A Piece of the (Catholic) Action
They say you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Personally, I have found that the best results can be obtained with a fresh road kill. To put it another way, sometimes you have to use drastic measures to get an audience's attention. It requires that you go on the edge, and take risks. Well, I took at least one last week in the rant entitled "Nice work if you can get it." Whatever one may think of its style, it is a fair representation of how many people view the state of the lay apostolate at the parish and/or diocesan level.
Apostolate??? That's a word we don't use much. We like to call it "ministry." That makes us seem more respectable, less old-school. "Oh, you know so-and-so, she's a lay minister at her parish."
Just what the hell does that mean?
Was he or she appointed? Commissioned? Did he or she draw the short straw? Who knows? Who gives a rat's patootie?
But if the example of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin are any indication, we don't need the bishop's permission, or a masters in theology, to perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in our lives. If we do nothing else, this is what our mission is. Of course, now that I'm starting to sound like those Catholic weblogs that do little else but mimic catechism class -- and we're not about to let that happen -- let's look at the list, shall we?
From the 1917* Catholic Encyclopedia:
The traditional enumeration of the corporal works of mercy is as follows:
To feed the hungry;
To give drink to the thirsty;
To clothe the naked;
To harbour the harbourless;
To visit the sick;
To ransom the captive;
To bury the dead.
The spiritual works of mercy are:
To instruct the ignorant;
To counsel the doubtful;
To admonish sinners;
To bear wrongs patiently;
To forgive offences willingly;
To comfort the afflicted;
To pray for the living and the dead.
There is nothing stopping anyone from "being Church," nothing that requires we call a press conference to show how caring and sharing we are. People are hanging around rectories and sacristies on Sunday, just looking for a break: "Oh, Father, are you sure you don't need a communion minister? I'm just trying to help..." Unless you really are competent in matters liturgical (like... well, ME, for example), you can be a lot more help offering to park cars.
Or being an usher. (This is something women have been allowed to do since 1970. How many women do you see being ushers in parishes that are up to their necks in altar girls??? Discuss.)
Now, you think I'm poking fun at extreaordinary ministers of the Eucharist, do you? I actually was one once, at the Georgetown parish where I was a sacristan. It was out of necessity, since I was handling the Sacred Species as a part of my job. The experience changed me to the point where I no longer received communion in the hand. That, and something Father Stravinskas once wrote ('cuz after all, the man's a damn genius).
There was a time when, for a group to publicly call itself "Catholic," it had to obtain the permission of the local bishop. This manner of structuring the lay apostolate, known as "Catholic Action," ensured the integrity of identity of the endeavor or endeavors. That way, if you were in the business of, say, placing children for adoption, there was a priority on placement in homes dedicated to sharing with these little ones the gift of the Faith. This, as opposed to whatever your Federal grant money, or some feminazi nun with an attitude problem, told you to do (unmarried couples, gay couples, et cetera). Or if you were a doctor who worked at a free clinic operating as "Catholic," it was safe to say you weren't handing out condoms.
But it's different now. Even an "official" Catholic charitable work is problematic. You can read all about them in the Catholic blogosphere.
Which is reason enough to bag the whole "lay ministry" racket, and strike out on your own. Let 'em tell you you're not Catholic. Make 'em prove it.
Then tell His Excellency to kiss your ring. I know I would.
* Hey, I thought it was 1906 too, but that's the year they listed.