Back at the beginning of Lent, I said in a video that Lent was a time of preparation for the renewal of our baptismal promises. Because the video was mostly about Lent, I didn’t give a full explanation of what that meant, and I’m sure I left a number of you thinking, “What promises? I was a baby… I didn’t make any promises.”

Maybe so. But your parents and Godparents did for you.

You see at baptism—whether its done as a child or as an adult—all of us Christians are incorporated into Christ and Christ’s Church by being cleansed of our sin, permanently marked on our souls, and commissioned to live the threefold office of Christ: priest, prophet and king. Lumen Gentium, the 1964 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church promulgated at the Second Vatican Council (essentially the highest teaching authority on the Church), had this to say:

These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world (Lumen Gentium, 31).

It is for this reason that baptism is considered entry into the “royal priesthood”(1 Peter 2:9) making all the faithful, myself and likely you included, “priests” in a very real sense. Did you know that you we were priests?! Obviously different from our brothers with the title “father” in front of their name, what we are called to is no less significant in the life of the Church.

Called to offer sacrifice

Traditionally, the role of the priest is to offer sacrifices to God; this is the case for the Levitical priests in the Old Testament, this is what Jesus did when he offered himself as a sacrifice, and this is what Catholic and Orthodox priests do today on the altar. They interact directly with God and make the world holy because of their actions. But guess what: there are other ways to make the world holy than celebrating Mass! Just because we as non-ministerial priests cannot offer the “Holy Sacrifice of the Mass” doesn’t mean that we’re free from this office of Christ! Once again, the Second Vatican Council had this to say: “The supreme and eternal Priest, Christ Jesus, since he wills to continue his witness and service also through the laity, vivifies them in this Spirit and increasingly urges them on to every good and perfect work” (LG, 34). All of us as Christians are called to be priests like Christ in the sense that we are to offer sacrifice and make Christ present through our works. Even the ordinary lives of the faithful—going to work, being married, praying at home, even enduring hardships—can be done in a way to “consecrate the world itself to God” (LG, 34). This is an extraordinary reminder and a powerful commission we should take seriously: we are called as baptized Christians to make the world holy through our actions.

Called to be make God known

In the Old Testament, prophets were not so much the people that saw the future as they were people who saw the present as God does. They were people so close to God and attuned to God’s Word that they could look out into the world and proclaim what needed to be done to build God’s world (and even sometimes how God was going to react if we didn’t!) Jesus was the greatest of the Prophets because he was at the same time the one delivering the message and the message itself; his very existence proclaimed God and taught people about what God wanted for us and the world. As sharers in this office of Christ through baptism (yup… you guessed it) all of us are called to be prophets in the world as well. While ordained ministers are entrusted to teaching and preaching in an official sense, the council was clear that all Christians are a part of this mission, even taking on a part particular to them: “Now the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth” (LG, 33). In other words, we are all called to spread the Word of God in the world, but the laity, living and working in the secular world, are able to reach people and places that the ordained generally can’t. Does this mean that everyone is expected to start reading the Bible at their workplace or asking fellow soccer moms if they know Jesus? No, not necessarily. Evangelization is not always so explicit. But it does mean that the way we live, all of us, needs to proclaim ourselves as Easter people, people who know the joy and life of the Resurrection and a God who loves us. There are infinite ways to show this!

Called to lead others through service

Finally, we all know that Jesus is the true King, the “anointed one” of God awaited in the Old Testament, ruling now on his throne in heaven. He is the all-powerful, just judge that governs all of Creation. The king of glory comes the nation rejoices! In an official way, ordained ministers take on this role as the ones who govern the Church, leading the people and making laws for proper life and worship of all Christians. But once again (last time!) the laity are not off the hook! As baptized Christians who live and work in the world, the laity are not only part of this commission, they are given a special role in it. Think about it. If we’re supposed to build the kingdom of God as Jesus announced, who is going to be better able to act with justice in the world: the priest running a parish or a regional manager of a bank? While ordained ministers might be better equipped to govern the Church, the laity, in fact, are better equipped to build a just society because they live and work in it. Doctors, lawyers, bankers, sales reps, social workers, factory workers, minimum wage clerks, authors and musicians. Each one of these professions is intimately connected with the wider world and the economy, and each Christian working in these places has insider knowledge about what needs to be done to create a better world. Being incorporated into Jesus’ “kingly” office means using the authority, knowledge, and ability one has to “serve others rather than be served.”

