Ferment in the Dough
FAITH AND CULTURE
Ferment in the Dough
By Deacon Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
"Every believer, in this, our world, must be a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying ferment in the dough: He will be so to the degree that, in his innermost being, he lives in communion with God. In fact, there can be no peace among men if there is no peace in each one of them."
Pope John XXIII
When I was a first year law student (what now seems a lifetime ago) I had a two fold recipe for overcoming "stress". Funny, how the definition of that word changes as the decades go by. I would run daily and bake bread every Friday evening. Both practices were extraordinarily therapeutic during a very intense time.
The first year of law school is structured almost as a form of hazing. I think it is intended to winnow the class and - at least hypothetically- to insure that the future members of the bar are more effective in their chosen profession. As a Christian, I knew that it was to be much more. It was, as are all experiences in the lives of those who are submitted to the Lord, a time for conversion, learning and growth. The choice was mine.
From running, I discovered some amazing things about myself. I came to experience my own weaknesses (which seem to have grown even larger over all these years) as well as my potential. I have been working on both for a very long time.
From baking bread, I learned about the Christian vocation. That's right! Baking bread teaches us about the vocation of both the individual Christian and the mission of the entire Church in the midst of the world.
Throughout the two millennia of Christian history there has been a lot of confusion concerning the relationship Christians are to have with "the world". There is confusion regarding this very issue in the contemporary Christian community. If we do not get the basics right concerning this vital subject we will be ineffective in fulfilling the missionary mandate of the Church and we will also fall short of the call of our Baptismal vocation.
Loving the world
As Christians we are called to "love the world" as God loves the world. Because we live in Jesus Christ, He continues His redemptive mission in and through each one of us! Through our Baptism we actually have become members of the Body of Christ on earth. Truly understanding and grasping the implications of this reality is about more than piety. It should change the entire way we view our human existence. It is reality.
We now live our daily lives in the Lord and in His Church. In a very real sense, we actually live in the Church and go into the world. One of the titles that the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council ascribed to the Church (one that is also found in early patristic literature) is that the Church is the "the world reconciled."
Some of the confusion concerning the Christians' relationship to the world also comes from the remnants, the lasting effects, of one of the earliest heresies in Christian history. It was called Manicheeism. The followers of this error believed that all matter was evil. That is absolutely NOT the Christian belief. In fact, Christians profess a belief in a bodily resurrection and the coming of a new heaven and new earth!
Yet, this error of viewing matter as evil has deep roots even still within some segments of Christianity. It leads to a kind "ghetto mentality" leading some Christians to withdraw from the world and not participate in the "world". Sometimes these folks build little subcultures, withdrawing from the very people whom God still loves and whom He lovingly desires to reach through the Body of Christ. Following this approach, Christians can often become irrelevant, ineffective or, in some instances, pharisaical.
Some of the confusion also results from the various ways that the phrase "the world" is used in the biblical texts. The phrase "the world" is used in two very distinct ways. There is "the world" that God created and looked upon and said "it is good". (See e.g. Genesis, chapter 1). That world is still good. It is filled with beauty and reflects the Divine artist and architect who made it. That beautiful world He entrusted to the crown of his creation - man and woman.
God created us for Himself. He made us in His very image and likeness (Genesis 1:27). He placed us within this created world with a purpose. God still loves that world so much that He sent His only Son into it to save it! (John 3:16). He still walks in that world through His Body, the Church. His mission is a saving mission and He has invited us into the entire plan. He wants to bring the entire human race back into a relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ.
The Great Separation and the Redemption
The story of the relationship between God, the human race and His creation took a dreadful turn for the worse in a garden named Eden. Adam and Eve, created in the "Imago Dei" (the Image of God), were created with freedom, the capacity to make the choice to love and obey God. That is the very essence of His image in each of us.
This capacity to choose is meant to be exercised within a moral constitution and always in reference to the truth. This God of love did not create us as puppets. He made us as His sons and daughters. He created us for a relationship of love. He then invited us to exercise our freedom and to choose the good! He wanted our love and obedience to be freely given; otherwise it would not be love.
The "original" sin was a wrong exercise of that capacity to choose, a decision to say "no" to the invitation of God. Through that sin (the penultimate wrong choice) the relationship between God the Creator and the entirety of His created order was changed.
