Here a LEM, There a LEM
In any case, the reality is that a bishop can designate any layperson that serves the Church in some capacity as a LEM. The pattern seems to be that most bishops designate laypersons who serve in roles such as Directors of Religious Education (DREs), Catholic educators, and Lay Pastoral Associates as LEMs. I find it very interesting that the prevailing role for LEMs throughout the USA seems to be associated with teaching the faith to others.
First, I am glad that the bishops see the need for proper formation of laypersons who serve in these teaching roles within the Church. Certainly these individuals need to be well-trained, otherwise serious scandal and confusion about what the Catholic faith really teaches can result.
For example, a young lady who attended a “Catholic” school in my archdiocese revealed to me that at this school young people are taught that it is okay for them to act on their same-sex attractions.
My own experience has been similar in that I was attending a public lecture at a local college where a Lay Pastoral Associate of a local Catholic parish commended a Protestant pastor on his attempts to find a biblical basis for supporting same-sex unions and treating them as equivalents to traditional marriage. She said that the Catholic Church should be leading the way in this area and apologized to the group for the Church’s authentic teaching on homosexuality. Obviously, these examples demonstrate a serious need for better formation and education for individuals who serve in lay leadership roles in the Church and I am glad the bishops are seeking to improve this.
But, I wonder if this is where the bishops should really be concentrating their time and energy in fixing what I think is a symptom of a much larger problem. The problem is not that we need better LEMs; it is that we need better-formed and better-prepared MOMs.
Ministers of Matrimony (MOMs)
I was teaching my ninth-grade CCD class about the Sacrament of Matrimony. They were very surprised when I revealed to them that the ministers of the Sacrament of Matrimony are the husband and the wife and not the bishop, priest or deacon. Notice what paragraph 1623 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “According to the Latin tradition, the spouses as ministers of Christ’s grace mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church.”
Yes, we need faithful Ministers of Matrimony (MOMs) to really assist us in solving the Church’s problems in teaching the Catholic faith to our children and the world in general, and we need the help of our spiritual fathers the bishops in the formation of MOMs.
The Catechism says: “Marriage introduces one into an ecclesial order, and creates rights and duties in the Church between the spouses and towards their children” (CCC 1631).
Becoming a MOM bestows the duty of teaching the faith particularly to any children that the Lord gives to the marriage. It makes the family, led by the Ministers of Matrimony (MOMs), the domestic Church. Notice what the Catechism says about this:
In our own time, in a world often alien and even hostile to faith, believing families are of primary importance as centers of living, radiant faith. For this reason the Second Vatican Council, using an ancient expression, calls the family the Ecclesia domestica. It is in the bosom of the family that parents are, “by word and example…the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children. They should encourage them in the vocation which is proper to each child, fostering with special care any religious vocation.” (CCC 1656).
Notice how the leaders of the domestic Church, the parents (or MOMs) are responsible for teaching the faith by word and example to their children. They are also supposed to assist their children in the vocation to which God calls them, and they are to be particularly careful in assisting their children who have been called by God to the priesthood and religious life. These are very serious and demanding duties that MOMs are given by God. For these duties to be carried out properly, it would seem that it would require a sound religious and spiritual formation led by our spiritual fathers, the bishops of the Catholic Church, along with their collaborators among the priesthood and diaconate.
Not only do MOMs teach the children the faith but MOMs, through their work in the domestic Church, are to evangelize society and exercise their universal priesthood:
It is here that the father of the family, the mother, children and all members of the family exercise the priesthood of the baptized in a privileged way “by the reception of the sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving, the witness of a holy life, and self-denial and active charity. Thus the home is the first school of Christian life and “a school for human enrichment” (CCC 1656, 1657).
However, one has to wonder how many Catholic spouses realize that the Catholic Church teaches that they are ministers of the Sacrament of Matrimony and that because of this ministry they are members of a real ecclesial order in the Church? My guess is that the vast majority of Catholics do not realize the great privileges and responsibilities associated with becoming a MOM. Tragically, many have entered an ecclesial order unprepared to fulfill the duties of teaching the faith to their children and society as a whole and therefore are not prepared to receive the graces associated with being a MOM.
We Need Faithful MOMs
In many ways, it is disheartening to watch our bishops on television discuss improving the formation of a group of individuals that are not even a recognized order in the Church, while the most fundamental ecclesial order, marriage and family life, is in such dire need of assistance. I have no doubt that the individuals who are proposing improving the formation of LEMs mean well, but in reality they are just adding to the ecclesiastical and doctrinal confusion so prevalent in the Church today.
I would rather see our nation’s bishops discussing what can be done to improve marriage preparation and continuing spiritual formation among Ministers of Matrimony (MOMs), a real ecclesial order in the Church, rather than discussing what needs to be done to improve the formation of some group within the Church that seems to be, but is not (we are assured), a semi-clerical or semi-lay state.
Just imagine if every Catholic spouse was truly prepared to be a faithful MOM and had access to the continuing formation and education needed to be the chief catechists of their children. How strong the domestic Church and the Catholic Church would become! Imagine also how strong our nation and society would become as these domestic Churches evangelized their communities with the truths of the Catholic Church as well.
Our bishops would do us a greater service if they would discuss and implement plans to prepare individuals for the Sacrament of Marriage more completely and if they would provide continuing spiritual formation to MOMs in their work as chief catechists of the Catholic faith to their children. This would be much more helpful than spending hours of time, energy, and discussion on a very confusing forty-seven page document about some semi-lay, semi-clerical, non-ecclesial order within the Church. If the bishops of our nation would ever decide to assist us in preparing individuals more thoroughly for marriage and family life, perhaps then, with so many faithful and well-formed MOMs, there would be no need for LEMs whatever they are.
© Copyright 2005 Catholic Exchange
Jeffery M. Schwehm is a former member of the Jehovah's Witnesses' Headquarters Staff in Brooklyn, New York, and a former Lutheran. He is an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at Lakeland College in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Kohler, Wisconsin. He is also the President of The Fellowship of Catholic Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses (www.catholicxjw.com), a Catholic apostolate to assist Jehovah’s Witnesses into the Catholic Church.