A priestly people

Taken together, all of us baptized Christians constitute a “priestly people” unto God, a royal priesthood of believers. As such, we are given a special commission to be priests, prophets, and kings in our world in a way that fits our way of life. One does not have to be an ordained minister to make Christ present, and in fact, there are ways that only someone who is not an ordained minister can do it. In this time of Easter, having purified and prepared ourselves in the time of Lent, we are sent out into the world to begin living this again in a renewed way.

How will you be a priest, prophet, and king today?

It’s an election year in the United States, which means that we’re still eight months away from voting and people are already exhausted from all the campaigning and fighting! November 8 can’t come soon enough! And yet, I think there’s a lot of work to be done before that day comes. Election day may be far off, but there is a lot that we can and should be doing as Catholics today to prepare.

1. The Gospel is political

For some, the thought of politics gives a stomach ache. Many would prefer to ignore discussion or arguments, and even more would prefer that the Church not get involved with politics. And I agree, if by “politics” we mean partisan endorsements or campaigning. That’s illegal. But if by politics we mean voicing our opinion, shaping the conversation, and working to build a better world… then the Church absolutely needs to be involved in politics. In that sense, the Gospel is inherently political. In 1971, the United States bishops even went as far as to say, “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel” (emphasis mine). In other words, one cannot fully live the Gospel unless one acts on behalf of justice.

2. We need to prepare

This is no easy task, however, and we can’t simply show up at the polls one day and act on behalf of justice (although, just showing up at the polls would be better than 45% of Americans who did not vote in 2012.) Who do we vote for? What do we vote for? Why do we vote for this or that? Questions like these take lots of preparation for Catholics. We are not a Church that defines the way someone should vote. There is not a “Catholic ticket” of issues because the Church does not set forth policies; it sets for values. This is an important distinction. The Church says, “Care for creation,” or “respect life,” but it does not say whether to support Carbon taxes or emission limits. There might be a good reason for both. Or neither. For every issue, there are many ways to respond with the Gospel, not just the two that the main parties support, and certainly not one perfectly correct one. Being active in our world and participating in the development of our communities, states, and nations—something that is required by Catholic Social Teaching—requires that we be informed enough in our faith and in what’s going on in the world to choose what best fits our conscience. This takes time.

3. We are all the body of Christ

The reason this takes time is because we don’t live in a vacuum. We live as a community, and although we may wish otherwise, we are not uniform in mind and spirit. We face disagreement and opposition all around us, even in our own parishes. This is not a bad thing: the Spirit speaks to different people in different ways, and there might just be something to learn from or to teach to our brother and sister in the pew next to us. This can, however, make it a very difficult thing. How do we talk with one another? Often, we tell “them” that they’re wrong and that they should believe the truth, by which we mean the opinion we hold. This happens even among the best Catholics; Facebook can be a breading ground for name-calling, religious superiority over others, and divisive smears. This is not productive and we as Catholics need to be held to a higher standard. Listening is a skill. Tolerance is a virtue. Respect is a requirement. It’s all well and good to say that we respect the human dignity of all people as a political stance, but another thing to recognize that the person who disagrees with us is still the body of Christ, and to uphold their human dignity with our words and actions.

These are just a few of the things I discuss in this brief video about being Catholic in a political world. If you have any questions or would like to discuss something further, leave a comment here or on my Facebook page.

For email subscribers, click here to watch the video.

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.”

