I read a book recently called The Wild Trees, by Richard Preston. It was about the exploration of the canopy level of coastal redwood forests in California. The book contained lots of natural history, as well as the stories of the people who did the research and exploring. It was an exciting and inspiring tale–particularly so because the work was not necessarily carried out by experts in the field, but by ordinary people who had a love for those towering ancient trees. They stumbled along, making discoveries, learning as they went. Some went on to study science formally and earn advanced degrees–but others remained simply self-taught. Yet their contributions were valued and accepted with respect. I loved that they were just regular folks, like you and me, who followed their passion and interests. They were a genuine part of that research community. Their work was accurate and important.
This is a rarety in our culture. We are sometimes urged not to research by ourselves but to accept the credentials and words of “experts”. Outsider’s opinions and theories are often scoffed at. An example are the official attitudes towards chiropractors or homeopaths versus doctors. It is also seen in the areas of education, politics, energy resources, and even parenting–parents are advised by psychologists and pediatricians and not encouraged to follow the advice of grandmothers. No matter the subject, for good or for bad, we look to the experts for answers.
Nobody can know all about everything, of course, and reliance on the guidance of others is necessary, but I think it can also encourage a certain passivity, an apathy, and a lack of engagement. One could say it encourages laziness–mental and otherwise. Via the Internet, there is always an expert, lessening the necessity of thinking things out. There is somebody to do that for us–always an expert to rely on, to reassure us and minimize risks. As I read about this exploration of the redwoods, I thought about the fact that the idea of tromping through a forest and climbing a 300 foot tall tree to answer your own questions just doesn’t occur to people. Somebody else does it, and you just read about it and nod wisely to yourself.
This applies to our spiritual life as well. After reading The Wild Trees, I picked up “Lumen Fidei–The Light of Faith“, an encyclical letter begun by Pope Benedict XVI, and finished by Pope Francis. About 1/2 way through, I came upon a section that says, in part ” The word, once accepted, becomes a response . . . which spreads to others and invites them to believe. . . in the same way that, in the Easter liturgy, the light of the paschal candle lights countless other candles. Faith is passed on, we might say, by contact, from one person to another, just as one candle is lighted from another.” (Chapter 3, Section 37)
The image of the paschal candle is a beautiful one, as it truthfully expresses the idea of our Church’s New Evangelization. It reminded me of The Wild Trees, and my excitement of thinking that ordinary folks–that you and I–could learn, do, contribute. To be of value in sharing something that we are interested in and love. Like the Good News of Jesus. The New Evangelization isn’t something that we can sit back complacently with and watch priests and bishops do. It isn’t just the Pope’s job. We are all called to explore our own small part, the part that resonates in our hearts.
Social justice. Theology. Arts. Apologetics. Etc.
Explore your spiritual interests deeply and become part of a community that actively shares the light of Christ.
The role of the laity in the past was passive, but our society now needs something more. We need to move decisively and act to spread and defend the Gospel today. Empowered by Vatican II, we can each light our candle and pass the light along to others, as symbolized by the Easter candles. I think we can start in our own parishes, evangelizing first our fellow Catholics first, with courage and strength, filling all with the light of Christ in order to reach out to others.