"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!