Pope Francis attracts attention. It is all well deserved in my humble opinion. He is a real gift to the Church from the Holy Spirit. I like almost everything about him. Even the red wines from the Mendoza region of Argentina seem to taste better since the Archbishop of Buenos Aires has become Pope!
Recently Pope Francis troubled the ecclesiastical waters once again by issuing his first (and I hope not last) Apostolic Exhortation called Evangelii Gaudium, or in English, The Gospel of Joy. For Pope Francis, the Gospel certainly is “Good News of great joy!” You can read it on the Vatican’s website, www.Vatican.va. Click on English, and near the Holy Father’s picture find the words “Apostolic Exhortations.” Click on that, and it is easy since there is only one to choose from. It runs for a full 58 pages of densely packed text with no pictures. It is more readable than most church documents, but still has some heavy going in places. Sometimes the Pope employs a more homey turn of phrase, but much is still theological and in places dense. He is not a lightweight. Nonetheless it is worth the effort to read it. I hope to use this document for my Lenten book discussion group in the Spring of 2014.
Meanwhile let me give you one paragraph where he talks about challenges involving the laity, the ordinary people in the pews like you. Here it is:
102. Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the people of God. The minority – ordained ministers – are at their service. There has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church. We can count on many lay persons, although still not nearly enough, who have a deeply-rooted sense of community and great fidelity to the tasks of charity, catechesis and the celebration of the faith. At the same time, a clear awareness of this responsibility of the laity, grounded in their baptism and confirmation, does not appear in the same way in all places. In some cases, it is because lay persons have not been given the formation needed to take on important responsibilities. In others, it is because in their particular Churches room has not been made for them to speak and to act, due to an excessive clericalism which keeps them away from decision making. Even if many are now involved in the lay ministries, this involvement is not reflected in a greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political and economic sectors. It often remains tied to tasks within the Church, without a real commitment to applying the Gospel to the transformation of society. The formation of the laity and the evangelization of professional and intellectual life represent a significant pastoral challenge.
For Pope Francis, indeed for Vatican Council II, the vocation of the laity calls them (that is, YOU) not so much to be involved in church but rather in the world. It is good that many St. Austin parishioners get involved in the choir and music ensembles, in teaching CCD, in being lectors and Eucharistic ministers and such. But this involvement “remains tied to tasks within the Church” as Pope Francis says. And the real vocation of the laity is not in Church but out in the world. The Pope is calling for “a real commitment to applying the Gospel to the transformation of society.” We continually need to work to help all of us, clergy and laity, to finally get it into our thick heads and down into our guts that the real vocation of the laity is out to the world: to the workplace, the public forum, media, education, recreation, the arts, politics, to all the world “applying the Gospel to the transformation of society.” That is the vision of Vatican Council II. It has yet to be lived out in the church. It is still radical after five decades. It is a work Pope Francis is calling us to.
It is easier to be a Eucharistic Minister than to try to transform society. The “transformation of society” does sound a little daunting I must admit. But let us trust in the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us, and with Pope Francis’ guidance and encouragement, start on the task. After all, it doesn’t depend on us, but on God.