A few weeks ago I was asked to give a Lenten mission to parish in Western Massachusetts. One of the talks was directed to lay leaders in the parish about the “Vocation of the Laity.
Using Blessed Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation, “Christifidelis Laici” as a structure for the talk, I explained that in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, (not because of it), there arose a “crisis of identity” within the Church. The crisis is in terms of ones place or ones vocation in the Church.
The Council reminded the members of the Church that no one should “stand around idle”, but that all members of the Church, lay and ordained alike, are called to be “active” members, each according to his or hers own vocation.
What resulted was the thought that for lay people, being active meant to do something in the sanctuary, (being a lector, Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion etc.). The Council, and subsequently JPII explained that the way in which a layperson is to be an active member of the Church is first and foremost to be the leaven within society.
The layperson is called to bring the Gospel to those areas of society and culture of which only they have access. These areas include all the social, economic, political and cultural areas of life where the clergy are not usually involved. They include the workplace and schools, sports fields and neighborhoods. The role of the layperson is to share their faith in these normal places of everyday life.
So often when people are excited about their faith, when they want to be “involved” in the life of the Church, they get involved in the life of their parish, which is wonderful and certainly necessary, but sometimes that is to the detriment of their PRIMARY VOCATION which is in the world. What I mean to say is that sometimes people think they are fulfilling their lay vocation by doing things around the parish, even though they are hesitant to live their faith out publically off parish grounds. This is certainly understandable. It is easier to be Catholic in our parishes than it is in the office or even when with our families.
Pope Francis has addressed this issue several times by saying that the Church cannot become “closed in on itself,” but must “go out to the peripheries of society” to bring the Gospel to the world! Not to take the liberty to interpret what he meant, but I read that to mean he was speaking primary to lay people and to their primary vocation being in the world!
Pope Francis recently addressed this again in an interview with an Italian radio and television network.
The Church needs the laity and they should not be “clericalised”, Francis said. “Who’s more important? The Pope or that little old lady who recites the rosary every day?” Francis asked this question to representatives of local television channels, admitting that he himself did not know the answer. Francis then called for “harmony” between the various tasks carried out in the Church “because a priest cannot do a lay person’s job.”
“The body of Christ is the harmony of the different,” the Pope explained condemning the phenomenon of “clericalism” which afflicts many lay people, to the point that it can be defined as an “added evil”. “Some bishops and priests are drawn by the temptation to clericalize the laity, but there are also many lay people who get down on their knees and ask to be clericalized: it is a two-way sin.” But according to Francis, “a lay person has the strength that comes from baptism and his lay vocation is not negotiable.”
The Second Vatican Council and popes of the last 50 years have reminded us that the Church needs each of us to work to build up the Kingdom of God here on earth, but for each to do that according to his or her vocation. No one should stand around idle!