This modification of the often-used African proverb is the driving force of the recently awarded film, Spotlight, a movie that tells the story of the The Boston Globe investigative reporters that broke the story about the priest abuse crisis of the Catholic Church in 2002. While the movie obviously centers around the major legal and ethical violations of the Catholic Church—the repeated abuse of children by some priests and the subsequent coverup by some bishops—the movie indicts more than just the priests and bishops of the Catholic Church: it indicts everyone. “How could this have happened without anyone knowing?” the movie asks. It couldn’t. And it didn’t. While priests were abusing children and bishops were covering up their misdeeds, there were police officers overlooking misconduct, judges refusing to hear cases, defense lawyers profiting from settlements, reporters failing to do investigations, and a whole city of neighbors, parishioners and family members discouraging victims from coming forward because they couldn’t bear the embarrassment. Beyond the terrible deeds of the actual abusers, there was a system in place that prevented victims from receiving the justice they deserved.

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.”

What I think the movie very powerfully points out, and what I mean to say in writing this post, is that this “crisis” is not something that involves only those who abuse and those who have been abused. We live in and support a culture that allows for this to happen, even still.

An example.

One night, I met some people at of one of our ministry sites. Besides the adult parishioners, there were also about six minors in the building with us that night, all either children of the adults present or friends that had come with the adults. There was no problem with the situation, neither from a legal or diocesan standpoint. As we were finishing up, though, all of the adults gathered their children and began to leave. “Hey Br. Casey, (child’s name) said his mom is on the way. Would you mind waiting with him until she arrives?” On the surface, and from the parent’s perspective, it was a natural, harmless question; he didn’t want the child to be left alone and he trusted me enough to leave the child in my care. In reality, though, this was a major misstep, a violation of diocesan rules, and the sort of question that puts children (and people like me) at tremendous risk. Given all that has happened, and all that continues to happen to children in schools, churches, and activity centers, what he was asking was basically: “Would you mind remaining with this unaccompanied minor, inside a building with no windows, on a property with no one else around, at night?” Um, yes, I most certainly do mind.

In telling this story, I don’t mean to vilify this parent; he was a nice guy and his actions were not malicious in the slightest bit. But that’s the problem: one doesn’t have to be malicious to be complicit in something terrible. Yes, it was the priests (and many others) that did the abusing, but there were also countless parents, teachers, friends, and neighbors that trusted without question, put children in unsafe situations, and failed to see the signs after an abuse had taken place.

This may seem like a defense of or deflection from the priests and bishops who committed terrible crimes against defenseless children. I assure you it is not. What they did, especially considering their office, expectation of a higher standard, and power they held over their victims, both emotionally and spiritually, is not something that can ever be overlooked or excused. Spotlight does not hold back about what it thinks of these institutional actions of the Church and neither do I. The fact that even today, after years in the public eye, bishops and priests are still eluding criminal trials because they were moved to another position in another country, a “promotion” as it were, is absolutely detestable.

What I write is not a defense of or deflection from the priests and bishops who committed terrible crimes against defenseless children, but rather a call to action for all of those who didn’t. While some may have lamented the idea of such a movie like Spotlight, fearfully asking, “When will this just go away?”, I applaud it. Using a powerful and popular medium, at the quality worthy of attention and awards, this film reminded us that the reason this won’t “just go away” is because we still have work to do. That’s right: weWe need to continue to push the issue in our Church communities so that bishops and priests are held accountable for what they’ve done. We need to be humble enough, like the journalists in the movie, to recognize when we have failed to protect children and were complicit in what happened. We need to make sure that we set up, and follow, protocols that will prevent things like this from ever happening again.

I think Spotlight got it exactly right: “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.” What happened was the result of many problems coming together. But now we can act differently. Now we can change the story for the children of today and tomorrow. I say, “If it takes a village to raise I child, it’s takes a village to keep that child safe.”

Today’s Gospel reading at mass was the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). What I offer to you is the reflection that I gave to my brothers in formation this evening.

“I didn’t do anything.”

