The real world that we experience firsthand and every day is a real setting in which faith really is meant to take form and grow. But does our firsthand acquaintance with our real world leave us wondering how it possibly could serve as an authentic faith environment?
Think about it. Does your real world bear a full share of chaos, conflict and mind-boggling confusions? Does it sometimes appear inhospitable to faith’s presence as a life force?
Yet, isn’t it in our own very “real” world that we pursue the goals of our basic lifestyles and struggle to discover their fullest possibilities. I should clarify that, viewed through a Christian lens, a lifestyle may well come into focus as a vocation in God’s eyes.
Family life, friendships, workplaces and schools all are the settings for lifestyles that could be practiced as vocations in this sense. A vocation, Pope Francis said in his 2019 apostolic exhortation “Christ Lives,” guides “your many efforts and actions toward service to others” (No. 255). He remarked:
“Your vocation inspires you to bring out the best in yourself for the glory of God and the good of others” (No. 257).
During my long career as a Catholic journalist, I served both as an editor and writer. Thankfully, my writer’s role offered countless opportunities to explore points of intersection between everyday life and faith. I often was asked to write on ordinary life and, in particular, family life.
I always knew that family life’s challenges were not only challenges for others. My faith needed to intersect with my real life as husband, father and, ultimately, grandfather. I could not write from “on high,” so to speak.
Here is one fascinating aspect of all this: Everyday-life vocations expand. They grow. The seeds of a vocation sprout in its early days, but no actual vocation leaves people as it found them.
Pope Francis spoke of family-life’s dynamic character in 2016’s “The Joy of Love.” He said:
“No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love.”
He called this “a never-ending vocation.” In fact, he noted, a family has embarked on a “historical journey.” He urged families never to “lose heart because of (their) limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion that God holds out before” them (No. 325).
I believed journalists ought to identify with readers, avoid arrogance and always be honest and clear. Could a journalist become one of those Pope Francis frequently speaks of who accompany others, walking alongside them and communicating some measure of support and hope?
“No one can face life in isolation,” the pope wrote in his 2020 encyclical on fraternity and social friendship, titled “Fratelli Tutti.”
He insisted that a community “in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead” is essential. It is important to realize that dreams “are built together” (No. 8).
Something along those lines underpinned my writing on the intersections of faith and real life. Writing on fatherhood for Catholic News Service’s “Faith Alive!” package in May 2017, I commented:
“Children are a constant revelation to parents. This can be wonderful and surprising, and, yes, it can sometimes feel like a lot to accept, absorb and handle.”
Why did I write that? I considered it important to acknowledge and confess that faith can be at home in real-life situations, some of which feel like tremendous blessings and some of which appear to require a type of clarity and patience that we aren’t certain we possess yet.
In writing about faith’s many points of intersection with real life, I never thought of myself as someone with all the answers. I knew how much I didn’t know about the workings of all this.
I hoped, however, that sharing with others whatever experience I had might spark their own further, constructive reflection.
What more could a journalist ask than that?
Gibson served on Catholic News Service’s editorial staff for 37 years.