Monday, November 30, 2009

Past Thoughts on the Laity from Father Andrew Greeley

Father Andrew Greeley is a famous sociologist, fiction writer, journalist, and above all, a priest. I have enjoyed reading some of his mystery novels and his reports on past papal elections. I recently read his autobiography, “Furthermore! Memories of a Parish Priest,” published in 1999. While reading this book, I came across the following:

“The Catholic Church has yet to make its peace with the inevitability of the freedom of its laity. It does not like one bit the laity’s assumption of the right to make its own decisions, and of its demand that it be persuaded instead of being ordered. Indeed, the Church usually works on the implicit assumption that it is still dealing with peasants of a century ago who did what they were told (usually) without question, without argument, without the demand to be heard, consulted, persuaded. May pastors still assume that they have the same influence and power that their role models from a generation or two ago had. Catholics, they believe, still do what they’re told.

It ought to be patent by now that this is not so. When Church leaders pretend to deny that the souls of the laity are now shaped by a constant exercise of freedom or lament the passing of the good old days when there was a lot less freedom, they have turned their faces against history. Moreover, they miss the point of their own tradition which has believed the virtue is formed by the frequent repetition of free human acts. In any event the days of the docile peasant and the not so docile immigrant parish are gone and they will never return. The Church must adjust to the fact that in the European and North Atlantic world at any rate, the day of the free laity whom makes their own decisions after reflecting in the issues, who want to be heard, consulted, persuaded, in the world in which we live and work. In the present milieu, the laity reserve to themselves the right to say on what terms they will be Catholic. Nothing will change the fact, neither orders from Rome or hysterical ranting from the tiny fundamentalist Catholic minority.”

Although Father Greeley comes across strong, I agree with his sentiments. I firmly believe that one of things that came out of the Second Vatican Council is the realization that the laity is a part of the People of God. That as members of the Body of Christ, the laity has a share; along with the clergy and religious; “in their particular way in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ, and have their own part to play in the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.” (Para. 897, Catechism of the Catholic Church).

As I think I may have written in an earlier post, I believe in the tradition of the bishops as shepherds of the Catholic community. However, I do believe that the laity has a right to give input on how decisions are made in this community. We have a right to share our experiences and knowledge; our hopes and fears. We have a right to be listened to by our bishops; and this means established consultative bodies, freely elected by the laity.

On a closing note on Father Greeley; in November 2008, he suffered severe head trauma from a serious fall and has been recuperating ever since. May the Lord Jesus be with him and heal him.

1 comment:

  1. Amen.

    One of the deep themes that I have been wrestling with- since the very day I converted, or even my first RCIA session- is the issue of the freedom, and the primacy, of conscience.