Monday, June 16, 2008

Formation: not the privilege of a few

"Formation is not the privilege of a few, but a right and duty of all." (Christifideles Laici, 63).

One outfit that seems to be taking seriously the call of the Council and recent Popes to form the lay faithful is the Catherine of Siena Institute.

I came across the Institute via the blogosphere. In October, Sherry Wadell, co-director of the Institute, was visiting the DC area, and we met for dinner (while I was still with the Paulists). Since then, I've been in the process of understanding the Institute's mission, and am also training as a teacher for the Institute's "Called & Gifted" workshops.

The training was held this past weekend up in Chicago. (Well, actually, Bloomingdale). I just got back. A small group, but zealous and on fire. I'm even more excited about working with the Institute in the future.

I am more and more convinced that the Council's vision of the laity hasn't fully taken hold of the Church. The vision of well-formed lay faithful, who take seriously their co-responsibility for the mission of the Church in the world, and understand their own individual calls from God who sends them out to the world, still seems to be a distant ideal.

One particular direction the church has taken, especially in the US, has been to recognize only the involvement of the laity within the structures of the church. Please don't get me wrong: I am not knocking the rise of lay ecclesial ministry, nor do I suggest that lay professionals are mistaken in their callings, or unnecessary. I used to be a lay ecclesial minister myself. However, I do think that this development has eclipsed the sense of the lay apostolate, which is focused outwards, to the world.

Our views are still dominated by a kind of clericalism, that sees the ordained priesthood as the only legitimate calling in the Church, and everything is viewed in relation to the ministry of the ordained.

Several years ago, a student came into my office. He had had a very powerful religious experience. He was struggling to describe it to me. The faith had suddenly taken on a new level of reality for him, a cradle Catholic, who, until then, was more or less just going through the motions. He was also quite sure that he didn't want to be priest, but he wanted to get "more involved." We talked a bit about spiritual direction, and so on. As to involvement, "Well, you're too young to discern the Diaconate. What about the various liturgical ministries we have here?"

This incident stands out starkly for me. In my mind, if I came across an on-fire Catholic, someone who was hungering for mor, the only category that framed my thinking was "priesthood" or "religious life." And since he was quite clear that wasn't what he was thinking about (he was in a relationship at the time), my mind couldn't seem to go beyond "be a lector!"

Again, please don't get me wrong. Perhaps this fellow was called to the priesthood. Perhaps he wasn't. And of course we need more priests. I am not suggesting at all that the call of the laity is somehow opposed to that of the ordained. Nor am I suggesting that there is anything wrong with being a liturgical minister, or that this is somehow beneath someone's dignity.

My point is this: I could only think in terms of a vocation involving something within the church.

While some are indeed called to serve the church this way, for the overwhelming bulk of the faithful, this is just not true! This is what the Council means by the "secular character" of the vocation of the laity. And in this area, at least in my experience and understanding so far, the laity get little or no help, training or formation.

A little while later, I stumbled upon Russell Shaw's book, "To Hunt, To Shoot, To Entertain: Clericalism and the Catholic Laity." It's a brilliantly written book, that first got me thinking about just how pervasive and insidious the clericalist mindset is, especially when it suggests that the only way for the laity to be truly Christian, or holy, is to get as close to being a cleric as they can. Shaw has developed his ideas in subsequent books (Ministry or Apostolate explores the distinction between the two areas of lay vocation, within and without the structures of the Church). And, in the Spring 2007 issue of the quarterly of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, there was a great piece by him, on the importance of all the baptized discerning their vocations. [Incidentally, it was this article that directly precipitated the formation of women's and men's discernment groups in the same campus ministry where I worked. And lest anyone think that somehow this might discourage priestly vocations, the experience of many suggests that when the discernment is a widespread phenomenon, more women and men seem to be able to discern a call to priesthood or religious life.]

"The fundamental objective of the formation of the lay faithful is an ever-clearer discovery of one's vocation and the ever-greater willingness to live it so as to fulfil one's mission." (Christifideles Laici, 58)

"The Called & Gifted" workshop is a tool designed to help ordinary Catholics discern their individual vocations. Discernment of God's call is the call of everyone. It focuses on the the discernment of charisms, graces of the Holy Spirit that are ordered towards building up the church, "to the good of men and to the needs of the world," (Catechism, #800) which are given to the faithful of all ranks (Catechism, #951, cf. Lumen Gentium, 12)

I look forward to future collaboration with the good folk at the Institute, as the Lord wills!


Fr. Andrew said...

Good post and good to hear some more substance from ID. You touch on something and describe it in a way I like: I do think that this development has eclipsed the sense of the lay apostolate, which is focused outwards, to the world.

As a parish priest, one thing I sorely need is connections: who is sick, lonely, financially struggling, etc. But so often people just assume that I know it all. This ignorance often creates tension and the volatile situations that most lead to departure from the faith. Or as Archbishop Dolan says in Priests for the Third Millenium- most people leave the Church, not because they disagree with the Eucharist or Mary, but because they were hurt by some priest, intentionally or not.

Furthermore, we don't know what an active lay apostolate looks like. We either reduce it to the professionalism- modeled off of modern business or we reduce it lay clericalism- modeled off of the Protestant example.

