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Doctrines & Morals
 
 
General…

MOVING THE PEW CLOSER TO THE PULPIT – THE VOCATION OF CO-RESPONSIBILITY WE MUST HEED AND TEACH

THE EASTER NARRATIVES are not just another super story or sensational reporting of events that followed the resurrection of Christ; they convey to us that the Church, whether 2000 years ago or now, is on a mission. It is a mission that rely on collaboration and sense of co-responsibility as people called to bear witness to the risen Christ. The central message rallies us to be aware that the Militant Church is at war – a strange war where our enemies are not to be conquered, but to be saved. The story of Easter, in summary, sets the tone of the war, commissioned us to our different parts, and established the hierarchy of soldiers in the scheme of order. The story, logically, created the Pulpit and the Pew, and marked out strategic relationship between the two.

In the various stories of Easter, it is evident that Jesus, before creating the mission, created the soldiers and hierarchy in the troop. In the sequence of his appearances after resurrection, Jesus appeared to the lay people first, then the clergy. While the Apostles were still wallowing in the regrets of their roles, and living in doubts, the laity, as being represented by Mary Magdalene, Cleopas and the unnamed disciples had witnessed Christ. The hierarchy was not set on the basis of “first- come – first served”, as the church was not formed on the witnesses and sensational news of Mary Magdalene, the women at the tomb, Cleopas and the unnamed disciples, but on the conviction of the Apostles under the leadership of St. Peter. The Easter story though presented the delayed declaration of the Apostles over that of the lay people, it, however, sends a signal of how the battle can only be won with effective collaboration between the Pulpit and the Pew – the Officers and the Rank and File. In the Church there is a diversity of ministry, but oneness of mission. The war cannot be won if we do not know that we are at war or if some soldiers refuse to fight. Collaboration is key to our victory as the Militant Church. The question is, are we closing ranks between the Pulpit and the Pew just like the early Christians did? I will be removing the log in my eye rather that pointing to the speck in the eye of the Clergy, because we, the lay people, form the largest number of the soldiers in this troop. I do not need a professional certificate to know that wars are not being won by strategy of the Officers alone, but also by obedience to the Officers, and the courage by the Rank and File to fight the battle till the end.

Like I discussed above, it took Jesus to personally appear to Simon (Peter), then the other Apostles before the declaration of “He is risen” led to the conception of the Church. This asserts that Christ chose to confer on the Apostles and their successors the mission of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in His name and power. We, as lay people may be more watchful, and even hopeful like Mary Magdalene. We may have a more inflamed heart like Cleopas, yet we are called to obedience and patience to the authority of the Church. However, by the virtue of our Baptism, the laity is configured to share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ. We are to take instructions from the Pulpit and cascade the Gospel to people we come in contact with in words and deeds. We are as important as much as the Clergy in the work of evangelization, and it is on this premise that the outcome of the Vatican II on Lay Apostolate lies.

What differences are there to see between the Pulpit and the Pew, and why do I think that we the laity are fluffing our lines more in the joint mission? True, some may say the quality of the Pew is determined by the quality of the Pulpit, but are we not all called to “work out our salvation in fear and trembling”? Whether a priest or a layman, as human, we are a union of spirit and matter – soul and body. We respond to stimulus of sound, light, gravity, taste, and touch alike. Not considering the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the layman and the priests have same human structure and needs; hence as layman, we are called to respond to the mission in a similar way to the Clergy without any distinction. Our first point of call is to be armed with the revealed truth and the required Grace of the Sacraments the Church puts at our disposal. My little personal experience as a layman shows that the bane of our non-compliance to the tone of the mission is majorly blamed on our ignorance of the revealed truth. What are we to share when we are as ignorant as the people we intend to sell the gains of Gospel to? How do we sell the gospel of Trinity when we are still struggling between logic and mystery? How can we talk about incarnation, if we do not stand with Mary in the knowledge and submission to divine will? How can we encourage ourselves to active participation at Mass if we do not have a full grasp of the structural elements of the Liturgy – Word, Action and Things? The questions are endless. In my opinion, we have more soldiers in our rank and file, who are either unaware of the on-going war or are contented to fight the battle without searching for the revealed truth – an analogy of fighting with their bare hands. Church programs that are set up to arm us to the teeth on the revealed truth are always characterized with scanty attendance. Pious Lay Apostolate groups like Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart of Mary, Legion of Mary, St. Vincent de Paul, Holy Childhood, just to mention, but few, are characterized with low patronage and membership. The service arm of the Lay Apostolate group, like the Choir, Church Warden, Lay Readers, and so on, are dominated by old and retirees that form a very insignificant number in the Church? The truth, as being revealed by the Church, cannot be gotten while we lay and waste away; it is not for the lazy and people who are not ready to leave their comfort zone, but for people who are determined to, like St. Paul put it, “fight for their salvation in fear and trembling”

Without the knowledge of the revealed truth, we as laymen (and women) are slipping, quickly, into religious illiteracy. We fill the vacuum left by our ignorance of the truth that leads us to God with secular literacy. Rather than finding a balance between Secular literacy and Religious literacy, our poor knowledge and attitude to our vocation, have reduced us to lazy warriors, and have always set us on a collision course to the pulpit. We see every action of the Church as proclaimed by the clergy from the secular point of view. I was recently at a meeting where my Parish Priest was taking his time to explain to us that the Church does not work on the aberration of democracy and that it operates on a hierarchical order. Without a balance between Secular literacy and Religious literacy, we are akin to a body being guided by two disproportionate eyes in strength. One is weak, while the other is strong. If the Secular eye is the weaker eye, we read too many spiritual reasons to things happening around us. We blame every fall, diseases, and pains to spiritual attacks. Rather than seek scientifically or socially motivated solutions to challenges, we run to mountaintops for signs and wonders. If the Secular eye is the stronger eye, it is simply natural to close our weaker eye of Religious literacy. We become religious illiterates, seeing everything from secular point of view. We approach the Church doctrines from the perspectives of human theories and practices; fault infant Baptism, reject the ability to seek for and be forgiven by the authority of the Church, question the logic of transubstantiation, become less equipped to witness Christ after the Sacrament of Confirmation, abuse and attack the foundation of Matrimony, defile the sacred order of priesthood, trivialize the importance of anointing of the sick and the dying at their time of suffering. In one sentence, we will continue to break our ranks and lose the war if we can’t find the right balance in the mission entrusted to us.

The world is filled with so much cacophony that to rely only on the voice from the pulpit will never win us the war. The rank and file must, in obedience to the Officers, peddle the Gospel to the people we live with, our coworkers, people we associate with, and to the ends of the world. True, we have the numerical strength (compared to the clergy), we should rather boast in the quality of our participation in the mission than in our large, but weak and ineffectual army. The yardstick of what he knows and willing to share should measure the quality of a good layman. It must be based on how he can find a balance between secular and religious literacy in a way that both are not seen as ends in itself, but means to an end of fulfilling our part on earth. Between the Pulpit, as well as the Pew, there are bound to be disagreement, but the end point must be for the salvation of souls.

 


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