By now most of the world knows that this is an election year for the United States. It’s hard to miss the constant reporting at an international level. This piece isn’t about the election. It was inspired by the election, but it is meant to be about something deeper and more long-term than a single United States presidential election.
We all live in a home country with political, economic, social, and other systems at work. Some of them we have control over, others we are able to influence slightly, some we merely offer our duty, others we have very little control. It is our duty to participate as citizens. That participation is left to the faithful to execute through a properly formed conscience. A properly formed conscience is ordered to the moral law as it is understood by the Church in light of Sacred Tradition and Scripture. The Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching is a great place to begin to understanding this aspect of the Christian life. I highly encourage people to pick it up and have it alongside the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The call to transform the culture is much more basic and deeper than merely voting, running for office, starting a business, giving to charity etc. It begins at the level of each person. This is the essence–it is the very beginning–of Catholic Social Teaching. Each human being is made imago Dei. Every human being shares the same nature of body and soul and each person is ontologically ordered to goodness and truth. We are made to love and serve God. We constantly seek God whether we are consciously aware of it or not. When we encounter Christ, we enter into the life of faith. Our nature–through the use of faith and reason–helps us to bridge the divide between the material and the immaterial, the spiritual and matter. Through the Paschal Mystery and the direction of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, each one of us is set on the path to holiness beginning at Baptism. We are all called to holiness. Every single one of us is called to be a saint. Sainthood is not solely reserved for lofty souls.
The Church just celebrated the great Solemnity of All Saints. In that great feast, we are called to celebrate and enter into friendship with all of the holy men and women who have gone before us on the path of holiness. Each of them points us towards communion with the Most Holy Trinity. They help us to see in a Fallen world of violence, chaos, corruption, illness, and brokenness that we must conform our lives to God. They also show us that if we truly want to transform the world, then we must become holy. To change a political, social, or economic system, we must be working towards holiness in our own lives and within our families.
The call to holiness is repeated most recently in Vatican II, Christifideles Laici, and the teachings of Pope Francis. It is the mission of the laity to transform the culture. We cannot do so if we are not actively pursuing holiness. We are all on the journey and we will fail at times. All of us will stumble and fall daily, but the point is to persevere. The radiance of the saints and their successes comes from their faithfulness to the mission. That mission is holiness.
The lay faithful have the unique mission of transforming and evangelizing the culture. St. John Paul II wrote in Christifideles Laici, expanding on the documents of Vatican II:
Certainly all the members of the Church are sharers in this secular dimension but in different ways. In particular the sharing of the lay faithful has its own manner of realization and function, which, according to the Council, is “properly and particularly” theirs. Such a manner is designated with the expression “secular character”.
In fact the Council, in describing the lay faithful’s situation in the secular world, points to it above all, as the place in which they receive their call from God: “There they are called by God”. This “place” is treated and presented in dynamic terms: the lay faithful “live in the world, that is, in every one of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very fabric of their existence is woven”(34). They are persons who live an ordinary life in the world: they study, they work, they form relationships as friends, professionals, members of society, cultures, etc. However, the Council considers their condition not simply an external and environmental framework, but as a reality destined to find in Jesus Christ the fullness of its meaning. Indeed it leads to the affirmation that “the Word made flesh willed to share in human fellowship … He sanctified those human ties, especially family ones, from which social relationships arise, willingly submitting himself to the laws of his country. He chose to lead the life of an ordinary craftsman of his own time and place”.
The “world” thus becomes the place and the means for the lay faithful to fulfill their Christian vocation, because the world itself is destined to glorify God the Father in Christ. The Council is able then to indicate the proper and special sense of the divine vocation which is directed to the lay faithful. They are not called to abandon the position that they have in the world. Baptism does not take them from the world at all, as the apostle Paul points out: “So, brethren, in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God” (1 Cor 7:24). On the contrary, he entrusts a vocation to them that properly concerns their situation in the world. The lay faithful, in fact, “are called by God so that they, led by the spirit of the Gospel, might contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties. Thus, especially in this way of life, resplendent in faith, hope and charity they manifest Christ to others”. Thus for the lay faithful, to be present and active in the world is not only an anthropological and sociological reality, but in a specific way, a theological and ecclesiological reality as well. In fact, in their situation in the world God manifests his plan and communicates to them their particular vocation of “seeking the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God”.
St. John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, 15
This apostolic exhortation is worth some serious study in order to understand the laity’s role in the life of the Church and the world. There is much to gain from a prayerful reading of this document.
How can we expect to transform the world if we are not living a constant conversion of heart? Often we look to external solutions without remembering that our own internal disposition and actions impact the order around us. If we want our local community, government, or even federal government to change then we must be focused on holiness. By our example and witness we are able to bring people the Good News.
We must stop expecting radical, sweeping changes to occur. Most of us are not called to heroic global missions. We are called to teach our families the faith and lead them to Heaven. We then go out into our jobs, clubs, sports teams, and other organizations where we serve. We evangelize the people God puts in our way, all of them. We come into contact with people in need and we serve them. We change the world one person at a time through our charity, witness, and devotion to the truth. Yes, we participate in political, economic, and social life, but that is only a very small part of our mission. Our true purpose within our communities is to transform and bring those in our area of influence into conformity with the Blessed Trinity. Every one of us is called to evangelize. Our missions may vary. Some are a called to homeless shelters, food banks, prayerful witness at abortion clinics or pregnancy centers, foster care, adoption, care for the environment, politics, business, the poor in other countries, and the list goes on and on. There is no end to human misery until the Parousia. God is calling us to His service now.
If we want to see change where evil seems to have the upper hand, then we need to focus on holy living. Prayer, fasting, alms, service, sacrifice, and our presence among the suffering in our communities. We should be joyfully and unapologetically Catholic. We must be willing to enter into the Cross of our neighbor. Sitting back in our homes railing on social media does very little for our own peace of mind, holiness, or in transforming our communities. There are people outside our doorstep who are hungry for Christ. We can only show them Christ if we are working to be more like Him. History is filled with radical changes that took place because of one person. Imagine how the future would look if we were all striving towards holiness and our evangelical mission. The social order would be turned upside do. So, let’s get started.