Wednesday, March 09, 2005


TOWARDS A ‘HIGH’ DOCTRINE OF THE LAITY(Newman Rambler Summer 2000)

Lay Catholics rarely work up much passion or even interest about their vocation. Newman himself recognized that it would take a considerable effort to shake Catholics out of their apathy. His own bishop, Ullathorne, shrugged off Newman’s concerns about lay formation with a dismissive query, “Who are the laity?” Why be so concerned with such an uninteresting and uninfluential segment of the Church? Msgr. Talbot, the Pope’s British counselor, chided Newman’s efforts to educate and energize the laity as a waste of valuable time. The role of the laity, Talbot explained, is merely “to hunt, to shoot, and to entertain,” not to “meddle” in concerns about Christian mission. (Coulson: 41, 18-19)
This low view of the laity reflects a long-standing depreciation of the essentially secular character of the lay vocation. (Shaw 1993) Historically, the laity were often seen as second-class citizens whose role was to “pay, pray, and obey.” Despite the vigorous efforts of the Second Vatican Council, this negative view continues to cast long shadows over Catholic culture. For most of us, the lay state is not a Christian vocation in any real sense, but merely a default position for those who don’t really have a vocation. In the words of one young college student: “you can either choose a vocation, or just remain a lay person.” Being a layperson is being someone who “does not have the guts. . . to become a priest, [or] someone too spiritually challenged to enter a religious order.” (Langan: 11)
Today, this depreciation of the lay vocation takes new twists. For example, in many circles lay advancement in the life of the church is increasingly being defined in exclusively clerical terms, i.e., getting the laity to perform offices and functions traditionally exercised by the clergy. Laity are only really active in their faith when they are doing things typical of priests or religious: serving on the altar, giving retreats, offering spiritual direction, leading parish organizations, or doing pastoral animation. This particular type of clericalism sets the benchmark for lay mission by standards appropriate to the ministerial priesthood.
The active participation of the laity in the life of the Church is a welcome and necessary development. However, we run into serious difficulties if lay ministry within the Church is emphasized to such a great extent that it obscures the fundamental identity and mission of the laity in the world. According to John Paul II, the laity can become “so strongly interested in Church services and tasks” that they lose sight of their essential call to seek God’s plan in the affairs and activities of the world (John Paul II 1989: par.2). An ancient Christian document, the Epistle to Diognetus, puts it well: “What the soul is in the body, that the Christians are in the world …Such is the important post to which God has assigned them, and they are not at liberty to desert it.”
For Newman, the phenomenon of lay clericalism springs out of the temptation to evade the difficulties and demands involved in the lay mission to the secular world. This preoccupation with “spiritual” things may imply a not-so-subtle denigration of the essentially secular character of the lay vocation. The secular world of professions and business is perceived to be a dark, cold and empty wasteland devoid of real interest to a truly spiritually-minded layman. (Newman 1997: 1656-65).
Newman warns that this temptation to promote strategies of retreat will grow stronger as Christians face an increasingly secular and hostile world.. Instead of urging the laity to take a stand, to be formed, to organize, and to take the offensive against the dangerous tendencies of this age, there will be a pulling back from this dark world in order to find some solace in a spiritual oasis. Newman was not overly impressed with forms of religious conservatism which revel in dark and despairing assessments of the world. Those who promote “the language of dismay and despair at the prospect before us” represent the Church in retreat, not the Church militant. “Instead of, with the high spirit of the warrior, going out conquering and to conquer” they nurture a dangerous “defeatism,” a “shrinking into ourselves.” (quoted from Patterson: 16).
This defeatism, this shrinking from the secular as if it were “profane”, is based upon a deeply flawed view of the secular sphere. The concept that the secular is the profane is utterly foreign to Catholicism. Indeed, in the Roman Catholic Church the clergy themselves are, to this day, divided between “secular clergy” and “regular clergy.” Those who are “secular” serve in the world (saecularis: “the times,” “the age,” “the world”) and those who are “regular” are members of religious orders who live according to a rule (i.e. who take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience). (Benson 2001) The secular clergy are clergy who serve the laity in living out their apostolate in the “saecularis” (the times, the age, the world). The secular does not mean the non-sacred, it simply means being in the secular rather than the ecclesiastical domain the world.
