Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
November 22, 2004
Laity must sail uncharted waters
St. Therese of Lisieux was often seen as the saint for the 20th century. Her little way was a sign of how we all could become saints by acting with great love in the ordinary events of daily life. "What a very little soul I am," she wrote. "I can only offer very little things to God."
It was a breakthrough.
Too often, even today, we assume that sainthood is something only for the spiritually adventurous, those who see a need and form a new religious order or lead the Church from a place of great prominence.
Even those very few lay saints were people like St. Thomas More or St. Louis or Elizabeth of Hungary who had achieved high office.
For the lay person, our duty was to know what the Church taught and to humbly obey, hoping that when our days were done, we could scrape out a piece of heaven for ourselves.
Therese, unknown while she lived, helped to change that. She achieved great sanctity while living a life that, outside times of prescribed prayer, was often that of humdrum domestic duties. For lay people living hidden lives, it was a sign that through our everyday activities, not in spite of them, we too could become real saints.
And then the Church, at the Second Vatican Council, taught that the role of lay people was not to pay, pray and obey, but rather to permeate the secular world with the spirit of the Gospel. All are called to holiness. It was the fulfillment of Pope Pius XII's statement in 1946 that the laity are "the front lines of the Church."
Permeating the world with the spirit of the Gospel is a big job, not one for the faint of heart. Especially in today's Western world where legalizing artificial birth control and abortion were but the first fruits of opening Pandora's box.
Today, we have a world that too often is characterized by acceptance of various forms of sexual impropriety, attempted suppression of the Christian faith, violence and war, and grinding poverty for the billions.
Prominent Canadian journalist Peter Newman has titled his recently published memoirs Here Be Dragons. He takes the title from the ancient maritime maps where mapmakers drew fearsome beasts such as dragons in the southern seas to portray the dangers of sailing in uncharted waters.
Christians today face many dragons and we must sail in uncharted seas to contend with them. This contention calls some of us, many of us, to live not only by St. Therese's counsels of the little way, but also to set out into the deep, just as Jesus counselled the fisherman-apostles.
Beyers Naude died in September at the age of 89. Naude was an Afrikaner who lived at the centre of privilege and power in apartheid South Africa. But Naude opposed the apartheid system with every fibre of his being.
For his public opposition of apartheid, he received scorn and humiliation from those who were closest to him. Unlike black opponents of apartheid, he did not have a community of like-minded people who could support and console him.
Of Naude, Nelson Mandela said, "Beyers Naude became an outcast among the Afrikaners, amongst many whites and amongst the Church he loved. Such is the price prophets are required to pay."
Our faith must nurture many people like Naude in Canada. This is the true goal of stewardship efforts that seek to give feet to Vatican II's teaching on the laity.
How will the secular world be permeated with the spirit of the Gospel unless there are some who are willing to endure scorn in the face of secularism?
This is the holy task of the laity, one to be pursued not with rancour or ill will, but with peaceful determination. It calls for the spirituality of St. Therese; it also calls for the spirit of the prophet, the one who courageously cries in the wilderness.
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