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Back to 2019-11-21-Opinión-TEO-Formación de los laicos

Ramiro Pellitero Iglesias, Professor of Theology, University of Navarra, Spain School

training of the laity, from the heart of the Church

Thu, 21 Nov 2019 15:54:00 +0000 Posted in Church and new evangelization

In a speech to the first plenary assembly of the Dicastery for the Laity (16-XI-2019), Family and Life, gathered to discuss "the training of the laity to strengthen their identity and their mission statement in the world", Pope Francis pointed out the importance of feeling from the heart of the Church, among other fundamental attitudes.          

While it is something that has a special significance for those who work in a Roman Dicastery, at the service of the universal Church, it is nevertheless interesting as a general perspective for everyone and particularly for the lay faithful.

The Pope developed his argument around two "images": "to feel with the heart of the Church" and "to have a brotherly gaze".

The heart of the Mother Church

1. "Therein lies the future of the laity: to feel with the heart of the Church", Francis affirmed. And within this "image" he pointed out several points.

First of all, he encouraged them to "move from a local to a universal perspective: the Church is not identified with my diocese of origin, or with the ecclesial movement to which I belong, or with the theological school or spiritual tradition in which I have been formed". It is good, in fact - and good for everyone - not to get used to what the Pope called "those little enclosures".

And he explained the underlying theological reason: "The Church is Catholic, she is universal and is much broader, she is of greater spirit, that is to say, she is 'magnanimous', compared to my individual point of view". For this reason, he added, "to feel with the heart of the Church" means to feel in a Catholic, universal way, looking at the whole Church and the world and not just a part of it".

Moreover, Francis continued, one must strive to go beyond one's own personal competencies, as a theologian, professor, doctor, lecturer, pastoral formator, etc., to adopt the perspective of the mother Church". The experience or the knowledge accumulated in some field is always useful. But in the case of those who work in direct service to the Church - and again it could be said that it is convenient for all Christians and especially educators - it is always convenient to go "one step further". The Church is a mother. I encouraged them to ask themselves before their work: How does the Mother Church "see" this reality (everything that affects the laity, the family and life)? How does she "feel" it?

To answer these questions Francis listed some characteristics of that "ecclesial sentiment" that derives from considering the Church as a true mother.

A mother desires above all concord among her children, without favoritism or preferences; she always proposes partnership among all, avoiding sterile oppositions and antagonisms, and encouraging fraternity in view of the common good of the family.

A mother wants "her children to grow up to be autonomous, creative and enterprising, not childish". That is to say that they become adults by overcoming resistance and fears, with audacity and courage, putting their talents at the service of the tasks they must undertake in society, in culture or in politics, facing the challenges of the contemporary world.

Moreover, a mother is the guardian of "the living history and tradition of the family"; she knows how to keep together the past (whatever good has been achieved in the family) with the present (the current challenges) and the future. So too the Church lives in the tension of report and hope, sowing the seeds of the Kingdom without allowing herself to be besieged by immediate success.

A brother's look

2. Second "image": to have a brotherly look. He also developed several aspects. As "brothers in the faith", responsible for studying how to spread the Christian message among the laity, it is necessary to remember that "faith is always born from meeting staff with the living God and is nourished by the Sacraments of the Church". Hence, "any Christian training must always be based on this fundamental experience of meeting with God and on the sacramental life".

For this reason "the training cannot concentrate exclusively on doing". Francis pointed out the need in our days to teach everyone - especially children, young people and married couples - to have "a life of prayer, a daily and familiar colloquium with God". Also to have recourse to accompaniment in the spiritual life, counting also on other lay people.

In the task of forming the lay faithful, he noted something that John Paul II had already emphasized: "your task is not primarily to create initiatives that aim to involve the laity in Structures and ecclesial programs, but to make them grow in their awareness of being witnesses of Christ in private life and in society; I would say almost 'visible signs' of the presence of Christ in every environment".

The basis for doing this is Baptism. Therefore, the Pope pointed out, it is necessary "to help so many of Christ's disciples to live their ordinary lives in conformity with the baptismal grace they have received. There are so many lay faithful in the world who, living their faith with humility and sincerity, are great lights for those who live alongside them".

Francis also gave them two pieces of practical advice. First, he advised them to think of their own experience as formators, of the challenges and difficulties that they themselves, in the families, at work in the neighborhood. In this way they can better understand the difficulties of the lay faithful throughout the world, difficulties that are often "increased by conditions of poverty and social instability, by religious persecution and anti-Christian ideological propaganda."

Second committee: "empathize with those Christians who live experiences different from your own". Concretely - and it is worthwhile to take up this enumeration in its entirety -: "those who do not belong to any particular ecclesial reality; those who live in the most remote regions of the earth and who have few opportunities for training and for human and spiritual growth; those who represent a small minority in their country and live in multi-religious contexts; those who nourish their faith exclusively through popular religiosity; those who are evangelized only through the life of prayer lived in the family".

Thus, taking into account this broad panorama of the lay faithful, from all social categories and from all regions of the world, will be of great help in "thinking creatively and realistically" in this formative task. A task whose purpose is to help the baptized "to live their belonging to Christ with joy, conviction and fidelity, being missionary disciples, protagonists in the promotion of life, in the defense of right reason, justice, peace and freedom, by promoting healthy coexistence among peoples and cultures".

Women in the Church

3. In the last part, the Pope developed two points that were implicit in his speech. On the one hand, he warned again about the "danger of clericalizing the laity" (along the lines of enclosing them in intra-ecclesial tasks without taking into account that their vocation and mission statement proper have to do with the transformation of society, living their faith in the midst of daily tasks).

On the other hand, he pointed out the importance of women in the Church: "Go ahead to put women in the positions of committee, even in government, without fear. Always bearing in mind one reality: the place of women in the Church is not only functional". A woman can perfectly well - the Pope said - preside over a Dicastery. But her role goes "beyond" questions of ecclesial organization.

And he explained the meaning of that beyond with these words: "The woman is the image of the mother Church, because the Church is woman; she is not 'the' Church, she is 'the' Church. The Church is mother (...) It is that Marian principle proper to woman; a woman in the Church is the image of the Church spouse and of the Virgin".

Francis thus pointed to a broad and profound horizon, at the same time concrete, to understand the specific role of women in the Church, in a complementary way to her role in the world, along the lines also pointed out by St. John Paul II: the human person has been entrusted to woman - also to the Christian woman - and it has been entrusted to her as woman, as mother, as wife.

Already on other occasions, such as at the end of the work of the Synod on Amazonia (cf. speech, 26-X-2019), Francis has pointed out this direction for the Church.

As mother of the family of the Church, Mary represents this formative task. For this reason, in his speech the Pope proposed to keep our gaze fixed on the Virgin Mother when she was in prayer, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit in the nascent Church:

"Mary, who perfectly personifies the Church-Mother and teaches all the disciples of her Son to live as brothers and sisters. This image of the Virgin in prayer, waiting for the Holy Spirit: she is the Mother who makes us live as brothers and sisters. She teaches us to have the heart of a mother, for all the children of God - which we all are - and also the heart of brothers and sisters for all.