The unique character of the vocation of the laity is found in its “secular” character. We are men and women of the world, men and women for the world. The secular is not something alien to the lay vocation, it is the field in which the lay vocation is lived out. They are called to live out the kingdom of God (the sacred) in the secular sphere. The secular needs to be claimed, embraced, challenged, lived in, and leavened by the prophetic, priestly, and kingly missions of lay existence.
Engaging the challenges of modern culture demanded a full and rich ecclesial response. Newman is noted for his “high” doctrines of church, sacraments, priesthood, and episcopacy. However, Newman also presses for a “high” doctrine of the laity (Sharkey 1987, 343). The lay must wake to an enriched and robust sense of their self-identity: “I want you to rouse yourselves to understand where you are, to know yourselves.” (Newman 1889: 389) The life and mission of the church could only be fully realized with the zealous participation of the laity. The state of the laity is the acid test for the state of the Church: “In all times, the laity have been the measure of the Catholic spirit.” (Newman 1889: 390)
While Newman acknowledged his conservative leanings in theology, nevertheless he also admitted a “radical” side in this emphasis on the decisive role of the laity. In his work on The Church of the Fathers he writes: “I shall offend many men when I say, we must look to the people.” (Newman’s italics) In some sense, Newman argues, the life and mission of the Church is “based on a popular power.” He argues that “in most ages” the laity have been a critical influence in the life of the Church. “It was so in its rise, in the days of Ambrose and in the days of Beckett, and it will be so again. I am preparing myself for such a state of things…” (Newman 1901 I: 340-41; Mozley I: 450).
The mission of the laity is decisive for Christian engagement with the modern world. Newman warns that the Church is entering into a new era marked by global indifference to religion: “Christianity,” he writes, “has never yet had experience of a world simply irreligious” (see “Infidelity of the Future” in Newman 1956). This thoroughgoing secularization of society presents a radical challenge for the laity.
Lay movements which advocate the creation of conservative enclaves or bulwarks against the modern world fail to engage the lay mission. Their bluster and bravado is that of those who lack the guts to dive into the icy waters of secularity. In effect, they choose to stand on the shore and curse. On the other hand, lay movements that advocate a “go with the flow” approach are equally problematic. Newman spent a lifetime struggling with religious liberals who advocated various strategies of accommodation to the world. Such movements usually propose a Johnny-come-lately adjustment to yesterday’s fashions. Newman warned that this approach amounts to little more than a “religion of the world” which lacks real prophetic tension with the world. (Newman 1997: 198-207).
The lay faithful are called to a critical engagement with the world. This new world may be tough, complex, burdened with evil, and indifferent to faith. Nevertheless, this secular world is the arena, the “place,” for our vocation (John Paul II 1989: 15). Newman stressed that it was not the time for the laity to run from the world and seek some spiritual oasis; it is the time to be “plunging into the world”, to “learn to swim in troubled waters,” and to “direct the current” (Newman 1982, 177-79)
Newman’s vision of the vocation and mission of the lay faithful has been captured in the Second Vatican Council and vigorously developed by Pope John Paul II. Vatican II’s Decree on the Laity and John Paul II’s Christifideles Laici (“The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful) elaborate many of the key theological insights put forward by Newman. John Paul II shares Newman’s passionate insistence on the critical significance of the laity for the life of the church in the modern world: “A new state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle.” (Christifideles Laici 3) His recent manifesto to the church in the Americas includes this exhortation to the laity: “America needs lay Christians able to assume roles of leadership in society…On a continent marked by competition and aggressiveness, [and] unbridled consumerism, lay people are called to embody deeply evangelical values… It is urgent to train men and women who, in keeping with their vocation, can influence public life and direct it to the common good. ..What is expected from the laity is a great creative effort. ” (John Paul II 1999: 44)

The Priestly, Prophetic, and Kingly Vocation of the Laity:
