Reading Lay Catholics in Schools for the Church Documents series, I was struck by the great quotes and the central argument that lay Catholics have a vocation within the Church. I’m certain that not the concept of a lay vocation isn’t widely understood. I have had the experience of feeling like a second-class citizen in the Church. I’ve been in rooms where lay Catholics’ opinions are often ignored or belittled by priests. But I’m not sure the problem is priests or clericalism in general. I think it starts with the laity themselves.
If lay Catholics do not value their vocation as teachers, then they cannot truly live their call. And if they’re not living their call and understanding their vocation, then perhaps they don’t deserve respect.
One line of the document especially encourages lay teachers to create a new reality. “It must never be forgotten that the school itself is always in the process of being created, due to the labor brought to fruition by all those who have a role to play in it, and most especially by those who are teachers” (paragraph 78). This document, written in 1982 by the Vatican’s Congregation on Education, is apropos for 2017. We need to challenge our realities and support the vocation of lay teachers. Change is constant in schools and we need to work to bring about a new appreciation and fulfillment of our lay vocations.
On the Catholic School Matters podcast, my friends Tom McDonald and Tom Schutte—the three of us lifetime lay Catholic school educations, joined me to discuss the document. The document points to the Second Vatican Council’s “profound expression to the richness and uniqueness of the lay vocation” (2). How? “By exercising their proper function and being led by the spirit of the Gospel they can work for the sanctification of the world from within, in the manner of leaven” (7). If lay Catholics truly heed this call, then fewer people will argue that Catholic schools are not an “appropriate place for the Church’s pastoral activity” (3). Haven’t we heard this? With dwindling resources, parishes and chanceries sometimes will argue that there is more important work.
The document argues that we are social beings called to live in community and Catholic schools teach “what it means to be a member of the great community which is the church” (22). I can’t help but think that this is often lost in the arguments over school funding and church priorities. We have formed intentional school communities of faith and if we live out our vocations, we are doing the work of the church.
How do we live out these vocations? The document points out the importance of professional and faith formation of teachers. After all, “if there is no trace of Catholic identity in the education, the educator can hardly be called a Catholic educator” (25). Hearing the call to be a Catholic teacher, we are called to live up to this call. “For the Catholic educator, religious formation does not come to an end with the completion of basic education; it must be a part of and a complement to one’s professional formation, and so be proportionate to adult faith, human culture, and the specific lay vocation” (65). If our lay teachers are not asking for more adult faith formation, then they should not be surprised that more is not being offered.
Lay Catholic school teachers need to understand their call and work to fulfill their vocation. In doing so, they will build the church and help to educate our students. “The more completely an educator can give concrete witness to the model of the ideal person that is being presented to the students, the more this ideal will be believed and imitated” (32).