“What about you? What are you going to do?”
This was the challenge that Pope Leo XIII put to Katherine Drexel, who would go on to become a saint. They changed her life because these words reminded her that all Christians, by virtue of their baptism, have received a mission. The role of the laity was Pope Francis' theme at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia today. The visit to the City of Brotherly Love marks the final leg of the Pope's visit to America.
During his homily, the Pope said this:
It is significant that those words of the elderly Pope [Leo XIII] were also addressed to a lay woman. We know that the future of the Church in a rapidly changing society will call, and even now calls, for a much more active engagement on the part of the laity. The Church in the United States has always devoted immense effort to the work of catechesis and education. Our challenge today is to build on those solid foundations and to foster a sense of collaboration and shared responsibility in planning for the future of our parishes and institutions. This does not mean relinquishing the spiritual authority with which we have been entrusted; rather, it means discerning and employing wisely the manifold gifts which the Spirit pours out upon the Church. In a particular way, it means valuing the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, to the life of our communities.(SCB News Editorial) It is not unusual for a Pope to speak of a greater role for the laity. However, it is more often observed in rhetoric, rather than practice. The experience of the laity has been a hailstorm from above of unwelcome changes since Vatican II that has not ceased to this day. The Pope was careful to retain the "spiritual authority" of the clergy.
What does this "greater role" mean? It means whatever we are able to make of it. It may mean being the one sound teacher in the RCIA program. It may mean getting on your parish council and speaking up. The Bear wagers others will be encouraged. It may mean respectfully making our views known on unsettled questions. (Or settled questions that have mysteriously become unsettled.)
Above all, the role of the laity includes -- for the sake of our souls and others' -- obedience and humility. A good model for the role of the laity is the Benedictine orare et labore: pray and work. (In fact, the Rule of St. Benedict is valuable for those of us in the world, too.)
Begin our work with prayer, work within the Church in peace, and pray some more. Don't pray "that those wicked Germans will cease tormenting the bride of Christ," but perhaps more humble, more peaceful, less angry prayers for our family, our neighbors and the welfare of the Holy Father. And the Church, in the proper disposition. Not as one having all the answers, but trusting in God, even if his ways are mysterious. He knows what's going on, and every person will be held accountable without our help.
In other words, "Shine your little Catholic heart out!" (Thanks for reminding the Bear of his other catch phrase, Jane.)
On behalf of SCB News -- the Bear.