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This commentary from Dr Andrew Kania does not need an introduction other than the one's Dr Kania gives to it...
"I don't mean that worldly learning is worthless and to be ignored, but it should not be an exclusive preoccupation. Don't think that only monks need to learn the Bible; children about to go out into the world stand in greater need of Scriptural knowledge. A man who never travels by sea doesn't need to know how to equip a ship, or where to find a pilot or crew, but a sailor has to know all these things. The same applies to the monk and the man of this world. The monk lives an untroubled life in a calm harbor, removed from every storm, while the worldly man is always sailing the ocean, battling innumerable tempests." Saint John Chrysostom (347-407), Patriarch of Constantinople, (Homily 21)
A joke with more than a little truth in the tail...
Bill Smyth, passed away on his tractor during harvest time at the age of 92. A farmer all his life, Bill was met at the Gates of Heaven by St. Peter, who at the moment of Bill's arrival was interviewing another candidate for admission. Try as he might, Bill couldn't hear the conversation, but he saw St. Peter's eyes well-up with tears of elation. At the completion of the interview, St. Peter rose from his chair, and called out to the angels standing on Heaven's parapets: "John Peterson, a Bishop!". As St. Peter opened the pearly gates wide, he gave the Bishop a fraternal pat on the back; all of a sudden, a choir began singing, trumpets roared and a heavenly spot-light, shone down on the recently deceased Bishop Peterson. Bill then walked coyly up to St. Peter. After speaking with St. Peter for a few moments, the great Saint, laconically ticked a box on his pad, then turned around and mumbled to the angels: "Bill Smyth, a farmer". As Bill walked through the pearly gates, no trumpets roared, no chorus of angels sang; in fact the angels hardly even noticed Bill's arrival.
Dejected and despondent, Bill slowly spun around and walked back toward St. Peter. "Holy St. Peter, I know that this is Heaven, and I should be grateful that I have been admitted; but all my life, I have been treated as a second-class Catholic in comparison to the Bishops. Why are things just the same in Heaven as they are on Earth?" "My son, don't be so sad", replied St. Peter, "You are farmer 2,561 today, and Bishop Peterson was the first Bishop to be admitted to Heaven in two hundred years — that's why we had the jubilant fanfare for him!"
In Lay Terms (cf. Matthew 21: 28-32)
Well-worn Catholic humour as this is, the jest does point toward a reality within the Church that seems to be hardly ever seriously discussed; that the number of 'faceless' and 'nameless' laity who are 'Saints' in heaven would far exceed the number of canonized clerics, who have annual and very public Feast Days celebrated for them. This would have to be the case, otherwise those Saintly clerics on the glossy Church calendars we purchase at the back of the Church, would have only succeeded at achieving holiness for themselves, and not holiness for the vast majority of Catholics, who comprise the laity; the nappy-changing, shopping trolley multitude.
Lay-Catholics, quite evidently, have had an under-estimated value to the Church. It was probably for this reason that, John Paul II in his address, Christifideles Laici (1988) spoke to the one billion Catholic laity in the world to take up their full vocation within the Church. As the Pontiff explained:
A member of the lay faithful "can never remain in isolation from the community, but must live in a continual interaction with others, with a lively sense of fellowship, rejoicing in an equal dignity and common commitment to bring to fruition the immense treasure that each has inherited. The Spirit of the Lord gives a vast variety of charisms, inviting people to assume different ministries and forms of service and reminding them, as he reminds all people in their relationship in the Church, that what distinguishes persons is not an increase in dignity, but a special and complementary capacity for service... Thus, the charisms, the ministries, the different forms of service exercised by the lay faithful exist in communion and on behalf of communion. They are treasures that complement one another for the good of all and are under the wise guidance of their Pastors". (par. 20)
One of the architects of the Second Vatican Council, Yves Cardinal Congar (1904-1995), an advocate for the empowerment of the laity, reminded his readers when discussing the activity of lay-Catholics in the Church of the ancient Byzantine tradition of lay theologians. According to Congar, many times when the Bishops lapsed in matters of orthodox doctrine, or in their administrative duties it was the laity who stayed the Catholic line. Congar's reminder was also affirmed by the Orthodox scholar Vladimir Lossky (1903-1958) who wrote in his work The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church:
"Since the Church is catholic in all her parts, each one of her members — not only the clergy but also each layman — is called to confess and defend the truth of tradition; opposing even the bishops should they fall into heresy". (Lossky, 1998, p. 16)
The sanctity of the Catholic laity is an unknown quantity within the Church — so much so that perhaps even the greatest Saints of the Church have probably lived outside of the cloister, and simply prayed around their family hearth. Perhaps these individuals go unrecognised, for the very secular reason that devoid of the financial support of a Religious Order to financially promote their Cause, the layman and laywoman become the 'Great Unknown'. Further still, the laity may be considered that part of the Church, whose life is so immersed within the world, that their Causes for canonization are not deemed worthy enough, for not appearing 'religious' enough.
