THE SERVANT GENERAL
THE NEW EVANGELIZATION
THE ROLE OF THE LAITY
April 5, 2017
One of the most important elements in the call to the New
Evangelization is lay empowerment. The laity that makes up
99.9+% of our Church must be involved, and not wait on prelates
or clerics to issue marching orders. This is as much our Church,
and we share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly ministry
of our Lord Jesus.
Such involvement is not just, as has been told laypeople from
the start, about engagement in the temporal order--economics,
politics, environment, society. Yes it is that, but it is
also about initiatives on spiritual renewal and pastoral formation
that can and should be done by the laity.
And if it comes against wrong practices of clerics or religious,
even high up in the hierarchy, the laity must oppose these.
Such is the case with false mercy, which seeks to welcome
and embrace the sinner without talking about his sin. This
is political correctness which is a scourge in our Church.
CFC-FFL is among the new ecclesial movements that is lay-founded
and lay-run. It is doing much to foster renewal in our Church
and resisting assaults on faith, family and life.
Then the Holy Spirit has used CFC-FFL to come up with LCSC
and offer this to our Church. It is massive and effective
renewal being placed at the service of dioceses and parishes.
LCSC is one of the very few initiatives that are right in
line with the New Evangelization and the pastoral thrusts
of the Church.
LCSC is a movement from the ground up, though more and more
there are bishops that embrace it and get it moving from the
top down. But it is what is needed to reach the grassroots
at the peripheries.
Obstacles to “Rightsizing” the
By Dr. Jeff Mirus | Apr 04, 2017
refusal to demand a desire for transformation in Christ
cannot continue to be the way of the Church in our time.
Her members must learn again
to exclude those who refuse to respond to God’s mercy,
lest these make a mire of the Gospel, polluting the work
of God at its source.”
This is how I closed " The first requirement of Church
renewal in our time”. But there are two huge obstacles
to this necessary transformation of the Church. The first
is the danger of swinging the pendulum too farthat is,
excluding imperfect people who are not in direct rebellion
against God and the Church but may be weak, lax or not yet
awakened to the need for spiritual growth. Fortunately, I
have already addressed this question about the proper use
of exclusion. See my six-part series in 2014, “ Smaller
Church, Bigger Faith?”.
I would also like to mention, just in passing, that denial
of Communion to those in manifest rebellion has always provided
the Church with a middle ground between complete inclusion
and complete exclusion. What folly it is to have largely given
up this option in practice; and how
sad it is now to witness even a pontifical attempt to reject
this exclusionary mercy, which is calculated to awaken sinners
and serve as a warning to the faithful!
We must recognize that it is
precisely the unrestricted inclusion of those who rebel against
the spiritual authority of the Church which does such irreparable
harm. The evidence of such rebellion is the deliberate rejection
of either the Magisterium or the Church’s disciplinary
authority. It is the contemporary Church’s
ill-conceived inclusion of those who fundamentally reject
her which makes it rare for priests and bishops to insist
upon the sinfulness of so many behaviors that are encouraged
in our secular culture. It is this ill-conceived inclusion
which undermines the credibility of those who insist that
Catholics must believe certain things and commit themselves
to a certain moral code. And it is the confusion about the
very conditions for both membership and Communion in the Church
which so seriously undermines the final command Our Lord gave
authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go
therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded
you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.
The problem faced by lay reformers
The second obstacle to the exclusiveness necessary to Church
renewal is the fact that, in our
time, the vanguard of authentic renewal is the laity. Because
of the widespread secularization of bishops, priests and religious
during the Western sexual revolution beginning in the 1960s,
a great many layman had to become active in studying the Faith,
refuting the errors of the day, explaining and defending the
teachings of the Church, and fostering the interior renewal
of the faithful. In fact, the laity took up the leadership
of authentic Catholic reform essentially because the normal
clerical and religious leadership of the Church was rendered
at best infantile, and at worst diabolical.
Unfortunately and here is the obstacle what this
means is that the vast majority of leaders of authentic renewal
in the Church possess absolutely no ecclesiastical authority.
Accordingly, large numbers of Catholics at all levels feel
perfectly free to dismiss them as irrelevant.
I do not wish to be misunderstood. During the pontificates
of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the influx of “JP2
priests” significantly upgraded the ranks of the priesthood
in the West, as has the need to accept the services of priests
from places where the Faith is still vigorous, such as Africa.
There are many fine priests who are true agents of renewal.
But very frequently what they can do is limited because of
the continuing reluctance of many Western bishops to become
zealous for authentic renewal themselves.
Nonetheless, the leadership
of the laity in the cause of renewal is real. If you think
I exaggerate, consider how the chief engines of legitimate
reform in the Church are still powered by the laity even today,
after fifty years of the most strenuous efforts to effect
a widespread renewal. There are a huge number of examples,
but I will confine myself to the United States because that
is what I know best:
Mass Media: Magazines, newspapers, radio, television,
websites, blogs and social media that emphasize spiritual
renewal in fidelity to the Church are overwhelmingly both
founded and managed by lay people. The most notable exception
is the monumental work of EWTN which, although managed
by lay people, was founded by a nun who had a very rocky
relationship with the American hierarchy.
Book Publishing: Contemporary Catholic book publishers
which refuse to publish dissenters are overwhelmingly
controlled and managed by lay persons. These will publish
only material which fosters authentic renewal by seeking
always to express what we call “the mind of the
Church”. Most were either founded or redirected
by lay persons in response to the collapse of Catholic
publishing in the 1960s. Sophia Institute Press is a perfect
example. Even Ignatius Press, though founded by Fr. Joseph
Fessio, SJ (now in his late 70s), has always been run
by lay persons and features a fine lineup of contemporary
of Children: Parish and
diocesan schools have slipped into dissent, secularism
and the pathetic morality of our dominant culture.
