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The Soul of the World

By Deacon Keith Fournier
Christians are called to be the soul of the world

Catholic Way - On October 22, 1978, Pope John Paul II stepped out on to the balcony in St. Peter’s Square and signaled his mission in his first three words, "Be not afraid!" One of the chief architects of the Second Vatican Council and one of the authors of its extraordinary document on the church in the modern world, Gaudium et Spes, (Joy and Hope) now occupied the chair of Peter.

History would never be the same. That history includes my own personal story.

Like many of my generation,I was a teenage "hippie". I was a sincere seeker after truth. Though raised in a Catholic home, my own practice of the faith had grown cold. Yet, the Lord was never far away.

I cried out to him at the end of a difficult cross country journey and began to walk home to the Catholic Church--but along an unusual path.

After a brief stint in a Protestant Pentecostal Bible college, I began a journey to and through the writings of the early Church Fathers. Never one to accept the idea that intellectual inquiry and faith were at odds, I questioned my way through my recovery of Christian faith. I had to satisfy my intellectual curiosity and my spiritual hunger for more than what I was learning.

I had heard all the objections and evn the venemous attacks against the oldest Christian Church, the Church of my own childhood, the Catholic Church. Yet, I was drawn to her.

I journeyed through the writings of the early Church fathers and such gems as the "Didache"--the teaching of the twelve, an ancient manuscript preserved from the second century. The author of this early Church manual first used the phrase that has inspired my own efforts to respond to the call of the Lord to "go into all the world." He wrote "as the soul is to the body, so are Christians to the world"

My early journey was also influenced by sincere evangelical Protestant Christians and then by the participants in the "Catholic Charismatic (Pentecostal) Renewal". I called myself (still do!) an evangelical, charismatic, Pentecostal Catholic Christian for three decades. Using those adjectives used to upset some people. However, they all apply.

After reaffirming my Catholic faith, I entered a monastery. I spent a year and a half in a Benedictine monastery, testing a possible monastic and priestly vocation, falling more deeply in love with the Catholic Church and rebuilding my faith from its foundations.

Over the years I have tried to explain to my friends from other Christian confessions that I am a Catholic Christian by choice, inquiry, theological conviction and call. I love the Catholic Church. Oh sure, I know she has some wounds… but what a grand and wonderful solid ark she has been for 2000 years. Battered but still afloat.

I had decided that I wanted now to give my entire life to the Lord and to continue the mission so wonderfully and prophetically symbolized for me by Francis of Assisi, my lifelong, and now rediscovered, hero. I wanted to "rebuild the church", and through her to transform the world in Christ! I still do.

I experienced a deep, abiding, personal call to evangelization, apologetics and the genuine work of Christian unity. I considered myself then, and now, a missionary.

In 1972, after I left the monastery, (discerning I did not have a vocation to consecrated celibacy), I transferred to the then College of Steubenville which was on the verge of an historic renewal. The mission of work at Steubenville, and my participation in it, would unfold over the next sixteen years.

During those years the Lord gave give me my wonderful wife, my partner in the call to holiness and my best friend, Laurine, five great children (the "domestic church") a bachelors- and later a law degree, and years of work in "rebuilding the church", complete with good fruit, failure, pain and redemption.

Throughout those years, because of my growing convictions about being "in the world" and my passion for the pro-life cause, I rolled in and out of law practice, trying to integrate what I called my "two professions." It was also during those formative and active years that I was "captured" by the life, witness and writings of the giant who came to sit in the chair of Peter, Pope John Paul II.

Increasingly convinced that I belonged "in the world"—not retreating from it—I passionately threw myself into the great civil and human rights cause of the age, the defense of the dignity of all human life from conception to natural death.

I wrote books, did radio and television, served as Dean of Students and Dean of Evangelization at Steubenville, practiced law—all because I continued to view my life and my call as a missionary one.

The more I read the extraordinary documents of the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church and the prolific writings of John Paul II, the more I became convinced that we were living in an extraordinary age for the Church, and through her, for the world into which she is sent. I knew that I was called into that world-just as my Master was- and as the early Church so profoundly understood.

My worldview and my theological convictions began to undergo a profound change. One of my tasks was to lead, or assist at the now famous (then acts of sheer faith) "Steubenville conferences" held under a tent at the then "College of Steubenville  (later Franciscan University of Steubenville). I led the first “Defending the Faith" conference, and helped to plan "Lay Communities at the Heart of the Church", the last conference at which I would serve.

That conference was held in anticipation of the coming apostolic exhortation (a letter from the Pope) on the role and mission of the laity. The leaders of the renewal at Steubenville invited leaders of almost every "ecclesial movement", including the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Opus Dei, Communion in Liberation, Cursillo, and so many others.

It was at that meeting where, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, "my eyes were opened." I began to see the beautiful breadth of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church. She was coming alive with faith, evangelical fervor and poised for a great missionary age.

For a long time I saw the work of what was called the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (or earlier the Pentecostal movement) as the great hope for the church—both for her internal renewal and her mission to this difficult age.

