What’s Needed for Lay Spirituality
All Catholics are called to be missionaries, but for lay people to evangelise well, they must be spiritually equipped, suggests Fr Ralph De Hahn.
All baptised Christians share the consecrated life in Christ and seek to “be holy as your heavenly father is holy”.
Lay people might seek that holiness in not quite the same way as our consecrated religious, who profess and live the three demanding virtues of chastity, obedience and poverty. But all Catholics have access to the powerful sacraments, above all the Blessed Eucharist.
While the many religious orders — the monks, priests and nuns — follow the rule of their respective founders, lay people seek true holiness in the very heart of a real world, in the everyday duties of home and office and employment of every description, and face daily challenges from a society which boasts of moral values of its own creation.
Yet, there is a lay spirituality; there is a call for them to carry the Good News into the soul of modern society, and to proclaim the living gospel by living courageously the Christian values as taught by Jesus Christ. On this Mission Sunday, we must amplify the call on the laity to evangelise as missionaries in the world.
We mustn’t forget that the gospels were written and addressed to the lay people; they were to be the leaven in the dough of society.
Lay spirituality does not dictate a prescribed formula; rather it directs seekers to embrace Jesus as the Good News and then allow the Lord to direct their lives in the ordinary circumstances in family and social life.
Jesus is the teacher and he alone can establish the God-man relationship, both horizontal and vertical. All this simply demands an encounter with Jesus, a deep faith and conviction in the values he presents, and the deep spiritual joy in living those values in a godless society.
The perfect role model
The perfect model of lay spirituality is Mary. She was a lay person, a virgin, a wife, a mother and a widow. She, more than any other person, had a wonderful encounter with her son.
Note how she does not flood the pages of sacred scripture with her presence, but when she is mentioned, it is a precious moment in the history of God’s people: the Annunciation, the silent birth of her Son, the presentation in the temple, the wedding feast of Cana, the long road to Calvary, the sorrowful witness to the crucifixion, and, finally, the joy of her resurrected son.
And like every other human mother, she was ever-caring — and worried to death when the 13-year-old Jesus chose to stay behind in the temple. Through the dark hours of his passion she displayed her incredible faith and unquenchable hope “and treasured all these things in her heart” — and that is what lay spirituality is all about!
Lay spirituality is not about regular Mass attendance, or devotion to the rosary or a saint or statue. Rather, it is to humbly but boldly bring to others the news of this New Life that is the very heart, mind and teaching of the infallible Teacher.
And how is that done? By one’s behaviour in offering a new set of values. This new set of values is self-enriching; it is good news, it is a revelation, and it is contagious.
Lay ministers enter an arena where the pious religious dare not tread, and challenge the moral values of a dying society.
In fact, the deeply sincere lay Christian is the outsider in our modern age, just as Jesus was.
A great treasure to share
When listening to the proclamation of the Word do we know that God himself speaks to us, “and did not our hearts burn within”? (Lk 24:32).
The laity have this great treasure to share “if only you knew what God is offering” (Jn 4:10). However, the Gospel is good news only when people think and act as Jesus did in every situation. It is self-evident that lay spirituality begins with our knowledge of the four gospels and establishing a personal relationship with Christ.
Meeting the real Jesus in Scripture and in prayer will necessitate a conversion in our thinking and acting. If there is no conversion then we have obviously not met the real Jesus; for with him we discover new values, a whole new life.
It is such a shame that so many Catholics still cling to the basic catechism lessons of the early grades.
Our present confirmation catechetical programmes are urgently in need of transformation. See how our Protestant catechists prepare their young and old as apostles to proclaim Jesus as Lord in the streets, and housetops, and even at your very door!
How is it possible that, having matured in our relationship with Christ, we remain untouched? Christianity without a conversion of some kind is meaningless.
We might well need to change our own system of values, says Paul (Phil 3:7-10). Lay spirituality must be able to state without shame that what we are announcing is that Incarnate Word we have personally heard and seen and watched and touched with our own hands.
Therefore, in seeking a deeper knowledge of Jesus and his teachings, we need to communicate with him; that is our prayer life which is, of course, basic to the lay ministry. Without prayer and the helping grace of the Holy Spirit, nothing is achieved (Eph 2:8-9).
A Community With a Language
It is a further advantage if we are a community with a faith vision, believing in one another, praying together, acting in faith, supporting one another, enduring all things together with Mary (Acts 1:14).
This prayer community, formed in Christ’s name, will speak a common language — which, of course, is love.
Mindful of the Lord’s great miracle of feeding the 5000 with so little, the laity move into the lion’s den fully aware that the Holy Spirit will multiply their offerings, for God’s powerful Spirit is just as active in the lay disciple as in any pope, bishop or priest.
If we wonder why the Church suffers the current clergy shortage, we may suggest that Divine Providence is calling on the hierarchy to promote lay spirituality more vigorously in penetrating a stubborn world.
So many of our people, on leaving the Church after Mass, leave behind their union with the Lord; they enter the ugly world alone.
It is unfortunate that we still hear the farewell greeting, “Go, the Mass is ended!” But the Mass is never ended; rather we take a Person and his Truth into a hungry, thirsting world.
Holiness is available to all believers. It is obvious that lay spirituality must be promoted and encouraged from our pulpits, as also must the Pentecostal spirit which Christ left to his Church.