Last week, I discussed the need to work together as ministers. Today, I focus on the need to work together with the laity in the apostolate.
The laity derives the right and duty to the apostolate from their union with Christ through Baptism and Confirmation (cf. Apostolicam Actuositatem, 3). While the apostolate of the laity is extensive, I will limit myself to collaboration in the parish and, by extension, the diocese.
The Second Vatican Council says: “As far as possible the laity ought to provide helpful collaboration for every apostolic and missionary undertaking sponsored by their local parish” (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 10). The Code of Canon law provides that the laity can cooperate in the exercise of the power of governance entrusted to the clergy (cf. Canon 129).
Four reasons impede clergy-lay collaboration in Nigeria: the suitability of the laity, the high number of clergy, pre-Vatican II ecclesiology, and the reluctance of pastors.
On the suitability of the laity, parishes and dioceses sometimes are short of suitable lay persons who can occupy certain ecclesiastical offices or perform some functions in the Church. Even when they are available, our remuneration structure is below average, so much so that we can only get part-time volunteers rather than those fully dedicated to the duty. Second, the high number of clerics and religious limits the opportunities for the laity to occupy some offices. Third, some of our people are still stuck with the pre-Vatican II ecclesiology that the Church is priest’s concern (Uka Fada)–a phenomenon re-emphasised by our traditional religious beliefs and Catholic clericalism.
Finally, the reluctance of pastors to engage the laity, which I consider the most challenging. I say this because when there is the will, there is a way. However, although there is a limit to what goodwill can do when the capacity is not there, there is also the reality that our reluctance stems from our mismanagement of funds and improper lifestyle that we want to hide from the laity, the unfounded fear of devolving power to the laity, the fear that the laity will usurp our authority, and the suspicion that they would sabotage our pastoral initiatives.
Canon law is explicit on the duties of ecclesiastical officeholders. We may already be contravening the law by not collaborating with the laity in the first place (cf. Canon 127). The fear of usurpation is unfounded because clarification of duties eliminates ignorance. I wrote extensively in the past and on this blog about the ignorance of the obligation and rights by ecclesiastical officeholders, and the crisis of competence among them.
On the other hand, when those who know their obligations and rights speak up, we consider them “enemies” of our mission. Are they really our enemies, or are we angry that they told us the truth or questioned our lifestyle or (mis) management of funds? Is Jesus not speaking to us through them? Would conspiring against them or removing them from office absolve us from the sin or offence we committed or are committing?
Of course, some lay persons can be ill-willed; that is why Jesus sent us to them. Jesus says:
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13).
May God continue to help us.🙏🏾