Soul of the World
By Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
Christians are called to be the soul of the world
One of my favorite manuscripts from the early Church is entitled "A Letter to Diognetus".
It was written by an anonymous Christian in response to an inquirer to the Christian faith. Though probably written in the second century, it is just as profoundly relevant today:
"For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of mankind either in locality or in speech or in customs. For they dwell not somewhere in cities of their own, neither do they use some different language, nor practice an extraordinary kind of life.
Nor again do they possess any invention discovered by any intelligence or study of ingenious men, nor are they masters of any human dogma as some are. But while they dwell in cities of Greeks and barbarians as the lot of each is cast, and follow the native customs in dress and food and the other arrangements of life, yet the constitution of their own citizenship, which they set forth, is marvelous, and confessedly contradicts expectation.
They dwell in their own countries, but only as sojourners; they bear their share in all things as citizens, and they endure all hardships as strangers. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every fatherland is foreign.
They marry like all other men and they beget children; but they do not cast away their offspring. They have their meals in common, but not their wives. They find themselves in the flesh, and yet they live not after the flesh.
Their existence is on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, and they surpass the laws in their own lives. They love all men, and they are persecuted by all. They are ignored, and yet they are condemned.
They are put to death, and yet they are endued with life. They are in beggary, and yet they make many rich. They are in want of all things, and yet they abound in all things. They are dishonored, and yet they are glorified in their dishonor.
They are evil spoken of, and yet they are vindicated. They are reviled, and they bless; they are insulted, and they respect Doing good they are punished as evildoers; being punished they rejoice, as if they were thereby quickened by life. The Jews wage war against them as aliens, and the Greeks carry on persecution against them, and yet those that hate them cannot tell the reason of their hostility.
In a word, what the soul is in a body, the Christians are in the world.
The soul is spread through all the members of the body, and Christians through the divers cities of the world. The soul hath its abode in the body, and yet it is not of the body. So Christians have their abode in the world, and yet they are not of the world.
The soul, which is invisible, is guarded in the body, which is visible: so Christians are recognized as being in the world, and yet their religion remains invisible.
The flesh hates the soul and wages war with it, though it receives no wrong, because it is forbidden to indulge in pleasures; so the world hates Christians, though it receives no wrong from them, because they set themselves against its pleasures.
The soul loves the flesh that hates it, and the members: so Christians love those that hate them. The soul is enclosed in the body, and yet itself holds the body together; so Christians are kept in the world as in a prison-house, and yet they themselves hold the world together.
The soul though itself immortal dwells in a mortal tabernacle- so Christians sojourn amidst perishable things, while they look for the imperishability which is in the heavens.
The soul when hardly treated in the matter of meats and drinks is improved; and so Christians when punished increase more and more daily. So great is the office for which God has appointed them, and which it is not lawful for them to decline."
This desire to live the Christian life so as to influence my own world, to be its "soul", has been the driving passion of my own life.
On October 22, 1978, Pope John Paul II stepped out on to the balcony in St. Peter's Square and signaled his mission in his first three words, "Be not afraid!"
One of the chief architects of the Second Vatican Council and one of the authors of its extraordinary document on the church in the modern world entitled "Joy and Hope" (Gaudium et Spes,) now occupied the chair of Peter.
History would never be the same.
That history included my own life. I responded to his invitation and still seek to do so daily.
Like many of my generation, I was a teenage "hippie". I was a sincere seeker after truth. Though raised in a Catholic home, my family's practice of the faith had grown cold. Yet, the Lord was never far away.
I cried out to him at the end of a difficult teenage season that culminated in a cross country journey and began to walk home to the Catholic Church--but along an unusual path.
After a brief stint in a Protestant Pentecostal Bible college, I began a journey to and through the writings of the early Church Fathers. Never one to accept the idea that intellectual inquiry and faith were at odds with one another; I questioned my way through what I was hearing in the classroom to a recovery of classical Christian faith. I had to satisfy my intellectual curiosity and my spiritual hunger with more than what I was learning at that Bible College.
I had heard all the objections - and even the attacks - against the oldest Christian Church, the Church of my own childhood, the Catholic Church.
Yet, I was irresistibly drawn to her.
In my voracious appetite for truth I journeyed through the writings of the early Church fathers and through such gems as the "Didache" ("Teaching of the Twelve") , an ancient manuscript preserved from the second century.
Among the many other early Christian sources I read was this early letter where I first found the phrase that has inspired my own efforts to respond to the missionary call of the Lord to "go into all the world", the "Letter to Diognetus."
"As the soul is to the body, so are Christians to the world"
After reaffirming my Catholic faith, I hungered for an even deeper and more intimate relationship with the Lord. In response to an invitation from its Abbot, I spent a year and a half in a Benedictine monastery, testing a possible monastic and priestly vocation. During those days, I fell even more deeply in love with the Catholic Church and continued to rebuild my faith from its foundations.