They have remained sound or been recovered fully only
in a few of the very best dioceses. But large numbers
of independent Catholic schools have been founded by lay
persons. It is most often to these that the most dedicated
Catholic parents send their children, if they do not teach
them at home.
Education: Colleges and
universities founded and/or run by religious orders were
almost universally secularized in the second half of the
twentieth century. Few have been reformed. Meanwhile,
the new faithful Catholic colleges established since the
mid-1960s have been founded by lay personsmost on
the patterns established in the 1970s by such still-thriving
schools as Thomas Aquinas College and Christendom College
(which now also has a graduate school). Some existing
institutions have been renewed through the action of exemplary
priests, most notably the Franciscan University of Steubenville
under the late Fr. Michael Scanlan, though the leading
faculty are lay. Even the faithful University of Dallas,
which was founded under the auspices of the Diocese of
Dallas in the 1950s, just before the collapse of Catholic
higher education, has been controlled and led from the
first by lay persons.
Schools: While founded under Bishop Thomas Welsh of Arlington,
the unfailingly orthodox Catholic Distance University
has always been run by the laity. Also in Arlington, the
Institute for the Psychological Sciences, a graduate school
of psychology based on a Catholic understanding of the
person, marriage, and the family, was founded by lay persons
in 1999 and evolved in 2015 into Divine Mercy University.
Professional Societies: The old Catholic professional
societies for doctors, lawyers, theologians, canon lawyers,
and other academic disciplines all spun off into dissent
and secularism beginning in the 1960s. Many are still
dominant in their fields, but all the new ones faithful
to the Magisterium were founded by lay persons, or by
groups dominated by lay persons, including the Catholic
Medical Association, the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars,
and the Society of Catholic Social Scientists.
New Organizations: Nearly every new organization which
has come on the American scene since the mid-1960s to
foster renewal in fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church
has been founded by lay persons. Here are a few of the
names which have become household words among the seriously
faithful in the United States: Catholics United for the
Faith, the Couple to Couple League, Catholic Answers,
The St. Joseph Foundation, Adoremus, the Fellowship of
Catholic University Students, The Augustine Institute,
and The Cardinal Newman Society. There are many more;
our own Trinity Communications is one of these.
Organization: The list could go on and on, but I will
close on this: The largest Catholic organization that
retains its commitment to the mind of the Church in our
time is the Knights of Columbus. Though it was inspired
in 1882 by Fr. Michael McGivney, it is a fraternal benefit
society run by Catholic laymen for laymen and their families.
While the United States leads the way in the sheer range of
such faithful Catholic organizations, there have been similar
developments in other countries, such as England, Australia,
France and Germany. In addition, a
number of the growing international movements designed to
foster renewal in various ways throughout the twentieth century
were also founded by lay people, including
Focolare (1943), L’Arche (1964), and Neocatechumenal
Way (1964). Finally, Opus Dei was founded by a priest and
has the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross to guide it, but
it is nonetheless ordered to the laity and represented primarily
by deeply-committed laity in every profession. However, outside
the United States, my direct knowledge is very limited.
On the other hand, in all the areas I mentioned above, you
will find that the preponderance
of institutions and organizations which profess a false form
of renewal, rooted ultimately in the secular prejudices of
our dominant Western culture, and committed to dissent from
the Church’s Magisterium, are still run by Catholic
clergy and religious orders. Examples are
far too numerous to mention. We hear of their scandals by
the day. The brutal reality is that, throughout the West,
without Catholic renewal spearheaded by the laity, there is
as yet depressingly little effective renewal on offer, except
in a very few exemplary dioceses. Even projects of renewal
sponsored by the last two popes, such as the Pontifical John
Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family,
are being rapidly undermined under the current regime.
In other words, the greatest
proportion of the energy going into genuine Catholic renewal
(that is, true renewal in fidelity to the teachings of the
Catholic Church) comes from the laity. I hasten
to add that this is not a damaging or anti-clerical sort of
energy. Most of these organizations have been able to secure
excellent priestly spiritual direction. Some have been directly
approved by bishops. Even more
promising, some of this energy is being effectively placed
in the service of dioceses and parishes (one
thinks particularly of programs developed by the Augustine
Institute and Sophia Institute Press).
This is all good. But by now I am sure you can see the problem.
These organizations have no ecclesiastical authority which
requires others in the Church to pause and reflect on “what
the Church is teaching us, what the Church is asking us to
believe, how the Church is asking us to pray, or what might
happen to our status as Catholics if we reject the Church’s
demands for doctrinal commitment and spiritual growth.”
Lay persons, as we know, have no power to control the message
from the pulpit, or apply spiritual sanctions, or to select
priests and bishops, or to excommunicate. In a word, the laity
cannot directly create a smaller but more effective Church.
It is always extraordinarily
difficult to renew the Church from the ground up. This is
the greatest problem faced by authentic Catholic renewal today,
which was slowly being pulled into the mainstream by Pope
St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, but which the
current pope does little to encourage and much to discourage.
The next logical question, then, is simply this: How do we
expect this constantly growing group of deeply committed lay
leaders in the Catholic Church, and the outstanding organizations
they have developed, finally to grab the brass ringthat
is, to precipitate a sea change in a far too stagnant Church?
Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton
University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered
Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications
and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.
* * *