The extent to which Christ reaches out to the world through His Church on earth depends on all of us – priests, religious, and laity – working together. Often, however, due to the diminished numbers of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, it is up to the laity to step in and help them.
Increasingly, lay people are called upon to deliver key ministries and services to the many people in our communities who need them, such as special ministers taking Holy Communion to the sick and housebound, religious instruction in schools, various parish ministries, and so on.
There are lay people who have left their Catholic Church and faith due to the failings and behaviours of some people within the Church and affiliated organisations. There are others who have left because they do not agree with the teachings of the Church and so have unfortunately turned away from God’s truth. God keeps on loving these people, but He suffers greatly. Every single Catholic on earth also suffers because of this – after all, we are the one body and family of Christ – including and especially the many good priests, religious, and laity who are left behind to continue God’s work of love.
But, you see, Christ’s Church is not dead and evil will never defeat it. There is a faithful remnant remaining. We trust that this remnant includes every person reading this post – you and me, even if we are smaller in number. And I think that it is the lay people who need to do most of the work to come. The future of our Church and Christ’s saving mission depends on us.
It is us, the laity who are still attending Masses, volunteering for various ministries week in and week out, providing resources, sharing our talents through our free time, etc. We may sometimes feel like we are walking up a steep and rocky hill, but it is us laity who need to keep going for our Church. Without the lay people of all ages and stages of life, there would be no church community.
Of course lay people cannot do what an ordained priest does through the Sacraments – he is representing Christ Himself. We must always pray with St. Annibale for more good vocations. But apart from attending Mass, we too can come together to restore our Church by way of cenacles and small groups together with priests, religious, young, middle-aged, and older people, to keep the flame of Christ alive.
In other words, just like the first Church was built in small numbers gathering together in poor and humble circumstances, we need to return to the simple beginnings, actions, and intimate meetings with the Lord. We need to strip back the layers of materialism and secularism and get back to the basics we find in the Gospel. We need to build the Church back up again in little but powerful ways.
We in the West especially need to turn to the so-called less-wealthy nations, whose congregations and communities are thriving, and learn from them. What are they doing right? How does the laity help there? What is their spiritual life like? What are we missing that they have in abundance, despite their apparent poverty? And it is not about having more modern music, more pizza or pub nights, more showy social media, or other secular-driven marketing campaigns. Clanging bells may get people’s attention, but if it leaves them feeling empty and shallow, with no real substance and spirituality, then what is the point? This is not what our Church and faith should be about.
Just like someone who regularly practices their singing, or who is in training for a marathon, or who goes to the gym to keep fit, we must come together regularly to exercise our faith and spiritual muscles. The laity also needs support and proper formation. Once we have laid this foundation through good faith instruction, sharings, Bible study and readings, and other such activities in small groups – all led by the Holy Spirit and for God’s glory – we can then be on fire for God and spread that zeal out into our communities. Proper spiritual direction must also be available. This is why I believe that any church group must preferably be led by a priest or a religious brother or sister (or a properly-trained lay person who is also a local parishioner and a committed practicing Catholic, if the religious are unavailable).
Some of us may just want to silently go to Mass and then go about our own personal lives. Not everyone may feel the desire to participate or get involved. This is everyone’s freedom of choice, and their right, but our times are crying out for people of genuine faith. If you are serious about your relationship with God and your faith, there is something – even the smallest thing – that you can do to help.
So many times I have heard priests asking people for help in the everyday activities of parish life, and yet very few respond. Perhaps we lay people are afraid, or mistrusting, or are just so tired and preoccupied with our own lives. We have work, families, schooling, ambitions, and so many other things on our minds. Perhaps we may feel resentful towards the Church because of what we have seen in the media, and the terrible sufferings of victims. But without dismissing any of these things, we are forgetting that at the very heart of our Church and faith is Jesus Christ who died for us to have this life, and eternal life beyond. Our faith is in the Saviour, Who is above every evil and sin humanity has ever committed. Remember, according to the Scriptures, Jesus died for our sins (1 Cor 15:3). Our faith needs to be based on Him as the solid rock, not on earthly things. When we go to Mass we go to worship and praise Him in the Eucharist – not the priest, or the building we are in, or the music we hear, or anything else.
Some lay people may still say – why should I bother? Why should I use my time helping the Church because of all of the above reasons? Priest and religious move from place to place so why should I even get involved? Well, because Christ deserves better from you. Christ never abandons you. You would not be alive today if it were not for Him. We owe Him everything. He is in the Tabernacle waiting for you to come to receive Him at Mass or even to just sit with Him for a while in Adoration. One day you will go back to Him after death and will need to account for everything you have done or not done. I do not know, but perhaps we will be asked at that moment: How did you love? How did you serve Me by serving others?
Please God, our answer will not be nothing. Go and help your church in some way. Go and serve. Be amazing for God in your own way – even the smallest of loving acts will not be unseen by Him. You are the hands and feet of Christ. Our Church needs us lay people now more than ever before.