Tag Archives: laity

Pope Francis on Laity

…You’ll never guess what… Since writing the last post, I read this from Pope Francis:

“We priests tend to clericalize the laity. We do not realize it, but it is as if we infect them with our own disease. And the laity — not all, but many — ask us on their knees to clericalize them, because it is more comfortable to be an altar server than the protagonist of a lay path. We cannot fall into that trap — it is a sinful complicity.”

Amazing!


Lay People – Be Who You Are!

Photo: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk

Photo: Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk

OK, I hope this is not going to shock you, people… I am a massive defender of lay identity, spirituality, apostolate because that is who I am – a lay person! I love the lay vocation. When I read what the Church teaches about laity (I’ve found Lumen Gentium and Christifidelis Laici particularly inspiring) I have wanted to take this into my heart and let it form who I am. (Please read these if you haven’t had a chance to – they are wonderful.)

I sometimes think though that we have forgotten this wonderful teaching. We forget that the lay vocation is one in its own right, not simple a negation of ‘not being a priest or religious’. It has its own distinct “secular character” (see CL). It has its own dignity and beauty. We are the ones who do what priests and religious cannot – carry Christ into the world, be co-redeemers with him in the temporal realm. We are the “authentic, secular dimension” to the Church “inherent in her nature and mission” (Pope Paul VI). When we are having a drink with friends and we respond to their questions about being a Catholic, or when we end up having a conversation with a taxi driver, or when (as a friend and I did recently) we ask at a restaurant what fish is on the menu as it’s Friday – then we are living in small ways our lay vocation in the secular realm. Clearly, when we exercise our vote in political debate, or contribute the Christian viewpoint, or fight against anti-Christian decisions in our workplace, our action in the secular world is more visible. But it doesn’t detract from the dignity of Christianising our workplaces, homes, friendships, with our more hidden witness.

Why do I say all this? Isn’t it obvious? Well, no… it doesn’t seem so. To me it seems that ‘to be a faithful Catholic’ is often equated with being on the reader’s rota or taking Holy Communion to the sick. Both are praiseworthy things – don’t get me wrong. But if, tomorrow, there were suddenly enough priests to take Holy Communion to all the sick – would we still go and visit them anyway? My point is that we have a tendency to beg our priests to ‘clericalise’ us. Somehow it seems easier to do the reading at Mass than speak with our next-door neighbour about God. If the focus of our Christian life becomes the reading we do at Mass, or the next Sunday we’re down to be a minister of Holy Communion, we are missing out on the beauty of our lay vocation!

Christifidelis Laici spells it out like this:

“the temptation of being so strongly interested in Church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world”

To be fair – I think priests sometimes love to ‘clericalise’ their laity just as much as lay people love to be clericalised. I think for decades now we’ve failed to form people for their specifically lay vocation which has left people thinking that to be holy, they must spend a lot of time around the sacristy, or hours a day praying.

Let’s pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood so that we can let lay people be lay people and priests be priests.


The Holiness of God in the Lives of His Saints

Yesterday evening I gave a short talk as part of the Faith Matters series, a catechetical series put on in the Westminster Diocese which this month is entitled “Last Things First”. It was great to be at this event with a wonderful group of people, on the feast of All Saints. Fr Stephen Wang gave some theological reflections on the communion of saints, and I followed up with some real-life examples of saints of the 20th Century. I chose three examples, all lay saints of the Church, and linked each example to our lay baptismal vocation to share in Christ’s priestly, prophetic and kingly role. Here is the first saint I spoke about:

Saints are great gifts to us in our life of faith – and not just because they pray for us. When God took on human flesh he revealed to us who he is. How is this related to the saints? When saints allow God to fill their life with his life, they are giving him, so to speak, “another humanity”, another little “incarnation”, so that in their own humanity, people may glimpse God. Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity (a French Carmelite nun of the late 19th Century) prayed to the Holy Spirit to “create in [her] soul a kind of incarnation of the Word: that [she] may be another humanity for Him in which He can renew His whole Mystery.” It is God’s holiness that is radiant in them – so through their character, and the events of their life, we catch a glimpse of him.
 
So that is the first point. Saints give their humanity to God, and they make him visible. We know well that, although we might know our faith very thoroughly – and that is good, we need to – we only really know it – deeply and tangibly – in our experience. Particularly in our own experience, but also in the experience of others: this is where truths that we know come alive. This is another way of saying the same thing: in the lives of the saints, in the experience of others, we glimpse the deep realities of our faith in a way that makes them alive and real to us.
 
The numerous saints of the 20th Century are vivid images to us of God’s holiness – perhaps more so than earlier saints – because their world seems closer to ours: we have photographs and even videos of them which make them more real to us. What I want to do is use three examples of 20th Century saints – two Italians and one French-Canadian married couple – to show what holiness means, in concrete ways. These points are not even necessarily the most important points about holiness, but they are points that shine vividly in the three examples. I have also chosen only lay saints – I think it’s important that, as lay people, we have strong examples of what holiness looks like in a lay life, and indeed, that it is possible. The overarching theme in all three examples is that Christ’s holiness shines through a person’s personality: his holiness does not obscure or obliterate that person’s character, but rather makes it bloom, makes them fully alive.
 
My first example is a married woman from Milan, a wife, mother and doctor: St Gianna Beretta Molla. In St Gianna’s life, we see that holiness means loving those who are given to us to love. These can sometimes be the hardest people to love! In Gianna’s life, in her twenties, this initially meant those she served in her professional life as a doctor. We know that she gave free medical treatment to the poor, often giving them money as well as free examinations and medicine, and helping those who could not continue with their work because of their health to find new jobs.
 
She married at 33 and as a wife and mother Gianna devoted herself to her husband and her children: for her, this was taken to the extreme when, at the end of her life, she loved her child even above her own life. She knew that the continuation of her fourth pregnancy meant that her own life was in danger, and on the way to the hospital, she made clear to her husband: “if they should ask you which of the two lives they should save, do not hesitate…first, the life of the child”. Throughout her pregnancy she had been aware of this risk, suffering without complaint but constantly speaking with God in prayer. She suffered seven agonising days after her daughter’s birth, telling her husband, “it is not just that we should appear before the Lord without much suffering”.
 
What can we learn from this? Because we are baptised, we share in Christ’s role as priest, prophet and king. And when we offer sacrifice in our lives, we are exercising our priestly role. When we do our work well and offer it to God the Father, when we love and sacrifice for those in our lives, when we offer our sufferings to the Father, we are acting as priests – sanctifying and consecrating the world to God. For Gianna, this offering became the offering of her life itself, and it is clear that in this, she sanctified the world around her. After her death, countless people came to see her, all of them aware of the sacrifice she had made, and many going to Confession before they entered her room.

The two other examples will be posted soon!