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All for one, and one for all.

It is hard to believe that it has been so years since the Second Vatican Council caused most Catholics to dance in the streets, figuratively. In our lifetime, the extraordinary convocation called by Pope John XXIII, and continued after his death under Pope Paul VI, has brought a whole new vision of what it means to be Catholic. For many, the exuberance it engendered was palpable.

One of the key insights of the council was that, all of us - laypeople, religious, priests, bishops, and the pope - were the People of God. No longer were those of us "in the lower ranks," especially laywomen and laymen, merely foot soldiers marching to the drumbeat of "higher-ups," whom we didn't know and whom we rarely saw. Now, we, along with all the others, were the church.

At the time, a droll story was told of a priest who, having labored for years in the parish vineyard, had finally achieved status as a tenured pastor of a fine parish - a "good corner" as they used to say. To his dismay, audibly expressed, he observed the people in the pews before him saying, "We, Father, (and you, of course) are the church."

But what became of that post-Vatican 11 exuberance? How many priests, religious, and laypeople think of themselves as together composing the church today? Maybe a few tenured pastors, a handful of religious women and men learned in the new theology and dedicated to it, and even a rare bishop, one whose openness makes him sought after to give retreats and conferences. But laypeople? Look again. We, most believe, are us; the church is them.

This drifting away from the Vatican Council's teaching that all of us compose a single People of God has produced a fragmentation that belies our profession at Mass that we are one, holy, and apostolic. It is fragmentation that, by the way, has little if anything to do with the much-criticized habit of some Catholics to pick and choose from among moral teachings. It is much more essential than accidental.

In the best U.S. Catholic parishes, a grace-filled community is established - a small model, in fact, of the People of God that the worldwide church should be. But what does this exemplary parish have in common with the nearby parish, where ennui prevails, where priest and people are content with what an Irish writer calls the "maintenance church"? It's almost as if the latter and the former do not belong to the same church.

Many Catholics, lacking a real sense of belonging, find themselves facing what they see as a vacuum in which to build their spiritual and moral lives. Many of these will seek spiritual growth in a highly personal way. Not a bad idea in itself, but a way that can easily get sidetracked into avenues of pop psychology and talk-show bromides.

When it comes to morality, values is the hot-button word. Nothing wrong with that. But what if there is disagreement as to whose values should prevail? There are some values that all or most can agree upon, and many of these are part and parcel of Catholic moral teaching. Ideally the moral as well as the spiritual values of Catholics ought to derive from membership and participation in the People of God.

Ironically, some splendid examples of moral teaching by the U.S. Catholic bishops have fallen on hearing-impaired ears because, seemingly, the teachers have been unwilling to renounce the us-and-them model and deeply involve all of the People of God.

The bishops' statement on world peace a few years ago was a model of moral teaching, marred only by the teachers' loss of nerve when approaching the just-war theory. Their subsequent statement on economic justice was an even better model, and the bishops' pungent, repeated denunciation of capital punishment, reflecting the outspoken views of Pope John Paul II on the subject, leave little doubt that there is a Catholic position in these matters.

Yet while no one can sensibly wish for infallible pronouncements on such controverted questions, are we Catholics not paying the price for our fragmentation not only in the United States but throughout the world? Would not our unquestioned desire for better and stronger spiritual and moral lives be better served by a "we Catholics are all in this together" kind of church? Shouldn't we at least try to find our way back to the People-of-God model? As some cynical politicians say in quite another context, "We owe it to our children and grandchildren."
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Title Annotation:the distancing between laity and the Catholic Church
Author:Burns, Robert E.
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Editorial
Date:May 1, 1996
Previous Article:Let the church say amen.
Next Article:If the church isn't a democracy, what is it?

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