‘What about you?’: on Pope Francis and the laity in the US

By Filipe Domingues

Pope Francis has safely made his way back to Rome after a historic visit to Cuba and the United States. Many deep and strong messages were given by the Argentine pontiff during this trip – the longest of his pontificate – but one is directly connected to the way The Lay Centre envisions its presence in the world.

In his homily at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, in Philadelphia, the Holy Father said that the Church must “foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility” for its mission. That means calling laity to a stronger engagement, in a “sense of collaboration and shared responsibility”.

To exemplify that point, Pope Francis told a story about Saint Katharine Drexel and Pope Leo XIII:

“When she spoke to Pope Leo XIII of the needs of the missions, the Pope – he was a very wise Pope! – asked her pointedly: ‘What about you? What are you going to do?’. Those words changed Katharine’s life, because they reminded her that, in the end, every Christian man and woman, by virtue of baptism, has received a mission. Each one of us has to respond, as best we can, to the Lord’s call to build up his Body, the Church.”

As Pope Francis has reminded us on other occasions, “There is a place for everyone in the Church”. Indeed, “What about you?” means inviting and giving every single person in the Church the instruments to transmit the joy of the Gospel and to build up the Church.  But, to do so, sometimes we need to adapt and change the structures that already exist in a new and creative way.

“One of the great challenges facing the Church in this generation is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church’s mission, and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world. This will require creativity in adapting to changed situations, carrying forward the legacy of the past not primarily by maintaining our structures and institutions, which have served us well, but above all by being open to the possibilities which the Spirit opens up to us and communicating the joy of the Gospel, daily and in every season of our life. (…)

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.”

This is not the first time Pope Francis emphasizes that spirit of co-responsibility – and Pope Benedict XVI used that expression too – calling for special attention to the work that women, lay and religious have done all over the world. But saying so in the United States, where laity has historically played a huge role in Evangelization, seems to be Francis’s way of pointing out a good example for the whole Church of how we should “carry forward the legacy of the past”.

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2 Responses to ‘What about you?’: on Pope Francis and the laity in the US

  1. Dear Lay Center Members:

    Some thoughts on the formation of a new catholic covenant communion at the local level.

    The Vatican Church has been emphasizing the shared responsibility of laity for Jesus’ mission. The Spirit has been teaching the laity for years that they have equal accountability for incorporating Jesus’ word, work and person into their daily activity. Laity are beginning to understand that the instantiation of Jesus’ presence is more than personal spirituality. They have the responsibility and accountability to impact culture with divine the divine wisdom demonstrated in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Jesus shows us who God us for us so that we can learn who we are and who we are for each other. We are baptized as agents and artisans of a new humanity in our daily life. Jesus challenge to us is simple and dramatic: Act with divine character strengths in each situation for the enrichment of all people. By this simple action you will incarnate the divine. No more. No less. You will inform, form, and transform all whom you meet in the creative, sustaining, and fulfilling presence of the divine. The People of God are learning that through their attitudes, affects, and actions for goodness, beauty, justice, and truth the catholic covenant community is incarnated. Without them and their positivity there is no church… as pastoral people or as institution. Bishops (clerics) serve the people and their mission to be whole and holy for humanity around the globe.

    In order to create a new catholic institution (roles, rules, rites, rituals, relationships, and resilience) we need to foster a new covenant community at the local level. Bishops need to create conditions to teach people the knowledge and skill for divine character formation; to living virtuously and sacramenally. To do this Bishops need to publically announce to the laity that they share, not only responsibility and accountability, but direct access to the divine life within themselves in communion with others. More so the laity have the power, right, and responsibility to interpret the scripture and tradition of the church, and to administer his message, meaning and method of living at the local level. People need to learn that they have the responsbility to be informed, formed, and transformed in their develpment by the wisdom of Jesus. When people know that they have the power to act on behalf of Jesus they will accept the challenge to act to fulfill core needs according to Jesus’ style of virtuous and sacramental living.

    In our time salvation/liberation/redemption/justification are all wrapped into the perspective, principles, and practice of integral human development. This directive notion has been emerging in the the Vatican thinking since Paul VI and most recently in the writings of Francis. Human development is the new vision, value, and venture of bring Jesus’ insights and actions to the world. People in each culture need to learn to act on behalf of their wellbeing across their life span. The Bishops need to accept and reflect this Papal teaching into the enrichment of lay power, authority, to interpret and administer the Gospel in their time and place. Bishops need to inspire people and train them in the full implications of the process of integral human development of humanity…. Each person possesses divine power to create, sustain, and fulfill human development. Each person has the right and responsibility to enact who God is for us. With access to the knowledge and skill of current relational science we can learn how to be fully human and full divine by way of virtuous and sacramental living for each other. This is the ultimate pathway beyond those attitudes, affects, and actions that cannot accept the richness of plurality and difference in humanity.

    The laity have the power, right, and responsibility for learning to live virtuously and sacramentally within the Catholic Covenant Communion for the enhancement and advancement of all life & environments. In the new catholic covenant community the clerical function will be less sacramental, and more aimed at pastoral planning with the laity for IHD. The Bishops job description to teach, direct, and inspire members will be more informed and formed by relational science that enriches our understanding of the Great Symbols of Faith for the lives of real people and their real development. Bishops will learn that they cannot mandate development. Development only happens in dialogue over differences without disdain and distrust. Bishops need to learn to be artisans of healthy relationality that flows from Triune Communion incarnate into human history by Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, and resurrection. Bishops need to learn to be more dialogical in discerning and creating policy, programs, and practices for training people for ministries. Without dialogue there is no human development. Bishops need to have more faith in the Spirit to directly inform, form, and transform each member of the church through dialogue. No one learns to live a spiritual life without constant conversation to allow the Spirit of Wisdom and Abundance to flow forth into human history to resolve human concerns, challenges, conflicts, and crises. Only through constant conversation can we resolve tension, turmoil, tragedy, and trauma across the life span.

    IHD does not happend by mandate or promulgation on how to be fully human and fully divine. IHD happens as we learn to engage perennial life limits; to accept our innate capacity to learn to resolve these limits; to accrue new knowledge, attitudes, and skill for character strength formation; to design new ways for wellbeing; and to center our goals on fulfilling ultimate human needs (not wants). Bishops will need to be educated less in law & order, and more educated in the full range of social-relational knowledge and skills is to create conditions at the local level for the cultivation of lay ministry for all human concerns across the stages of development. Lay ministry will not happen without a master pastoral plan in each parish to focus on the multiple layers of IHD in individuals, family life, and community enrichment.

    Jack Schibik, Naples Florida USA

  2. Sorry for the ‘typos’ in my last post. Jack S.

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