REFLECTION: Laity’s challenge to the clergy PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 10 November 2011 13:48


A number of times, I have been invited to give talks or preside over some liturgical activities by groups of laymen who have formed themselves together for a spiritual or religious purpose. These invitations are, of course, outside of my regular pastoral assignments.

On these occasions, they can ask me to give some spiritual inputs, if not conduct for them a morning or afternoon of recollection and things like that. When I have the time, I usually accept the requests, and I always end up being moved to see how these lay people are actually hungering for spiritual nourishment.

I notice lately that the invitations have been increasing while my availability has been decreasing, and so I have been refusing these invitations more than accepting them.

This, of course, pains me. It’s undeniable that contrary to some negative and dark reports about people getting secularized, we can also say that there are many people who are trying their best to find God in their daily life. I consider this a marvellous work of the Holy Spirit. There’s a lot of sheep out there looking for their shepherd!

Even youngsters are into this phenomenon. The other day, for example, a group of Filipino-Chinese youth asked me if I could give them some talk. They have been looking for priests, but they could not get one. I was their last resort.

I am sure this wonderful development is caught in the radar of our Church authorities. I remember some years ago that the late Pope John Paul II organized in Rome a gathering of lay groups to highlight this heavenly gift of the laity taking the initiative to strengthen and deepen their spiritual lives.

But I think a lot more has to be done. While it’s true that Church life has to revolve around the parish, especially around the sacraments, most especially around the Holy Eucharist, it’s also true that the Church cannot be confined in these environments.

While it’s true that in the Church, the laity cannot be without the clergy, it is also true that the clergy ought to truly look after the laity in all their spiritual needs. The priests should not just wait for the laity to go to them nor to limit themselves doing strictly liturgical functions.

Spiritual and Church life actually covers the whole range of human life in its different aspects and levels. It cannot be confined simply within church premises and parochial concerns. There is a lot more to it than just restricting it to the sacraments.

The clerics, always indispensable in all these, should know how to be present everywhere, effectively engaging everyone in his spiritual and moral needs. People need to be formed humanly, spiritually, doctrinally, apostolically, professionally, etc., and priests do have a hand in all these.

For example, do priests spend time hearing individual confessions of penitents and giving spiritual direction in a very personal way, as is expected of this delicate practice? These are very important duties that cannot be renounced.

Or are they succumbing to a mere bureaucrat’s mentality, contented only with managing the parish, doing the accounting and the purchasing of materials, etc.?

It’s not so much a matter of physical presence of the priests in the different parts of the world as his adequate spiritual and competent pastoral presence in the world. They have to learn to work in tandem with the lay, knowing the art of functional delegation and supervision.

They have to learn how to accompany everyone in the entirety of his earthly journey, without getting lost or unduly entangled with things. This is a big challenge.

For this, of course, a certain training is needed, starting in the seminary days and going all the way to the never-ending formation of priests even up to their old age.

There’s a need to be clear about priorities, since definitely many and all things can demand the attention of priests. And they (we) just have to know how to put order in all of them.

For sure, this will require a continuing study of everyone concerned, with the Church authorities always taking the lead and inspiring everyone to contribute his observations and suggestions. They have to know how to get the act together.

With world developments getting faster-paced and more complex, bishops and priests have to do some retooling to cope with the emerging challenges. And yes, also greater sacrifices, more heroic generosity of one’s time, talents and resources.

We all have to discern more keenly what the Holy Spirit is telling us.