Pope John XXIII instructed Vatican II to explain our faith in language that people could understand and apply to their everyday lives. Some council fathers opposed this, fearing that the traditional faith would be compromised. Some saw no need to empower the laity in any way. Against this opposition, the council moved forward.
Vatican II answered Pope John in two main ways. First, it re-envisioned the church. It did away with the imperialistic view of the church as a top-down pyramid in which God speaks to the pope, who speaks to the bishops, who speak to the priests and religious, who speak to a passive, “pray-pay-and-obey” laity. The church, it said, is a circle of baptized believers, all of whom share equal dignity as the People of God. Within this circle, God chooses some for the ordained leadership of service in the faith.
Second, the council opened the way for the laity to become spiritually mature and effective Catholics in the everyday world. It said that God speaks directly to all his people. God is directly telling each of us who we are, what gifts, talents, opportunities and possibilities he is giving us, and what he expects each of us to do in today’s society and culture. In short, he is giving each of us the gift of our own, personal vocation and our own, personal experience of him. We receive, understand and apply our gifts in our own, particular way, within the one Catholic faith. Thus we spiritually grow individually while we stay related to all others in the faith.
God is revealing himself to us in and through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who dwells within each one of us. As St. Paul famously said, Christ now lives within us. This makes each of us a 21st century, American expression of Christ in and for today’s society and culture.
The indwelling Spirit of Christ is calling, gifting and empowering each of us to be “everyday mystics.” Being an “everyday mystic” doesn’t mean seeing great visions. It means simply to discern, i.e., to see with the eyes of faith, what is hidden from agnostics and unbelievers. We can see, for example, that God exists, that he created the universe and sent his son, Jesus, to save us. We can see that the Spirit dwells in everyone and in the whole world. We can see that our gifts are our vocation.
For example, a first grade, public school teacher showed that she is an “everyday mystic” in the following way. Each morning, she started by taking a moment just to look at her pupils. She looked into their beautiful faces — everyone of them was beautiful in their own way! — to see the Spirit of God living and shining within each of them, gifting them not only with life but also with galaxies of possibilities. She saw the Spirit animating them to learn, grow and evolve into the persons God created them to become.
With creation and grace in mind, she saw herself as the instrument of Christ, placed there in that classroom to provide the children with the best possible educational opportunity she could give them, so that they could respond to the presence and intentions of God living within them — all without imposing her religion on any of them.
With Good Friday and the cross in mind, she saw the challenges her children faced, some from their homes, and from today’s culture.
What she mystically discerned in her children never failed to fill her with love, joy and wonder, and to energize her for the day ahead.
She began class by having the children stand and became quiet. Then she led them to stretch upward and say, “I stretch my body to become strong.” Touching their forehead they said, “I open my mind to learn.” Touching their heart, “I open my heart to love.” Reaching out to hold hands. “I reach out my hands to others.”
As they held hands, she said, “Whenever we reach out to others, we do it with love, joy, friendship and caring. With wiggles and giggles. Never to hurt anyone, not with your voice, not with your hands, not with your feet.” Then altogether they said, “What would this world be like if everybody just loved one another? What a wonderful world this would be!”
Her class flourished both behaviorally and academically.
New parents can easily see God’s presence and love in their baby. Doctors can see Christ’s suffering in their patients. We can all discern God’s presence and intentions in our own way.
Anthony Massimini of Woolwich holds a doctorate in spiritual theology. He can be reached at email@example.com