Part 12 of a weekly series.
Powerful images often stick in my mind, like this one: The potter started with a seemingly insignificant lump of clay. It looked like nothing more than a blob of mud with little potential for anything.
Then the potter turned on the wheel and cupped her hands around the clay. With patience, precision and just the right pressure her molding fingers fashioned the most delicate yet durable ceramic object. I was struck by the fact that, before a single turn of the wheel or pull of the clay, the potter knew what form it would take. Her deliberate and thorough skill fashioned the clay into a beautiful vessel.
Scripture often uses this image of a potter to communicate God’s creative power. We are familiar with the second story of creation in Genesis when God formed the man out of the clay of the earth. God is the premier "potter," molding humanity in the divine image. As God speaks to the prophet Jeremiah: "Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel" (Jeremiah 18:6).
For me the notion of formation is much like the relationship between a potter and the clay. This is something quite different from instruction or even construction. Formation is a process of coming into being. It is like a potter bringing clay to exquisite form.
What is so awesome is that God, the master creator, entrusts to us a share in the role of potter. It is our job to continue the ongoing work of formation by fostering the goodness and holiness that lies within the hearts of others.
Think about it. Parents are potters. They are the first to shape their children in the way of Christian living. This is the first and most important formation a human being will ever experience. The first school of faith is not so much about filling children with information and facts as it is about filling their hearts with love.
By acts of love and sacrifice parents reveal to children the very love of God. By respecting the dignity of all people, by sharing faith through fervent prayer and worship, and by extending charity, parents mold their children into beautiful vessels open to God’s grace.
Although it begins at home, formation in faith does not end there. Every baptized person has a very important and unique role to form the world in the ways of Christ. The vocation of the laity is to sanctify — to make holy — the world; to fashion a sacred world by living the message of the Gospel in large and small ways.
This happens by loving our enemies, by showing mercy to those who offend goodness and offering compassion to the brokenhearted. Like the molding fingers of a potter, we form the world by speaking against injustice, by acting with preference for the poor and by mending relationships ruptured by hate.
On Mission for the Church Alive! urges us, like clay in the hand of a skilled potter, to fashion a beautiful world in which the mystery of God’s love, the saving work of Jesus and the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit are brought forth.
Ritzer is a diocesan associate general secretary.