Posts tagged: Lumen Gentium

The Pilgrim Church

By , April 10, 2014 8:58 am

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Several times in the last week or so, I have gone back to re-read and meditate on one of the great documents of the Second Vatican Council, the one on the Church which Latin title is Lumen Gentium, Light of the Nations. The document spent a great deal of time on major components of this mystical organization; for example, dealing separately with bishops, clergy and the laity, but it pulls them all together with a wonderful title that had not been used too much in recent years. The Council Fathers reminded us that ours is a pilgrim church. We are wounded and, to some extent, lost people traveling across the desert.

When I was in the seminary in the ‘50’s, the theology textbooks did not stress that idea. Actually, they went in the other direction and theologians claimed that the Church is a perfect society. Don’t have a heart attack! Those writers knew that there was much sin and weakness inside the Church, but it held that the Church is perfect in that it had everything needed to attain its goal, namely to present God’s message to the human family; that message coming from God the Father through the Son and guided by the Holy Spirit. We wouldn’t dare use language like that today, but it is wonderful to put our arms around the idea that we are a pilgrim Church. That means that we travel lightly and not with too much baggage.

What an example we are receiving from this marvelous new shepherd, Francis. Look at those two little rooms in the Vatican Hotel. I wonder who is staying in that lavish apartment up on the sixth floor of the palace. Let me stop myself for a minute. Over the last 25 years, I have been in the papal apartments several times and I agree with Pope Francis. They are cold and bleak and I wouldn’t want to stay there either. The pope is giving the bishops of the world a good example of how to be a pilgrim but not everybody gets it. We saw a rather thick-headed German bishop removed from his diocese because he wasted vast amounts of money on his residence and just last week we saw the sharp criticism of two American bishops, not from the Vatican but from the American media. Both were guilty of inordinate spending on their residences. One, Archbishop Wilton Gregory, immediately apologized for his foolishness and plans to leave to a more proper residence. The other bishop, Archbishop Myers of Newark, felt that he was being unjustly criticized. All he did was put a $500,000 addition on his 4,500 square foot house.

Let’s hear it for the pilgrim Church. Onward through the fog and over the sand.

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The Laity – Freedom and Responsibility

By , April 9, 2014 5:07 am

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Oh, how blessed is this holy Catholic Church. Just think – we have at least one billion, two hundred million members and for all practical purposes they are all laity. Just think of the reservoir of talent and energy that resides in this enormous mass of faith-filled human beings. They could accomplish wonders if not miracles, but in point of fact they don’t because they are really not able to.

I am proud of the faithful. They do a great job in backing their pastors and bishops in developing the material sides of parishes, schools, hospitals, etc. But ultimately, our system does not give them real freedom and responsibility. Their role is to follow their shepherds and that is not all bad, but the fact is that many of the shepherds among us do not really trust their fellow Catholics who have not been ordained. Father knows best and the old joke about the laity was that they were to “pray, pay and obey.”

Happily, following the Second Vatican Council lay involvement, especially in the liturgy, has increased tremendously but we have a long way to go. Let me tell you about a happy story in my first assignment as a pastor. We had established a first-class St. Vincent de Paul Society and it was doing wonderful work on behalf of the poor in that section of the city. One day the president of the Society came to me and told me that we had a serious storage problem, but not to worry – he had signed a two year lease on an inexpensive warehouse about four blocks from the church. I was thrilled. He saw the problem, he knew we could afford it and he acted. I am not saying that pastors and bishops ought not to provide close supervision but they must avoid being control freaks.

The other day when I visited with you in this space, I talked about the value system that was dominant in the world of my childhood. I then went on to admit that many of the cultural strengths of 75 years ago are now gone, generating the need for yet a greater response from the Church to encourage its members to embrace and live by the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today’s lay people are far better formed or educated than were the adults of my childhood. The Church has still not found a way through clericalism and antique ecclesiology to vest the laity, either in the parishes or in the dioceses, with a real sharing in power and authority. The Second Vatican Council had that as one of its principal agendas – convincing all of the baptized and confirmed on the planet that they had a vested interest and a very real responsibility to teach that “each individual layman must be a witness before the world of the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus and a sign of the living God.” How is that for a job description?

The Council Fathers then went on to say give the laity freedom and opportunities to breathe and act and be responsible. In paragraph 37 of Lumen Gentium, the Council stated that, “

“The pastors indeed should recognize and promote the dignity and responsibility of the laity in the Church. They should willingly use their prudent advice and confidently assign duties to them in the service of the Church LEAVING THEM FREEDOM AND SCOPE FOR ACTING (emphasis added). Indeed they should give them the courage to undertake works on their own initiative. They should attentively in Christ initial moves, suggestions and desires proposed by the laity. Moreover, the pastor must respect and recognize the liberty which belongs to all in the terrestrial city.”

Vatican II called for parish councils in every parish in the world but regretfully only a small percentage have functioned effectively. Why? Because they are deadly dull and do not usually come to grips with what that particular parish should be undertaking. Go check on the agendas of a dozen parish councils and you will see that much more time is allocated to painting the school auditorium than to how we should be advancing the message of Jesus in this neighborhood in this month. The challenge is awesome but sometimes not really heard.

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More On Lumen Gentium

By , April 4, 2014 4:46 am

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I offered a few comments the other day on that extremely important document, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), and I talked about the fact that there are many aspects of the Church that qualify the Church itself as being a mystery. The document goes on to discuss the structural nature of the Church, namely that it is hierarchical and the great reality of the Church’s membership, namely that it is overwhelmingly, yes overwhelmingly, made up of lay people.

In the few paragraphs that I have here, I can’t do a dissertation of the fact that the Church we see in the New Testament enjoys various levels of responsibilities. Jesus called the apostles and he sent them forward to preach his message. Once they established a community of faith in a given area, the apostles provided leadership, coordination and direction. After establishing a church, Paul put men that he had ordained in charge of those churches since he had to keep moving to spread the Gospel. Therefore, I have no doubt that the Church is by its very nature hierarchical but I think that over the centuries, especially in the second millennium, the hierarchical aspects of the Church have been exaggerated, made too rigid and regretfully counterproductive.

Our blessed new Pope Francis has been working hard in his first year to awaken us to the need to strip down the exaggerated signs of hierarchy and prestige that at times have been abused in the Church. And he is making great progress.
Next in Lumen Gentium comes the section on the laity. The document makes a great step forward and that is about the best that could be done at that time. However, what we are seeing now is a wonderful, glorious change where the laity across the world are beginning to assert responsibilities, opportunities and challenges that flow from baptism and confirmation.
These two entities are currently interacting and we can be sure that we will see a certain amount of friction.

Onward through the fog.

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