Protagonists, not Altar Boys: How does Pope Francis view the Laity?

An interview as Archbishop of Buenos Aires shows the new pope to see a danger of “clericalization” of the laity. The great people at www.zenit.org,  on their Spanish website, published part of an interview granted by then Cardinal Archbishop Bergoglio in 2011 when he ended his tenure as president of the Bishops’ Conference of Argentina.  It reveals his view of the laity’s role within the Church.

His response to the question, “How do you see the laity in Argentina?” was direct:

“There is a problem, and I’ve said it many times before: the temptation of clericalization. We priests tend to clericalize the laity. We don’t realize it, but it is like our [clerical state] being contagious. And the laity –not all, but many,- ask us on their knees to clericalize them because it’s more comfortable to be an altar server than the protagonist of the way [of life] of the laity. We don’t have to fall into that trap. It is a complicity that is sinful. Neither to clericalize nor to ask to be clericalized. The lay person is a lay person and has to live like a lay person with the strength of baptism, which renders him capable of being leaven of God’s love in society itself, to create and sow hope, to proclaim the faith, not from the pulpit but from his or her daily life. And carrying the cross like we all do. The lay person’s cross, not the priest’s cross. Let the priest carry the priest’s cross. God gave him shoulder enough to bear it.”

In sum, Pope Francis believes that the best way we can help out the Church is not only to help in the Church. Our vocation as lay people is to bring the Gospel beyond the Church parking lot.

Since he is an avid soccer fan and uses soccer analogies in his preaching, Cardinal Bergoglio was reminding us all that we are the forwards, the strikers in the Church. The Pope and the bishops guard the deposit of faith, but if we all drop back on defense, no one is bringing the ball forward and penetrating society so that the Gospel can transform the world.

Get used to seeing a very creative style of spreading the Gospel. When asked about Buenos Aires, he said there were many things to do, and “we’ve got to keep walking and doing these things little by little. This is a city which by night has 3 million inhabitants and by day has 8.” He saw Buenos Aires as not one city, in a way, but seven or eight, each with its own language and challenges for the Faith. There could not be a one-size-fits-all pastoral program.

Speaking of the Church and the media, when asked about “technological beauty” he replied, “Church institutions have always tended more toward the category of ‘truth’ rather than ‘goodness’ or ‘beauty.’ Communication supposes all three. To communicate implies saying something than one understands is true, to say it with goodness and beauty. The three together. Church institutions as yet haven’t developed above all that dimension of beauty. I think we need to work a lot on this (…) And if one is lacking, something of each is lacking. A truth that isn’t good ends up being something good that’s not really true. They go together.  The same for beauty.”

He then went on to give homework, recommending that the interviewer read the Vatican II decree on the media, Inter Mirifica.

As laypeople, let’s do the homework that the new pope will give us, and above all get ready to roll up our sleeves, take up our lay cross and head out the Church door into a world hungry for the truth, goodness and beauty of Christianity.

Benedictine College

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