral member of a monastery but remaining in the world. Perhaps when Clear Creek founds a daughter house here in the northeast!

    The spirituality of St Jose Maria has helped me appreciate the value of my life of work and even the frustrations and difficulties ive come across in my professional life. That's why i'd like to read more on this that Terry or commentators would like to share.

  5. Clear Creek. I hear they take baths once a week w/cold water.

    Good post, Ter.

  6. Merc makes me laugh - 'keep your pants on'. I'll try soon to write about what what JoseMaria says - he loves married people and families.

    John - I think the pope is really pointing these things out - the call to holiness in the lay state. I think he sees a unity of contemplative and active within the lay state - the ordinary life - as some of the saints liked to point to as the life of Nazareth. I may be wrong.

    The Wednesday catechesis seems to point to this:

    Speaking of the Ascension, the Holy Father said:

    "after a cloud takes him from sight of the Apostles, they remain looking at the sky until two men dressed in white garments invite them not to stay fixed there, looked at the sky, but “to nourish their lives and witness with the certainty that Jesus will return in the same way they saw him ascend to Heaven. It is an invitation to step forth from the contemplation of Jesus' Lordship and to receive from him the strength to carry forth and witness to the Gospel in their everyday lives: to contemplate and to act, 'ora et labora', St. Benedict teaches, are both necessary in our Christian life.”

    “The Ascension,” Francis concluded, “doesn't indicate Jesus' absence, but rather it tells us that He is living among us in a new way. He is no longer in a particular place in the world as He was before the Ascension. Now He is in the Lordship of God, present in every space and time, close to each of us. In our lives we are never alone: we have this Advocate who awaits us and defends us. We are never alone. The crucified and risen Lord guides us. With us there are many brothers and sisters who, in their family life and their work, in their problems and difficulties, in their joys and hopes, daily live the faith and bring, together with us, the Lordship of God's love to the world."

    In the past, when it seems I downplay religious life, it wasn't my intention - I've been trying to articulatemy understanding of the lay person's call to holiness - as individual - as in the community of the Church - ordinary life, ordinary sanctity.

    I'm just not a very good writer.

  7. Merc, my yoga teacher used to say "if I say something and you don't understand it, it's not for you." I think you could apply the same advice to your spiritual reading; if a saint says something that doesn't make sense to you, then it's not for you. Of course saints don't understand the rest of the world! They're set apart and so much closer to God than most of us will ever be simply because they're called to another state of being. It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you wanting to be married; that's what you're called to do. It simply means that the saints who don't understand marriage weren't called to that state.

  8. Nan, where'd you get all that common sense?

    By the way, I'm taking that girl I'm friends with to Mass tomorrow for the first time, and I'm hoping we make it a regular thing. I really hope that in the near future, I'll be asking you for a Rosary.

  9. I think my state in life is to be constantly searching for my state in life. But I am interested, not so much in Opus Dei, though I much admire them, but in Escriva's writings. I just don't know where to begin. Any recommendation?

  10. Jim - that is exactly how I am - I'm interested in his writings. Google Escriva and check out his writings that way. For a quick overview I always find interviews to be very good. I have a little book:

    Conversations with Monsignor Escriva de Balaquer from Scepter Books. I have no idea if it is still in print or not.

  11. Thanks much. I'll give it a search.

  12. As one who has tried monastic life more than once and "failed", I can identify with Benedict Labre and yourself. We need to pray for each other, as the lay life of holiness can be very lonely, indeed.


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