So too was the relationship between God the Father and His sons and daughters. A great separation occurred. Sin came into the world through our first parent's wrong exercise of freedom! Ever since that first sin the entire human race has lived under a cloud. Creation itself, in the words of the apostle Paul "groans" for the full revelation of the redemption of the sons and daughters of God. We have all been wounded, tarnished, and marred by sin. Our capacity to choose has also been injured.
The descendants of those who committed that sin continued to choose wrongly. They would later build cultures and nations. Into those cultures would be built "structures of sin", the bad accumulated effects of that original transgression against love and fidelity continued on in a sequence of sin. This system, now perpetuated by sin, has squeezed God out of His rightful place and substituted idols in the place rightly reserved for God alone.
It is that system that is also called "the world" in the sacred texts. (See, e.g. James 4:4). We are not to "love" that world, in the sense of giving ourselves over to its dominion, but to reject that system and, in and through Jesus Christ, choose to be saved from sin - to walk with and follow God in a new way, living in the world reconciled.
That cataclysmic event, that wrong choice, made at the foot of a tree in a garden, fractured the relationship between heaven and earth, between the Creator and His creation. That sin also affected both the created world and all human beings created in His image. It is all to be redeemed and restored.
The apostle Paul explains this to the Christians in Rome:
"For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. (Romans 8: 19-24)
The Incarnation and the Ongoing Mission
The Image of God placed within all men and women still survives, but their capacity to choose has been fractured by sin. With every wrong choice, every sin, the image of God in a man or a woman is further obscured. We simply could not save ourselves. That is why in the "fullness of time" (See Galatians 4:4 ) this loving God came into our midst, born of a woman, the one whom the early church fathers would call "the second Eve." Christians refer to this moment as the Incarnation. Mary said "yes" and heaven touched earth.
In the Person of His Son Jesus Christ, God did for us what we could never do for ourselves. He redeemed us from sin and defeated the power of death. He bridged heaven and earth through the tree of the Cross on which His beloved Son willingly suffered and died. The separation from God, which is the bad fruit of sin, is now erased for those who say "yes" to His invitation. In its place we are invited into the very life of God. We are invited into an intimate relationship, in Christ, with God the Father in the Holy Spirit.
Even with millennia of assistance from heaven, through tablets of stone, prophets and continuous intervention, the special people whom had God chosen for His own, Israel, could not set themselves free from the stranglehold of sin and evil. They longed for the Messiah, the One who would save them and this world from sin; the One who would bridge that gap, that separation. God heard their prayer and the prayer of countless others who longed to see His face.
This God of love condescended and took on human likeness. He who knew no sin, paid the penalty for the sins of the whole world. In His Son He recreated the world anew on another tree. In Christ's Body, heaven touched earth. Redemption is the beginning of this new creation. This process of redemption is intended to re-create the human race as well as the creation. In the fullness of time, it will all be re-presented, redeemed and made new and complete in Jesus Christ who will then hand it to the Father of all.
That is the Christian message, the gospel. It entails an ongoing story of the "redemption" of the world - and the mission that it entails now continues through the ministry of the Church, the Body of Christ on earth. We who are Christians, followers of Christ, have been baptized into that Body. We now go into the world, sons and daughters in the Son, with a redemptive mission! We are a Church, a people on a mission, now called to passionately love the world in Jesus Christ!
The Fields are ripe
Jesus told His disciples that the "fields" were ripe for harvest (John 4:35)! They still are.
Often we fail to see that the "fields" of which our Lord speaks are found within our own families, in our "backyard" - the very real environment in which we live out our daily lives and exercise our own freedom. Among the "fields" that are especially ripe for harvest in our contemporary age are the very arenas that Christians have all too often abandoned such as politics, commerce, arts, science, technology and industry. These are fields where Christians can bring significant influence. They all need the leaven of the Gospel, the truth, the ferment that can only come when Christians redemptively enter into the loaf of human culture and transform it from within.
The world is not our enemy, sin is. Sin entered the world and corrupted it from within. We now enter that same world in Jesus Christ and redeem it - in Him - from within. How do we do participate in His ongoing mission? Little by little, we offer ourselves like the leaven in the loaf of bread.
