I liked Pope Francis’s homiletic exploration of the call and response of one of my country’s great saints. It’s a question for the whole vector of the disciple’s life.
(Pope Leo) asked her pointedly: “What about you? What are you going to do?”. Those words changed Katharine’s life, because they reminded her that, in the end, every Christian man and woman, by virtue of baptism, has received a mission.
One thing that struck me in this is the suggestion that this was not a revelation to Katharine, but a reminder. How often, deep down, do we know what to do? A disciple is attuned to the Teacher’s call.
Is the impulse to follow Jesus with a life only of ordained or religious life? I think that position can be rejected outright. A century and a half ago, a pope of another era addressed a question to a young lay woman. That is where the question originates today, a call to the lay person. Not only to people who have achieved a sacramental or vowed state. Not to church professionals alone. The question is often posed to the young.
(Those words) made her think of the immense work that had to be done, and to realize that she was being called to do her part. How many young people in our parishes and schools have the same high ideals, generosity of spirit, and love for Christ and the Church! Do we challenge them? Do we make space for them and help them to do their part? To find ways of sharing their enthusiasm and gifts with our communities, above all in works of mercy and concern for others? Do we share our own joy and enthusiasm in serving the Lord?
These are essential questions. They are queries that might more readily come to the lips of teachers, catechists, godparents, clergy, ministers, and even parents. I was struck by the combination of values suggested: challenge, making space, and help.
Challenge: what does that look like? It probably doesn’t involve helicopter blades. My sense is that it involves really getting to know young people, and noticing emerging charisms. The challenge for us older Catholics is that we can expect to see potential when we look at young people. It will take a bit more than delegating youth ministry to a single professional in our parishes. Or shipping our adolescents off to educational institutions until they are in their twenties.
To me making space involves a selective withdrawal from some activities so as to make room for others. It involves qualities some Catholics find difficult: welcoming, inclusion, and trust of newcomers.
How do we challenge young people, and make room for them, but also help appropriately? Getting to know each person we encounter.
It’s about baptism. Baptism is the path to true discipleship:
One of the great challenges facing the Church in this generation is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church’s mission, and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world.
The term “missionary disciples” is offered. That adjective alludes to the mission of the Church, which is decidedly not preservation. It is not determined by committee meetings either. It goes to the core of Jesus’s mandate to the original Christian disciples: going forth to the world and making disciples, making followers of the Lord.
This will require creativity in adapting to changed situations, carrying forward the legacy of the past not primarily by maintaining our structures and institutions, which have served us well, but above all by being open to the possibilities which the Spirit opens up to us and communicating the joy of the Gospel, daily and in every season of our life.
In other words, a respect for the past and its accomplishments, but new and creative ways of serving in the world. Build on the past, but look for new possibilities. It’s another way of saying we have the opportunity to explore new space.
In a particular way, it means valuing the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, to the life of our communities.