What are some of the core elements of this enriched vision of the lay vocation and lay mission? Newman wants us to aim high: “I want a laity…who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand…I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity…I mean to be severe, and…exorbitant in my demands.” (Newman 1889: 390)
Newman was severe and exorbitant. In delineating the standard for Christian formation, he draws attention to our call to participate in the threefold mission of Christ as priest, prophet, and king (“The Christian Ministry” Newman 1997: 420). Newman states that “all His followers in some sense bear all three offices.” Though they are “earthen vessels,” nevertheless they are called to “show forth according to their measure these three characters,—the prophetical, priestly, and regal…” (“The Three Offices of Christ,” Newman 1898: 55). “Not the few and the conspicuous alone,” Newman states, “but all her children, high and low,” are bound to “walk worthy” as priests, prophets and kings of Christ and his Church. (Newman 1898: 62)
According to Newman, these offices correspond to three fundamental “states” or “conditions” of human existence—we speak, we act, we suffer. Christ entered into and lived through all these states of human life so that “he might be a pattern of them all:” “in like manner did He unite in Himself, and renew, and give us back in Him, the principal lots or states in which we find ourselves,—suffering, that we might know how to suffer; laboring, that we might know how to labor; and teaching that we might know how to teach.” Christians are called to men and women graced by redemptive speech (prophetic existence), redemptive action (kingly existence), and redemptive suffering/sacrifice (priestly existence). (Newman 1898: 53-54) In another context, Newman describes the priest, prophet and king as the religious, intellectual and political missions of the Church. These ecclesial missions reflect the basic spiritual, intellectual and ethical dimensions of human existence (Newman 1901 I: xl-xli).
John Paul II shares Newman’s understanding of lay identity and mission. Lay formation must be grounded in the “deeply held conviction…that man cannot be understood without Christ and that it is impossible to educate him, to develop his human nature and his vocation in life without Christ.” John Paul II tells us that, from the beginning of his pastoral ministry, his “aim was to emphasize forcefully the priestly, prophetic and kingly dignity of the … People of God.” (John Paul II 1979: 137) “Faith, in all the wealth of its personal and communal characteristics, is essentially and basically a participation in the testimony of Christ. This is the testimony of God himself, to which Christ has given expression and human dimensions by his triple power as priest, prophet and king.”… “Christ and the Christian encounter each other intimately in the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission, and it is this participation which forms the essential characteristics of the Christian.”(John Paul II 1980: 219, 270)

The Priestly Vocation and Mission:
The laity rarely give much thought to their priestly identity. Martin Scorsese, director of the Last Temptation of Christ, once thought that he had a “religious” calling: “I wanted to be a priest. However, I soon realized that my real vocation, my real calling was the movies.” (Graham, 314). Scorsese places priesthood, vocation and calling on a floor with work in the movie industry—he opted for movies. Scorsese’s curious remarks about his “calling” make sense in a culture which has gutted “priest” and “vocation” of any real meaning beyond that of career.
Clericalized views of the laity try to color in “priestly” tones to lay existence by blurring the essential distinction between the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood. We are being priestly to the extent that we share in the activities proper to ministerial priesthood.
Careerist and clericalized views of the priesthood skew the message of Vatican II and its most outstanding interpreter, John Paul II.. One of the most original contributions of Vatican II was is profound emphasis on the “two” modalities of Christian priesthood: the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood. Vatican II attempted to rouse the laity to a more profound and enriched sense of their participation in the priesthood of Christ.
It also drew attention to the profound complementarity between the common and ministerial priesthood in a way that moved the common priesthood to center stage.(Rosato) According the John Paul II, the core mission of ministerial priesthood is to maintain and develop the common priesthood. (1980: 227) The ministerial priesthood is ordered to the common priesthood: “the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1547).
