Monday, February 1, 2010


Today Pope Benedict received the bishops of England and Wales in their ad limina visit to the tombs of Ss. Peter and Paul, and to meet with Vatican heads of congregations and with the Holy Father. In his address to them, he included this charge:
"If the full saving message of Christ is to be presented effectively and convincingly to the world, the Catholic community in your country needs to speak with a united voice. This requires not only you, the Bishops, but also priests, teachers, catechists, writers – in short all who are engaged in the task of communicating the Gospel – to be attentive to the promptings of the Spirit, who guides the whole Church into the truth, gathers her into unity and inspires her with missionary zeal.
Make it your concern, then, to draw on the considerable gifts of the lay faithful in England and Wales and see that they are equipped to hand on the faith to new generations comprehensively, accurately, and with a keen awareness that in so doing they are playing their part in the Church’s mission. "

This remark, set in the context of the Pope’s praises of Cardinal Newman (whom he will personally beatify this fall during his pastoral visit to the United Kingdom), calls to mind Newman’s own struggle to have the voice of the laity heard. The essay for which he was (wrongfully—I can elaborate on this point another time) censured was titled “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine.” He believed that the whole Church was the Church—clergy and lay. To pretend that only clergy were the “real Church” was a sham and a disaster. When questioned by his bishop, “Who are the laity?” he famously replied words to the effect, “The Church would look rather foolish without them.”

Newman understood the need for competence in ecclesiastical affairs, and he understood that clergy do not always have (in virtue of their training) the needed competence. What do bishops or priests necessarily know about education, or finance, or economics, or politics? It is only accidental, if at all: in context of their theological and pastoral formation, there is no specific treating of these topics. So it only makes sense to rely on people (lay-folk) whose formal education has prepared them to weigh in with expertise in these areas.

This reminds us of what ought to be a truism for us—the insight of St. Paul in the 2nd readings of these last two weekends (3rd and 4th Sundays of the Year, Cycle C—I Corinthians 12:12-30, and 12:31—13:13): not every member of the body is an eye, or a foot, or a nose: they are not, for that reason, any less a part of the body, and without them the body is incomplete. If we were all eyes, how would we hear? If we were all hands, how would we walk? If we were all heart, how would we think? If we were all clergy,…? You can fill in the blank.

Let’s thank God that the body has MANY members, all of which working together (ideally), all of which truly making up ONE body.


  1. What a clever picture-insert you have depicted --- an enlargement would be most effective....

  2. Johnn Henry Cardinal Newman will finally be formally recognized as a saint (he always was in my mind!)...this great man is not to be underestimated. Contemporary theologian, M. Hines said of him: "The Second Vatican Council was Newman's Council!!" And for good reading: Newman's "The INFALLIBILITY of the LAITY! which I'm sure can be gotten for a pittance at Amazon USED books. God bless, aidan