Beyond Personal Piety

Reposted from www.commonwealmagazine.org/beyond-personal-piety

G.K. Chesterton once commented that every modern conversation begins one step too late. His assertion pertains, unfortunately, when we think of the church. Immediately we tend to think of its structure: there are the ordained, the religious, and the laity. According to this reckoning, the laity are defined in a negative manner: they are the ones who are neither ordained nor members of religious orders. If one is a Catholic, and neither ordained nor a religious, then one is lay; it cannot be helped.

There is, as a result, a paradigmatic clericalism within the church. It is not ill-intended. I would argue that it is not intended at all, but it is present nonetheless. There is a widespread assumption in the Catholic community that, to have any real agency in the church, it is necessary that one be ordained. We are all familiar with the model: there is the priest-pastor and his flock. Or, perhaps truer to experience, the priest-pastor and his critics.

That the laity have no agency in the church is not magisterial teaching; it is not, in fact, true.

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