Monday, April 20, 2009

Gospel Reflection: Third Sunday of Easter

In the second reading this Sunday we are reminded by St. John that all Christians are called to a life of holiness by virtue of our Baptism and incorporation in to Christ. Yet we are still capable of sinning. Jesus our Advocate before the Father, paid the expiation for our sins and is able to reconcile us to the Father. St. John tells us that Jesus substituted his obedience for our disobedience, "not for our sins only but for those of the whole world" (1 John 1:1). We must not take Jesus' sacrifice lightly.

The Christian life is a call to an intimate union with Christ. The evidence of this union is our own desire to live a life of holiness. St John reminds us,

The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments. Whoever says, 'I know him,' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him. (1 John 1:3-5).

Pope Paul VI remarks that, "The split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time, just as it was of other times. Therefore every effort must be made to ensure a full evangelization of culture, or more correctly of cultures (Evangelii Nuntiandi 20). The Fathers of Second Vatican Council make the same point forcefully; "the breach between faith and daily life among so many must be considered one of the more serious errors of our time" (Gaudium et Spes 43). Theologically, this concept is called living a "unity of life." We cannot separate our lives into private and public spheres and live two separate lives. A Christian cannot go to Church on Sunday and cheat people on the stock market on Monday. We must live the virtue of sincerity rather than pursue the vice of hypocrisy. The Fathers of Second Vatican Council note,

Since Christ, sent by the Father, is the source and origin of the whole apostolate of the Church, the success of the lay apostolate depends upon the laity's living union with Christ, in keeping with the Lord's words, "He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit, for without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5) (The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity 4).

The Council Fathers note that the lay faithful have a special mission to carry out "the apostolate of evangelization and sanctification" in order to both penetrate and perfect the temporal order (AA 2, 6). The particular character of the lay faithful must be kept in mind. They are called to live out the universal call to holiness in the midst of their ordinary lives while engaged in temporal affairs. They are to live a unity of life brought about by a life of prayer, formation, and rich sacramental life (AA 4). The mission field becomes the world each of us live in, in the midst of our temporal affairs we must become the light of Christ to the nations. Even secular culture must be evangelized through the actions of the lay faithful. Pope John Paul II calls this the "New Evangelization." He notes, "The unity of life of the lay faithful is of the greatest importance: indeed they must be sanctified in everyday professional and social life. Therefore, to respond to their vocation, the lay faithful must see their daily activities as an occasion to join themselves to God, fulfill his will, serve other people and lead them to communion with God in Christ"(Christifideles laici 17).
The problem of living a unity of life has become particularly important for those in public office. Pope John Paul II notes,

The passing of unjust laws often raises difficult problems of conscience for morally upright people with regard to the issue of cooperation, since they have a right to demand not to be forced to take part in morally evil actions. . . . Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it" (Evangelium vitae, 74).

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has also clarified that, "Those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a "grave and clear obligation to oppose" any law that attacks human life" (CDF, Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in public life, November 24, 2002). It is not uncommon to have individuals or lobby groups call themselves 'Catholic' and yet to divide their beliefs into two spheres. They attempt to point out the good they have accomplished in one sphere while overlooking their grave cooperation with attacks on human life in another sphere. This type of thinking is hypocrisy and clearly not living a unity of life.

In today's Gospel the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus had their eyes opened and they recognized Jesus in the breaking of Bread. Through their encounter with the Eucharist, Jesus "opened their minds to understand the scriptures." Then he commissioned them, "You are witnesses of these things." The Opening Prayer for the Thursday after Ash Wednesday is a prayer for living the unity of life. We pray, "Direct, we beseech you, O Lord, all our actions by your holy inspiration and carry them on by your gracious assistance that every work of ours may always begin with you and through you be happily ended." Pope John Paul II has named the Virgin Mary as the "Star of the New Evangelization" (Novo Millennio Ineunte 74). As we strive to live our lives fully in union with Christ, may we all pray: Holy Mary, Star of the New Evangelization, pray for us.

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