Saturday, December 08, 2012

Three Pertaining to the Lay Vocation

Begun on November 14.

Russell Shaw on the laity, again - his moneymaker: The Council and the Laity. "The teaching of the Second Vatican Council concerning the laity was an enormous and lasting achievement. But there is much work to do."

Vatican II and the forerunners to the council, various theologians and saints, attempted to restore a better understanding of the Christian vocation, re-emphasizing the universal call to holiness. But I would argue that the council was incomplete, in so far as it did not grapple with questions appropriate to politics. Would it have been possible to do so? Such a treatment should be left to the wise and learned. But with the realization that the scale of contemporary "polities" is too large, the Church could have focused more on rebuilding community at the local level, rather than engaging governments to redirect "national policy" in accordance with Catholic Social Teaching. An elaboration of general principles is not enough, one must apply them properly, and in order to do that one must have an adequate grasp of their particulars, their causes and perhaps their histories.

If participation in the life of the community is a central part to the lay vocation, then perhaps the Orthodox and the Protestants have Catholics beat and we should be learning from them.

I would claim that much of the loss in the West of the understanding of the lay vocation is tied to the growth of the modern state, the rise of wage slavery, the loss or deliberate destruction of communities. Man (and now women) have been increasingly dispossessed of their natural roles within a community; or, their awareness of these roles has been obliterated through bad culture or the lack of proper formation.

As Shaw points out, Lumen Gentium reminds us that Catholics are called to act in the secular world for the salvation of others. What is the "secular world" but the "temporal" or "natural" political community? We should be witnessing to Christ and living out [the order of] charity in our political communities (and I don't mean with a vague reference to the nation-state, but rather, the local community, and maybe the state). (We should keep in mind the distinction between the political community and the "world" which is rightly derided by our Lord. They are not the same thing. The city of man is not identical to the civitas.)

Despite the constant propaganda about [American] freedom and democracy (put forth even by the bishops), there has been a loss of true citizenship. We are blind to  our current state of subservience, possessing little economic or political freedom (at the national level). Those Christians who lived under other regimes may have had a better understanding of the lay vocation - living with others in community, carrying out their responsibilities to others in charity, and so on, despite having no share in public office.  It is true that the lay vocation is not identical to citizenship, as defined by Aristotle. But for men, the lay vocation does require the exercise of the same virtues proper to the citizen, even if it does not include the same duties: prudence and ordering his affairs and that of his family, cooperating with other men for the sake of the group, and so on. To the extent that men must be concerned with and care for the community, they will need the political virtues; even more if they are engaged in decision-making about the well-being of the community.

There can be no subsidiarity (or recovery of the common good) unless men are willing and able to do this at the local level, going beyond what our impoverished Uhmerican understanding of citizenship requires.

Charity brings about the diffusion of the good. Not just the obvious corporal and spiritual works of mercy, but whatever action within the community that is ordered to the good of others can be sanctified through God's grace. In the Politics, Aristotle defines the perfect community as that which supplies for all the necessities of the good life, and it includes civic friendship. We are accustomed to liberal modes of thinking and to living in aggregate, an arrangement that is not scaled humanely, and so often we think of friendship as being merely one good among the others. We aim for a healthy "life balance," so that our relationships with family and friends are not diminished because of concerns for career and the like. But the common good is really the good life of the whole; living well with others. All other things which the civitas creates or makes possible is ordered to the good of the members.

The private good of the members is not the same as the social good (the good of friendship, community, etc.) but the common good is more than the sum of the private good of the members of the community, and the community exists for the sharing of higher goods. It is the good of the group as a whole, which includes the social good as its foremost manifestation, the members living well with one another. It also includes the sharing or communication of the other goods, which should be directed by the desire to live well with others, or love. In the polis, Aristotle's complete or perfect community, we are able to achieve [temporal or natural]  happiness, securing not only the necessities for survival, but the social good and other goods, leisure, the fine arts, and learning.

We should not [need to] pursue private goods at the expense of friendship, but rather we should do so in concert with others so that we can share those goods with them. "To be a friend is to share," a lesson we may have learned in kindergarten. The civitas may have a division of labor, with the resulting exchange of necessities or products being regulated by justice, but we are oblivious that we should be acting not only for our own benefit but for the benefit of others. Why? Because we have a weak sense of the group and of civic friendship. For instance, that which is aimed at intellectual perfection (scientiae, the products of art, and so on) is not merely for the elite, but should benefit all in some way. (The truths studied in theology and the liberal arts can be transmitted to the community through preaching by an educated clergy)

The natural inclination to the social life finds its fulfillment in civic friendship, and civic friendship (or charity) urges us to work for the perfection of each other. This inclination is naturally met through families joining one another in community, leading to natural affection for the other members, which is developed through civic friendship or sublimated through caritas. In sum, we naturally band together, associate not because  we seek help or benefit from others, but because we are drawn to living with others. One could even claim that cooperation and the division of labor is a consequence of living with others, as everyone in the group seeks to improve the lot of themselves and of the group.