There may also be other reasons that the laity go unrecognised in the history of the Church. In the West a strong centrifugal force, based on a pyramid of authority, has left a situation of intimidation, where a good lay-Catholic is he or she that let's their Bishop think about religion and does not get involved with any matter too seriously theological for fear that they may make enemies in 'high places'. In 1964, Yves Congar would write in Power and Poverty in the Church, of what had occurred in the West at the end of the sixteenth century, as he expressed it "the invasion of legalism", and the influence of "legalism" within ecclesiology. (Flynn, 2005, p. 150n) Such a situation of service and subordination by the laity contributed to a culture of 'power', engendered by the clergy, in which no cleric could be perceived to do wrong, and the laity even though they might have suspected that something was awry, refused to speak. Such was the humus from which the corruption of sexual abuse was able to grow. In this appalling situation the laity were damned if they did, and irreparably harmed if they didn't — in both cases they were disenfranchised.
For such reasons the Byzantine tradition of the East, as Congar and Lossky write, may provide an adequate template for the Church of the West, inasmuch as the devolution of authority in the Christian East, and the empowerment of the laity, to write and speak about matters theological, complements the activities and role of the Bishops and priests who comprise and ecclesiastically lead their Churches. Thus, Metropolitan Andrii Sheptytsky's (1865-1944) leadership in educating the Ukrainian Catholic laity, inevitably led to a situation when the Bishops and the Priests were liquidated by the Soviet regime, that the Ukrainian Catholic faithful, could still thrive for fifty years as a catacomb community, against some of the most oppressive odds that any Church in the history of Christianity has ever had to oppose. Nicholas Cabasilas is probably one of the greatest examples of lay involvement in the formation of Church doctrine.
The vows of poverty, chastity and obedience made everyday by lay people...
Some may say, that the laity, not having taken a 'religious' vow of poverty chastity and obedience, have in some way forfeited their chance at holiness and saintliness, and their right to be recognized as such. However do not the married laity, as one example, also take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience? The married couple are poor, inasmuch as, the bringing up of children is a financial dying to oneself; with each child born, the parents forego more and more of their own material desires. The married laity also are required to promise chastity — a chastity that means, as in the religious life, a vow to direct one's sexual energies to the sole object to which one has made the promise. A married couple must also show obedience to one another; for the family would disintegrate if there was no acceptance of mutually accepted authority.
The laity having far more interest in the world, have far more to live for in this world — for they have far more to lose. It is this imperative attachment to the world that sees them lead a life more demanding of Christian detachment — far more so than the monastic; for they must learn how to use the things of this world — but in so doing — remember not to become of this world. Without striving for this life in the world, but not of it — there would be neither children to be born and develop — nor personal salvation. It is a wonderful but precarious road to holiness.
Such a view of 'saintliness' runs contrary to the teaching of married life by many of the Eastern Fathers, themselves celibate men, who understood and affirmed the beauty of the married state and of the laity. St. John Chrysostom writes in Homily 19, that there is nothing spiritually defiling about having intercourse with one's spouse; Chrysostom, even warns people of the dangers of abstaining from intercourse in married life — for example, such abstinence may lead to marital infidelity, which would make the spouse who requested sexual abstinence for 'religious reasons', complicit in the act of sinning, for the sexual act is part of the married life. (Chrysostom, 1991, p. pp25-42)
The challenges faced by lay people compared to the challenges faced by clergy and religious...
In words that may surprise some clerics and many of the laity, the Eastern Father, St. Gregory of Nyssa in his tract, On Virginity, points out that the life of celibacy is in fact a route to God that is much easier and less dangerous than that taken by the married laity. St. Gregory justifies his comment by explaining that there are so many potential sorrows and responsibilities in the married state that the celibate does not have to contend with, nor can the celibate even begin to fathom. (cf. Daley, 2006, p. 211) The celibate may experience their 'Dark Night of the Soul', but can they ever fathom how 'Dark the Night' becomes when a father or mother holds their dying child in their arms? In good conscience the married laity cannot ignore the cry of their infant or infants, four or five times a night, like a priest or a religious may do to avoid a telephone call, or a knock at the door, because they are too 'busy' at prayer, or are just 'too busy', or 'too tired' — something a full-time working mother and father cannot do with their child. The married laity must fight in an unforgiving world for their financial survival, rather than securely be provided for by a diocese or an Order, every day they, the married laity, live on the precariously balanced knife-edge between employment and unemployment. Additionally, the celibate man or woman, need only rest in the knowledge, that God is the most faithful of all lovers, and as such, will never desert them; the married man or woman, gives themself totally to a mortal, and fallible human being, who can become angry, irritated, tired, frustrated, depressed, despondent or sick — all these emotions are there for the married person to contend with, to be overcome in order to keep their family unified — and all this for the Glory of God — for the raising of new life.