The common priesthood is part of the “mystery” or ontology of the human person. (John Paul II 1979: ch.15) This priestly dimension is not just a question of tasks or functions to be performed; it defines the very nature and stance of the human person before God. John Paul II states that it “expresses in a particularly intimate but fundamental way the existential essence of faith.” The essence of faith is a primordial priestly act of sacrifice or self-giving in which the human person make a gift of himself to God—“commits his entire self to God.” “This commitment, contained in the very essence of faith, is realized most fully in the attitude which derives from sharing in the priesthood of Christ.” (John Paul II 1980: 223-25) John Paul II constantly returns to a pivotal passage in the Vatican II documents: “It follows, then, that if man is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake, man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself.” The Pope states that “when man gives himself to God in this way, he rediscovers himself most fully.” (John Paul II 1980: 225)
The Gift of Self to God: Priesthood expresses the fundamental human vocation—the gift of self to God. In this sense, our participation in the priesthood of Christ is the most primordial of the threefold missions of Christ—“the simplest and profoundest expression of faith.” The priestly dimension of human personhood “contains within itself the authentic Christian relationship with God.” “This attitude also expresses the vocation of the person in its existential nucleus.” It is this primordial experience of vocation “to which we must constantly return.” (John Paul II 1980: 224)
For Newman, the priestly mission is also a signal of transcendence. Priesthood is a call to “devotion,” to “worship,” to “self-sacrificing love” (Newman 1901 I: xli, xciv). Pope John Paul II also underlines the importance of this aspect of the priestly mission: “The priesthood in particular is the form of self-expression of the man for who the world’s ultimate meaning can be found only in the dimension of the transcendental: in turning towards God who, as the fullness of personal Being, in himself transcends the world.” (John Paul II 1979: 132) The priestly mission expresses the reality that “human existence is ‘being directed towards God.’”
The Call to Sacrifice: The priestly dimension of life is embodied in the call to sacrifice. Christ “came as a Priest” insofar as he “offered a sacrifice” and “that Sacrifice was Himself—He offered Himself” (Newman’s italics; Newman 1991: 68) Newman argues that our “surrender and sacrifice of self to God” lies at the very core of Christian faith (Newman 1997: 1113, 1119). However, Newman also draws attention to the very practical ramifications of this surrender or sacrifice of self to God. Giving one’s life to God entails practical daily self-denial. The sacrificial or priestly dimension of human existence is a call to adulthood. (Newman 1997: 215-223, 1470-78)
In the “Discontents of Adulthood” David Guttmann provides an anthropological analysis of the link between adulthood and sacrifice. He argues that the mark of the transition to adulthood in most cultures is signaled by some rite which tests your willingness to risk your life, to sacrifice it, for a greater good. (Guttman 1999) In this sense, the priestly mission of the laity is a call to adulthood. It requires men and women who have the courage to sacrifice themselves, their time, their energy, their lives, for the sake of greater goods, for the sake of greater loves. It requires a “Gethsemane” willingness to risk and venture amid the uncertainties of the future.
The Catholic apostolate in the university offers a special context for this critical transition from adolescence to adulthood. Too often university-level spiritual formation programs are either non-existent or only serve to reinforce an adolescent focus on self-growth rather than facilitate transformation to adult self-giving. An adolescent faith cannot support adult life-structures or serve young men and women as they negotiate the difficult choices that lie before them. Participation in Christ’s priestly office involves a willingness to encounter and enter into difficulties, sufferings, failures, and poverty of life.
In short, the priestly dimension of lay formation is an education in Christian realism. “New age” forms of spirituality tend to skirt around the thorny realism of Christianity. Newman condemns such views as “superficial” and “unreal.” The cross of Christ offers us a deeper and truer perspective on the world. (Newman 1997: 1239-45) Life is beautiful; but life is also difficult, broken and deadly. Entering into life, loving, marrying, pursuing an occupation, are calls to adulthood. Young adults are invited to encounter the cross—to seek Christ in the dark and difficult sides of life. (Newman 1898: 54)
The Call to Prayer and Consecration of Daily Life
: Another practical expression of the priestly life of the laity is the call to holiness and devotion: “the Christian sacrifice is the life of prayer and praise.” Insofar as each lay person “offers up his own prayers…he is so far a priest for himself” (Newman 1991: 68-69). Lay spirituality must overcome the fragmentation of faith and life. The priestly dimension of the laity is expressed in the call to consecrate daily life. In his sermon, “Doing God’s Glory in the Pursuits of the World” Newman writes that for the lay person the encounter with Christ “lies in his worldly business…he will see Christ revealed to his soul amid the ordinary actions of the day, as by a sort of sacrament. Thus he will take his worldly business as a gift from Him, and love it as such.” (Newman 1997: 1662). A central part of this priestly mission of the laity is to develop an authentically “lay spirituality” that penetrates, illuminates, and consecrates daily life in the light of faith. Newman highlights the importance of the lay or popular spiritual and devotional life of the Church. He argues that the Church must be attentive to this critical domain of Catholic spirituality. He also suggests that the laity have a priestly competence over their spiritual life that needs to be attended to. The “devotional sentiments” of the laity “ought to be consulted” for “the laity have a testimony to give” (Coulson: 104). Furthermore, the laity should be responsibly proactive in the exercise of their priestly mission to offer prayer, worship and praise. In a sense, “the people have a special right to interfere in questions of devotion” (Holmes 1979: 104). Our young men and women must discover the importance of their priestly identity and mission in their own personal lives and in the life of their communities. They need to study the lives of lay men and women who have actualized this priestly mission as guides, mentors and leaders in the lay spiritual journey.