That weekend I met men and women from all the "movements" and I saw the "bigness" of the contemporary work of the Holy Spirit in the multiple expressions of Catholic life and faith. I found an extraordinary wealth of holiness and hope for the Church and for the world.

I became even more aware of the beauty and fullness of Catholic Christianity, and I began what has continued to this day, a journey to the foot of the cross—to the heart of the Church in the midst of the world.

From that point on, I realize how little I know and how much there is to learn. I learned that my task was not to somehow "fix" or "save" the Church but to be fixed by and saved by my life within her.

I learned that there truly is nothing new—that the plan from the beginning of time is the Church. We truly now live in the Church and go to the world. As one of my favorite theology professors at the John Paul II Institute put it, there is actually "that part of the cosmos that is in Christ and that part that is not yet." Membership in the Church is not some optional extra but the very heart of God's call for all of his sons and daughters. The Church is meant to be the home of the whole human race.

As my missionary life has unfolded, the implications of this bigger picture have informed my work. In 1991, I accepted an invitation to build a public interest law firm to handle pro-life, pro-liberty, and pro-family work. From behind an old metal desk armed only with a passionate desire to defend the role of Christians in the world, I helped to grow an international and authentically ecumenical legal movement.

Also during that time, I was invited to discern a call to ordered service as a member of the Catholic clergy, a Deacon. The Bishop who invited my discernment believes that the vocation to the Deaconate invites him to find men who are already, in a sense, serving as "anonymous deacons" and help them to discern whether their service is most effective in the lay state or if they are indeed called to the order of deacon.

That invitation helped me to more fully understand the unfolding call and vocation in my own life. I knew the Lord was calling me to say “yes" to the invitation of the Church and, on the Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord, I was called to Holy Orders as a Catholic Deacon. In the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, Deacons are ordained clergymen, the first "order" of "Holy Orders".

In 1997, I responded to an invitation to help build an authentic witness of Catholic citizenship and moved to Washington D.C. Though I respected the work of groups like the Christian Coalition, Family Research Council and others, I knew the unique challenge to organize Catholics for effective political participation.

Through difficulty and struggle, I participated in birthing and building Catholic Alliance, a Catholic citizens movement promoting the common good and engaging in political participation around its four pillars of life, family, freedom and solidarity. After years of being suspect of lobbyists, I became one.

I have also helped to found "Common Good Foundation" a group that seeks to proclaim and apply Catholic (classical Christian) social teaching to the public arena.

What is next? I really do not know; however I know that the Lord does. I am currently practicing law, serving in a local parish and working arm in arm with many different kinds of Christians who, like me, are sensing the "next", an outpouring of the Holy Spirit for this Third Christian Millennium, that is not outside of the Church but rather has, as a part of its unfolding plan, the very reunion of that Church for the world.

This kind of journey by faith has been at the heart of what has been my continuing call to follow the Lord. The changes, whether in career emphasis, location, or "ministry" simply represent "assignments" in a life given over to service in a new and great missionary age.

The deep abiding vision that animates and motivates my life was greatly influenced by the extraordinary writing and leadership of Pope John Paul II. I believe that he is a prophetic and pastoral voice of historic importance.

My response to the call of the Lord has been refined and worked out in a vocational call as husband, father and citizen. First, I lived that call out as a layman. Now, I live it out as a Deacon—an order of clergy in the midst of the world.

Since my ordination, I have come to believe that it is no accident that the same Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church that gave us the "Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity" which has resulted in a literal explosion in lay ministry, also gave us the restoration of the order of Deacon in the western Church. Deacons have served continuously in the East. In the west, the diaconate became a "transitional" step before priesthood for centuries.

Deacons are a like a bridge, from the lay faithful in the world to the rest of the hierarchy (Bishops and Priests) and from the hierarchy to the lay faithful and the world. It is a wonderful vocation and a natural progression in my life—a life seeking to play my small part in what we are all called to be—the "soul of the world."

It is also interesting to note that my hero, Francis, was not a priest. For most of his life of working for the Lord he was a layman and the work he founded was a lay movement. Only later did he accept the invitation to holy orders as a Deacon. He certainly understood the call to be the "soul of the world."he and those who heard his call to follow Jesus and "rebuild the church" literally transformed the world of his day.

Now it is our turn.

Our mission field is not only on some distant shore. In fact, it is right here, in America. It is time for a new missionary movement to America that embodies the ancient Christian understanding that we are not to withdraw from the world- rather we are to be it's very soul.

As we respond to the continuing invitation of the Holy Spirit in the Third Christian Millennium, let all of us make that call our own!

Keith A Fournier practices law in Southeastern Virginia. He holds a Masters in Sacred Theology from the American campus of the Pontifical Academy of the Lateran University, the John Paul II Institute for the Study of Marriage and the Family. He is the author of seven books including A House United: Evangelicals and Catholics Together and In Defense of Life. Deacon Keith, his wife, Laurine, and the three of five children who are still in the home, reside in Chesapeake, Virginia. He serves as a Deacon in both the Roman and Melkite Catholic Church and is very active in evangelization, cultural apologetics and authentic ecumenism.


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