It is also quite obvious that the married laity take a vow of obedience — for in all things they must negotiate with their spouse, and not override their spouse's integrity — and this applies also to a lifetime, as with the 'religious'. Thus John Marienwerder in postulating the cause for Dorothy of Mantau's beatification, wrote of his friend:
"Not only virgins and those who live chastely enter the kingdom of heaven but also married people who with true faith and good works earn God's grace". (McGinn, 2005, p. 354)
As Congar would write in Priest and Layman (1967):
"The layman is the man who works for the kingdom of God, but not at the expense of his earthly engagement. He has to serve God, not by setting himself above or apart from marriage and the professions, but through marriage and the professions, and in work. He does not take the short cut taken by the priest or the religious, who are dedicated solely to the kingdom of God. He follows a road which is longer and more difficult, but it is his own, his vocation". (p. 290)
Theology of the Laity...
A.N. Williams in summing-up Yves Congar's theology of the laity made the following remarks:
"if earlier it seemed that the teaching authority of the church and its clergy was such that laypeople could only assent and never question, now Congar was willing to say that one could disagree, indeed one had a duty to do so, in the name of recognized truth. His position does not license an individualistic, let alone petulant, stance, in terms of which any theology is deemed acceptable because someone finds it congenial (or indeed, unacceptable because one does not care for its implications), but it does allow for the at least theoretical possibility of dialogue — of a conversation which is not simply a series of magisterial pronouncements punctuated by the predictable antiphon of a lay "Amen." (Flynn, 2005, pp. 156 — 157)
Every member of the Catholic Church has the right to be critical as to how their particular Church is led, and as such has a responsibility to speak their mind. This is the point that Congar and Lossky both express, that an educated, informed and active laity, will demand more of those who from day to day lead the Church; otherwise, as with any form of human institution, we will get the form of government, in this case, the Church, that we are willing to silently accept. It is in fact the same conclusion that John Henry Newman came to regarding the Spiritual evolution of the People of God: "a child lives principally by his imagination, an adult by logic and reasoning, and a mature man is guided by experience". (Congar, 1969, p. 147) It is this experiential knowledge of God which has to be at the core of a mature Catholic laity.
Time for a "renaissance of the laity"...
Today, perhaps more than ever in the history of the Church, it is vital that we have a renaissance of the laity, an awakening that Pope John Paul II attempted to stimulate in Christifideles Laici. Congar in Priest and Layman (1967), at no stage denigrates the sacramental role of the ordained priest, but he does have a specific vision for the laity in the Church's future:
"We are drawing ever nearer to a situation in which Christianity will have to exist and be active by means of personal convictions, far more than by the support of institutions and laws; a Christianity no longer ritual and hieratic, but prophetic and lay … I would therefore urge every one of you to look out for any influences within his reach which are alive, creative and uplifting, and to get into touch with them. It may be a priest, a religious house, a place of prayer, a group, a critical or fervent layman, a Christian home, an intellectual, perhaps even some cultural centre or institute. I would almost say; no matter whom or what, provided it forces you to aim higher". (Congar, 1967, pp. 99 & 101)
Time again for lay Cardinals...
The laity needs to occupy its rightful and honourable place within the Church, thus ensuring that their talents mixed with those of the clergy serve the Church with dynamism as we move into the new Millennium. Perhaps it is also time that a replacement for Teodolfo Mertel, the last lay Cardinal created by Pope Pius IX in 1858, be found; perhaps even more than one lay-Cardinal to be created — men who can bring to the conclave, an awareness of how the laity live and die on all corners of the globe; how the laity struggle to find holiness, not hidden from the world — but in the world; how such people as the young mother cleaning an infant's soiled nappy, can pray with the same fervour of any celibate Saint, and by so doing bring into Christ's Church, perhaps a man or a woman who can be an ardent labourer in the vineyard of the Lord. For without the laity, there are no clergy — and without both there can be no Church.
Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania
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©2010Dr Andrew Thomas Kania