Once I was interviewing an outstanding priest, Fr. Peter Grover, of St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine in Boston. Fr. Grover has built two dynamic parishes, the first was in New Jersey in a suburban setting before he came to St. Clement and reenergized this once failing parish. I was interviewing him about how he did it, in the course of which I asked a typical question: How could the American church thrive in the future with so few religious vocations?
Father Grover replied that the Lord was using the “crisis of vocations” as a means of insuring that the laity would assume their proper role—in cooperation with the clergy—of evangelizing the world. After all, God calls everyone, the laity as well as the clergy, to the task of evangelization.
“The Holy Spirit is still working through the Church, Harold,” he told me. “God knows what He’s doing.”
Father Grover’s parish was certainly a case in point of how the laity can evangelize in the parish setting and well beyond it. That’s how Fr. Peter had produced such outstanding results. Following Jesus’ example, Fr. Peter had cultivated and mentored a group of men and women, teaching them how to teach others.
St. Clement now has Bible studies and discussion groups for every age group and lay apostolates that have a tremendous impact on the surrounding community. St. Clement’s laity are following the great commission, going into the world and preaching the Gospel.
As Russell Shaw writes in To Hunt, to Shoot, to Entertain: Clericalism and the Catholic Laity, lay evangelization has often been confused with the laity becoming “little priests” through being given roles in the liturgy; for example, as lay readers and Eucharistic ministers. These roles are valuable but have little to do with lay evangelization.
The clergy are responsible for leading the community in worship. It’s often the clergy’s distraction from this central mission—and the lives of study and prayer it demands—that causes many parishes to lose their spiritual vitality.
Like most lay Catholics, I’ve participated in too many Masses that have been celebrated in an off-hand way, and listened to a thousand homilies that were little more than rambling in search of a theological point. One of Flannery O’Connor’s correspondents remarked that he knew there must be something supernatural about Catholicism because the churches were always full despite the dreadful preaching.
I am not advocating, as some liberal Catholic groups do, that the laity should have more political power within the Church. Let the clergy run the Church, knowing that if they fail in their responsibilities the laity have the right and God-given duty to call them to account.
Lay evangelization consists in the people of God joining Christ in his mission of establishing the Kingdom of God within today’s world. It means leading our neighbors, through our words and our deeds, to understand the saving power of God. It also means bringing the fruits of the Gospel into our economic, cultural, civic, and political life.
As Vatican II’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, John Paul II’s Christifideles Laici and other Church documents have pointed out, the laity can do this best because they populate these fields and possess the necessary expertise.
Unfortunately, the Catholic laity often lack a truly Christian understanding of how the Gospel applies to our fields of expertise. John F. Kennedy may have become the first “Catholic President,” but he set the cause of true Christianity back a half century when he promised that his Catholic faith would have nothing to do with how he governed. A whole generation of Catholic politicians followed him who made abortion-on-demand possible.
As Catholics our faith should be absolutely central to all that we do. The greatest need of the American church today is for outstanding Catholic lay men and women who understand this.
As we go forward Catholic Exchange will make informing, engaging, and mobilizing the Catholic laity its particular focus. While we will continue to publish articles of general interest to Catholics and other Christians, we will specialize in providing ways for the laity to take action. By God’s grace we hope to become the website-based media company for Catholic evangelization—not only for those who speak English but for every major language-group.
Please write Harold at Harold@catholicexchange.com as to how Catholic Exchange can best mobilize Catholic lay leadership. What would you like to see?
We are only weeks away now from the launch of a newly-designed Catholic Exchange. As the launch nears, we will be giving our community information on how Catholic Exchange will be changing. These changes will facilitate our mission and make it possible for every willing member of the Catholic Exchange community to play an active role. There are exciting developments ahead!