The Vicar of Christ Speaks

INTRODUCTION: In this "Lay Person's Guide to the Pope's Encyclicals" we catch a synopsis of the Holy Father's wisdom adroitly capsulized by Dr. Joseph Bagiackas, Ph.D. In his Papal Exhortation "Christifideles Laici", the Holy Father exhorts the laity to faithfulness. It is appropriate we follow-up November's pertinent document from the Holy See on Instructions to the Laity and Priests on abuses, by reinforcing the Pope's teachings with this Apostolic Exhortation imparted ten years ago. Now ten years later, after the "ten year period of grace" Our Blessed Mother spoke of to Father Don Stefano Gobbi back in 1988, we revisit this important letter from the supreme pontiff and, through the expert analysis of Dr. Bagiackas his holiness' words will be clearer and more simple to understand and most meaningful in these times when there are so many who, rather than pulling together for God's Will, are pulling apart within the laity. The eminent prelate from New York John Cardinal O'Connor has said of Dr. Bagiackas' work: "These summations will draw the reader closer to knowing God and will encourage broader readership of the writings of this remarkable Pope." BELOW: the third installment of Christifideles Laici: Twenty Questions We Laity Ask about the Lay Apostolate - Third Five Questions

A Lay Person's Guide to Pope John Paul II's Teaching on the Laity

by Dr. Joseph Bagiackas

To read the entire Apostolic Letter click on Christifideles Laici

third installment:

Twenty Questions We Laity Ask about the Lay Apostlate - Third set of Five Questions

      The order in which these questions are asked follows the orders of the topics discussed in Christifideles Laici.

Question 11.What is the place of the parish? So many people find renewal outside the parish these days.

ANSWER The parish still is the primary place in the Church where we come together and live out our lives as Catholics. Though movements which are not centered around parishes are a great blessing for the Church, the parish remains the spiritual home of most laity.

Question 12: What about the different movements and groups that have sprung up since the Council? Don't they take energy away from parish renewal?

ANSWER. Freely formed associations of the laity have the Church's blessing and encouragement. They may take some away from parish renewal, but overall, they are a powerful force for Church renewal.

Question 13.Are people free to start such groups? Don't we Catholics have to submit everything we do to the priests and bishops?

ANSWER. Canon Law 215 gives laity the freedom to freely form groups for religious purposes. We laity have a great deal of freedom of action, even in religious and spiritual matters, as long as we are faithful to Catholic doctrine and maintain cooperation with our Pastors. Bishops and priests are our leaders, but we do not obey them in the manner a monk or sister must obey a superior because of a vow of obedience. Nor are we children who must blindly do what we are told. We laity do have the duty to submit to our pastors, so as to maintain communion with the Church, but this is done as mature adults in dialogue with one another.

The Pope gives five criteria of discernment that bishops should use when evaluating freely formed lay associations.

[If I may add a personal note here, in thirty years of working in Catholic renewal groups, I have encountered no greater hindrance to renewal than laity being too fearful of "disobeying the bishop" or the local parish priest, and so not following through on some effort at renewal.

I remember at a national charismatic conference, a priest stood up and said to the bishops present, "We all pledge to stop our prayer meetings right now if you tell us." (The priest was a member of a religious order which emphasizes obedience.) This perhaps would have been appropriate if the conference had been made up of monks, but it was not the right thing to say at that conference, which was made up of tens of thousands of laity who had freely formed prayer groups. If charismatics had waited for approval from authorities, there would have been no renewal. And the same is true of every other effort by laity at Church renewal.

Another telling tale. I have a close friend who was strongly devoted Eucharistic adoration. He asked the local bishop's permission to set up a perpetual adoration group in his parish. The bishop tried to discourage him, telling him that such a thing was not in the spirit of Vatican II. The man persisted, and the bishop reluctantly gave permission. Within five years, the perpetual adoration group had become very large, and those who participated sparked a general renewal of the entire parish.

Of course, I know stories on the other side, where laity sought no guidance from Church authorities and went off track badly. Also, I know of many instances of mature cooperation between laity and clergy that bore much good fruit. There must be a happy medium, where laity feel free to act as the Spirit leads them, while at the same time maintaining communion with the Church by cooperating with Church authorities. Pastors also must feel free to give direction in a spirit of community with lay leaders.]

Lay renewal must have freedom of action, the kind of freedom that Church law gives. If there is a problem, let the lay persons involved work with Church authorities, based on the Pope's five criteria for discernment, listed above. A group which meets these criteria will always be encouraged by authorities. One which does not should change its direction.

Question 14.Does the Church call on us to preach like the fundamentalists? Can't we just be good examples and leave talk about God to clergy and Religious, as in the past?

ANSWER. There must indeed be more verbal witness in the lives of the laity than in the past. First, we must re-evangelize ourselves and our fellow Catholics. Then, we will be in a better position to witness to the rest of the world by word and by example.

Question 15. What are some specific areas that we can try to influence in the world today?

ANSWER.The specific fields of lay involvement are wherever human dignity and human life are threatened, the family, charitable work, politics, economics, culture, and the media.

Next week: Questions 16 through 20 in the Fourth Set of Questions.


January 1998