The Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People outlines that the laity has an active role in the life and activity of the Church and requires their intelligent attention and examination. Unquestionably then, a great deal of responsibility rests with the faithful. They must interject themselves into the conversation, assail corruption and insist upon potent reform to rid the Church of episcopal malfeasance. This can be accomplished by courageously bringing into question the episcopacy’s actions and inactions over the last several decades, thus, recognizing all Catholics have a role in passing on the Treasury of Faith.
The Second Vatican Council wanted the laity to be stalwarts of the faith in the workplace and the public square. So far, most have bungled that role and are as culpable as the hierarchy for many of the problems in the Church and society today. The laity must accept their responsibility to promote and protect the common good of the Church and the republic. Yet many of the faithful are lost in the miasma of politically correct applications of tolerance and civility. While waiting for this aberrant fog to lift, the quality of the culture continues to decline. Catholic tradition believes the public arena demands prudence, moral responsibility and the practice of virtue to attain civil harmony. A committed laity, not the hierarchy, must bring the Catholic perspective into the civil debate.
American Catholics must insist their representatives treat their religious principles with respect and equity. Approximately twenty-five percent of both houses of the United States Congress are baptized Catholics; most of which choose not to bring their Catholic values to the debate. Other elected officials have no such reservations. Without compunction, they bring their personal belief systems to the floor, which are often repugnant to their Catholic constituents. Politicians know how to bow to pressure, as they have shown with the Women’s Movement, the Gay and Lesbian lobby and other special-interest groups.
Now that Catholics find themselves engaged in cultural wars not of their choosing, the laity must man the frontlines. The battles are about mores, ethics, traditions and common sense. Catholics cannot surrender the tenets of their faith to merely accommodate civility and modernity; to do so, energizes amoral subcultures to believe all things are permitted. Common sense tells us that unrestrained indulgence leads to the loss of proportion and any kind of boundaries.
The laity must understand faith is not blind acceptance and obedience, but an act in accord with reason. Still, belief does not constitute faith; without works it is hollow. Catholics exercising their rights, as citizens, want to support the common good through moral principles not create a theocracy.
No longer can the Church function as a corporate entity with an episcopate mindset heavily influenced by modernism that practically excludes orthodox thought and practice. This course has lead to disunity, confusion and uncertainty for most Catholics as to what the Church officially teaches. Today, Church reform and personal holiness are the most urgent tasks for all Catholics.
The faithful must be strident when the hierarchy, the pastor, the parish priest or special interest groups stray from the official teaching of the Magisterium and Sacred Tradition. Faith cannot survive without a strong adherence to its doctrines. With their unique knowledge and experience the laity can make numerous intellectual and spiritual contributions for consideration by the whole Church.
The laity’s obligation is affirmed in the sacrament of Confirmation. It confers upon recipients the title of “Defender of the Faith.” Thus, the confirmed need to act on Saint Thomas Aquinas' injunction: “When the faith is in imminent peril prelates ought to be accused by their subjects even in public.” Catholics cannot assume men in responsible positions will act responsibly.
Alexis de Tocqueville in his, Democracy in America, reminded Americans, “Freedom sees religion as the companion of its struggles and triumphs, the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its rights.” He further added, “Religion is considered the guardian of mores, and mores are regarded as the guarantee of the laws and a pledge for the maintenance of freedom itself.” The demands of morality require each generation to continue to make installment payments on the freedom purchased by the down payment of their forefathers. Within a free society, there is no sanctuary from the demands of morality.
For several decades, many Catholics who strived to defend the faith did not get a fair hearing and were elbowed to the sidelines. Sometimes, the Church dismissed the views of orthodox communicants not allowing for the possibility they thirst for truth, justice, and the welfare of Holy Mother Church. Those who love and value their faith are compelled to come to its defense. It will take the power of the Holy Spirit to move these diverse factions to unity.
Erstwhile, Saint Augustine said we are “watchmen” and will be held responsible by God for what we do or do not do regarding such grave matters as defending the faith. Saint Paul warned, “From your own number, men will present themselves distorting the truth and leading astray any who will follow them. Be on guard, therefore.” He further counsels, “You are not your own. You have been purchased, and at a price.”
In summoning the courage to articulate and defend Catholic beliefs, it should be noted, Socrates said, “One must risk appearing arrogant to speak the truth.” Moreover, Fulton Sheen’s assertion can provide the much needed impetus for today’s Catholics to act, “Truth by its nature is not tolerant; it must reject error.” In this licentious age, the void between a Catholic’s personal faith and his lack of public input may just border on hypocrisy. The common good demands individuals sacrifice their level of comfort for the good of the nation. Hence, not only are the culture and the Church in peril, but also indifferent souls.
In reality, one’s accountability is truly tested by Pope Felix III’s statement, “An error which is not resisted is approved; a truth which is not defended is suppressed; [and]...he who does not oppose an evident crime is open to the suspicion of secret complicity.” Catholics must not defer when error abounds but defend the truth by uniting their voices and stating unequivocally, the truth is mighty and will prevail.
Lastly, let us recall the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen once stated, “Those who were aligned against Him were the nice people who stood high in the community—the worldly, prosperous people, the men of big business, the judges of law courts who governed by expediency, the “civic-minded” individuals whose true selfishness was veneered over with public generosity. Such men as these opposed Him and sent Him to His death.” In today’s culture, that has a very familiar ring.
Dan Shea - EGL2