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An Agenda For An American Catholic Action

Deacon Keith A. Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC


"There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called 'spiritual' life with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called 'secular life', that is, life in a family, at work, in social relationships, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture." Pope John Paul II


For years preceding the last great Council, Vatican II, seeds of renewal were sprouting throughout Europe. These seeds included the flourishing of an entire model of lay apostolate geared toward what we might call the “Evangelization of Culture.”

I use this term to refer to an understanding of our baptismal mission that both recognizes that we all have a “vocation” to participate in the mission of the Church according to our state in life and calling and also compels us to be faithful to that call. This two pronged understanding would later be referred to by that great Council as the “Universal call to Holiness” and the “lay apostolate.”

The real issues are that Catholics understand the fundamental truth that every area of human life, personal and social, and therefore every area of human culture, is meant to be affected and changed by its contact with the ongoing redemptive mission of the Church-and-that they live and act in a manner consistent with that recognition.

That mission, which participates in the mission of the whole Church, is accomplished primarily through the lives, words and actions of her lay sons and daughters living their lives redemptively in every segment of human society.

Great movements were growing among the faithful in the European continent during this time before the great Council. Among them was one called “Catholic Action.”

Structurally, the model was very different than what we would currently build because these were different times. The Second Vatican Council has given extraordinary direction to the lay faithful that must be incorporated in any new Catholic Action effort.

Also, the “Catholic Action” that existed in countries such as France, Italy, Spain and Latin America faced a different “cultural” challenge” (at least on some fronts) than we do in 21st century America. Structurally, “Catholic Action” was an organization of the lay faithful coming directly under the direct control of the local bishop.

The model being proposed now-by the Church, by the hour and by me in this article- is structurally quite different. However, like its model, it is also oriented toward the recovery of a Catholic influence in every segment of American society and culture.

In English-speaking countries, the terms” Catholic Action" and "Lay Apostolate" were used interchangeably. Catholic Action had been defined by Pope Pius XI as "the participation of the laity in the apostolate of the hierarchy." However, as the development of directive pastoral counsel toward the participation of the lay faithful unfolded, the role of the lay faithful in “the world” became much clearer.

The definition was seen as partial, the lay faithful (later to be wonderfully addressed by John Paul II “The Lay members of Christ’s Faithful” in his encyclical “Christifidelis Laici”) were honored as having their own unique task in evangelization of human culture.

A great merit of this movement and development of understanding was that a dialogue of prayer and pastoral consideration ensued on the lay apostolate, with specific focus not only on their call to holiness (the “universal call” to holiness) but on their unique and indispensable role in bringing Christian influence to bear on human society and culture.

We may refer to that as “cultural conversion.” The difficulty then and now, has been to root such efforts, particularly when they involve political participation, in a solid understanding.




Catholic MUST Be the Noun

My experience in political action and policy work has all too often involved working with people who have acted as though “Catholic” is an adjective. In other words, they are “Catholic” conservatives. Or they are “Catholic”------, fill in the blank.

Sometimes, Catholic Christians who “rediscover” their call to the evangelization of culture (particularly in its subset of political participation) engage in a sort of “catholic” version of the old evangelical protestant Christian problem of using “proof texts” from the Bible to support their political positions.

The difference is that some of these Catholics use quotes from Papal encyclicals or Vatican II documents as their proof texts. ...

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