I might have to buy Shaw's books...

coray said...

the fo guang shan order of buddhist monks, and indeed many of the "humanistic" mahayana orders, provide precisely this vocation for lay who are not called to renounce for a permanent duration. when i visited the FGS monastery in taiwan there were everywhere "lay monastics" who wore their own habit (a little more comfortable than the ascetic monk's habit) but in general kept to the rule.

lay monastics renounce but only for a contracted period ranging from 18 months to three years depending. during the period they are considered more or less part of the sangha or church. the order takes care of their room and board and other needs. e.g. they may live in the dormitory or in a special one for lay monastics or outside of the temple. once they leave sometimes the order places them in universities the monastery operates, and sometimes they have found other work within the system.

as for their vocation, the FGS order has myriad things for them to do. the monastery operates a religious TV station and newspaper with viewer support. some of its most dedicated producers, writers and artists are not the monks but the lay renouncers. it has a publishing house. it has many temples that are effectively run by lay monastics with only one monk or nun on staff.

the lay in the west don't do this i think because of an economic concern. there is so much room in the Church for the lay if only we could justify to them the giving up of an extended period of their life. most people do not have that many years to spare without a material reward at the end. e.g. if we could find work for people who will give up 3-4 years for the Church, unpaid, or heavily reduce university fees, etc. this finding of work itself might be part of the lay ministry; some of them might operate an employment agency like AppleOne. all it would take is a critical mass of people willing to get it started.

Anonymous said...

Gashwin--I'm interested in Called and Gifted for my parish (took it myself several years ago) but flying in a team from Seattle is a bit daunting. If you are training, does that mean there may be an East Coast (even Southern) team available? Email me at my parish jmccullough(at)olgchurch(dot)org so I could get a bit more info. Thanks, Jim McCullough DRE Greensboro NC.

Gashwin said...

@Jim: (Just sent you an email, but in case anyone else is interested): if any parish is seriously thinking about the Called & Gifted workshop, please contact the Institute directly. The Institute has a large pool of trained teachers from around the country to draw on for workshops: teams aren't necessarily flown in from Seattle. (And, incidentally, the Institute is headquartered now in Colorado Springs).

@Fr. Andrew: yeah Father. One always wonders how one, or even a small number of priests can actually pastor the huge parishes we tend to have, with thousands of families (by which I don't mean the canonical status of being pastor, or even providing the Sacraments. I mean inviting all the people in the parish boundaries into a relationship with Christ, or a deeper relation with Christ). Obviously pastoral teams are necessary.

As to the apostolate: I don't know that we are entirely without models. I'd posit that we can learn a lot from evangelicals (obviously not blindly, always with discernment, and a sense of sentire cum ecclesia), who really do have a sense of all the faithful as being involved in the mission of Christ. But there are also lots of historical examples of lay apostolate -- movements started by committed lay disciples(Dorothy Day comes to mind, for instance, or Andrea Riccardi and the Sant'Egidio Community, or St. Josemaría Escriva and Opus Dei, or the Charismatic Renewal, started by students at Duquesne U. just after the Council; there is clearly something the Spirit is doing with the movements!). In the US, we have the historical example of Catholic Action, for instance -- which just vanished after the Council! It's an area of the life of the Church that we aren't familiar with, but it's certainly not completely new. The stories need to be heard more and reflected upon more, for sure.

@Coray: fascinating analogy there. And that would be an area of lay vocation worth exploring, for sure. However, the vision laid down by the Council is broader: the ordinary life in the world of the laity is both their primary setting for sanctification, and their call is to sanctify the world itself. While some might be able to do "full-time" work in apostolates you describe, that doesn't exhaust the horizon of lay "involvement" at all.

Anonymous said...

It is such a relief to hear someone discussing this besides my fellows in Opus Dei. I am quite tired of subtle and not-so-subtle pressure to sign on to "ministry" at the parish, because apparently, that's what it's all about to be an involved lay Catholic.

Meanwhile, my husband and I are up to our eyeballs at the moment, building our Domestic Church of eight children, and God willing, more to come. We spend our time trying to form our children in the faith, help them grow in virtue and root out vice, be of genuine service to others, PLUS tending to our own spiritual lives, trying to do real lay apostolate with family and friends, and keep the household running reasonably smoothly.

I haven't read those books by Shaw, but now you've whet my whistle. I'll have to add them to the summer stack.


Gashwin said...

Margaret: God bless you and thank you for answering your vocation from God!

Incidentally, Shaw is a member of the Work. And an absolute gentleman.

Shaw's "Catholic Laity in the Mission of the Church" is probably the best summary of his thoughts on the laity. It's available at the Siena bookstore.

pritcher said...

I'm still reading up on Dorothy Day (for my paper that was due back in April...thank God for the grade of "incomplete," right?), and I thought you might like this. It's from Nancy Roberts' Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker:

"...the Second Vatican Councill ... brought a new sense of hope to the Catholic Church. Among other changes, the Council was stressing a new role of lay participation. This, of course, was something that Day, Maurin, and their followers had practiced for decades."

I don't think Roberts' comment is meant to be a corrective to the way such participation has been (mis)interpreted--as the clericalization of the laity. But that's exactly what she seems to be pointing out. That "lay participation" means the laity living out the gospel according to their own vocations and charisms.