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Detail from the tabernacle of the church of Vår Frue, Ålesund, Norway

Detail from the tabernacle of the church of Vår Frue, Ålesund, Norway

With the significant emphasis that she places on discipleship, Sherry Weddell makes a convincing argument for such intentional Catholicism in Chapter Three of her book. She holds up a couple of parishes as examples of where a handful of ‘intentional Catholics’ have made a real impact on the wider life of the parish, and where this has spread within the parish context, setting aside the fable that some are called to sanctity, whilst others are called to be mere ordinary Christians.

Certainly in parishes where I’ve worked this has been the case. A small group of particularly committed Catholics – intentional, to use Weddell’s term – can make a difference to all areas of parish life, not least catechesis, faith formation, the witness of sacramental preparation and thanksgiving, family life, and sacrificial giving. The lay faithful expect their priest to be a man who leads the way, but when other laity do so too, it creates a healthy atmosphere of dedication to the faith and perseverance in the way of the Lord Jesus; an attractive path for others to follow.

From a liturgical perspective, this way of life is a living-out of the sacramental and liturgical life of the parish. Beautiful and Christocentric liturgy gives impetus to our Christian lives, and allows us to repay our dues to the Lord in our worship of him. It is also the starting point for our discipleship, rather than an end in itself. The repristination of the Sacred Liturgy must be a complete re-orientation of our lives on Jesus Christ, not simply in the celebration of the sacraments, but in all things. This is, surely, the call of Pope Benedict XVI – the one who recalled us to Christocentricty in our worship and friendship with Jesus Christ in our daily lives. Orthodox worship cannot be authentically distinguished from virtuous living.

This integrated and authentic Christian living is also evangelical. Those seeking truth and goodness and beauty, will find it more easily if it is demonstrated in our lives and the lives of our parishes. Readers of this blog, I would guess, are convinced of this notion in terms of our liturgical celebrations – it requires us to ensure that this is the case in every aspect of our lives. It means that our encounters at work, with parents in the school playground, or with our peers, are marked by the same truth and goodness and beauty, as is our liturgical worship.

Weddell also challenges clergy on the involvement of the lay faithful in the governance of the parish. Governance is the reserve of the parochus in the parish, but this also means that he is the one who must coordinate effectively the governance of the parish; not simply do everything himself. Pastores dabo vobis (§§59; 74) and Presbyterorum Ordinis (cf. §9) speak eloquently of this need, and Weddell highlights this in this chapter. A strong priestly identity requires real engagement of the lay faithful, and is often confirmed by the obvious presence of such lay leadership, where sensitive and informed initiative replaces mere following. The presence of a Pastoral Council, for instance, is not necessarily a sign of a parish with strong lay leadership; it can be just as much a tokenist gesture, covering a deep-seated clericalism on behalf of priests and people alike.

The other significant factor in this chapter is the question of vocational discernment: a fruit of discipleship, and not a catalyst for it. This is a strong element of the new Vocations Centre in Whitstable, on the Kent coast in England, where the motto is ‘Discipleship Discerns Vocation’. It is also the proven strategy of groups such as Youth 2000, who have produced many beautiful vocations to married life, as well as to the priesthood and consecrated life.

A well-formed, intentional disciple, discerns the will of Christ and desires to follow the Lord wherever he wills. For those who are called to the priesthood, this also ensures that they will be drawn from an already intentional and evangelisation-based context, which will ensure that ‘evangelisation becomes part of the DNA of our future priests‘.