Throughout my past year at Campion College in Regina, there were a few instances where urgent lay services (with a Gospel reflection and the distribution of already-consecrated hosts) needed to happen on short notice. On these occasions, I had worked with a daily mass-attending graduate student, with each of us doing our respective parts. I jokingly named this type of collaboration between clergy and laity the “Shake and Bake”, in reference to a sophisticated manoeuvre between two race cars from the film Talladega Nights.
The important dynamics between clergy and laity was again highlighted for me as I reflected on the latest Hearts on Fire retreat (HoF) in Canada, which took place this past weekend in the beautiful St. John's, Newfoundland. Three Jesuits – including myself and two other Ibo contributors – flew into St. John's to give the retreat. One of the main goals of HoF is to provide tools for our retreatants to tangibly develop their relationship with the Lord; it is not the type of retreat where one comes out of it feeling good about learning a few inspiring intellectual concepts. It is the responsibility of the retreatants to incorporate Ignatian contemplation and the examination of consciousness into their spiritual regimen, along with living a more intentional sacramental life. There is precious little that we Jesuits can do if our retreatants do not use the tools with which they have been provided.
At the same time, the other side of the clergy-laity equation needs to be considered. From my conversations with the lay retreatants, it was very clear to me that they had both an interest and a desire to develop their spiritual lives, but they lack both support and guidance. For example, there is a great desire to have access to spiritual direction, but there isn't such a network available to them, nor do they personally know any suitable spiritual directors. The same goes for the desire to deepen in one's understanding and application of Ignatian spirituality from a cultural context with which they are familiar. In this context, Jesuit presence is more than welcomed.
From a Jesuit's perspective, it is true that we are well-versed and familiar with certain spiritual practices especially those pertaining to Ignatian spirituality. The question for us, then, is how we can support the laity from a distance. For example, perhaps a Skype conference once in a while as a refresher or a deepening of what was learned on retreat. It can also be a question-and-answer occasion, to clarify any confusions or misunderstandings on the “Rules for Discernment” from the Spiritual Exercises. When the formation of laity is needed, we need to be there for them and with them. There are also things that the laity can do without the physical or cyber presence of Jesuits. The examination of consciousness is a good example. It may help to run the fruits of our reflections by someone who is more experienced to verify our observations, but this can eventually be done on one's own. When a group of laity feels comfortable enough with such a practice and with each other, a Christian Life Community (CLC) group can be formed, so that they can share with each other their own consolations and desolations as a community.
It seems to me that it boils down to a healthy, mutual relationship between clergy and laity, a vision that is implicit from Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council. I personally do not think that it is merely a matter of vocations to priesthood and religious lives. If we have more clergy, then they can have more of a presence and fill the holes that we see right now, no? But quantity guarantees neither a healthy presence amongst the laity, nor does it solve the problem of unhealthy reliance on clergy that we sometimes see and in some cases the little spiritual support that clergy can provide.
Perhaps the question in the end is indeed about vocations, but it is rather the vocations of the laity in the Church. How are they to be formed in their spiritual lives, with the help of the clergy? How are they to participate and thrive in the life of the Church, while maintaining a healthy relationship with the clergy? In that sense, a healthy fostering of such vocations of the laity can only be beneficial to the vocations to priesthood and religious lives, and both are necessary for the life of the Church.
I shall end this brief entry by providing a few points for reflection:
For religious and clergy: How sensitive are we to the interests, desires and concerns of the laity? How have we empowered and supported the laity? How can we be better at it in a practical way?
For the laity: How is our relationship with the clergy? Are we overly independent from, or dependent on them? How can we improve this?