I have been working in the Catholic Church for about 4 months now and I have to say it is truly a blessing to be able to support a small parish with the abilities the Lord has given me. These 4 months have been a great time for meditation and reflection on many things but today’s topic is around the role of the laity in supporting the church administration and some of the challenges I see with this.
I couldn’t find exact figures but prior to a priest being ordained, he will require potentially 7+ years of studies. This likely is a great opportunity for any potential priest to discern whether this is his calling in life. This is a very good thing because a poorly formed priest can do quiet a bit of damage in a parish if his vocation is not genuine or if he is struggling with some deep, unresolved psychological problems. If the priest is firm in his conviction, has a strong faith, a life dependent on the Eucharist and the interior life, he will be an extremely strong shepherd who will lead many to Jesus Christ.
What can be said of the laity who choose to serve in the church? What sort of discernment process do we use in order to determine whether one should serve the church or not? The answer to the second question is there is none. Now, most that serve in unique areas will have to obtain some form of specialized education. If someone is looking to support in pastoral ministries, ideally some studies in that area is beneficial. If they are supporting music liturgies, the right sort of musical training is required as well. Let’s go back to the second question but let me rephrase the question differently: similar to how all men that go through the seminary might not be fit for the priesthood, how do we determine which of the laity are fit to work in the church?
I will highlight some reasons for asking this question. Firstly I want to propose a very simplified breakdown of the laity. I will break them up into three groups: the Genuine Catholic, the Lukewarm Catholic and the Destructive Catholic. The Genuine Catholic is one who lives by faith and in fullness with the teachings of the church, has a strong Eucharistic and interior life, and is one who is actively striving towards perfection. The Lukewarm Catholic is one who more or less attends mass, perhaps doesn’t do great evil (or great good) and is not actively striving towards perfection. The Destructive Catholic is an interesting one. I would define this person as one that is regularly involved with the church, even volunteers, but they likely disagree with many church teachings, is proud, lacks obedience and is actively doing harm to the church by the poor example of their life. This individual likely does not have an intimate prayer life and their faith is weak. Why they still go to church is a great mystery but they are there nevertheless.
If I were to ask you, which of the three you would like to be serving your parish, which one would you choose? I think without a doubt all would pick the Genuine Catholic. But why? What would be the consequence of having a Lukewarm or Destructive Catholic lay person serving the church? What if they have great experience, the right education and on the surface seem very pleasant? And let’s go a step further and ask, should they even be Catholic in order to serve the church?
These are very important questions to ask and understand because what you will find, generally, across more parishes is the hiring of Lukewarm and Destructive Catholics, as well as the hiring of non-Catholics to serve in various positions. This is very alarming and it should be. Before I started working for the church, I never gave much attention to the involvement of laity in the church. It generally is something in the background and out of view. I would typically just focus on the pastor. Working in the church however has revealed to me a very different dynamic that most do not see. I would like to share some non-specific examples of how the laity can be damaging based on what I have seen throughout the church and from testimonies given to me from other faithful Catholics:
- A Parish Pastoral Council that fights, and often, disagrees with the pastor.
- A sacristan, who for the longest time mixed unconsecrated hosts with consecrated hosts and place them into the tabernacle.
- A pastoral minister who is creating division in the lay staff due to unstable and unhealthy reactions to issues.
- Non-Catholic staff being hired to manage Sunday school for children.
- Business Administrators who treat their subordinates coldly.
- Support staff who are actively disobedient to their pastor.
- Volunteers in the parish who are unwilling to relinquish their hold on some position that they have kept for 10+ years.
- Musicians who treat their work as a professional service and not as one of service for the church.
- Gossip among lay staff.
The list goes on but you can see how each of these can be very damaging to the life of any church. Perhaps some parishes have to deal with all of the above! I have grown to show great sympathy to pastors because unbeknownst to most, as much as they may want to desire positive change in their parish, many are struggling to deal with the fallout of poorly formed (interiorly) lay staff who are doing more harm than good. There currently is no rigorous way in which staff are screened to serve in the church, aside from perhaps during interview in which they say they are “Catholic” and follow the precepts but inside them there is nothing but foulness and deceit. A good priest can be thwarted in his efforts to truly change a parish interiorly because of his staff.
What are we to do then with the current situation? It may be hard to change the current situation but what I would like to see in the future is a system where, similar to where priests undergoes a process to determine whether they should be priests, we have a system similar to that for the laity that support the church. This is not a joking matter. A poorly form lay person, or one who is not Catholic, can be seriously damaging in a parish. If they are Lukewarm or Destructive Catholics, they will only hinder the progress of holy priests and/or cause unseen damage throughout the church. I do believe that Genuine Catholics are the only type of individuals who should be hired to serve the church because we can at least say with some great certainty that not only will they not cause harm to the parish BUT they will be a great aid to the pastor and help offload him of his temporal burdens so he can focus on the spiritual growth of his flock.
Now, I am of the firm mindset that a priest who is very strong in the Eucharistic and interior life will be able to discern lay correctly and be able to have a team that is full of Genuine Catholics. The problem? Most clergy themselves are weak in both the Eucharistic and interior life, which only exacerbates the problem. I imagine that most parish staffs are composed of priests that are weak in the interior life, who hire staff that are also weak in the interior life (or not even Catholic). Together they will try to solve the problems of the church, which they are unable to see because they themselves don’t realize that they are the problem. So we keep going around and around.
The current trend that we see in Catholic renewal groups is to have a team that is well-rounded with a variety of strengths as this will be the best team to tackle the day-to-day problems in the church. I think this is dangerous. To be honest, the only thing that would matter to me is that they have the basic skills to do the job but more importantly, are very good Catholic’s who are there to do God’s will and are actively working towards perfection through the Eucharistic and interior life. If you have someone like this on your staff, you will never have to worry. Once you start introducing different poisons into the team, the damage will be devastating over time.
I would like to see some sort of Lay Administrative Order that looks at screening lay people working for the church but perhaps we are not there yet. I believe that as United Body moves forward, with each individual attentively focusing on their interior relationship with the Lord, we will be able to build critical mass to tackle some of these problems. Till then, we have to turn inward to make sure the cup is cleaned on the inside before we move to clean the cup on the outside.
Blessed Mother, lead us to your son, our Lord Jesus Christ!