By Josie Bopp
In one of the most intimate moments of Jesus’ ministry, during the Last Supper in the Upper Room, he speaks to his Apostles, giving them courage and comfort just as he begins his Passion, Death and Resurrection and the Church is begun.
He begins by telling his friends, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (Jn 14:27). Thus, Jesus begins exhorting the Apostles that they are in the world but do not belong to the world, one of the great paradoxes of the Christian life. He ultimately ends (chapter 16, verse 33) with, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”
So how, as Christians and missionary disciples of Jesus Christ in 2024, do we heed Christ’s words and live this paradox of living in the world but not being of the world? How do we live in the “already but not yet” of the pilgrimage of Christian life?
The call to holiness
For most Catholics, the balance and the answer lies firstly in responding to the great universal call to holiness outlined concretely during the Second Vatican Council in Lumen Gentium (LG)—all people in all states and walks of life are called to be holy, to be saints.
“Therefore, all the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state. Indeed they have an obligation to so strive … Let them heed the admonition of the Apostle to those who use this world; let them not come to terms with this world; for this world, as we see it, is passing away.” (LG 42)
Deacon Bill Radio, a permanent deacon assigned to the Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Sioux Falls, says living in the world but not of the world essentially means that we buy into what God is telling us, rather than what society is telling us. We “shed light in the darkness for others through the way we live our lives,” he said.
Put simply, Deacon Radio says that one of the challenges we have as disciples is to appreciate with gratitude the gifts God has given us and to not become attached to anything or anyone in the world to the point where it puts any distance between us and God. We have a responsibility to respond to the call to holiness, at every state in life we may find ourselves, he said.
“Each one of us was created by God to fulfill some purpose here in life and in some way,” Deacon Radio said. “If we do not pursue to understand and carry out the purpose for which we were created, we will be responsible for not having held up our responsibilities in responding positively to what God created us to do.”
Deacon Radio says each of us has a responsibility to help each other along this temporary path in the world in getting to heaven, but our primary mission is to get there ourselves.
“If we don’t witness our faith, if we don’t seek to do God’s will, we are probably missing the target of what we were put here to do,” he said.
Although we may know that responding to God’s call to be holy is one of the first steps in the spiritual life, Deacon Radio says it can be difficult in an increasingly complex and distracting world, especially for families and young people.
“Everybody is screaming for attention and immediate gratification and fitting in,” he said. “All those temptations that can take us away from what God wants us to be to what the world wants us to be.”
His advice to combat the noise and return to the simplicity of striving to answer God’s call to holiness begins with the beginning of each day. He says he counsels people to check in with God every day and ask him to make clear to us his presence, what he is asking of us this day, and for his strength and courage.
“The drum beat of the world is around every one of us,” he said. “But in checking in with God every day, we can be grounded in our faith.”
Faith in the world
Responding to the call to holiness and striving to live in the world as missionary disciples, but not of the world, also involves responding to God’s particular will in our lives. This looks different for every person and can change with varying stages in life and vocation.
Nolan and Brooke Schmidt, parishioners of St. Lambert Parish in Sioux Falls, have discerned this call through several stages in their own lives—from young adults in college, to Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) missionaries, to parents and workers in the private field. Through all of it, Brooke says remaining firstly focused on their identities as rooted in Christ is key. By ordering their lives around that first truth, the Schmidts say living a Christian example in the world comes a little easier.
“First, I am a daughter of God, and then a wife, and then a mother,” said Brooke, who is an attorney in Sioux Falls. “I am very privileged to be in my (work) position, but it doesn’t define me and it’s not my identity.”
Both having grown up Catholic, Brooke and Nolan say the faith example their parents and families set for them was the foundation upon which they were able to choose the faith more purposefully as young adults at the University of South Dakota (USD). At that stage in their lives, living in the world but not of the world meant embracing the Catholic faith and choosing to live differently than the average college student. It was that choice that led them to both marriage in 2014 and to Nolan accepting a position as a missionary with FOCUS. After spending a year at USD while Brooke finished her undergraduate studies, the couple moved to Florida just six weeks after the birth of their first child.
