In the world, not of the world
Seeking the things that are above
By Laurence Gonzaga
Some have asked why I have deactivated my account on facebook. There was no deliberate reason. I was just on it yesterday, and made a response-comment, and was moved to deactivate it. So, I did. Perhaps it was the Holy Spirit. Now, for those who know how facebook works, the account is never deleted, just hidden, in hopes that one day, the person misses facebook and comes back. When that happens, all is as it was: friends, groups, favorites, and all.
I think I have resolved to “fast” from facebook during weekdays, as it has easily become a distraction not only from my professional duties, but my spiritual duties. This does not mean facebook is evil. Just as a knife is not evil, but can be used for evil, the same goes for other things. Almost immediately after deactivating facebook I was able to focus on looking into doctoral programs which I have been holding off on for months. I
s there anything keeping you from fulfilling your professional and spiritual duties? If so, fix it.
Recently, I went on two retreats; very different retreats. The first was a retreat for professional or aspiring professional men in various fields. It was a Catholic retreat, but it focused on how ordinary men, in their various professions could have an impact on the world, quietly and invisibly, through the professional work that they do. There is no fanfare; there is no special apologetics or technique in this kind of apostolate. It is simply an approach of ordinary friendships as we have always done since we were all in grade school.
However, whereas the motivation before would be for social status or whatever, ours is now a motivation for apostolate in loving service to God, to bring the message of the Gospel to those who may never cross paths with a Roman Catholic priest or ever darken the doors of a Catholic Biblical Conference. They may be atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims. They may be Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, SDA’s, or Lutherans. They may even be fallen away Catholics, or traditionalist Catholics. As the priest’s mission is to bring the Gospel to the “people of God” which is His Church-the lay-faithful, our mission is to bring that same Gospel to the rest of the world, in a language which the particular individual can understand.
The second retreat was on a different level. Even though both were silent retreats, the latter was strictly enforced. We chanted entirely in Latin at least three hours of the traditional Breviarum Romanum daily as well as the Holy Mass in Latin. It also had spiritual conferences on Pentecost. It gave a different perspective, perhaps a different vision of the lay-spirituality. It had a tinge of what is a principle of religious life, a “contemptus mundi”, a contempt or aversion of the world and the things of the world.
Many lay people have adopted this idea into their everyday life. They avoid the malls, the theatres, the sports events, the beaches, etc. They have contempt for the world, because to them the world is evil. Is it the world that is evil, or is it the people who do evil things which make it evil? Is there something intrinsically evil about a market place, or a theatre?
Somehow, I think at least for me, these two ideas can be reconciled. At least at this point in my life, I live in the world. I am not a monk or a religious. So, I cannot have contempt for the world, as I work, study, and travel in the world. However, there are times, when I and I think everyone does need to retreat from the world, which was the theme of my second retreat, “Quae sursum sunt sapite non quae supra terram” (Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth, Colossians 3:2). However, in contrast, even though there was no theme to my first retreat, I think an appropriate Scripture is, “Non rogo ut tollas eos de mundo sed ut serves eos ex malo” (I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from evil, John 17:15). The latter was the prayer of our Lord to the Father regarding the mission he has given us.
It seems from the surrounding context of the passage that our mission is to be sanctified in our Lord Jesus, as we are called to bring His Gospel to the world. We cannot do it alone. We are fueled by His grace, and His grace alone. We must keep our eyes fixed on the things above, but our apostolate is in the world.
In closing, I would like to include below an ancient account of the life of the Christian. It is taken from a letter written to a man named Diognetus, who is curious about the Christian life. I hope you enjoy it and meditate upon it, that you may be edified and motivated to begin to answer the call of Vatican II’s revitalized vision of the lay-apostolate in Apostolicam Actuositatem.
Instaurare omnia in Christo.
Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.
And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them [Note: the Greeks used to expose unwanted infants to the elements to die]. They share their meals, but not their wives.
They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they, rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.
To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.
Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body's hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.