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God and My Work / Part 2

A series on the role of laity in the Church
by Fr Luis Garza LC | Source: www.catholic.net

b. Sunday and presence in the parish: An escape from the daily reality

Another of the big conceptual difficulties that seem to exist before we can properly evangelize the workplace is the way people view Sunday. In a way, this vision is a result of my previous point. If one's daily work is not an object of true evangelization, then the presence of Catholics in the parish on Sunday will only be an escape from their daily reality. It is not and cannot be the day that gives meaning to their daily work, since faith and work have become two realities that cannot be harmoniously integrated. Thus it happens that instead of a Catholic's presence in the parish aiding him to understand better his life and action in the world, Sunday may only accentuate the distance between his life in the world and his life as a Catholic.

   We must create a bridge between Sunday and Monday. Pope John Paul II already expressed it in his apostolic letter Dies Domini, saying that "Sunday is like the soul of the other days." He goes on to say:

Sustaining Christian life as it does, Sunday has the additional value of being a testimony and a proclamation. As a day of prayer, communion, and joy, Sunday resounds throughout society, emanating vital energies and reasons for hope. Sunday is the proclamation that time, in which he who is the Risen Lord of history makes his home, is not the grave of our illusions but the cradle of an ever new future, an opportunity given to us to turn the fleeting moments of this life into seeds of eternity. (83-84) 

   Not to achieve this unity and relation is particularly damaging, since if the faithful don't manage to connect it with their daily life, they end up alienated and don't understand the message of Sunday because they have no reference point to what they live, and it is not at all useful to them. They have no chance to understand that message, because in reality it is not for them. Since this unity has not been achieved, it is not surprising that, in the modern urban world, Sunday religious practice is dwindling, and people prefer to escape from the cares of their lives with a pastime like sports instead of Mass.

   Instead of fixing the root problem, there is a temptation to make Sunday Mass more attractive by turning it into one more pastime. More than one pastor has found himself "in need" of turning the Mass into a kind of circus, which has only ended up distancing the faithful even more. The Mass does not attract anyone by special effects, but by its own mystery. The solution is not to change the essence of the celebration of the Eucharist. The Mass should be what it is: the celebration and real commemoration of the death and resurrection of Christ for the salvation of all. This is the foundation of Christian life.

   What must change is this: the parish should not be limited to a place where the Eucharist is celebrated on Sunday, but it should serve as the catalyst by which the faithful are gathered into a community where they encourage and strengthen each other, find guidance for their daily work, and reinforce their commitment as Christians in their work, family and social life. The parish is not only a place of worship: It is the Church brought to life in a specific area or with a certain group of the faithful, and it should welcome the charisms and inspirations of the Holy Spirit that bring Christ into all of the realities of men's lives. Although the value of a Mass is infinite and can generate apostles and witnesses, the parish would betray the faithful if it did not give them motivation, direction, and training to be "the light of the world and the salt of the earth" (Mt 5:13-14). And this takes more than 30 minutes on Sunday to achieve.

c. Clergy and lay faithful: a dialogue between deaf people

Another point that seems critical and that has a great negative influence on the evangelization of the world of work is the distance between the clergy and the laity. Popular wisdom says, "My problem is the biggest problem in the world." A person who works from sunrise to sunset and who has to show results in his business or work, and also to bear the responsibility for his family, has his own difficulties. He neither understands nor wants to know about the problems of others. The problems of his parish priest, unless he is a close friend, are as remote and irrelevant to his reality as a natural disaster in some other part of the world. For the pastor who has to administer and maintain the parish, as well as attend thousands of pastoral emergencies on behalf of the faithful who ask for him, the working problems of one of his parishioners may escape his notice.

   On the other hand, the majority of pastors have not obtained a college degree outside philosophy and theology, nor have they been trained to work in businesses or in specific professions. Thus they do not know that world from within, nor do they know its demands and the challenges that their parishioners face there. They hear a lot of clichés, slogans, and preconceived ideas that give them a vague idea of the life of their parishioners, but not a deep understanding. At the same time, most lay Catholics have not had a good Catholic formation, and they do not always know what a pastor does and what obligations he has. What results is like a conversation between two deaf people.

   I do not believe that the solution is for the pastor to become a worker or a businessman, or for him to learn a profession. Nor should a layperson direct the parish for a time. What I do believe is that we all need a greater understanding of the two groups' needs, of their worlds, concerns, and challenges, in order to establish an enriching dialogue. In this sense, it is very important for the clergy to be able to understand the realities of the world more deeply, and for the laity to take an interest in the priests' difficulties and challenges. A work of formation in common is desirable.

   As a Catholic, I feel obliged here to give praise where it is due, because I have experienced firsthand the witness of self-giving and holiness in a countless number of priests who make possible, often at the cost of their own sleep and personal time, the enormous work of evangelization, caring for souls across the length and breadth of the earth. They are the inheritors of the glorious history of generations of priests and pastors who have gone before them, and who have made Christ known and loved by many people. I think that all Catholic faithful have a debt of gratitude toward them.