The Prophetic Vocation and Mission:
What is the prophetic life of the lay Catholic? It should amount to more than a regular glance at one’s daily horoscope or dabbling in pop Armageddon literature. In his preface to the Via Media, the prophetic mission is intimately connected with the intellectual dimension of Catholic faith (Preface to Via Media). The prophetic dimension of Christian existence grapples with our relationship to truth and faith.
Newman argues that the “truth” of Christian faith has been entrusted to all: “we have all an equal interest in it, no one less that another;” it is “a treasure, common to all.” We do not have the right to dump this prophetic mission on bishops or theologians and go our merry way. Newman states that “all of us, high and low, in our measure are responsible for the safe-keeping of the Faith …This Faith is what even the humblest member of the Church may and must contend for. ” (Newman 1997, 389-90)
The prophetic call is a call to a right relationship with “truth.” In his exploration of the prophetic mission, John Paul II argues that our “relationship to truth” is the “deciding factor in [] human nature” and an integral part of the “mystery” and “dignity” of the human person. (John Paul II: 119). “Christ, the great prophet is the one who proclaims divine truth; and he is also the one who shows the dignity of man to be bound up with truth: with truth honestly sought, earnestly pondered, joyfully accepted as the greatest treasure of the human spirit, witnessed to by word and deed in the sight of men”. (John Paul II 1979: 120)
In his encyclical on faith and reason, the Pope warns that there has been a dumbing down of human thinking in the modern age. The modern mind seems to be systematically begging “the radical questions about the meaning and ultimate foundation of human, personal and social existence.” The prophetic call lifts the human mind on the “twin wings of faith and reason”.(John Paul II 1998)
The prophetic mind does not drift into blind faith (fideism) or a narrow rationalism. John Paul II insists that, “the boldness of faith must be matched by the boldness of reason.” He quotes the words of St. Augustine: “If faith does not think, it is nothing.” “It is an illusion,” the Pope writes, “to think that faith, tied to weak reasoning, might be more penetrating; on the contrary, faith then runs the grave risk of withering into myth or superstition.” On the other hand, faith should be a goad to thought: “reason which is unrelated to an adult faith is not prompted to turn its gaze to the newness and radicality of being.” Faith incites and challenges the human mind to remain open to the ultimate concerns. “It is faith,” John Paul II states, “which stirs reason to move beyond all isolation and willingly to run risks so that it may attain whatever is beautiful, good and true. Faith thus becomes the convinced and convincing advocate of reason.” (John Paul II 1998)
The goal of serious lay formation is to awaken this prophetic identity and mission. Newman exhorted the laity to speak out and witness to the truth: “As troubles and trials circle round you, [God] will give you what you want at present—“a mouth, and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to resist and gainsay.” “There is a time for silence, and a time to speak;” the time for speaking is come.” (Newman 1889: 390) As prophet Christ moved men and women by a “wisdom of heart, convincing, persuading, enlightening, and ruling by a sovereignty over the conscience.” The laity are called to be men and women of “deep reflection and inventive genius.” who can speak meaningfully to their culture. (Newman 1898: 59-60)
Many pressing and controversial issues in the life of faith fall directly into the lay domain (marriage, family, education, abortion, religion and culture). The laity need to be thinking hard about the state of their world. We cannot just preach Catholic doctrine to the world in a flatfooted way. Look how little headway we seem to be making in issues as crucial as abortion. The prophetic voice must be “good” and “effective,” not drifting along at the margins snipping ineffectively at the enemy.
