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Friday, January 16, 2009

January 18, 2009 - 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Evangelization and Ecumenism as a means to achieve Christian Unity

This week is the week of prayer for Christian unity in which we pray that the unity of believers which graced the early church will become a reality in our modern world.

Today’s readings are sometimes used to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life because they show God calling people to “Come follow Him”. However, they can also be used to promote evangelization because they show people being used as instruments in bringing the Gospel to the world and people to Christ. It is this second theme that I wish to explore today.

You’ve all heard of the 2nd Vatican Council which was a great gathering of all the world’s Bishops in Rome in 1962. It was called by Pope John 23rd. In its document Lumen Gentium or Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the Council taught that all baptized are consecrated as the “common priesthood of the faithful”. This differs essentially from the ordained ministry but is in fact a real participation in Christ’s own priesthood.

According to the Council the faithful exercise their priesthood by active participation in the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, by celebrating the Sacraments, by prayer but most especially by the witness of a Holy Life.

We don’t seem to have a problem in exercising the priesthood of the laity when it comes to the Mass and Sacraments nor even in prayer – where there seems to be a bit of confusion though is in the 3rd part – by the witness of a Holy Life.

What do we mean by this? Witness of a Holy Life and why is it so important?

The priesthood of the faithful as witness of a holy life means that Christ depends upon the laity to carry on His priestly mission by witness of their lives in the world, by ecumenism and by evangelization.

Calling it the Apostolate of the Laity, the 2nd Vatican Council teaches what the Laity are to do in the world and how they are to serve the Lord as faithful Lay people.

First of all, in talking about the church the Council wanted the lay people to understand the church better because if we are to understand our relationship to non-catholic Christian Faiths we need to understand our own better.

Among the first things the Council said is that everyone is called to participate in the work of Ecumenism – not just the pope, not just the Theologians, not just the Clergy but the laity as well. Everyone is called to Ecumenism. And Ecumenism does not mean leaving people where they are.

Secondly, everyone is called to Christian unity. We are all called to do what we can to mend the fences. We are all called to pray together for Christian unity.

We have to remember that the lay people are most often the source of information about Catholicism to our non-Catholic Christian friends. The lay people often are the only image of Catholicism that our non-Catholic friends have.

Therefore, we need to be renewed and live our Catholic faith well. We need to be able to speak and explain our faith and inform people as to what Catholics really believe.

There seems to be a tremendous amount of misconception – not so much on our non-Catholic brothers and sisters – but rather amongst ourselves. Do we really know our faith? Do we really know what Catholics believe? Can we teach our faith to others? And why is that important? Why not just leave them where they are?

The 2nd Vatican Council taught that the heart of ecumenism is conversion. It is pride that separates. It is humility and holiness that unites.

We need to repent of our pride and seek conversion of heart – continual conversion – both Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

The Council called all of us to make certain that the fullness of Christ is preached – not just a little bit – but the whole truth – the fullness of truth. Many of our non-Catholic Christian brothers and sisters only share part of that truth – The Council says that we need to offer them the fullness of truth. Why?

Because it is the birthright of every human being to have the fullness of truth. And because it is their right, the Council says that it is our duty – in fact we are obliged to bring it to them. Not in a spirit of triumphalism but in a spirit of deep humility.

To those who do not know God – we must bring God.

To those who know God but do not know Christ – we must bring Christ.

To those who know Christ but do not know the fullness of the means of Grace, we share these humbly – not as our possession – but rather as a gift that has been entrusted to us for their sake.

We should be prepared to stop at nothing to humbly share the fullness of Christ with everyone because that is the right thing to do and that is what the Council calls us to do.

Every Christian is called to the highest state of holiness – laity and clergy alike.

Holiness is the perfection of Love.

What this means for lay people is that the very participation in the everyday life, working in the oil patch, teaching, raising a family, stocking the shelves, cooking and changing diapers (hopefully not at the same time!) are the very means that God uses to make us holy and to raise us to the heights of holiness.

The council reminds us that lay people from the very beginning of the church are involved in the Apostolate of the Church – to proclaim the Gospel – the laity are to preach the Gospel with the witness of their lives – the laity are also called to evangelize – to tell people why they are joyful and what Jesus means to them.

The clergy are primarily called to minister to the lay faithful, to serve them by teaching, by exhorting, by ministering the sacraments to them and otherwise leading them to follow Christ – and thereby achieve holiness.

