Monday, May 27, 2002

Lay Associations and Pastors

Reflections on CFL: Paragraphs 30 and 31

As we discussed in the last reflection, the laity have a freedom to associate in groups. We've seen a number of groups form in reaction to the current scandal. In Boston, for example, there is the Voice of the Faithful. I'll leave critique of that group to other bloggers. Instead, I just note that Cardinal Law's cautions to that group and other attempts to develop new lay associations has been widely derided.

One might be left with the impression that the Church has no place to evaluate the work of these lay groups or that to do so is just another example of clerical elitism. Not so. As mentioned last time, there needs to be criteria to evaluate the authenticity of the forms lay associations take in the Church. In this section of CFL, JPII sets forth some basic criteria for that task.

"The primacy given to the call of every Christian to holiness." I think it is fitting that the pope places this at the top of the list. Lay associations that do not have this as an emphasis run the risk of losing sight of the full dimension of Catholic life and of becoming something else. A great concern for organizations like the Voice of the Faithful, for example, is that they are (or will become), without this emphasis on the call to holiness, just a political power play dressed up in some of the language of the Church. This criteria also emphasizes our responsibility for our own journey in faith. The laity ought to support each other in the process of sanctification, not to place that whole burden on the clergy.

"The responsibility of professing the Catholic faith." Sadly, many lay groups dissent from certain elements of the Church's teachings, helping to further confusion about what the Church teaches and doesn't. As discussed before, the preaching of the Gospel is all of our responsibility through Baptism. Dissenting from Church teaching shouldn't be an option for lay associations any more than for bishops.

"The witness to a strong and authentic communion in filial relationship to the Pope .. and with the local Bishop." JPII wants us to deepen our understanding of the mystery of being one Body in Christ. And as we discussed previously, we all belong to a particular Church. Lay associations should not see their work in competition with the rest of the Church, but as a complement to it. As the pope emphasizes, laity must extend that understanding to other lay associations, too.

"Conformity to and participation in the Church's apostolic goals." The Gospel. Lay associations are asked to have "a missionary zeal" for "the evangelization and sanctification of humanity and the Christian formation of people's conscience, so as to enable them to infuse the spirit of the Gospel into the various communities and spheres of life."

Finally, "a commitment to a presence in human society." I find this one fascinating. As we have discussed all along, the pope doesn't want the laity to have a narrow vision of their field of evangelization. The laity are not called to be just lectors and eucharistic ministers. Because of their place in all of the facets of society, the pope is eager for them to focus their efforts on infusing those places with the Gospel. If they do not, who will be able to?

The remainder of this portion of CFL focuses on pastors and their relationship with lay associations. First, he calls on pastors to encourage them "so that lay associations might grow in Church communion and mission." He emphasizes that certain lay associations ought to be given "official recognition and explicit approval from competent Church authority to facilitate their growth on both the national and international level." All of this seems motivated from JPII's emphasis on the interdependency of the missions of the ministerial and common priesthood.

And of communion. Again, we are all members of one Body. JPII calls this a "gift" that must be acted upon and lived out. In that light, he calls upon all, but specifically pastors, "to promote and nourish stronger bonds and mutual esteem, cordiality and collaboration among the various forms of lay associations." He reminds that division harms the Body and hinders evangelization and appeals to us, with the words of St. Paul:

"I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment."
Coming Soon: Reflections on Paragraphs 32 ofCFL

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