Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Decline of the Laity

I was reading a Russian Orthodox theologian last night and something struck me...the real crisis in the Church today is that despite Vatican II's call for the laity to once again recognize their mission is that since Vatican II the laity as the leaven of the church has almost disappeared.

Read Raymond Arroyo's new biography Mother Angelica : The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles. Who was the inspiration for the young Rita to eventually become Mother Angelica? It wasn't a priest. It wasn't a nun. It was a lay woman.

Who inspired Thomas Merton? Laypeople.

It is true that the sacramental life of the church is entrusted to the Bishops and priests but the mystical life of the church is open to fact even the most primary Sacrament of the church can be celebrated by anyone (in cases of emergency anyone can baptize...male or female, even unbelievers). Some diabolical twist has happened since Vatican II where people who want to lead holy lives have been drawn into doing so in a frustrating environment where they really don't belong and meanwhile the once rich heritage of lay apostolate and holiness has almost disappeared--Russel Shaw wrote an excellent book on this a few years ago entitled Ministry or Apostolate?: What Should the Catholic Laity Be Doing

Do you want to make a difference in the Catholic Church? Then begin by turning to the Triune God and asking him through the merits of his son's passion to send the Holy Spirit into your life and to make you a light that shines before all. Go to mass, pray before the Blessed Sacrament but then take Our Lord with you back home, in your workplace, and in your neighborhood. Make your life a witness.

This Sunday's gospel is about judgment and you'll notice that what we will be judged on has everything to do with how well we recognize Christ in the everyday visitations that have nothing to do with Church but everything to do with bringing "Thy Kindom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven."


  1. It is true that God has always chosen the instruments He wishes to work through, according to their cooperation...but this was whether or not there was some declaration naming them as the special class of "laity" of the Church! In fact, many today who have agreed to deliver His messages to the world and to suffer for and with him were the most unlikely of persons. They had left any youthful connection to their religion, were angry, prideful and rather arrogant independent types, more influenced by the times than to a calling of their Church. It was only through the "odd" action of the Spirit, in very strong and visible ways, that marched them back onto a very narrow way. In fact, I'm thinking of one case where the holy people in their lives made not difference until they had an actual intervention by God Himself (Estella Ruiz for example), but it was due to the persevering prayer and fortitude of her husband that caused that intervention.

    Read Raymond Arroyo's new biography of Mother Angelica. Who was the inspiration for the young Rita to eventually become Mother Angelica? It wasn't a priest. It wasn't a nun. It was a lay woman.

    Who inspired Thomas Merton? Laypeople.

    So, I wouldn't give quite the accolades to the laity as first cause...but rather the action of God came through such persons. For Mother, it was her cure from God, that made her realize His love for her which she never believed before this. This cure came through a holy instrument, but I wouldn't think that person could be described in the same language of "laity" that comes to us out of VII. And it was really through his experience of the Blessed Mother that Merton was "driven" to go to the "court of the Queen of Heaven" when he entered Gethsemani. Whether or not he kept to that same initial inspiration is another thing...since some lay people in his journey, when he was not too faithful to the same rules as his brothers, only encouraged his old habits.

  2. I believe one of the problems with the "role of the laity" in the the post-Vatican II Church has been the spread of the belief that the role only finds its expression in what gets done in the church buildings or organizations. And you can end up with people whose entire lives revolve around that address - very often to the great neglect of family, friends, co-workers, and the whole wide world that is waiting to learn about Christ. For some folks, it's as though good deeds don't count unless they're done in an ecclesiastical environment. (A corollary is that service to the poor is the only one that gets brownie points, whereas loving those God puts right under your nose isn't worth working on.)


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