The Marians are celebrating a year of thanksgiving for the 100th anniversary of the renewal and reform of the Marian Congregation led by Bl. George Matulaitis-Matulewicz (1871-1927). The jubilee year opened Dec. 8. Throughout the year on this website we will look at the life and spirituality of Bl. George, whose legacy continues to inspire Marians and the Church today.
On several occasions our Lord spoke to St. Faustina about the importance of performing deeds of mercy. He said: “I demand from you deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it” (Diary of St. Faustina, 742).
While our Lord was specifically speaking to St. Faustina, a Polish nun in a convent in the 1930s, His call was to us all. As lay Catholics, we have the duty to share the faith and perform works of mercy in our neighborhoods and at work.
Blessed George Matulaitis-Matulewicz (1871-1927) — the Renovator of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception — foresaw this important role for the laity long before the reforms of Vatican II and Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People.
As early as Oct. 27, 1910, Bl. George wrote in his spiritual diary:
We must strive to gather and organize about us people of good will. We must train and prepare them for work. Then, together with them and through them, we must bring Christ into all things and all places, renew and revivify all things in Christ, gain all for Christ, attract all for Christ. Lord Jesus, enkindle our hearts with the fire of this zeal!
If you think about it, Bl. George’s insight about the laity is the very basis for the Marians partnership with each of you as members of the Association of Marian Helpers! Together with you and through you, the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, can do so much more “for Christ and for the Church.”
Blessed George’s call to service for the laity has five main aspects: a desire to renew everything in Christ, cooperation with Church leaders, bringing the faith into the workplace, performing works of mercy, and enlivening one’s service with a holy boldness that is a characteristic of genuine zeal.
Renew all things in Christ
For Blessed George, everything begins with Christ and all things must be made new in Him. For you as a lay person, Christ must also be the center of your life and the source of personal strength for all of your efforts in service. This can only happen when you make a concerted effort to develop a life of personal prayer — especially through reflecting and contemplating on the life of Christ in the Gospels.
Blessed George wrote in his diary:
May our model be Jesus Christ: not only working quietly in His home at Nazareth, not only Christ denying Himself, fasting forty days in the desert, not only Christ spending the night in prayer; but also Christ working, weeping, suffering; Christ among the crowds; Christ visiting the cities and villages.
This focus on Christ and our life of prayer is a constant source of renewal for us in our service. It helps us avoid discouragement and “burn out” because we are centered on Christ as our strength.
Cooperate with the Church
As a bishop and a spiritual father, Blessed George recognized that a person’s genuine spiritual growth and life of service in Christ would inevitably lead into a growing love for Christ’s spouse, the Church. Your spiritual life and desire to serve as a lay person is thus enriched by listening attentively to the teachings of the Church.
Ask yourself, “What should I do in my parish, at home, at work, and in my neighborhood?” Then consider the gifts and talents that you’ve been given, and listen carefully to what the Church — through the voice of the Holy Father and the local bishop — has to say.
If you read well and love the Scriptures, for example, you may want to learn more about what the Church says concerning the Bible and also speak to your pastor about serving as a lector at your parish.
This deep love for Christ and the Church, which flows from your spiritual life, will lead you to cooperate with your bishop, pastor, and religious in using your gifts to build up the body of Christ and perform corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Bring your faith to work
As a lay person, you are in a unique position to influence the world of work and business for the good. Blessed George recognized the importance of this witness and even helped organize a union for Christian workers in his day.
He recognized that lay people can make a real difference by bringing the values of the gospel and the teachings of the Church into the workplace.
This starts by providing a good example to others as a dedicated employee who is also a devout Catholic.
Your prayer can be a particularly powerful witness. You can decide to remember co-workers in your daily prayer and offer special prayers for them on their birthdays as well as when they are ill or have lost a loved one.
You can also bring in Catholic literature to share with your co-workers, and even organize fellow workers as volunteers for Church-related work.
Perform works of mercy
Blessed George, who stressed the importance of caring for the neediest in society, knew that dedicated lay people like you would come to recognize in your hearts the truth of what John the Apostle teaches: “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20).
Thus, you may find yourself desiring to perform works of mercy — motivated either to organize an effort with others of like mind or to join an already existing project that serves those in need. It might mean volunteering to help out at a local soup kitchen or assisting in the construction of decent, affordable housing in your community.
This kind of service is very demanding work and can provide a wonderful witness to others in the community. Your friends, neighbors, and co-workers may well ask, “How can you continue to do this demanding service week in and week out?”
You can then point them to Christ and invite them to know the One who is the source of your strength.
Pray for holy boldness
For Blessed George, the fruit of a deep life of prayer and service to Christ is a holy zeal. And an important characteristic of this zeal is a “holy boldness,” which gives you the courage to overcome obstacles for the sake of serving Christ.
This means that you never spurn any legitimate means or tool for serving Christ and the Church. Instead, you are open to new initiatives. Statements like “It’s never been done before” or “It is not done that way” do not deter you from your goal.
I know of one father, for example, who was upset that a certain magazine he found offensive was displayed at every checkout counter in his local grocery store. Since he didn’t want his children exposed to the magazine, he insisted on talking to the store manager about it. Thanks to his “holy boldness,” the next day the displays were gone.
Finding creative and bold ways like this to meet new challenges is a part of the reality of an ever-changing world that always needs to hear the message of Christ.
Blessed George was convinced that lay people —like you — can play a unique and powerful role in transforming society through lives of prayer and service. As the son of a poor Lithuanian farming family, who was orphaned at an early age, he knew the plight of the poor and workers. He also knew that those best equipped to meet the deepest longings and needs of society, especially its new poor, were dedicated Catholic laity like you.
May each of you be inspired to follow the path he has outlined to holiness and service “for Christ and for the Church.”