If this is so then who is going to bring the Gospel to the world? Who is going to transform the secular order? Who is going to inject the Christian voice in Parliament, in our Legislatures, in our Councils, in the marketplace, in the workplace and in the classroom?

Christ has given this special vocation to the majority of the People of God – the laity because only the laity can do that effectively. When Paul says “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel”, he’s not just referring to Clergy. Everyone has that duty.

The role of the laity is to get into the nitty gritty of human life and transform it through the Gospel. Vatican 2 says that this is properly the call of the lay people – their apostolate – their ministry. That is part of their priesthood of the laity. The priesthood of the clergy should not invade the turf of the laity – nor vice versa. Rather, their various ministries should be collaborative and enabling. Clergy and Religious are most often not accepted in the areas that the laity can go.

That’s why clergy should stay out of political office – they don’t belong there. That’s the role of the laity.

In today’s readings we can see that from the very beginning of the Church we see lay people leading others to Christ.

First, we have John the Baptist who evangelizes two of his own disciples by telling them about Jesus using the title “Lamb of God”. (John 1: 35-39). As a result these two disciples decide to follow Jesus. One of these is Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. When Andrew finds the Lord what does he do? Stay with Him? No, rather he goes to evangelize his brother Simon Peter telling him about Jesus and using the title “Messiah”. Andrew, the lay evangelizer, leads Simon to Jesus who looks at Simon and changes his name to Kepha (Peter). (John 1: 40-43)

There are many other examples in the New Testament also where lay people evangelize others leading them to Jesus.

Phillip evangelizes Nathanial describing Jesus as “the one whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote”. (John 1: 45-50)

This missionary pattern is also present in the story of the Samaritan woman as well. After being evangelized by Jesus, she in turn evangelizes the people of Sychar. (John 4:29)

I’m sure you can think of many more.

The point is if the laity don’t do it – who will – who can do it better?

If we can say that the teachings of the 2nd Vatican Council have not yet been fully implemented I think we can agree that here is an area in which we need improvement – ecumenism and evangelization. How are we personally doing in this area? If our churches are not full or if we are not viewed as a welcoming community perhaps it’s time all of us, clergy and laity alike, looked in a mirror. What are we doing about unity, ecumenism and especially evangelization in our own lives?

And this week we have a great opportunity to teach others about the Plenary Indulgence which is being offered at next Sunday’s Mass to celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul.

Here is one who came to the fullness of truth by Divine intervention – however, he went on to evangelize and convert thousands of others and has had a great affect on Christianity today.

What exactly is an indulgence? An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church, which as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of satisfactions of Christ and the saints”.

What does that mean – well, let me use a small example. When we sin, we need to ask for forgiveness. If we sin mortally then this sin is forgiven through sacramental confession. Even after the sin has been forgiven – there remains temporal punishment – the effects of our sin. These are removed through prayer, works of mercy, etc. Or through indulgences.

As an analogy let’s say that we have a malignant tumour in our body. The surgeon says it must come out or we will die. We agree to have the operation. The surgeon removes the tumour and afterwards she stitches you up. The tumour is gone but what remains is the scar and the stitches. Everytime we sin and go to confession, our sins are forgiven but there remains the temporal punishment (scar and stitches). A plenary indulgence removes completely any temporal punishment. We are now squeaky clean. The scar and stitches are gone.

To gain an indulgence, whether partial or plenary (full) it is necessary that the faithful be in a state of grace at least at the time the indulgenced work is completed.

You must therefore have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin.

You must have sacramentally confessed your sins.

You must receive the Holy Eucharist.

You must pray for the intentions of the Holy Father.

There you have it. Now it’s our job to go out and tell everybody that next Sunday we have the opportunity to gain a plenary indulgence.

My brothers and sisters, this is what we are called to do then. Having found the fullness of truth – having found the Messiah, we are to go out after we leave here and evangelize. The Council calls us to lead others to the Body of Christ - by the witness of our lives and by humbly sharing with them the fullness of the truth of our faith and inviting them all to “Come Home”.

This week is the week of prayer for Christian unity in which we pray that the unity of believers which graced the early church will become a reality in our modern world and we need to do our part in fully implementing the teachings of the 2nd Vatican Council especially in this most important area.

God Bless you.

Deacon Bernie Ouellette

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