"In the ordinary providence of your everyday lives, you are the Church and you have the grace. You have the capacity and you are conditioned to make yourself responsible for the Catholic Church- at home in the street car coming and going to work, in your place of employment- where you are, there is the Church." Fr. Thomas A. Judge
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A Reflection on the MCA Vocation
By Pat Regan, General Custodian
In December 2010, the Church marked the 45th anniversary of the closing session of Vatican II. Among the many gifts of the Second Vatican Council were a deeper understanding of the Church in the world and a vision of the role the laity play in the Church’s mission. The conciliar document, Gaudium et spes, spells it out clearly: Since they have an active role to play in the whole life of the Church, the laity are not only bound to penetrate the world with a Christian spirit, but are also called to be witnesses to Christ in all things in the midst of human society (#43).
In what many believe to be the most important document to come out of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, we see great value placed on what Father Judge called “the providence of daily life:”
The laity, by their vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven (#31).
Many post-conciliar documents and teachings of the Church reiterate the same emphasis. Our vocation as laity is to transform society. In his recent encyclical, Caritas Veritate, Pope Benedict lays out a vision of a just world, of a society which cares for the poor, which works for justice, which builds up people who are oppressed and powerless. Certainly, both the universal Church (with a capital “C”) and the local churches have programs in place to address some of these issues. However, it is clearly going to be up to the laity – “workaday men and women” as Fr. Judge called us – to bring about the changes the Holy Father envisions.
The blessing of Vatican II in terms of empowering the laity is, I think, a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it has opened up many possibilities for lay men and women to engage in the formal ministries of the Church. We can be lectors, Eucharistic ministers, catechists, etc. We can avail ourselves of formal studies in theology; we can even be parish administrators, responsible for the life and well-being of entire Catholic communities. The “sleeping giant” Father Judge spoke of is wide awake!
Yet, I wonder if this abundance of opportunities – and certainly the great needs of our parishes today for lay ministers to help with the pastoral responsibilities – has caused a drift in our understanding of the lay apostolate as our Founder envisioned it. When Father Judge called forth that first handful of women to meet with him in St. John Perboyre Chapel more than 100 years ago, he laid out his vision. He told them that as Catholic lay people they must bring the Church where people live, work, and congregate and, in the providence of their everyday life, they must be the Church. (Awake the Giant, p. 33)
Many MCA members feel called to share their gifts and talents in various ministries in their local parishes. That is a noble calling. As good parishioners, we want to support our parish in as many ways as we can. In Evangelium Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI describes the ministry of the laity within the Church: “The laity can also feel called, or in fact be called, to cooperate with their pastors in the service of the ecclesial community, for the sake of its life and growth (# 73).”
However, to paraphrase a thought expressed by Sr. Brenda Hermann, MSBT, in her recently published book on taking council, it would be a mistake to confuse the various forms of parish (ecclesial) ministry with the laity’s field of mission. The primary mission field of the laity is within family and society, not within the Church itself. It is in that mission field of family and society that the lay person is called to holiness. Is the lay person who works in the Church on the “fast track” to holiness more so than the one who works at the grocery store, or who runs a business or who is a “stay at home Mom?” Maybe, but if so, it is not based on the fact that they work for the Church!
In other words, the minister is not necessarily the same as the missionary. Yes, it is possible to be both a minister and a missionary. As Fr. John Seymour, S.T. points out in his document comparing the two, “It is not so much the tasks or works that distinguish the minister from the missionary, but the spirit in which the works are carried out. It is the possession of ‘the missionary thought, the missionary idea, the missionary spirit’ that distinguishes the missionary from the minister.”
Most often, I believe, the lay person carries out that missionary thought, that missionary idea, that missionary spirit based on his or her everyday experience. Years ago, I got involved in literacy work because some of the adults I knew in Alabama couldn’t read or write. When I moved to Maryland, I became aware of homeless people and volunteered with a few other women from my parish to bring a hot meal to a transitional shelter once a month. I know someone who got concerned about the kids hanging around after school and became a tutor. Another has met a lot of immigrants and so teaches English as a second language once a week.
Too often, I think, we give short shrift to our “everyday” missionary experiences and only consider ourselves to be missionaries when we are engaged in church-related projects and ministries. This mindset, I think, does a grave injustice to the spiritual thought and vision of Father Judge. As the MCA enters its second century of existence, and as the Church celebrates the 50th anniversary of the close of Vatican II, I challenge the lay branches of the Missionary Cenacle Family to really claim the gifts the Second Vatican Council and Father Judge gave us . . . to be missionaries, spreading the Good News and building the kingdom of God, wherever we are. Imagine what would happen if we really took to heart the notion that, wherever we are – in our everyday lives – we are the Church!
The Second Vatican Council gave us a vision of the laity’s role in the Church, but it does not provide the “how to.” For that, we have Father Judge, who left a blueprint for an apostolic laity. We are to be missionaries in the providence of daily life. Let us celebrate that, let us ponder that, let us be challenged to be the Church wherever God is calling us in this particular moment in time.
Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), Vatican II Document, 1964.
Gaudium et spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World), Vatican II Document, 1965.
Evangelium Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World), Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Paul VI, 1975.
Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth), Encyclical Letter of Pope Benedict XVI, 2009.
Hermann, Sr. Brenda and Gaston, Msgr. James T., Build a Life-giving Parish: The Gift of Counsel in the Modern World, (Liguori, Missouri: Liguori Publications, 2010),