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Posted June 5, 2007

Book: Catholicism at the Crossroads: How the Laity can Save the Church
Author: Paul Lakeland
Continuum, New York. 2007. Pp. 164

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Try to define a layperson without using the word not: cannot preach or say mass, is not a priest, is not in a position of leadership in the church. This generally negative or passive understanding of the laity was epitomized in a statement of Pope Pius X: “The one duty of the multitude [i.e., the laity] is to allow themselves to be led and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.” The Second Vatican Council, with its emphasis on the priesthood of all believers rooted in baptism, changed all that. Yet, writes Paul Lakeland, “many of our bishops and not a few of the lay members of the church are attracted to a dangerously incomplete vision of Catholicism . . .one that sidesteps the major themes and key insights of Vatican II.” In Catholicism at the Crossroads, he teases out themes first developed in a much more formal way in his prize-winning The Liberation of the Laity. In his new book he is “talking to ordinary Catholics in languages that requires no special expertise in theology and does not necessitate constant reference to a dictionary.

Baptism, says Lakeland, not priestly ordination, is the basis for all mission and ministry, and the mission of those baptized into Christ is to be the sacrament of God’s love in a world rife with violence and brutal inequity. The specific mission of the laity is to the world, whereas the mission of the clergy is to the household of the faith. Yet lay people can’t leave “church business” exclusively to the clergy, and the clergy can’t leave the church’s “worldly mission” exclusively to the laity. The key to resolving these overlapping responsibilities is by becoming an adult church, an open church in an open society. In pursuing this goal, Lakeland develops “ten steps toward a more adult church.”

An Excerpt from the Book:

Speaking out would be a wonderful thing, but it is not enough. Fortunately for us, we are Americans. That means that we are citizens of a country that even today still can exercise an important influence to the good. As the consumer of so much of the world’s resources and one of the principle engines of global capitalism, we have a large share of responsibility for the problems, if only we have the will. Right now, we don’t have the will, and why that is so is a complex question. The great Protestant theologian of the mid-twentieth century, Reinhold Niebuhr, would blame it on original sin, which he thought showed up in Americans in the particular form of a dangerous inclination to see God’s purposes and ours in lockstep. There is a task here for the Christian churches, to lead American culture in a sober examination of the degree to which our nation is indeed on the side of the forces that struggle for a more human world, that is aligned against those forces that seek to destroy or demean or reduce the human potential and human dignity of all the world’s citizens. The answer will be complex, and it will neither place all the blame on us nor will it exonerate us. But it might give us an agenda for social and cultural change that will make us feel a little less guilty about our place in the increasingly chaotic national and international community.

Christians can make the greatest contribution to American culture and an impact on world culture by drawing on our spiritual resources to model lives of self-discipline that demonstrate the purity of our intentions. Politics ultimately recognizes only self-interest. To Niebuhr, that is simply original sin. Original sin affects all of us, believers and unbelievers alike, but we can name it and thus be armed to deal with in in ourselves in the first place, and then to name it in the world around us. Prayer is a resource that we can never underestimate, not so much the prayer in which we yearn for an end to suffering in the world, or beg for God’s blessings on us or our families or on those who have nothing, but prayer in which we purify our own intentions. The prayer of the publican recommends itself once again.

Christians engage culture constructively when we speak and act in defense of the human, in solidarity with those of other faiths and who share the objective of a more truly human world. But as American Christians, our greatest gift to our culture could be to encourage the national purification of our intentions. We cannot simply draw up a list of issues that Christians must speak on, nor an easy phrase to know what side to take on an issue. We Christians are as divided on these things as is our culture in general. But we could marshal our forces in defense of the human — or against the forces of Satan, which is the same thing — though only if we can grow in the purification of our intentions. That could be our greatest gift to our self-indulgence culture, bent on short-term satisfactions to hide its own sense of emptiness and perhaps its fear of the future and of the unknown.

Another Except: Ten Steps Toward a More Adult Church

1. The whole church needs to make an option for the poor and marginalized

2. The lay/clerical relationship needs to move from one child/parent to one of equality. Adult behavior among the laity is non-negotiable. Acceptance of the laity as equally adult is nonnegotiable for bishops and clergy.

3. The laity and the clergy need to become better educated in the history of the Catholic tradition.

4. Seminary training and ministerial training should be for ministry in real life.

5. We need to insist on genuine parish and diocesan pastoral and financial councils that have deliberative as well as consultative roles.

6. There must be real and significant lay participation in the processes by which pastors and bishops are selected.

7. There needs to be renewed attention to the sacrament of baptism as the basis for the understanding of all ministry in the church.

8. There needs to be a serious consideration of the implications of the centrality of the Eucharist in Catholic tradition for the life and structure of the church.

9. The community of faith needs to become aware of the enormous resource for education and renewal represented by our Catholic colleges and universities, and the colleges and universities need to recognize their responsibility for helping the church to think.

10. The life of the church will not be fully renewed until women achieve their rightful positions as fully equally partners with men.

Table of Contents:

1. Prayer, discernment and disagreement

2. The role of the laity

3. What is so important about accountability

4. Accountability of the laity

5. Understanding the sex abuse scandal

6. An open church in an open society

7. Ten steps toward a more adult church

8. The laity, episcopal leadership and the mission of the church

9. Catholics and America’s role in the world

10. Catholics and Amercan culture