Different groups have been coming together in the past month to mark my tenth anniversary as Archbishop of Chicago. Each gathering has had a different spirit and each has brought its own joys. When we think of gathering the Catholics of Cook and Lake counties, what comes to mind are the priests, the religious men and women, the parishes, friends and benefactors. Another group, one that might not be so immediately before the mind of many Catholics, will be gathering on June 14: Lay Ecclesial Movements and New Communities.
The names of some of these groups may be familiar: the Legion of Mary, the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima, the Cursillo movement, the Charismatic movement. Others have names that are probably less recognizable: Schoenstatt, Communion and Liberation, Focolare, Couples for Christ. Whether familiar or not, these Movements and Communities, some begun in this country and some in Europe, are present throughout the entire Church. Pope Benedict XVI recently referred to them as "a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church."
Many of the groups have their origins in the Second Vatican Council, although some precede the Council by a decade or two. All of them exist to help members become more actively involved in the practice of their faith in the Church. All of them witness to Christ in different ways in the world. They continue in a long historical line of special groups in the Church: Monastic Orders and Religious Communities, Sodalities, Third Orders, burial societies, Holy Name societies, and hundreds more over many centuries of the Church's existence.
These recent foundations are called Lay Movements because their members are largely, and sometimes exclusively, laity. They have canonical recognition through the Pontifical Council for the Laity. Although some members of some Lay Movements, such as Regnum Christi and Focolare, make private vows similar to the vows taken by men and women religious, most members of all the groups are women and men who go about their daily lives the same way as any other Catholic.
Then why become a member? Why join a Lay Ecclesial Movement? Because, while God calls everyone to holiness, there are paths to sanctity that fit some people and other paths that fit other people. Members of Lay Ecclesial Movements live their baptismal call to discipleship through a specific spiritual lens called a "charism" and have distinctive practices of life and ways of prayer proper to each Movement or Community. A member of the Charismatic Renewal, for example, might belong to a regular prayer group that makes the gift of the Holy Spirit's action immediately evident or might be part of a prayer service team that intercedes powerfully for the needs of others. A member of Regnum Christi might be a mother of a large family who also evangelizes by teaching baptismal preparation classes at her parish. The members of the Neo-Catechumenal Way embark on a long process of personal conversion in order to bring the graces that are ours through baptism to inactive Catholics and to the still unbaptized.
The Vigil of Pentecost each year is the occasion for the members of these more recently founded Movements and Communities to gather with the Pope in St. Peter's Square. Hundreds of thousands come from all over the world to pray with the successor of Peter. In the Archdiocese of Chicago, we are blessed to have a dozen of the Lay Movements and New Communities. Their names and relevant contact information can be found on the Archdiocesan website.
Since the Jubilee Year 2000, I have been gathering annually with the Lay Movements here, and I am looking forward to our gathering to celebrate my tenth anniversary. I always come from these meetings with a profound sense of gratitude for the spiritual riches available in the Church.
Pope Benedict, like Pope John Paul II before him, has remarked that a bishop can rely on the Lay Movements not only when he needs an organized group to help with the Church's mission but also when the bishop has personal needs, whether spiritual or corporal. I found this to be true last summer when I was operated on for bladder cancer. When members of all the Lay Ecclesial Movements were asked by the staff at our pastoral Center to help with a prayer vigil on the day of my surgery, they traveled to Holy Name Cathedral, some in the middle of the night, to pray for me and for the needs of the Archdiocese.
If you are looking to experience your faith more fully or want to become part of a small faith-formation community, look into the different Lay Ecclesial Movements in the Archdiocese. The Lord has a way to holiness for everyone. The Lay Movements are a special spiritual home for many. I thank God for them and their members in the Archdiocese of Chicago.