Over the years, I have tried to explain to my friends from other Christian confessions that I am a Catholic Christian by choice, inquiry, theological conviction and calling. Though technically I am a "revert", having never actually "left" the Church, my Catholic convictions are deep.
I love the Catholic Church.
Oh sure, I know she has some wounds... but what a grand and wonderful solid ark she has been for 2000 years -battered but still afloat.
Prior to entering the monastery, I was enamored by the story of Francis of Assisi. I decided that I wanted to give my entire life to the Lord and to continue the mission to "rebuild the church", and through her to transform the entire world in Christ! I have never been comfortable drawing up the drawbridge in any way. I am passionately convinced that the Church is the home of the whole human race.
I have known a deep, abiding, personal call to evangelization, apologetics and the genuine work of Christian unity.
In 1972, after I left the Benedictine monastery, (discerning I did not have a vocation to consecrated celibacy), where I had begun my philosophy studies, I transferred to the then College of Steubenville which was on the verge of an historic renewal.
The then president of the College, Fr Michael Scanlan, had become a friend. He was gracious enough to respond to my letters as I recovered my Catholic faith. The mission of work of Steubenville, and my participation in it, would unfold over the next sixteen years. I served as a student leader, a Dean, a major administrator, a general counsel, all different "hats." What mattered most to me then---and now---was being a servant.
During those years the Lord gave give me my wonderful wife, my partner in the call to holiness and my best friend, Laurine, five great children (the "domestic church") a Bachelors Degree in Theology and Philosophy and a law degree from the nearby University of Pittsburgh.
Those were fruitful missionary years of work in "rebuilding the church", complete with good fruit, failure, pain and personal redemption.
Throughout those years, because of my growing convictions about being "in the world", being "the soul" and my passion for the pro-life cause, I rolled in and out of a law practice, trying to integrate what I called my "two professions."
It was also during those formative and active years that I was "captured" by the life, witness and writings of the giant who came to sit in the chair of Peter, Pope John Paul II.
Increasingly convinced that I belonged "in the world"--not retreating from it--I passionately threw myself into the great civil and human rights cause of the age, the defense of the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death.
I wrote books, did radio and television, served as Dean of Students and Dean of Evangelization at Steubenville, practiced law--all because I continued to view my life and my call as a missionary one.
The more I read the extraordinary documents of the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church and the prolific writings of John Paul II, the more I became convinced that we were living in an extraordinary age for the Church, and through her, for the world into which she is sent. I knew that I was called into that world-just as my Master was- and as the early Church so profoundly understood.
My worldview and my theological convictions began to undergo a profound change. One of my tasks was to lead, or assist at the now famous "Steubenville conferences" held under a tent at the then "College" of Steubenville (later Franciscan University of Steubenville). I led the first "Defending the Faith" conference, and helped to plan "Lay Communities at the Heart of the Church", the last conference at which I would serve.
That conference was held in anticipation of the coming apostolic exhortation (a letter from the Pope) on the role and mission of the laity. The leaders of the renewal at Steubenville invited leaders of almost every "ecclesial movement", including the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Opus Dei, Communion in Liberation, Cursillo, and so many others.
It was at that meeting where, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, "my eyes were opened." I began to see the beautiful breadth of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church. She was coming alive with faith, evangelical fervor and poised for a great missionary age.
For a long time I saw the work of what was called the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (or earlier the Pentecostal movement) as the great hope for the church--both for her internal renewal and her mission to this difficult age.
That weekend I met men and women from all the "movements" and I saw the "bigness" of the contemporary work of the Holy Spirit in the multiple expressions of Catholic life and faith. I found an extraordinary wealth of holiness and hope for the Church and for the world.
I became even more aware of the beauty and fullness of Catholic Christianity, and I began what has continued to this day, a journey to the foot of the cross--to the heart of the Church in the midst of the world.
From that point on, I realize how little I know and how much there is to learn. I learned that my task was not to somehow "fix" or "save" the Church but to be fixed by and saved by my life within her.
I learned that there truly is nothing new--that the plan from the beginning of time is the Church.
We who are baptized now live in the Church and go to the world. As one of my favorite theology professors at the John Paul II Institute would put it so many years later, "there is actually that part of the cosmos that is in Christ and that part that is not yet." Membership in the Church is not some optional extra but the very heart of God's call for all of his sons and daughters. The Church is meant to be the home of the whole human race.
As my missionary life has unfolded, the implications of this bigger picture have informed my choices and my professional work.
In 1991, I accepted an invitation to build a public interest law firm to handle pro-life, pro-liberty, and pro-family work. From behind an old metal desk armed only with a passionate desire to defend the role of Christians in the world, I helped to grow an international and authentically ecumenical legal movement.
Also during that time, I was invited to discern a call to ordered service as a member of the Catholic clergy, a Deacon. The Bishop who invited my discernment told me that the way he understood the process of discernment for a vocation to the Deaconate, was that he was to find men who were already, in a sense, serving as "anonymous deacons" and help them to discern whether their service would be most effective in the lay state or if they are indeed called to the order of deacon.