   It is also true, especially in these last 200 years, that the lay faithful in many different parts of the world have given great testimony of their Christian vocation and are now the most active promoters of the New Evangelization. It is urgent and necessary that the priests, lay and consecrated establish a deep dialogue to go about and bring the world closer to Christ.

d. Marx failed in the economy, but he triumphed in some parishes

When I studied philosophy in the late 1970s as part of the curriculum for priestly ordination, I had the chance to study Marxist philosophy. Marxism was in full swing and its expansion throughout the world seemed unstoppable. It was always amazing to me that something so hostile and contrary to human nature, in both its conception and its actions - even though some romantic Marxist theories may have spoken of a Marxism with a human face and would have wanted to paint it with a rosy tint - was able to extend its geopolitical influence so far and seduce huge groups of intellectuals who were fairly intelligent and highly cultured.

   I had to read Marx's Das Kapital and I began reading this book - required for the course - almost as a Lenten penance. It seemed to me like a dense text, erroneous to its core and in its conclusions. On finishing it, I was even more amazed that Marxism could attract anybody.

   When John Paul II was elected Pope, by the grace of God, Marxism's fate was sealed. Some years later, Communism, that giant with clay feet (cf. Dan 2:34) collapsed under its own weight, although we know well that John Paul II helped to give it a final push. Real Marxism was shown to be a complete failure, in both politics and economics. However, the seeds that the Marxist propaganda machine had sown throughout the world lived on.

   These seeds, which are truly venomous for society and the Church, have remained in some structures of ecclesial formation, and their influence persists stubbornly. Here is some of the fruit they continue to produce:

a) In many places, the Marxist dialectic and its exploitation of human passions continue to be the principle by which people understand reality. Thus, the poor should oppose the rich with violence, since this is their right; the native should rise up against the powerful foreigner; woman against man; etc.

b) Eternal life is far beyond our understanding, so we should not give it any of the time and energy we need for daily life. The only things that man should bother with are here-and-now earthly realities. We should not care about man's spiritual health but rather about his economic wellbeing. The Church does well to just care for men here on earth and create just structures and destroy the structures of sin. There is no longer any place for the sacraments, and catechesis is converted into a program for social consciousness-raising.

c) The Church cannot be hierarchical (in Marxist language, it would be a superstructure), because this is not in keeping with the simplicity of the Gospel, nor would it follow the model of the first Christian community in which everyone held everything in common, so thus it cannot be the will of the Lord. Therefore, "Rome" and "the Papacy" should be understood as principles of coordination, not as the principle of discipline, Church unity, and the preservation of the faith. The priesthood itself comes from the people, who should elect their ministers, and so forth.

   People now speak less frequently about class warfare, but other dialectical oppositions have taken its place, such as the gender battle between women and men for power in the Church. These ideas, which I have presented in a cursory way, are the backbone of so-called liberation theology, which was in vogue in Latin America-on this point, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's 1984 document Libertatis Nuntius is worth studying-and it has a wide following under other guises, not just in the developing world. The result of the concept of class warfare is that many priests in Latin America and in many other places in the world feel resentment, distance, and misunderstanding toward any activity that generates wealth. It is not something conscious, nor even in many cases desired, but it is something that is undeniably present as a substratum. Much-almost all-attention has been given to social questions, while leaving aside spiritual activities. By the same token, the Church is conceived as accompanying the poor, not on their path to heaven, but on their path to the vindication of their social rights.

   I am not against social work at all; quite the contrary. It is only that the Catholic Church is not simply one more NGO (non-governmental organization), nor does it find its raison d'etre exclusively in social work. Benedict XVI, in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, says: "For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being" (25). Charity must always form part of the spiritual and transcendent mission of the Church. And the Church, although she takes particular care of the poor and of those who need material goods, knows that she is the Body of Christ and the continuation of the redemption offered to both poor and rich, because everyone suffers in a heartbreaking way the moral misery of sin. The Church works for the good of the poor, not for the sake of power or politics, but because Christ lives in them.

   There is nothing more opposed to the Gospel than to divide and to use violence and thus destroy charity. I believe, and it is my own experience, that we can do much more for the poor through education, formation, development programs, and Christian charity than through confrontation and fighting. I have seen that we can build lasting bridges between the rich and the poor where everyone wins. I have also seen that when those to whom God has given material goods are able to help the poor, it helps them to become more sensitive to others. They learn not only to disentangle themselves from attachment to their possessions, but also to understand that the poor are their brothers and sisters, and so they begin to work for a more just society. The path of development and peaceful coexistence in our towns begins with the conversion of all men's hearts.

   We need to finish uprooting these seeds of Marxism, which still remain in some sectors of the Church. Only then can the clergy have a calm and measured understanding of the workplace, and the lay people can comprehend the situation of their pastors. I have watched with great sadness how entire sectors of the population of our countries, especially businessmen, executives, and professionals, have distanced themselves from the Church because they perceive a Marxist undertone in their pastors. They feel rejected and misunderstood; they have heard that everything they do is essentially sinful. With even more sadness, I have also seen that, although people thus poisoned have acted with good intentions seeking to defend the poor and the weak, what they have done is to lose large groups of the marginalized classes, since they have not found them to be pastors who speak to them about Christ, but rather political agitators or directors of a social service association.

   What the statistics reveal is symptomatic: in places and dioceses where there has been a greater Marxist presence among the pastors and parish staff, there is a greater number of faithful who have abandoned Catholicism for evangelical communities, or even for sects that end up using people for their own purposes of money and power. I seem to hear Christ's warning: "If salt should lose its flavor…" (Mt 5:13).

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