We are not here to guard a museum, but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life.
― Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium: The Joy of the Gospel
(quoting Pope John XXIII in 1958)
You might not know that the word Lent comes from the Old English “lengthening of days” or springtime. Here in the Southern Hemisphere there’s a touch of autumn in the air so it might be a bit difficult to think spring, but it is helpful to live Lent as a spring-time season of abundant growth in maturity of faith, a deepening of relationship with Jesus Christ who is God-with-us.
Lent means growth.
In the early ‘80’s, twenty years after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, I was studying theology. I recall with classmates thinking that we had received and understood what the Council had clarified and communicated and that in Aotearoa New Zealand we were well on the way to putting it all into practice.
One of our teachers, a well-respected local theologian, disagreed with us and suggested that we had hardly begun to appreciate the heart of the Council. Gerry added that in our classes and in the Church in New Zealand we were beginning to make a few cosmetic and token adjustments to our conversations and structures in the name of updating, but he also understood that the best was yet to come and this growth required our active participation.
Gerry appreciated that it is not enough for a gardener to read a horticultural text. Seeds need to be planted and nurtured before growth can begin.
It is significant that many church debates are about language. Some people comment that language is just words and we know what we mean anyway, but these same people experience the power of a word to encourage or to anger in a conversation with a friend.
Perhaps a good next step for our Church growth in Aotearoa New Zealand would be to remove the word “lay” from our church vocabulary. The word means non-professional, yet we know that baptism is the sacrament that ordains us as professional and full-time disciples of Jesus Christ.
In the church we are not lay and professional but baptised together, each with a different and essential role, God’s people, the family of disciples of Jesus Christ in Aotearoa New Zealand.
In these Lenten weeks of growth how might you change your vocabulary to better express this reality?
John O’Connor is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch and the author of the www.foodforfaith.org.nz website.