Evangelism is the Antidote to Clericalism
In simple terms, there are two images of the Church: the evangelizing Church that comes out of herself; …and the worldly Church that lives within herself, of herself, for herself.” Pope Francis
One of the most revolutionary documents of the second Vatican Counsel was undoubtedly Apostolicam Actuositatem or in English the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity. Pope Francis has certainly pondered this document deeply as he calls the Catholic laity to be “ever more conscious of their own responsibility1” for the mission of the Church. I began rereading the decree and found it profoundly relevant today in the wake of Pope Francis’ recent remarks on clericalism.
One could define clericalism as overemphasizing the liturgical nature of church worship and under emphasizing the evangelical nature of her mission. One’s faith becomes a matter centered on Sunday worship and liturgical correctness or reverence. Lay people and clerics often jockey for position within the liturgy and holiness is seen in terms of how one worships within the Mass. Oftentimes Catholics seem to care more about extraordinary ministers than lay missionary disciples. It is a clericalism that cares more for what happens within the liturgy than what happens in the world. And for many of the lay faithful this is all they know. For them saintliness is simply keeping the commandments, attending Mass, being kind to others. They were not trained or formed to become missionaries as lay people. In fact almost invariably Priests and Religious alone are portrayed as missionaries.
Since the Second Vatican Counsel we are seeing a rich theology of the lay person emerging from the counsel, enshrined in papal teaching, and lived out by daring and courageous laity around the world who have heard the call of Jesus to go out into all the world.
Only when the Church begins to send out the laity into the world will we see an end to clericalism. God is not calling the laity to serve more within the liturgy. He is calling them to carry the Gospel into the workplace, to the sick, the dying, the lost; to lead Bible studies, praise and worship, rosaries. We need to value evangelization as much as the liturgy. Clericalism focuses us so much on the liturgy that we believe our faith is bound up in the sacraments and the liturgy, that the only vocations that matter are priestly and religious ones. Where are the cries for the evangelical vocations, the missionaries? As the priest is to the liturgy so the lay person is to world evangelization. As St. Thomas says, “Everyone is bound to show forth his faith publicly, whether for the instruction and encouragement of other faithful or to repel the onslaughts of adversaries.2”
We lay people are being called by Jesus to work in “the apostolic activity of the People of God3” What did the apostles do? They were sent out to share the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is where our holiness as lay people is to be found. Singing in church choirs, extraordinary ministers, lectors, and other work within the Church is secondary to your Christian vocation received at Confirmation to share your faith. Only when we begin to take as seriously our evangelical call as our liturgical worship will we begin to experience the great joy that comes from the Gospel.
We need zealous laity4 who are conscious of their own responsibility, their duty to proclaim Jesus. Our holiness is fed in the Mass but found in the streets, in the work place, in our daily lives. As the priest says after every Mass, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” We must go!
1Apostolicam Actuositatem 1
2Summa theologiae, IIa-IIae, qu. iii, art. 2, ad 2m.
3Apostolicam Actuositatem 1
1Apostolicam Actuositatem 1