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Sparking the Catholic Imagination 4

Deborah Stollery

Learning Christ in Practical Ways

As 2021 continues, we at ConSpirita Consulting Network find ourselves, like many of you we expect, grateful for the passage of 2020 with all its challenges, joys and woes, and yet uncertain about what 2021 might hold for us as individuals, as a business and as a Church.  In order to discern the signs of the times, to get into the flow of the Holy Spirit and so to walk these days in hope and resilience, we are focusing our next set of blogs on imagination.  Why?  Because we believe imagination is one of the Holy Spirit’s fertile grounds, and we desperately feel the need for the Spirit.  So join us as we seek to spark the Catholic imagination through these blogs.

The third blog in this series about Catholic imagination introduced John Cardinal Henry Newman’s second principle to re-center Catholic imagination: learning Christ.  If you didn’t get a chance to read it, click here to get the foundations upon which this blog is built.

This week I invite you to walk with me as I consider ways to continue “learning Christ” that address the specific challenges I noted previously.  I’ll be using some imagination here, but also drawing from some of the Church’s own documents and from her servants and followers.  Let’s see what emerges, shall we?

  1. Challenge 1: Delving more deeply into the gift of Incarnation.  How do I do that?  How do we do that?
    1. Spend some time considering our creedal statement about Jesus:  We believe He is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father” and at the same time that He was “born of the Virgin Mary and became man.”  What does it mean to me/us to proclaim this?  If Jesus bears the same essence or substance as God, Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, how should I approach Him?  How should I view His teachings?  Worldview?  Priorities?  Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the creed paying particular attention to the footnotes.[i]
    2. What do I feel when I consider God’s invitation to share in His divinity?[ii] What does this do to the phrase from Mass, “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed?”[iii]  What does this mean for my desires, for how I spend my time and money?  What does this mean for our ministries through the parish?  For how the Church is administered?  I think this calls for an assessment of all of these areas through this lens.  Do we see a people sharing in Christ’s divinity in practical, visible ways?  Is this how we see our ministries?  Our family life?  Our work?
    3. Deeply ponder and pray with the notions from Catholic Social Teaching, beginning with human dignity, the preferential option for the poor, and solidarity as doorways to a deeper understanding of the Incarnation. Human life is sacred because Jesus took it on. 
  2. Challenge 2: Considering how the gift of the Incarnation grounds and sustains my Christian imagination.
    1. Take a look at Christian art, architecture and music as outward signs of how Jesus becoming human inspired creative expression. Find out what sparked, sustained and challenged these people. [iv] Might that do the same for me?
    2. Take some of the imagery from Scripture, especially from the prophets who describe “that day” when God’s Kingdom is come, and pray with them. What would be necessary for our homes and parishes to be seen as houses of prayer[v], as mountains where people come to be refreshed[vi], as wells where the deepest thirsts of humankind are slaked[vii], where lions and lambs lay down together[viii]?  Where is that already the case?  What else might be done?
    3. Take Pope Francis’ image of the church as a field hospital[ix] and play that out in terms of practical choices for budget, ministry formation and training and mission. Add to that his vision expressed in Amoris Laetitia.[x]  What do we see when we do that?
    4. Read the documents from Vatican II [xi]with an eye toward how they take Jesus’ humanity and divinity as the spark that lit the imagination expressed in those documents. How are we as individuals and parishes putting flesh on the great ideas expressed therein regarding ecumenism, regarding the universal call to holiness, regarding the idea that the hopes, dreams, joys and sorrows of the people of God are the concern of the Church, regarding full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy and on the list can go?
  3. Challenge 3: Really believing that the Lord is calling us to encounter Him where He ministered, on the margins with those who most need compassion, healing and justice.
    1. Engage in works of charity and justice. Commit to see the poor, marginalized, immigrant, elderly and sick as the most beloved of God because they most need God’s touch.  Then go and do.
    2. Learn more deeply about one or more structural conditions that hold others back from becoming what God intends them to become: systemic racism, unbridled capitalism, overly complex regulatory hoops, public education funded by local tax dollars (see systemic racism).  Agree to deeply examine my own beliefs and practices to see how I benefit from these situations and to come to terms with what I must sacrifice for them to be changed.[xii]
    3. Seek out the stories of the immigrants, the refugees, the generational poor, people who have been trafficked for sex or drugs, victims of floods and famine, those living in oppressive political regimes. [xiii] Allow my heart to be softened, and my intellect to be challenged to find remedies.
  4. Challenge 4: To be open to conversion, and to a new life that may not look at all like the one I have.
    1. Practice an examen daily.[xiv]
    2. Embrace simple living [xv]and a disposition of leaving a small footprint on the earth.[xvi]
    3. Pray for courage to speak truth to power, and to my own family.[xvii]
    4. Seek to build small Christian communities where this is the disposition, and so where a new family can emerge if the other family rejects, betrays or abandons me.[xviii]

Above are some concrete, practical ways I can allow “learning Christ” to flourish in my life.  In so doing, Newman says I participate in re-centering the Catholic imagination in what Jesus intends.  In doing that, I trust the Spirit will reveal what has yet to be imagined for me personally AND for Jesus’ beloved Body, the Church.  Dare we commence?

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[i] See part 1, section 2 http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s2.htm
[ii] For more on this idea see the Catechism of the Catholic Church beginning with paragraph 458. Ibid.  For more, also see a blog by Fr. Billy Swan on the Word on Fire site:  https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/blog/the-mystery-of-christmas-water-and-wine/26062/
[iii] For a reflection on this prayer, see “The Mass for Millennials: ‘Lord, I am not worthy…’” by Brooke Gensler in Church Life Journal from the University of Notre Dame. https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/the-mass-for-millennials-lord-i-am-not-worthy/
[iv] For a first look, see “Christology-Jesus in the visual arts” in Britannica.  https://www.britannica.com/topic/Christology/Jesus-in-the-visual-arts And take a look at the 25 most impressive works of religious art:  https://www.onlineschoolscenter.com/25-most-impressive-works-of-religious-art/
[v] Matthew 21:13
[vi] Isaiah 11:9
[vii] John 4:5-6
[viii] Isaiah 11:6, Revelation 21:1-4
[ix] To read about this expression, see “Pope at Audience: Church a ‘field hospital’ that cares for the sick”  https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2019-08/pope-francis-general-audience-church-cares-for-sick.html
[x] For a summary of this document, which provides 10 assessment criteria that flow directly from the document, see https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2016/04/08/top-10-takeaways-amoris-laetitia
[xi] For access to all the documents in a choice of languages see http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/index.htm
[xii] For more on social sin/structural sin see https://www.wearesaltandlight.org/learn-together/understanding-social-sin
[xiii] For a beginning, read “Surviving Human Trafficking: My Long Journey toward Healing” in Faces of Migration. https://justiceforimmigrants.org/faces-of-migration/stories-of-migration/  A internet search of the phrase ‘stories of immigrants and refugees’ will provide more.
[xiv] https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/
[xv] For one perspective of the discipline of simplicity, see https://thelife.com/the-discipline-of-simplicity
[xvi] For 8 ways to reduce your ecological footprint, see https://www.ilacsd.org/2017/04/27/8-ways-to-reduce-your-ecological-footprint/
[xvii] For a look at Pope Francis speaking truth to power, see https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/making-difference/pope-francis-speaks-truth-power
[xviii] For a glimpse inside the joys and sorrows of intentional Christian communities see https://agapecommunity.org/brayton-shanley/

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