I learned something great at the Carmelite Monastery yesterday, just as I was dozing off. It was right after our thirty minutes of quiet prayer time and I was groggy.
I'm not sure how or why this came up, but we have been doing Lectio Divina with the encyclical Apostolicam Actuositatem for months now and yesterday, we spent about forty minutes on number 20. I hadn't found this document to be thrilling reading, and it wasn't exactly jarring me out of my stupor.
We were contemplating how the laity is to participate in the work of the Church, because all Secular Carmelites are required to have some sort of lay apostalate, and so we need to understand what that means as well as we can.
Somehow, in our discussion, this verse from Paul came up, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions." [Colossians 1:24]
The person who brought up the question that served as my "alarm clock," is a pre-aspirant. She is also a convert, such as I am. She had a question I've often had myself. She wanted to know how anything could be lacking in the sacrifice of Christ. In response, I remember becoming suddenly alert, excited that I knew the answer. I rattled off some sort of response I had heard that technically might have been considered right, when actually I did not fully understand the verse myself. So, my response confused her.
I listened for a while and I heard some really profound and eye-opening things from my sisters in Carmel, people who have seriously contemplated this verse for decades.
For one thing, we don't actually pray. The Holy Spirit prays within us, for us. For another thing, we don't actually produce any good actions in the world. Only God can do this through us. It's not just that in humility, we give God credit for everything. It's that in reality, He really is the only one who HAS credit for anything. This is the only thing that is actually true.
As Christians, we are not ourselves, or who we were. We are the Body of Christ. Each time we receive the Eucharist, we are becoming one with Him and with each other. So, it is Jesus who sees through our eyes, speaks through our mouths, thinks through our brains and suffers in our bodies. So, Jesus is still here on earth, continuing His joys and afflictions through us. We are the vessels and witnesses of His greatness. Christ's work of redemption is complete, yet we must do our share to continue His work on earth, to complete the work that is "lacking" or still needs to be done in the world.
Apostolicam Actuositatem seems really dry at first. I wondered, how do you contemplate something that keeps talking about our personal relation to "the hierarchy." Well it's really about our personal relationship to the Body of Christ, and the hierarchy is just a term for the way that is structured. There's not a word in it about "me," the individual. It's about "they" and about "acting together." If we look more closely at the verse by Paul, it reads, "I do my share," implying he does his part of the group. It doesn't say, "I, on my own, because I am uber-super Catholic girl, do what Jesus couldn't finish doing." It says, we continue to do His work on earth.
The reason Apostolicam Actuositatem seemed so boring to me for the past few months is that I wasn't hearing things about me, me, me. I wasn't hearing what "resonates with me," or that I can "apply to my personal life." I was hearing about how to be a part of something larger than myself, to continue, through my share in the body of Christ, to make Christ's presence more known here on earth.
Well, I'm not sure if I understood all of this correctly or if it was even explained correctly, but it woke me up. (I was literally nodding off before my friend asked this question and I woke up quickly, seizing that opportunity to attempt to say something brilliant to impress everyone-- which thankfully, did not happen, because the group, as a whole, had a wider message.)
I'm not sure we can read the Bible as individuals with individual interpretation as our guide. I'm not sure it was intended to be read that way. In fact, I'm confident that it's not. The Body of Christ is not the fragments of Christ, after all.
It was interesting that our President, Chris Hart, talked about how common it is for people to just give all their energy and work towards what they think is serving God, only to find themselves depleted and exhausted. In that weakened state, God actually has someone there to work with to accomplish His true aims. If we think we're serving Him, we're not. I stand convicted- all the way. I started to ponder what it actually means to let Him accomplish His work through us. There's a profound passivity involved that isn't easy to learn.
Well, I can't hit the snooze button on that.