Today is Lay apostolate Sunday and this basically refers to how a lay person as distinguished from a priest and religious, is challenged to participate and serve more fully in the different ministries and neighbourhood groups of a parish. Ultimately the basic challenge that we are looking at is not so much how many ministries a lay person is involved in, but how you are each able to grow in holiness, in and through your daily living in your homes and in the secular world.
In order to challenge ourselves to grow in our faith, we must first have a clarity and awareness of where we are in terms of our faith in God. It is only when we are more aware of how we are living our faith that we can then know how to challenge ourselves to make the decisions needed to move in the right direction of Our Lord.
St Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises speaks of the three types of persons who love God differently; the first are those who love God, but is constantly procrastinating; the second loves God, but conditionally on his own terms and conditions; the third loves God totally and unconditionally, but only in so far as he is able to live fully in God’s ways and do His will. Similarly, I would like to illustrate by describing the three types of Catholic believers that we have in our universal Church.
In reality, you may find yourself not totally in one category, but in-between two different types of persons described. As I try to describe them in some general ways, you could perhaps try to ask yourself which description best describe your present state of your faith in the Church. In fact, each description would sound more like echoes of our personal conscience or our honest confessions to God.
So, please note that these general descriptions are not meant to be judgmental on any person. You yourself know whether they describe your present faith or not. These descriptions are meant to help us become more aware of ourselves and thus how we can challenge ourselves to practice our Catholic faith more fully.
The first types of Catholics are those whom we can call “lukewarm Catholics”. Here, we are those whom people call “Sunday Catholics;” sometimes people call us the “outstanding Catholics”; not because we have done some great deeds for the Church, but because we very often come late for Mass and stand outside the Church during Mass. We are also those who are waiting to rush out of Mass, and probably those who go for Confession once a year or even less. Don’t get us wrong; we do believe in God and we also like the others, want to go to heaven when we die; that’s why we come to Mass. We are also those who somehow we find it is more important for our children to go for their tuition classes than to come for their catechism classes when their examinations are round the corner.
Sometimes, on bad days, when we are very late, we are the ones whom you find screaming at our Traffic Assistants in our car park. Well, come to think of it; we can’t help it; life is so stressful and we are always in a hurry and we cannot understand why Traffic Assistants should stop us from double parking. Actually, deep in our hearts, we are good people; we are not as bad as we appear to be. However, we have to admit that we are easily distracted during Mass; we are those who are itching to sms our friends and families before the Mass ends. We rarely listen to any Pulpit announcements because they do not really concern us; we don’t intend to come for any Church activities any way. By the way, do you know the $2.00 notes in the Sunday collection? They are from us.
Sigh . . . well I suppose we should be more serious about our faith, but come to think of it, we are actually better than our friends who don’t give a hoot about God at all . . . So, on the whole, we are not that bad right?! Oh yes, regarding prayers, we do still pray before we go to bed; but, unfortunately, we often we fall asleep before we get to the end of the “Our Father or the Hail Mary” that we are saying. This list can go on . . . but, I think you know who we are . . . no need to be so long winded and its so embarrassing . . .
The second types of Catholics are those of us whom people call “good practicing Catholics”. We are those who take our faith more seriously. We rarely miss our Sunday Mass; we seriously think everyone should believe in God and have a religion. We also believe in doing good works of Charity and to help the poor and the needy, but somehow we don’t seem to find the time for it as we are often so busy with so many things in life. There are times when we don’t mind even occasionally giving big donations of even $1,000.00 to the Church, but please don’t ask me to attend talks or be active in Neighbourhood Groups. Heh! I have my limits okay?!
Actually, come to think of it, times are hard, and we need to keep our money for rainy days and for our children’s future needs. Yes, we are those who put in the $10.00 notes and sometimes the $50.00 notes on good days. We think having good health is so very important and we should eat and live well so that we don’t get sick and live a longer life. And so at home we talk a lot about everything that is related to health. You see, without a good health, we cannot work and thus, we cannot really be happy. . . . right?!
God is important because when we die we really want to go to heaven; sometimes we are those who don’t mind coming for weekday Masses; we pray every night and we usually come to Mass on time. And, actually at home we are quite religious; we have an altar and we do speak about God in our family conversations too. Hey, people don’t simply call us the “practicing Catholics” for nothing you know.
The third types of Catholics are those of us who are the “exemplary Catholics.” Although people call us that, we do know that we are far from perfect. We know we have a fair share of our occasional remarks of impatience, and experiences of hurts and upsets in life. Nevertheless, we take our faith very seriously. We love God very much and strongly believe that life is only meaningful if we show this love concretely in our daily lives to others. We not only come for Sunday Mass, but also weekday Masses regularly, if not daily.
We spend much of our time attending to the needs of others like our family; in fact, several days or more each week we spend time serving the poor and needy. Although we give up much of our time to do God’s work we are quite frankly not the type who want to be in the limelight; we prefer to serve behind the scenes. What matters really is what God sees in our hearts; not what others see us as doing. We are also those who are on the look out for people whom we try to encourage to become Catholic Christians. This is so because we strongly believe that our lives have been totally transformed since we took our faith seriously. Our love for Our Lord has over the past years grown to be very personal and intimate. On many occasions during my prayers, I experienced such deep presence of the Lord that I have no doubt He loves me so much.
Actually, we are also those who not only give out time to serve the needs of others and the Church selflessly, but also give to the poor and needy very generously. On the whole, our experiences of our faith have been so enriching. Without loving God, our lives would really be so empty and in fact not worth living, but with God nothing is too difficult to overcome; we have been tested and tried in so many ways in life, but eventually it is our trust in God that saw us through; this we hold and believe strongly. We are those who feel so grateful to God for all the abundant blessings and mercy that He has shown us, even though we do not deserve them. I think that’s enough before we fall in to spiritual pride or sound as though we are self-righteous.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let me repeat that these general descriptions of the three types of universal Catholic Christians are not meant to judge anyone of us in particular. They are meant to help you reflect on your faith and help us become more aware of how we are living our faith daily. This awareness will hopefully also help challenge us to take the next step of how we could deepen our faith in the Lord and thus grow in holiness as lay persons.
If we are a “lukewarm Catholic,” then we should take the needed steps to become a “practicing Catholic” and if we are a “practicing Catholic” we should then take the necessary steps to become an “exemplary Catholic.” But, even if we are an “exemplary Catholic,” there is still much room to grow in our holiness and relationship with the Lord. How are we going to do this? This can very basically be done by being sincere with the Lord. He is there residing in our hearts; go to Him; speak to Him and learn your personal ways of loving Him.
Finally and to conclude, let us not forget what Jesus proclaimed in today’s Gospel. He said, “I am the Bread of Life . . . Anyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood lives in me and I live in him.” Our Lord Himself is the source of our strength to grow in our faith in Him. All saints and martyrs of our Church depended on Our Lord, the Living Bread for strength in their temptations, trials and tribulations. The Lord who gave them the strength they needed is the same Lord we are each receiving at Holy Communion in this and at every Mass. Let us then ponder on why they, as fully human as we are, are able to grow much more fully in the Lord than us? What is the difference between them and us? What is the Lord challenging you and me on Lay Apostolate Sunday today?
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.