Leaven in the loaf
All of this was prompted by my story about baking bread in law school. There are some amazing things that one can learn from baking bread!
First, the power to effect redemptive change in this world comes not from our own efforts but from the life of God within us. It is amazing how little leaven it takes to raise that loaf of bread. That is because within those little particles of yeast is found the power to ferment, to change the lump of wet dough into a loaf of aromatic, tasty, nourishing bread.
Second, the power contained within that yeast is not activated unless it is mixed and kneaded into the dough. Once you work the leaven in, it is still hidden to the eye but how it transforms that loaf! So it is with Christians within human culture! The power within us is the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead (See Romans 8:11)! All we are asked to do is to mix it up. We have to get in the loaf. We must be in the world - where Jesus is - in order to be used to accomplish His ongoing work of redemption.
Finally, leaven that is not used in time spoils and loses its capacity to ferment that dough. It must be active or it becomes useless. That leaven must be in the dough to effect its extraordinary change. So it is with all of us. We must be "in the world" to effect its transformation. Once hidden in the loaf, leaven always raises the dough. Yes, it takes human effort - it must be kneaded and worked into the loaf. So it is with our lives of faith. Faith is a verb, it must be exercised.
We are called to live our Christian lives in the world, redemptively, as leaven! Only in the center of the world can we bring that world back to God. This kind of missionary mindset is ancient but ever new! It has inspired great missionary ages in the past and brought extraordinary changes to entire cultures. It can and it will once again! However, it always begins one person, one grain, at a time.
I awakened this morning to read my Sunday paper, a custom that is practiced by millions throughout the world. Included with the paper is a magazine called "Parade." On the cover was a beautiful photo of an Orthodox Christian Bishop, Anastasios Yannoulatos of Albania. With great beauty in his eyes and bearing the characteristic gray beard of the Orthodox cleric, he stood out, popped off the page, with the dignity of a Son of God.
He was pictured holding a little girl with a backdrop of children behind him. The caption in the photo read "What America might learn from a man who helped heal a nation broken by decades of tyranny and despair." How timely!
The article told the story of how one man of deep Christian faith has helped to inspire multitudes and to rebuild an entire nation, one person at a time. In the window of his office there is a bullet hole from a failed snipers' attempt to silence this man of the Gospel. The effort failed. The Lord whom he loves protected him so that he could continue to proclaim in word and deed the "good news" of Jesus Christ who continually makes all things new! The good Bishop explained that he keeps it there to remind him that " that life can end in a second. We must not waste a single day."
Against all odds - and sometimes over the voices within the Church he serves - this contemporary Christian lives as leaven in the loaf. He understands what it means to redemptively love the world. He has been so configured to the Lord that he echoes the cry of the Apostle Paul "No longer do I live but Christ lives in me and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God".(Galatians 2:20)
This man of courage is leaven in the loaf, ferment in the dough. He stayed in Alabania, even though he could have engaged in any number of meaningful tasks as an academic, a cleric and a Church leader. He chose to be with those who needed the Lord whom he serves so well. He walked into that loaf and offered himself for its transformation.
The writer of the article, Nicholas Gage, explained that this holy priest saw 'the despair in the faces of the Albanians." The Bishop told him "I thought. "Who's going to help these people? Who's going to give them hope? I knew this was a test and I said to myself, "If you have faith, stay and struggle. If you don't, go home".
Well, which will it be for us? We may not be called to Albania. However, we are called into a world that is desperately in need of God. Will we be "... a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying ferment in the dough?"
Will we answer the invitation to be leaven? Will we choose to follow in the footsteps of all those who have followed Jesus Christ in His continuing redemptive mission? Will we be the ferment in the dough?
The choice is ours.
Deacon Keith Fournier is one of the founders of "Your Catholic Voice" and serves as the President of the "Your Catholic Voice Foundation". He is a constitutional lawyer, an author, a policy activist and a deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia in the United States of America.
Your Catholic Voice is a movement to promote faithful citizenship based on the fundamental truths of the Catholic Church relating to Life, Family, Freedom and Solidarity. For information go to Your Catholic Voice http://www.yourcatholicvoice.org
Your Catholic Voice Foundation
http://www.ycvf.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - President, 757 546-9580
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