What is the role of the young Catholic professional/intellectuals today?
In the context of a world shaped by hyper-globalization, this is an increasingly important question to address. Social and economic realities around the globe are putting increased pressure on young professionals in their personal and professional lives in three ways.
A. First, many of us find it difficult to balance our roles in our family with the pressures of work. This is especially difficult for those young professionals who have responsibilities to their children and to older parents or other family members.
B. Second, our global (consumeristic and compartmentalized) culture wants us to separate our faith lives from our professional and political lives. This makes it difficult for us to live our faith in our daily lives.
C. Third, globalization reveals to us both the many social challenges and injustices in the world (e.g., extreme poverty, human rights abuses, war) on the one hand and the possibilities to address them (e.g., international financial reform, the Millennium Development Goals) . The world is grossly unjust, but in the words of the World Social Forum, “another world is possible.” We know that there is much suffering and we also know that we have the chance to change the world, but do we have the will?
While the situation of young Catholic professionals is certainly different in different countries and contexts (my reality in Boston is not the same as the reality in Lima, Paris, or Dhaka), many of us are asking the same question: what is our role and responsibility in such a complex world?
As an answer to this question, I propose four “facts” that I believe are relevant for young Catholic professionals around the world as we struggle with the pressures of life, faith, and work.
Let me begin with something fundamental. God is gift. Everything God does is gift. Theologians, like me, use the technological word grace to describe this profound mystery. As we are reminded by St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, nothing that we do can ever makes us earn God’s grace. God’s gifts are not something we buy like a new television. They are given to us freely – God does not follow the rules of market capitalism.
We see God’s gifts all around us. Our very life and existence is a gift of God. The beauty of nature, the birth of a child, the kindness of a stranger, the joy of music, the love of a friend, all of these are gifts that originate in God’s acts of creation. It thus makes no sense to divide God and our faith out from the rest of our lives.
In a more profound way, we see God’s nature as gift in creation and the sending forth of God’s self in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. These gifts are celebrated and again made present to us in the Christian community through the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist, confirmation. We also see them in a different way all acts of compassion, love and justice.
FACT 2. As Catholics We are called to Respond to God’s Gift Through Action
If the very core of our lives is a result of God’s gift, we can say that Christian Discipleship and Christian life is about how we respond to the gifts of God that we see in Christ, in the sacraments, and in other people.
Think of how we react when we receive a gift. Let us take a very small and simple gift: the smile. Even something as simple as a smile from a friend or stranger can be a great gift. I don’t know anyone who will not respond in some way when a smile is offered to them. If we really are to receive gifts from others, even something so small, we cannot be passive. (The French theologian Fr. Louis-Marie Chauvet addresses this point in his work).
As Christian professionals, intellectuals, and activists we have been given the important gifts of our minds and the experience of education or professional formation. Because of these gifts, we have a specific responsibility and duty to put what we have been given at the service of God, the church, the poor, and the global common good.
In speaking about God’s gifts (charisms), St. Paul stresses that we have an obligation to put them at the service of the common good (see 1 Corinthians 12:7). Using the image of St. Paul which describes the Church as the Body of Christ, the Second Vatican Council stresses that all Christians must be active agents sharing what they have received with others:
No part of the structure of a living body is merely passive but has a share in the functions as well as life of the body: so, too, in the body of Christ, which is the Church, “the whole body . . . in keeping with the proper activity of each part, derives its increase from its own internal development. (Eph. 4:16)…
Indeed, the organic union in this body and the structure of the members are so compact that the member who fails to make his proper contribution to the development of the Church must be said to be useful neither to the Church nor to himself. Apostolicam Actuositatem, 2.
In other words, to be a Christian we must be active. As Catholics, we called to put our faith into action. This action includes both an active participation in life of the Church, especially the Eucharist, but also includes action on behalf of the poor. Faith without action on behalf of the poor and suffering, as St. James writes, is dead. The Christian faith must respond to the needs and sufferings of people around us.
Think, for example, of the response of the first Christians at Pentecost. After receiving God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, the once-frightened disciples of Jesus left the upper room and went out into the world preaching the Good News, celebrating the memory of Christ, healing the sick, and performing acts of love and charity. Like them, we are called to respond to God’s gifts in action.
As young adults we can have a tremendous impact on the world in both a positive and negative way. Young adults in the last few months have led the movements to overturn dictators in the Arab-Spring revolutions. We have stood up in the movements of Occupy Wall Street. But we have also been the driving force behind trends in consumerism and violent religious fundamentalism.
FACT 3. To Respond to God’s Gifts We Need Communities
Finally, in order to respond to God’s gifts, we cannot go it alone. We need communities of people who share similar struggles.
This makes sense for several reasons.
A. From a philosophical or scientific stance, we can say that as human beings we are social animals (Aristotle). We cannot survive alone. In Southern Africa, the word they have for this is Ubuntu—which says “my humanity is wrapped up in your humanity.”
B. From a theological perspective, it makes sense for us to gather in communities, parishes, movements, and associations because the Christian God is a unified community. The Trinity—God as one in three—reveals to us the value of social relationships and communion.
C. Third, we know that it is often in communities and associations that we come to learn and know about God’s gifts. All of us have learned about God and the social responsibilities we have as Catholics from other Christians in communities. There is no solitary Christian. By definition, if we are Christian we are called to act together with others.
D. Fourth, we are more effective when we act together. The greatest prophets, social leaders, and saints all made a difference with the help of communities. We often speak of people like Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and St. Ignatius of Loyola for the great social transformations they helped bring about. But none of them could have been successful without the support of the communities and social movements they started.
This is why, in order to respond to the gifts that we have received as young Catholic professionals, we need the support of local communities. In a local group of young professionals/intellectuals we can grow personally and socially, learn more about the realities of our communities, discover the teachings of the Church, and find ways for collective action. In these groups, we can in humility have our own visions of the world challenged by others while also sharing our hopes and struggles. This sense of humility (that “I” don’t have all the answers) is very important if we are to be open to God and discern where God calls us.
But these communities are cannot passive either. In his letter A Call to Action, Pope Paul VI highlights the value of local church communities in the life of the church:
It is up to the Christian communities to analyze with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country, to shed on it the light of the Gospel’s unalterable words and to draw principles of reflection, norms of judgment and directives for action from the social teaching of the Church (4)… Christian organizations, under their different forms, have a responsibility for collective action…they have to express, in their own way and rising above their particular nature, the concrete demands of the Christian faith for a just, and consequently necessary, transformation of society. Octogesima Adveniens, 4.
FACT 4. Just as People Need Communities: Communities Need Other Communities
No one community, movement, or association can do it alone. Just as people need the support of a local communities, so too do local communities need the support of other communities. This is the value of a group like ICMICA-Pax Romana. In the network of Pax Romana, we can discover young professionals/intellectuals around the world that share many of our same hope and challenges. By learning from one another, supporting one another and acting together, we have the chance to respond to God’s gifts as we work for social transformation.