Political communities, like religious communities, are schools of charity for Christians. For those who are not yet united to God, political communities can nonetheless still be schools of love and friendship, the way for us to practice loving others well. The political community is the pinnacle of natural friendship, and so those who aspire to be statesmen or to be practically wise must be cognizant of the conditions that are necessary to bring this about, and this includes the role of culture and group identity. Friendship is not a happy by-product of successful politics; it is one of its aims. One might even say that the first concern of men is the good of the group - what is my group? How do I preserve it and work for its welfare? Who is included in my group and who is not? The outsider is not automatically the object of hatred or enmity, but such distinctions are necessary for following the order of charity.

As lay people striving to rebuild the local community, we need to relearn the primacy of civic friendship, and start from the  beginning, with men and their families networking with each other, rather than presuming that community (or mutual solidarity) exists. We may be aware of some of the trials and problems of living with others through our families, but life is not supposed to be free from difficulties, and these difficulties are occasions for us to grow in grace and holiness through the exercise of caritas.

This next piece by John Zmirak is somewhat related to the points I am making here: Back to the Ghetto?

Rather than putting our faith in movements or political leaders, we should direct our efforts to strengthening the local Church and our families. We rightly should be wary of strangers, even if they claim to be one of "us." Mr. Zmirak writes:
The Catholic subculture, just like the rest of fallen mankind, has its share of sociopaths, con men, parasites and bullies — the “wolves” whom Our Lord warned would come for the “lambs.” Like the rest of the non-profit sector, we attract more than our fair share of loafers, who gravitate to us because they sense that our standards are lower. Maybe they get that idea from the way we dress for Mass.

For too long and far too often, we have winked at mediocrity, malfeasance, even malice on the part of our fellow “faithful Catholics,” reasoning that each culprit was “one of us.” (I won’t name the major archdiocese that has a “blue book” of overpriced contractors it uses exclusively, because those owners are kin of clergy.) There’s a word for this kind of behavior, whether it’s practiced by Wall Street bankers, union leaders or orthodox Catholics: It’s called “corruption.”

If we will be the leaven in a disintegrating society, we must reject the tribalist habit of premature forgiveness and pre-emptive moral amnesia. Instead of holding Catholics to lower standards than we would pro-choice secular humanists, we must demand more of them — and of ourselves. We have the help of the sacraments. Our bar should be that much higher.
Is this really "tribalist"? I would say no; rather, Catholics have been caught up in being "nice" rather than being virtuous, a part of which is justice and a zeal for seeing it done. It's an emasculated Christianity and the loss of community, the tenuousness of personal bonds in the local churches. We can point to other manifestations of the problem, such as the bureaucratic mentality of those in authority and the lack of accountability. The cover-up is not a manifestation of tribalism but just CYA being carried out by bishops and a pathetic attempt to save face. If anything, justice proper to a tribalist mentality might even be more strict than to what we have been accustomed because there is much more at stake. We can be comfortable with being lax because we can remain relatively anonymous and free from the burden of having to live with others. That sort of easy forgiveness may actually just be indifference or apathy. Their actions have no real bearing on my life within the Church, so if they say they're sorry why shouldn't I believe them? It's not like they have to prove it to me.

How many of our practices and attitudes are based on assumptions that are incorrect? Or they are merely unexamined or unthinking habits. We trust when we should not trust, for there is an absence of familiarity or real community in which each knows one another, either directly or mediately, through others who can vouch for character. Instead, we give unthinking trust, which is characteristic of sheep.

Those who are unknown to us, even if they claim to be one of us or to be Catholic, need to become familiar to us and prove themselves to earn our trust. Only through such basic acts can community be created and maintained, not by some Catholic wannabe pundit claiming that a community already exists and that we should act accordingly, as if strangers were not so, or are already our friends. Most Americans, including internet advocates of CST, are strangers to one other (and themselves, not having examined their own lives and rushing their opinions out).

I have mentioned before that I think Dorothy Day can be a role model of the laity, in that she was concerned with the local and embraced a simpler way of life. There is something by Brian Douglass on Catholic Action, Dorothy Day, and the Catholic Worker: After November: Time for a Little Catholic Action. (His view of Catholic Action as an "ideal" lay apostolate differs from that of Russell Shaw's.)

Apostolicam Actuositatem
Lumen Gentium
Christifideles Laici

More on Dorothy Day:
US bishops endorse sainthood cause of Catholic Worker's Dorothy Day
Dorothy Day's cause for canonization by US bishops
Dorothy Day, once a bohemian who believed in free love, is completely a saint for our time

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