21st century, American expressions of Christ

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Our spiritual life is lived mainly within our society and culture. In fact, in a very important way, we are our society and culture. We Catholics are the largest single church in the country. Our size itself necessitates that we carry a large spiritual responsibility. And that responsibility means that we live as spiritual adults.

We mature spiritually as we discern God’s presence and intentions, and then prophetically elevate and correct our society and culture in the loving, world-transforming Spirit of Christ. But we cannot live and work in today’s world with the faith we learned as children. We can easily fall prey to the values that contradict our faith, e.g., radical individualism, killing competition; noisy materialism, greed and shallowness; crass political polarization, and lack of caring for the poor, sick and vulnerable.

So how do we mature spiritually in today’s society and culture? We begin by fully realizing that our spiritual life is our everyday life: it includes ourselves, our families and friends, communities, schools, work and professions, politics, economics, science, art, and entertainment. In sum, our spiritual life is our entire life in today’s world. Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, we are the church in today’s world; we are 21st century, American expressions of Christ in and for today’s society and culture.

The whole world is our parish. In our church buildings we learn our faith and receive the sacraments. Most especially, we gather up the world and bring it to our parish church to offer to God at Mass, and then we bring Christ from the Mass to the world. One of the most spiritually maturing things we learn is that God is present and active in the whole world, and we are therefore always doing the work of being at Mass.

Back in the 1960s I met a missionary priest who ministered in Africa. To my surprise, he said, “We no longer go to Africa to bring Christ there.” Smiling at my puzzled look, he continued, “We don’t have to bring Christ there. He’s already there. And he’s black. And he chants and beats drums and dances. So now, we go to help the African people recognize Christ in themselves and in their everyday lives.”

Just before Vatican II opened, an African cardinal came to Rome and gave a talk in which he said, “We have come to say to you Europeans, stop building your Gothic cathedrals in the middle of our jungle. We have our own way of worshipping God, and it’s not the European way.” Then one morning at the council, African priests celebrated an African rite Mass, accompanied by seven foot tall Watusi men in long, white, sleeveless robes, who chanted, beat drums and danced around the altar. The narrator said, “Behold the joy of Africa at having received the Good News of Jesus Christ.” At that moment, 2,500 bishops and cardinals rose and cheered loudly.

Christ is also present throughout America, expecting us to serve and worship him in our own American way. He is present and suffering in the poor and unemployed, and in the victims of our degraded politics, selfish economic policies, and abuse. He is hopeful in those who are working to create jobs and save peoples’ mortgages. In so many of our young, he is brightly alive with possibilities and dreams. In our doctors’ offices and hospitals, he is gently caring. In our loving families and in all those who love and serve the poor, sick and vulnerable, he is joyful. In those who nurture and protect our environment, he is grateful.

As Catholics, we enjoy the fullness of God’s revelation to the world. Spiritually mature people enjoy the strength and confidence of humility, order, peace and adaptability that our faith brings to us. So in Christ’s fullness, we should not be “parochial” or restrictive. Spiritually mature persons can see Christ also in those not of our faith, and can respect others’ life-enhancing, humanizing and loving views. They are open to listening to today’s world and learning from it. Without feeling threatened, they can accept new and different ways to express our faith and to love one another and God more effectively.

Today’s spiritually mature persons are committed to working with all people of good will to help America — and the world — grow in humanity and spirit, and thereby help move the creation and salvation of the world forward one small and often difficult step at a time, in the grace of Christ. Within the one, global Catholic faith, they live and work to show the world the American features of the beautiful face of Christ.

Anthony T. Massimini of Woolwich holds a doctorate in spiritual theology. He can be reached at massimini7@gmail.com