Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Golden Rule

I used to think that the Golden Rule was peculiar to the Bible. Jesus taught in the sermon on the mount: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Mt. 7:12).

I came across a form of that rule in the Old Testament too: "Do to no one what you yourself hate" (Tobit 4:2).

There is also the story in Jewish literature about a man who came to Hillel, who lived about a century before Jesus, and challenged the holy man to teach him the whole of Torah while standing on one foot.

Hillel responded, "What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole of Torah and the rest is but commentary. Go and learn it."

Even earlier (about 500 years before Jesus) the Chinese social philosopher known as Confucius had taught, "Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself."

And earlier still forms of the Golden Rule can be found among the ancient Greeks. Pittacus of Myteline, born about 640 BC, is credited with the saying: "Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him."

And Thales of Miletus (born about 624 BC, and thought by some to be the first philosopher of Greek wisdom) said, "Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing."

There were versions of this so-called rule of reciprocity in ancient Babylon and ancient Egypt as well. The truth of the Golden Rule is apparent to thoughtful human nature.

Closer to our time a strange little man named Peter Maurin formulated still another version.

It was Maurin who taught and encouraged Dorothy Day to found the Catholic Worker newspaper to be an advocate for social justice and to establish Catholic Worker Houses to care for the homeless and broken members of society.

Day and Maurin met in 1932. In her biography of him, Day wrote, "Peter never tired of teaching, and many were the meetings held in the store, which was the first office of the Catholic Worker. Night after night, those first years, the meetings went on, from eight to ten, often far later."

In one of his lessons, Maurin insisted that he wished to be "what he wanted the other fellow to be."

That simple thought has profound ramifications.

That I should be what I want others to be would prompt more patience when I am driving, more kindness when meeting new people, more generosity to those in need.

Jesus' teaching that I should do to others as I want them to do to me is further clarified when I take on the persona of people around me.

Atticus Finch taught his daughter in To Kill A Mockingbird, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view --until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

Maurin's advice is another way of expressing that law of reciprocity, that so-called Golden Rule.

It struck me hard when I read his version. I have a lot of work to do.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Age of the Laity

At the beginning of the twentieth century Pope Pius X wrote an encyclical letter deploring the decision of the French government to withdraw from agreements made with the Vatican. In the course of that letter (Vehmenter nos) the pope further lamented the civil government's interfering in Church matters, and went on to explain that only the pastors of the Church have the right and authority to direct its members.

In emphasizing the role of the Church's pastors, he said, "The one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the pastors" (#8).

This last statement reflects the long-standing paternalistic attitude of clergy toward the laity.

This paternalism gave rise to the observation that "it seems that the duty of the faithful is to pray, pay and obey."

This mentality about the role of the laity was challenged at the Second Vatican Council. The magisterium of the Church now formally confirms that the laity share in the salvific mission of the Church (Lumen Gentium, 33) and that they must be aware of what their faith demands and not hesitate to take the initiative at the opportune moment (Gaudium et Spes, 43).

It is clear that the laity are to turn to the clergy for guidance and spiritual strength, but it is equally clear that the laity are "to shoulder their responsibilities...participate actively in the whole life of the Church" (ibid.)

Vatican II no longer looked at the laity as simple, docile sheep.

The Council continued, "Let them (the laity) realize that their pastors will not always be so expert as to have a ready answer to every problem (even every grave problem) that arises; this is not the role of the clergy: it is rather up to the laymen to shoulder their responsibilities under the guidance of Christian wisdom and with eager attention to the teaching authority of the Church" (ibid.)

And, "the Church can never be without the lay apostolate; it is something that derives from the layman's very vocation as a Christian. Scripture clearly shows how spontaneous and fruitful was this activity in the Church's early days (cf. Acts 11:19-21; 18:26; Rom 16: 1-6; Phil 4:3)" (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 1).

Theologian Richard Gaillardetz addresses the teachings of the Council about the role of the laity: "Although the council was unable to offer a fully developed and completely consistent theology of the laity, its contributions nevertheless lay the foundation for a new age of the church.

"No more were the laity to be relegated to servile obedience to clerical mandates. Now the laity were to engage the world with initiative, courage, and conviction. In the postconciliar era we have witnessed a renewed emphasis on the priority of Christian baptism and the demands of Christian mission calling every baptized follower of Jesus to be a servant of God's reign" (Keys to the Council, p. 101, Liturgical Press, 2012).