Prophecy demands fearless and creative engagement of culture. Prophetic thinking invites us to step out of the ideological matrix of our world structure and to critically assess or challenge the dominant cultural trends (Ardener 1989). Young people with little or no connection to Catholic faith, or even outright antipathy, are often fascinated by the critical cultural commentary generated by Catholic faith perspectives. Prophetic thinking is “purgative” (a faith-informed critique of culture) as well as “illuminative” (a contructive presentation of Catholic faith). We must learn the way of the prophet; to speak, to proclaim our faith intelligently, shrewdly, imaginatively. We want, in Newman’s words, “to learn to swim in troubled waters” and to “direct the current.” (Newman 1982: 177, 179)
The prophetic mission is an invitation to critically engage the philosophical and theological dimensions of Catholicism. According to Newman, the unique charism of lay participation in the prophetic mission centers on the dialectic of faith and culture. The laity are not called to concentrate their intellectual energies on foundational theology. The laity are the intellectual bridge between faith and reason. They are called, in the words of Claude Ryan, “to be agents of creative interaction between the order of grace and nature” (Ryan:18).
The prophetic journey is an ever-deeper engagement with faith coupled with more penetrating forays into one’s culture and historical context. Newman and John Paul II insist on the need for a constant “enlargement”, “development” (Newman 1997: 390) or “enrichment” (John Paul II 1980) of our faith. Though the humblest Christian is commissioned to guard the truth; nevertheless, Catholics in the educational sphere bear a special responsibility to foster this ‘unfolding’ and communication of Christian faith within our unique social and historical contexts.
The Kingly Vocation and Mission:
Participation in Christ’s kingly mission involves a transformation of self-identity. Young lay men and women are not just mundane folk who must fit into the groveling slot that the world has prepared for them. They are men and women who have “the royal blood of the Second Adam” flowing through their veins Cognizant of “the majesty of that new nature which is imparted to us” they are able to stand aloof from the “ordinary objects which men pursue—wealth, luxury, distinction, popularity, and power” as “mean-spirited and base-minded.” The Spirit of God “stands by us to strengthen us and raise our stature, and, as it were, to straighten our limbs, and to provide us with the wings of Angels, wherewith to mount heavenward” (Newman 1898: 145)
Students of the lay vocation must be educated in the royal nature of their call and become apprentices in the arts of kingship. This begins with a growing revelation of the nobility of their Christian vocation. Newman states that the believer must nurture a“self-respect” and learn to be “reverent … towards himself.” (Newman 1898: “Christian Nobleness”) A sense of the “dignity” and “royal freedom” of the lay faithful needs to be constantly cultivated (John Paul II 1993: 350-1) “Religious men,” Newman writes, “knowing what great things have been done for them, cannot but grow greater in mind in consequence. We know how power and responsibility change men in matters of this world. They become more serious, more vigilant, more circumspect, more practical, more decisive; they fear to commit mistakes, yet they dare more, because they have a consciousness of a liberty and of a power, and an opportunity for great successes.” (Newman 1898: 143)
Self-Governance: John Paul II states that kingship is “not the right to exercise dominion over others.” “It is a manifestion of the “kingly character” of man.” (John Paul II 1979: 138) It involves a regal maturity and self-governance in the private spheres of life. Newman warns that “nothing great or living can be done except when men are self-governed and independent.” (Patterson: 15) The transformation from adolescence to adult lay life involves at least three fundamental tasks of self-governance: choosing an occupation or life-work, making a marriage decision, and finding a social milieu or community. Lay formation must be based on a concept of the human person that celebrates responsible self-governance and self-possession.