That invitation helped me to more fully understand the unfolding call and vocation in my own life.
I knew the Lord was calling me to say "yes" to the invitation of the Church and, on the Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, I was called to Holy Orders as a Catholic Deacon. In the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, Deacons are ordained clergymen, the first "order" of "Holy Orders".
In 1997, I responded to an invitation to help build an authentic witness of Catholic citizenship and moved to Washington D.C. Though I respected the work of groups like the Christian Coalition, Family Research Council and others, I knew the unique challenge to organize Catholics for effective political participation.
Through difficulty and struggle, I participated in birthing and building Catholic Alliance, a Catholic citizen's movement promoting the common good and engaging in political participation around its four pillars of life, family, freedom and solidarity. After years of being suspicious of lobbyists, I became one, lobbying for life, family, freedom and solidarity with the needy.
Catholic Alliance never actually became all that it was capable of - though I am grateful for having had the experience.
I moved from its leadership in 1999 and undertook further graduate work the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University. There, I deepened my conviction that Catholic social teaching was the framework for authentic cultural renewal.
While there I also began the work of "Common Good" a "way, work and movement" dedicated to life, family, freedom and solidarity. One of our works is to seek to proclaim and apply Catholic (classical Christian) social teaching in the public arena.
Recently, I have had the honor of helping to launch, "Your Catholic Voice" with Michael Galloway of Catholic Online. I believe that it has an extraordinary opportunity, at a pivotal time, to truly change the landscape of this nation and beyond, to have an international impact.
What is next? I really do not know; however I know that the Lord does.
I am currently practicing law again, serving in a local parish and working arm in arm with many different kinds of Christians who, like me, are sensing that the "next" is upon us. That "next" involves an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in this Third Christian Millennium that has, as a part of its unfolding plan, the very reunion of the Church, for the sake of the world.
This kind of journey by faith has been at the heart of continuing sense of a call to follow the Lord. The changes I have lived through, whether in career emphasis, location, or "ministry" simply represent to me "assignments" in a life given over to service in a new and great missionary age.
The deep abiding vision that animates and motivates my life continues to be greatly influenced by the extraordinary writings and leadership of Pope John Paul II. I believe that he is a prophetic and pastoral voice of historic importance.
My response to the call of the Lord that began at my own baptism has been refined and worked out in a "field", the world, and it has engaged my vocational call as husband, father and citizen.
First, I lived that call out as a layman.
Now, I live it out as a Deacon--an order of clergy in the midst of the world.
Since my ordination, I have come to understand that it is no accident that the same Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church that gave us the "Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity" which has resulted in a literal explosion in lay ministry, also gave us the restoration of the order of Deacon in the western Church.
Though Deacons have served continuously in the Eastern Church, in the west, the diaconate became a "transitional" step before priesthood for centuries.
Now, however, they are a resource for the this missionary age.
Deacons are a like a bridge, from the lay faithful and the "world" to the rest of the hierarchy (Bishops and Priests) and from the hierarchy to the lay faithful and into the world. We "go" from the altar to the world and from the world to the altar. It is a wonderful vocation and represents a natural progression in my own life--a life in which I have sought to comprehend and experience what it means for Christians to be --the "soul of the world."
It is also interesting for me to note, years after I was captured by his life and mission, that my hero, Francis, was not a priest. For most of his life of working for the Lord he was a layman and the work he founded was a lay movement. Only later did he accept the invitation to holy orders as a Deacon. He certainly understood the call to be the "soul of the world." he and those who heard his call to follow Jesus and "rebuild the church" literally transformed the world of his day.
Now it is our turn.
Our mission field is not only on some distant shore. In fact, it is right here, in America. It is time for a new missionary movement to America that embodies the ancient Christian understanding that we are not to withdraw from the world- rather we are to be it's very soul.
As we respond to the continuing invitation of the Holy Spirit in the Third Christian Millennium, let all of us make that call our own!
Rev. Mr. Keith A Fournier, the founder and president of "Common Good", is a constitutional lawyer. Long active in political participation, Fournier was a founder of Catholic Alliance and served as its first President. He is a pro-life and pro-family lobbyist. He was the first Executive Director of the ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice). He also served as an advisor to the presidential campaign of Steve Forbes. Fournier holds a Bachelors degree (B.A.) from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Philosophy and Theology, a Masters Degree (M.T.S.) in Sacred Theology from the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Pittsburgh and an Honorary Doctor of Laws (L.L.D.) from St. Thomas University. Fournier is the author of seven books on issues concerning life, faith, evangelization, ecumenism, family, political participation, public policy and cultural issues. He is a features editor for Catholic Online and the Co-Director of "Your Catholic Voice"
http://www.commongoodonline.com VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - President/founder, 757 546-9580
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