OK, I hope this is not going to shock you, people… I am a massive defender of lay identity, spirituality, apostolate because that is who I am – a lay person! I love the lay vocation. When I read what the Church teaches about laity (I’ve found Lumen Gentium and Christifidelis Laici particularly inspiring) I have wanted to take this into my heart and let it form who I am. (Please read these if you haven’t had a chance to – they are wonderful.)
I sometimes think though that we have forgotten this wonderful teaching. We forget that the lay vocation is one in its own right, not simple a negation of ‘not being a priest or religious’. It has its own distinct “secular character” (see CL). It has its own dignity and beauty. We are the ones who do what priests and religious cannot – carry Christ into the world, be co-redeemers with him in the temporal realm. We are the “authentic, secular dimension” to the Church “inherent in her nature and mission” (Pope Paul VI). When we are having a drink with friends and we respond to their questions about being a Catholic, or when we end up having a conversation with a taxi driver, or when (as a friend and I did recently) we ask at a restaurant what fish is on the menu as it’s Friday – then we are living in small ways our lay vocation in the secular realm. Clearly, when we exercise our vote in political debate, or contribute the Christian viewpoint, or fight against anti-Christian decisions in our workplace, our action in the secular world is more visible. But it doesn’t detract from the dignity of Christianising our workplaces, homes, friendships, with our more hidden witness.
Why do I say all this? Isn’t it obvious? Well, no… it doesn’t seem so. To me it seems that ‘to be a faithful Catholic’ is often equated with being on the reader’s rota or taking Holy Communion to the sick. Both are praiseworthy things – don’t get me wrong. But if, tomorrow, there were suddenly enough priests to take Holy Communion to all the sick – would we still go and visit them anyway? My point is that we have a tendency to beg our priests to ‘clericalise’ us. Somehow it seems easier to do the reading at Mass than speak with our next-door neighbour about God. If the focus of our Christian life becomes the reading we do at Mass, or the next Sunday we’re down to be a minister of Holy Communion, we are missing out on the beauty of our lay vocation!
Christifidelis Laici spells it out like this:
“the temptation of being so strongly interested in Church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world”
To be fair – I think priests sometimes love to ‘clericalise’ their laity just as much as lay people love to be clericalised. I think for decades now we’ve failed to form people for their specifically lay vocation which has left people thinking that to be holy, they must spend a lot of time around the sacristy, or hours a day praying.
Let’s pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood so that we can let lay people be lay people and priests be priests.