Education in the arts of kingship also involves a call to active involvement in the public sphere. The laity, Newman said, need to learn how to “trust themselves,” to work together, to “fall back on themselves” for support and assistance. (Newman 1889: 388, 391) We are called, in the words of the Holy Father, to “assume leadership,” to build, to rule, to administer, to make a difference in the world. We need strong lay leaders. In so many critical sectors of their apostolate the laity have little in the way of meaningful resources. Where are the robust lay institutions and resources needed to engage the major ethical, legal, and political issues which bear directly upon crucial aspects of our live? We need kings, leaders, politicians, CEOs, who can make “good” things happen in a complex and often bad world.
Moral Leadership: The laity are called to transformative work and activity in the public sphere. However, the mere capacity to make an impact on the world is not a sign of authentic kingship. Christian kingship does not rule “by strength of arm” but “by a sovereignty over the conscience.” (Newman 1898: 59-60) Kingliness is the capacity to act in accordance with the inner law that has been written on the human heart. Kingly leadership is leadership with moral fiber. John Paul II also argues that the fundamental sign of kingly character is this ability to pursue the good and avoid evil. (John Paul II 1979: 137-45). Authentic lay formation speaks to the ethical foundations of Catholicism—its moral vision of the person, interpersonal relationships, institutions, and community.
The pursuit of the good cannot be accomplished by mere human moral endeavor. The way of kingship is a constant struggle with the immense power of sin. The struggle against the reign of sin not only requires discipline and the cultivation of virtue, it also is an invitation to ongoing confession, repentance and forgiveness. Like the prodigal son, the lay faithful constantly stray and violate their regal dignity. The grace of confession and repentant return to God is a mark of “royal freedom,” “spiritual grandeur,” and “kingliness” (John Paul II 1979: 142-43) The greatest of the penitential psalms (Ps. 51) is ascribed to the greatest of Israel’s kings, King David. Contrition is a kingly act since it restores us to right relationship with God’s “saving justice” and liberates us in our royal struggle with the “reign of sin.”
Lay formation is leadership formation. Each lay person is commissioned to serve the kingdom of God and battle against the reign of sin. This formation involves serious reflection on the principles guiding the moral development of the self and moral transformation of society. It also entails the study of tough and realistic strategies and skills for individual and social transformation. We don’t need ceremonial monarchs who know the right language and gestures but who are incapable of effecting meaningful change. We need kings and queens armed and ready for battle.
The Church, Secular Universities, and Lay Formation: Lay formation is absolutely critical to the progress of the laity and the mission of the church to the world. We need a new generation of lay leaders who have a more profound grasp of the lay vocation and the challenge of lay mission. Five hundred years ago, the Council of Trent recognized the central importance of substantive and integrated formation for clerical leadership. This sparked a massive effort to build seminaries and develop programs for priestly formation. Newman suggested that we need a similar revolution for lay formation. (Newman 1899 III: 242-45)
Newman maintained that there are two institutions of higher learning pivotal for the formation of Christian leaders—the seminary and the university. These institutions are very different. In his study of the rise of the Western university, Cardinal Newman wrote, “No two institutions are more distinct from each other in character, than Universities and Seminaries…they are for separate purposes, and they act in separate spheres.” (Newman 1899 III: 240)
What is the essential difference between a seminary and a university? Newman puts it simply: “Seminaries are for the education of the clergy; Universities for the education of laymen.” (Newman 1899 III: 240) The mission of the university is essentially linked to the work of lay formation. It prepares the laity for their Christian vocation in the world just as the seminary prepares the clergy for their unique vocation in the church. If the lay vocation is in the world, then the university must prepare them to enter that world. In his classical study The Idea of a University, Newman writes, “We cannot possibly keep them from plunging into the world, with all its ways and principles and maxims, when their time comes; but we can prepare them… and it is not the way to learn to swim in troubled waters, never to have gone into them... A university is a direct preparation for this world… It is not a Convent, it is not a Seminary; it is a place to fit men [and women] of the world for the world.” (Newman 1982: 177)
Newman devoted a portion of his life to the creation of a Catholic university, however, he also recognized the vital need to build an authentic Catholic presence within secular universities. The crucial significance of this apostolate for lay formation today merits even more attention. Within Church documents attention is focused almost exclusively on Catholic universities. We lack a coherent vision of the Catholic mission in secular universities. There is no substantive intellectual discussion of this mission. Investment of personnel and resources into building effective Catholic apostolates on secular campuses is minimal. We lack robust institutes and think-tanks dedicated to the exploration of this crucial arena of lay formation.There are some fundamental reasons why this situation needs correction. First, there are serious practical considerations. Secular universities are, and will continue to be, the academic setting where the vast majority of young Catholic men and women receive their formation. Our brightest and best students in medicine, law, science, and the arts will inevitably be drawn to the world-class secular universities which excel in these fields. Furthermore, the vast majority of our Catholic scholars work with secular settings. Their formation and mission within the university merits serious attention and support.
