Just when I think that the Archdiocesan newspaper of record is coming around, it prints something that just makes me scratch my head. Maybe it is just a last, lingering breeze of Spirit of Vatican 2 (tm) air that makes me shudder. The editorial in the August 24, 2007 is a case in point.
The Archbishop has recently appointed a layman, Dr. David Mueckl, as assistant to the moderator of the archdiocesan curia. I am sure that Dr. Mueckl is a fine man and well-qualified for the position. We wish him every success. But the editorial and, hence, this post, aren't about him at all.
The editorial instead is a paean to the wonderful empowerment of the laity that was one of the long overdue and utterly stupendous results of the Second Vatican Council. In so opining, the Editors prop up so many of the threadbare sloganistic propositions of post-Vatican 2 liberals, propositions that have been exposed so many times before and yet continue to be thrown out as established fact. Here is the editorial, with my comments in green:
Laity come to fruition within Church
The recent announcement of the appointment of a Catholic layman, David Mueckl, by Archbishop Raymond L. Burke to assist in the work of the archdiocesan curia is a great blessing not only for the vicar general, who moderates the governance of the archdiocese, but also for the whole archdiocesan family.
Besides the considerable work of addressing the functioning and coordination of a vast network of archdiocesan agencies and offices, the newly created role of assistant to the moderator will aid in completing the strategic pastoral plan of the archdiocese.
Far beyond the immediate benefit of lay assistance in this position, however, is the symbolic significance it bears. As usual, symbolism trumps all else. It is more important that a layman fill a visible leadership role than that laymen actually receive the necessary graces to grow in holiness and attain eternal life. Much like in political liberalism, it would be more important that a TV show "celebrate" alternative lifestyles than to enact laws that reinforce and enable virtue. Once again we see recognition of the truth that the laity have a legitimate, rightful, necessary and indispensable role in the exercise of Church leadership and authority. Where does it say this? Where in the Scripture or in Tradition does it say that the laity have a "rightful, necessary and indispensable role" in the exercise of Church leadership and authority? Not merely assisting the clergy, the laity are called to work with the clergy, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in living out the witness of the Body of Christ, the Church.
This "living out the witness" is primarily accomplished by the sanctification of the laity so they may live out their vocation in the world. To be witnesses for Christ to the world. The laity are not called to live out a false clericalism, to usurp the functions, and parrot the vocation of, the clergy. This is confirmed in the Vatican 2 document Apostolicam Actuositatem, the decree on the apostolate of the laity. It encourages lay apostolates, and the use of the talents of the laity in the world. "Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ." In temporal matters, it authorizes the collaboration of the laity and clergy, yet even here the laity are to be "fully subject to higher ecclesiastical control in the performance of this work."
All too often some, both clergy and laity, have mistakenly seen the ever emerging and unfolding role of the laity as something which undermines, supplants or stands in competition with the role of the clergy. Yet the reason this has occurred is that the "empowerment" of the laity has been interpreted in such a way that the laity seek to usurp liturgical and sacramental roles from the priest, and governance roles from the ordinary. And very little is being done to change the misperception or to end the usurpation. Such is to misunderstand that role completely. Clergy and laity are two sides of the same coin, together bound into a single offering placed at the feet of our Lord.
Source of all blessings, he calls for and deserves both sides of the coin, the full homage of the people he calls to be his own.
Not to acknowledge the gifts of the laity, not to allow them to make their unique contribution to the Church would be to deny our Lord his due. He is the dispenser of those gifts; he is the one to whom they are pointed. I have never personally witnessed any member of the clergy who was dismissive of the gifts or role of the laity. I think this is a red herring.
He sows seeds of leadership and service, within both clergy and laity. He intends to bring those seeds to full harvest. This can be done only when the full Body of Christ is allowed to offer its combined gifts, unified in the Holy Spirit. "So we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another" (Romans 12:5). We are, clergy and laity, indeed one.
Didn't St. Paul also write that there are different gifts in that one Spirit?
From 1 Corinthians 12: "28 And God indeed hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors: after that miracles: then the graces of healings, helps, governments, kinds of tongues, interpretations of speeches. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all doctors? 30 Are all workers of miracles? Have all the grace of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?"
It is crucial that we not make the mistake of thinking that the reason for lay leadership and ministry is that there is a reduced number of clergy to fill these vital roles. True, these are separate realities. Yet I can't help making a connection that perhaps the editors would not intend by this sentence. Is it perhaps possible that there are fewer clergy to fill "these vital roles" of ministry because their unique sacerdotal vocation has been watered down and usurped by the laity?
Indeed, the clergy can take the place of the laity no more than the laity can replace the clergy. If priestly vocations were to experience explosive growth, there would be no less need of lay leadership and charisms. Indeed. And, also, no more need. The need, whatever it may be, is not a function of the number of clergy.
One of the great blessings of Vatican Council II has been the empowering of the laity in roles of living witness. Does anybody else have a natural gag reflex whenever someone uses the term "empowering"? I mean, come on, is the Church and our role in it really about power? Power? How about getting to Heaven? Does that count anymore? These include vital roles of ministry in the celebration of the Eucharist; the addressing of the spiritual needs of the hospitalized and homebound in pastoral care; spiritual counseling and sacramental preparation; and so many more. Here is exactly the false pseudo-clericalism of the laity that has brought so much confusion among both the clergy and the faithful, and has resulted in the banalization of the Mass and the emptying of both the Churches and the seminaries. Books could be, and have been written, on the disaster of the omnipresent laity blundering about the sanctuary. The laity, so knowledgeable in the business and management arena, bring a vast wealth of experience, expertise and insight to the administration of the Church, both locally and universally. Indeed, we see this in our own new curia assistant.
The Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest fraternal organization, have championed the cause of lay ministry and witness, faithfully serving in leadership roles for 125 years. Their witness today includes the areas of evangelization; marriage; and the fight against embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning, euthanasia and assisted suicide. In addition to parish-based councils, for nearly a century we have had college campus-based councils, giving witness in areas of pressing need such as hurricane and other natural disaster relief. Eventually they will join parish-based councils. The Knights are, of course, but one of numerous lay Church ministry organizations.
See, this is a perfect example of authentic lay apostolate. The Knights do so much good work, charitable and fraternal, witness to the Gospel, and support the priests and bishops in their proper work. They don't function as a training mechanism for pastoral associates or try to run a parish as a type of lay board of trustees. And yet, I do believe that their founding, as the editorial acknowledges, 125 years ago, was well before Vatican 2, was it not?
We celebrate the arrival of our newly appointed curia assistant and look forward to working along with him and all the Catholic faithful, both laity and clergy, in building the heavenly reign on earth. Yes, welcome, Dr. Mueckl. In that spirit of welcome, I will pass over that comment about building the heavenly reign on earth.