Sunday, July 28, 2002

The Laity And The Re-Evangelization

Reflections on CFL: Paragraph 33

I think it is fitting that we are reflecting on paragraph 33 of CFL during the close of World Youth Day 2002. The theme of WYD this year is: "You are the salt of the Earth ... You are the light of the world ..." This is a call not just to the young, but to the whole of the laity. As the Pope comments here in CFL, we all must proclaim the Gospel.

It is a point that we have hit on many times before here at Integrity, but it is worth repeating:

"The lay faithful, precisely because they are members of the Church, have the vocation and mission of proclaiming the Gospel: they are prepared for this work by the sacraments of Christian initiation and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit."
On some levels, I think we all know this. At least, intellectually, we do. It is the manner in which we embrace it and live it out that deserves some reflection. Before we do that, we should pause for a moment and take note of one aspect of this mission: it is done in connection with the rest of the Church. Many of us are struggling with that right now. The scandals of recent months has put greater tension between the clergy and the laity. But we need each other and must understand that together we are to cooperate in carrying out the saving mission of the Church. (See the reflection on paragraph 32 of CFL and the others.) Some today have lost sight of this and do not realize that to divide the Body of Christ against itself impedes the mission of the Church. Mark Shea alerted my attention to this recent article of Fr. Sweeney of the St. Catherine of Sienna Institute. He rightly points out that we need reconciliation between the members of Christ's body and those hurt by the abuses to be able to overcome this division. Alternative funding controls and congregationalist voting structures presume that reconciliation will never be achieved and that authority must be transferred to others. To paraphrase Fr. Sweeney, what the mission of Christ needs instead is a laity that respects the ordination of the clergy and the role in the Body of Christ they have been given, and a clergy that respects the dignity of the lay faithful and their apostolate and role in the mission of the Church.

Like the Pope here in CFL, Fr. Sweeney doesn't let us forget that we are all called personally by name. "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel", says the Pope. Fr. Sweeney puts it this way:
"You must remember that you are members of the one Body that is Christ's Church; you may never speak of the Church as if you were not fully a member and fully responsible for her mission. ... You must remember that you have been empowerd by Christ himself for the sake of your mission, and that your spiritual gifts are no more merited than the graces bestowed in Holy Orders. The efficacy of your work on behalf of others does not, in the first instance, depend upon your holiness of life, but uopn the power of Christ communicated to the Church through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. You must, therefore, also remember that you are as capable of betraying Christ as are members of the hierarchy."
With that mindset, we are all asked by the pope to recognize the urgent need of our current world to hear again the message of the gospel and to rededicate itself to Christ. The form in which the laity carry out that evangelization likely will -- and probably should -- differ greatly from the way in which the clergy evangelizes. By our status as laity and our living in the midst of the world, we:
"lead to the Church people who are perhaps far removed from it; [the laity] earnestly cooperate in presenting the Word of God, especially by means of catechetical instruction; and offer their special skills to make the care of souls and the administration of the temporal goods of the Church more efficient."
Once again, the Pope wants us to open our eyes to the broad scope of evangelization: the entire expanse of society. Applications are not limited to lecturers at Mass.

One final point regarding the current scandal. All of us now are struggling with how to move on. What should be the appropriate response of the Church and the laity? How can we heal these wounds? The pope may have presented us the answer here in CFL:
"Through evangelization the Church is built up into a community of faith: more precisely, into a community that confesses the faith in full adherence to the Word of God which is celebrated in the Sacraments and lived in charity, the principle of Christian moral existence."
It is through our evangelization that we may overcome the current scandals as we re-dedicate ourselves to Christ's mission. For I believe the pope doesn't mean to suggest merely that the Church will be built up through evangelization because new members will join the fold. I think he firmly believes that an authentic commitment to evangelization will help to purify the Body and strengthen the unity of its current members. Our re-evangelization isn't purely outward focused, but includes ourselves within its scope.

Coming soon: Reflections on Paragraphs 34 and 35 of CFL


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