Sunday, June 5, 2011

What is "Authenticity of Life"?

Today was the 45th annual World Communication Day in the Church, and as usual, there was a papal statement attached to the event. This year's title is  "Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age".  The phrase "authenticity of life" particularly jumped out at me, because I have been reflecting recently on what that means in point 8 in the Vatican's 1993 "Guide for Catechists". Here it is:

8. Coherence and authenticity of life. The work of catechists involves their whole being. Before they preach the word, they must make it their own and live by it . "The world (...) needs evangelizers who speak of a God that they know and who is familiar to them, as if they saw the Invisible".  What catechists teach should not be a purely human science nor the sum of their personal opinions but the Church's faith, which is the same throughout the world, which they themselves live and whose witnesses they are.
Hence the need for coherence and authenticity of life. Before doing the catechesis one must first of all be a catechist. The truth of their lives confirms their message. It would be sad if they did not "practice what they preached" and spoke about a God of whom they had theoretical knowledge but with whom they had no contact. They should apply to themselves the words of St. Mark concerning the vocation of the apostles: "He appointed twelve, to be his companions and to be sent out to preach" (Mk 3:14-15).
Authenticity of life means a life of prayer, experience of God and fidelity to the action of the Holy Spirit. It implies a certain intensity and an internal and external orderliness, adapted to the various personal and family situations of each. It might be objected that catechists, being members of the laity, cannot have a structured spiritual life like that of religious and that therefore they must content themselves with something less. But in every life situation, whether one is engaged in secular work or in the ministry, it is possible for everyone, priest, religious or lay person, to attain a high degree of communion with God and an ordered rhythm of prayer, including the finding of times of silence for entering more deeply into the contemplation of God. The more intense and real one's spiritual life is, the more convincing and efficacious will one's witness and activity be....
Compare what Pope Benedict says today of the online persona:
In the digital age too, everyone is confronted by the need for authenticity and reflection. Besides, the dynamic inherent in the social networks demonstrates that a person is always involved in what he or she communicates. When people exchange information, they are already sharing themselves, their view of the world, their hopes, their ideals. It follows that there exists a Christian way of being present in the digital world: this takes the form of a communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others. To proclaim the Gospel through the new media means not only to insert expressly religious content into different media platforms, but also to witness consistently, in one’s own digital profile and in the way one communicates choices, preferences and judgements that are fully consistent with the Gospel, even when it is not spoken of specifically. Furthermore, it is also true in the digital world that a message cannot be proclaimed without a consistent witness on the part of the one who proclaims it. In these new circumstances and with these new forms of expression, Christian are once again called to offer a response to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is within them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).
So, what is "authenticity of life?"  It means that what you see is what you get.  A true Christian witness, whether acting as a catechist or interacting online preaches the Gospel at all times because he or she lives it. In the words at the Ordination Rite of a priest or deacon being presented with the Book of the Gospels., a catechist is asked to "Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach."  At all times.

A catechist - or any true Christian - should not have a separate church life and another public life.  How we conduct ourselves every day, whether online, in the classroom, in the workplace or other public forum should be of one piece and should always reflect the teachings of Christ and his Church.  Even when dealing with  issues about which we may personally struggle with accepting Church teaching, we must at all times present a coherent picture of that teaching, and not our own opinion. That is what being "authentic" means.  And it's not always easy.  When Christians speak, we represent Christ and his Church - in a world that needs to hear the authentic voice and not just another personal opinion. St. Paul puts it well to the Corinthians:
We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. (1 Cor. 2:12-13)
This is our call - to be effective witnesses - and we are able to do that because, as St. Paul puts it in verse 16, we "have the mind of Christ." Therefore, whenever speaking in public, whether online, or as a catechist, we put our authentic Christ-filled voice at the service of Christ and his Church.

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