That’s what I said to the principal when I was called into her office in 4th grade. (I’m not entirely sure if my parents actually know about this story… so… surprise!) You see, there was a kid in my class that no one really liked. He was loud and immature, often dressed inappropriately and had bad hygiene, and was known for acting out,  bullying others, and saying inappropriate things to the girls. He was a bully that no one liked… a very bad combination.

One day, things boiled over. At morning recess, he apparently touched one of the girls in our class and said something to her, and my friends didn’t like that. Enough was enough. They planned to teach him a lesson. At lunch recess, they were going to corner him and “beat him up” as they said. When lunch came, we all went out to recess, and three of the guys in my class started pushing him, calling him names. I think one of them even kicked him.

The kid didn’t sustain any major injuries, just a scraped knee and a scratch on his eye,  but it was a big deal in the school. The three students who had orchestrated the whole thing were called into the principal’s office, but so was I and a few other students. “I didn’t do anything,” I said. “It was ____ and _____ and _____. They were the ones who beat him up. I did not even touch him.”

In my mind, I was innocent. My principal didn’t think so. As she saw it, I knew something bad was going to happen, but I didn’t stop it. Why didn’t I say something? Why didn’t I intervene? Why didn’t I help him? Even though he was weird, even though he might have even brought it on himself, even though I may have suffered a bit myself for defending him, no one deserves to be treated that way. I had the power to do something, but didn’t do anything.

In our Gospel passage today, the rich man finds himself in a similar situation. No doubt shocked to find himself in a place of torment while Lazarus is in the place of honor, you can almost hear him say, “But I didn’t do anything. I didn’t make him poor. I didn’t steal from him. I didn’t make him unclean.” And maybe he didn’t. But just like me in the fourth grade, the rich man knew Lazarus. He knew that he was suffering. I mean, cmon, he was lying at his door! He probably needed to step over him to go out! Even though Lazarus was not the most desirable person in town, even though he was probably unclean and the rich man may have suffered for helping him, no one deserves to be treated that way. The rich man had the power to do something, but didn’t do anything.

I think that is what’s so powerful for us to remember today: Not doing anything is not amoral. Doing nothing does not free us from guilt; in life, there is no “pass”; we can’t just opt out of acting… even doing nothing is something. It’s why in the confiteor, the act of contrition we say at mass, we pray for God to forgive the sins of “What I have done, and what I have failed to do.” Sometimes, what we don’t do can have a tremendous effect on others, and can absolutely be sinful.

It doesn’t take much to see so in our world. When we look at the world’s problems, global epidemics of poverty, climate change, human trafficking, and so on, it’s easy for us to say, “Well I didn’t do that.” And maybe we didn’t (I think we are complicit in much more than we realize, but that’s for another post). But what we often don’t realize is that we are in a position of privilege. If you are able to read this post, it’s likely that you find yourself among the wealthiest 25% in the world. Wealth. Education. Civil liberties. Social status. Even just the knowledge that there are problems in the world that need fixing and the time to think about them is a privilege. In so many situations, we are the rich man facing Lazarus each day.

But it happens much closer to home. What about our friends and families. Here in this house as brothers. We often know what our brothers are going through. We know that they need help at times. Sometimes, it can be very easy, especially if it’s a brother that we don’t particularly like or even annoys us, to write them off and say, “He brought it on themselves” or “He’s not my responsibility,” or “I didn’t do anything.” And likely we didn’t. But that’s not what’s important here: there is a situation in which we are able to do something to build up the kingdom of God.

Because, in the end, whether it’s our brother, Lazarus, or that poor boy in my 4th grade class, it is not up to us to determine who is worthy and who is not. It is not us that grants dignity, and so it is not up to us to decide who we should care for and who we shouldn’t. We may face a lot of people in need in our life, a lot of which are very difficult to be around—you might even think about some people in this room. Who knows. One day, though, we will have to answer to Jesus for what we did and what we did not do. On that day, will we be able to say that we did something for our brothers and sisters in need, or will we be left with nothing to say except, “I didn’t do anything”?