Christian Identity and Communities of Memory: Renewing the Public Life at the Parish Level (Part 6)

Christian Identity and Communities of Memory: Renewing the Public Life at the Parish Level (Part 6) May 13, 2009

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: The Challenges of Individualism

Part 3: The Person, the Other, and the Community in communio Ecclesiology

Part 4: Affinity and Lifestyle Enclaves

Part 5: Communities of Memory

The Parish and the Mission of the Laity

The Second Vatican Council recognized the important role of the parish in the context of the universal Church: “The parish offers an outstanding example of community apostolate, for it gathers into a unity all the human diversities that are found there and inserts them into the universality of the Church.”[1] With regard to the mission of the laity, the same document, the Decree on the Apostolate of Laity, highlights how the

laity should develop the habit of working in the parish in close union with their priests, of bringing before the ecclesial community their own problems, world problems, and questions regarding man’s salvation, to examine them together and to solve them by general discussion.[2]

As mentioned previously, in light of communio ecclesiology, the Church has a wholesome and comprehensive view of the person in which all of his dimensions—physical and spiritual—are taken into account including his worldly activities. Thus, it should not be a cause for surprise to suggest, as the Decree above notes, that the parish should be a forum, a place where lay people should bring to their community their “world problems” and discuss them and resolve them together. This concept may still be surprising nonetheless to most Catholics. We are used to thinking of parishes as the place where we worship and not where we discuss “worldly” affairs. The underlying problem is our definition of worship. We seem to create a false dichotomy between worship and action when in reality if we were to live our lives as God meant for us to live them every one of our actions would become our “spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1).

More recently, John Paul II emphasized the importance of action on the part of the laity that is driven by solidarity as “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.”[3] Thus, as lay Catholics especially, due to our unique place within the world, it is not enough for us to merely feel compassion for others and their misfortunes. We have to act and commit ourselves to improving the conditions of our neighbors, because we are responsible for the well being of all—without exception. To act in this way is not an option but a logical consequence of our Christian faith. Furthermore, Pope Benedict XVI in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, also outlined the mission of the laity “to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competences and fulfilling their own responsibility.”[4] Once again, there is a responsibility to engage the world that is proper to the lay faithful and that has to be done through cooperation with fellow citizens and not through isolated efforts of individuals.

[1] Apostolicam Actuositatem, 10

[2] Ibid.

[3] Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38.

[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 29.

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