Secondly, secular universities can claim to offer a very rigorous and tough training ground for the laity. If the lay vocation is in the world, then the university must prepare them to enter that world. Secular universities do present a clear and ever present danger for Christian faith. But so does the secular world into which young lay men and women will soon be plunged. Vigorous Catholic apostolates on secular campuses should be prepared to meet this challenge with courage, creativity, and enthusiasm.
Third, the fact that the lines of demarcation between faith and secular culture are clearly drawn may, as Newman argues, prove to be “a great gain.” In Catholic colleges and universities the situation can be confusing. Catholic educational institutions often limp along smiling weakly at the surrounding cultural confusion. Their relationship to Catholic faith may be ambiguous. “It is a miserable time,” Newman writes, “when a man’s Catholic profession is no voucher for his orthodoxy, and when a teacher of religion may be within the Church’s pale, yet external to her faith.” He concludes: “I prefer to live in an age when the fight is in the day, not in the twilight; and I think it a gain to be speared by a foe, rather than to be stabbed by a friend.” (Newman 1982: 286, 294) The fact that secular universities make no pretense of representing Catholic faith may be their strength. Catholics in secular universities are under no illusion that their faith will be formed or enriched by such institutions. A very vibrant Catholic presence within a secular university may offer a healthier setting for the formation of the laity.
In the Rise and Progress of Universities Newman noted that seminaries had been “fostered and advanced during these last centuries,” however, he lamented the fact that the critical role of the university had been overlooked. He looked forward to a “new era” in which the Church would embrace a “bolder policy” to revive the Catholic mission in the university. Newman argued that this was the time for “great hopes, great schemes, great efforts, great beginnings” (Newman 1899 III: 244-45, 251)
The challenge that Newman put forward continues to receive vigorous support in the thought and ministry of John Paul II. However, it is probably fair to say that this vision and challenge continues to be overlooked by most pastors and their flocks. The state of the laity might be compared to the dismal situation of old King Theoden in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. When Gandalf approached the king to seek assistance in the struggle against the Dark Lord, he encountered a monarch who was shriveled, bent, and fearful. Theoden had retreated from the dark world into his comfortable castle. He had been reduced to inaction and impotence by the conniving words of Wormtongue, his evil councilor. Wormtongue always claimed to have the best interests of the King at heart; he underlined the feeble and weak position of the king; he stressed the harsh and dreadful nature of the world. He encouraged the king to lead a passive existence in his safe haven from the world.
Gandalf roused Theoden. He threw open the doors of the King’s chamber and let the “keen air” of reality whistle in. The king shook himself out of his stupor and proclaimed that the “the time for fear is past.” He armed himself for battle - ready for glory in defeat or in victory. (Tolkein 1992 II: ch.6)
Another Gandalf, clad in white with staff in hand, appeared quite unexpectedly one autumn day in 1978. John Paul II’s solemn inauguration proclaimed a solemn message from “the servant of the servants of God.” His words broke into the dark and dusty halls of lay existence: “Be not afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. . . Be not afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Be not afraid. Christ knows `what is in man`.” (Weigel 1999: 262)
The laity need to be “roused”—awakened by a ‘high’ doctrine of the laity. Wormtongue pedagogies should be pushed aside. We need men and women inflamed with a priestly zeal for lay spiritual life, men and women burning with prophetic concern for their faith and their culture, men and women empowered with kingly hearts and kingly skills to fight the good fight. We need to feel the “keen air,” the “severe and exorbitant demands,” flowing from a truly “high” vision of the laity.

Dan Cere
Newman Institute of Catholic Studies
McGill University

Works Cited

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