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Professor calls on Church laity

Alicia Smith | Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fairfield University professor of religious studies Paul Lakeland delivered a lecture at Saint Mary’s LeMans Hall Tuesday calling for laity to assume more responsibility in the salvation of the Catholic Church.

The laity must be responsible to uplift the Church by paying close attention, practicing discernment, becoming understanding and acting responsibly, he said.

Lakeland’s lecture, titled “Catholicism at the Crossroads: Thinking From Below,” was sponsored by the Center for Spirituality’s Spring Lecture Series “Catholicism at the Crossroads.”

One of Lakeland’s eight books, “Liberation of the Laity: In Search of an Accountable Church,” won first place in the Catholic Press Association 2005 awards.

Lakeland’s lecture focused on his most recent book, “Catholicism at the Crossroads: How the Laity Can Save the Church.”

“Saving the Church starts in the local parish,” Lakeland said.

Lakeland discussed the ways in which the lay people must work to preserve the Church.

He said parishioners can begin by paying attention to the world around them, especially to three major factors which are affecting the Church.

One problem is the shift in Catholic demographic within the United States, Lakeland said.
This demographic, he said, does not consist just of the change in ethnicity, but in the age of the congregation as well.

“Connected to these demographic issues is the change in factions of participation in parish life, especially the decline in regular Mass attendance and the loss of religious literacy,” he said.

Additionally, Lakeland said the developing understanding of the relationship between consciousness and authority was another factor that requires extra attention.

Finally, attention must be given to the tension between the historical passivity of the laity and the emerging movement for a more participatory church.

“We need to be attentive to all three of these issues before we can turn our intelligence loose upon analyzing their meaning,” he said.

Lakeland also discussed why parishioners must practice discernment.

“We can only be discerning in a community of adults in which genuine accountability is systematically practiced by the laity,” Lakeland said.

The final step from thinking from below, Lakeland said, is understanding.

“This is the moment at which I believe we look at theological models,” he said. “What models help explain to us out of our grassroots experience how to think about the church today.”

Lakeland said the Church could be looked at in four models. He described the Church as a hospice, as a pilgrim, as an immigrant and as a pioneer.

Finally, he spoke about the importance of acting as a responsible Catholic.

“The roots of lay passivity lie in ignorance of the responsibility of Christian discipleship that occurs in Baptism,” Lakeland said. “Historically the blame for that goes to Church leaders who did not tell the story about Baptism. Today the blame goes to all of us because being better educated carries additional responsibilities.”