As missionaries at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Nolan said the primary way he and Brooke witnessed to the faith and lived their otherworldly identity was by authentically investing in people and sharing their lives and vocations as a married couple and family.
“We live in a culture where it’s very utilitarian,” he said. “When you radically give to these people and relationships, especially young people, it becomes apparent that you’re different, you’re genuine.”
Nolan said many times for the young people they ministered to, it was the first time someone had invited them into a deeper friendship with no angle, which is very different than what the culture of the world offers. Brooke said sharing the Gospel really began with being present to them. In contrast to what the world offered, the Schmidts and the FOCUS missionaries offered the person of Jesus Christ and invited others into a relationship with him.
“People just want to be known and loved and feel that they’re known and heard,” Brooke said. “Evangelization in the sense of walking with someone is profound, because that can be very healing for people.”
After leaving mission with FOCUS, the Schmidts spent a few years in Kansas while Brooke attended law school before returning to Sioux Falls to be closer to family and raise their three children. That’s where they both entered the private sector, Brooke as an attorney and Nolan as a business analyst. Going from ministry to working outside of the Church changed the way they approached living in the world, but not of it as missionary disciples.
“There are ways of witnessing to that authentic joy from experiencing your faith and being able to share it,” Nolan said. “The faith is such an ingrained way that I live and who I am that it’s hard for me to express otherwise.”
Brooke says it can sometimes be a temptation to not share the faith in the work setting because in a way, there’s more at stake. But the Schmidts say it’s really about authentically sharing their way of life with others, whether it’s talking about attending Mass as a family, or how they spent their weekends together involved with their church.
“It’s not shying away from sharing your life,” Brooke said. “It’s not imposing on anybody to just share simple parts of your life, but finding a way to talk about the faith in a non-invasive way, very sensitive to what is appropriate at what times.”
In every state of life
As parents of three young children, living in the world but not of the world also shapes the way they approach parenting and family life. For both Brooke and Nolan, they wanted to offer their children the same freedom they enjoyed as children—the space and ability to talk about the faith and ask hard questions. This led them to send their children to Catholic school in order to further that opportunity and help enshrine that Catholic identity.
“Catholic school provides a different opportunity for our kids,” Brooke said. “We find so much value in that environment that every day at any moment, they are reinforcing the things we find important at home every day.”
The Schmidts say that in choosing to live in the world but not of it, finding support in the community is very important. Brooke says the support of other families and the church community is an especially important resource and one parents should make use of and discern what is the best way to live the call to holiness.
“We have opportunities to really live the Gospel,” Nolan said. “We’re never going to have the most favorable or perfect conditions to witness to Christ, but we can show how we’re striving, how we may choose to make different choices than the world.”
St. John Paul II, in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae (EV), says the evergreen duty of Christians to proclaim the Gospel, to proclaim salvation to all people, must be done without fear. This is part of the Christian call to live in the world, but not of it.
“In the proclamation of this Gospel, we must not fear hostility or unpopularity, and we must refuse any compromise or ambiguity which might conform us to the world’s way of thinking (cf. Rom 12:2). We must be in the world but not of the world (cf. Jn 15:19; 17:16), drawing our strength from Christ, who by his Death and Resurrection has overcome the world (cf. Jn 16:33).” (EV 82)
The Schmidts say they have learned so much from every state of life and every different calling they’ve received so far, and through it all, humility and grace for themselves and for others has helped them in witnessing as Christians in the world. Nolan says there are times you may feel you missed an opportunity at work to witness to Christ, or maybe that you haven’t built up the habits and skills you want in order to progress in the spiritual life, but it’s all in the Lord’s hands, “and we’re doing the best we can,” he said.
That grace extends to others, too. Brooke says everyone’s experiences and faith walks look different, and the challenge to live authentic lives as missionary disciples is for everyone.
“We shouldn’t be stagnant or not pushing ourselves,” she said. “We need to be more comfortable with getting uncomfortable.”
As we strive to live as Catholic Christians in the world, but not of it, we know that Christ has called us, first into relationship with himself, and then to share it with others. During that time with his Apostles, Jesus encourages them with words of peace and courage.
“I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (Jn 16:33).
“The views or comments expressed by Brooke and Nolan do not represent the views of their past and present employers.”