Despite being founded by Jesus Christ and enduring for 2,000 years, the Catholic Church is not like a mountain range or old growth forest, which could endure even if all humankind were wiped from the face of the earth.
The church is dependent on human cooperation with God, through the centuries, to bring about the salvation of souls. Without us — without faithful human partnership with the Holy Spirit — there is no church.
It’s true, God promises that the church will endure and even the Gates of Hell will not prevail against her, but this will happen in concert with us, as God intended.
In some parts of the world it may be easy to miss this truth — places like Rome, or even New York or Boston, where colossal church buildings, dating back centuries, stand the test of time and form the backdrop for so many Catholic generations.
One might be tempted to think that the church has always been around and will continue being around regardless of what we think or do. This is only partly true.
Let me explain.
If young men don’t answer the call to become priests and bishops, there will be no sacraments — no baptisms, no confessions, no First Communions, no confirmations, no anointing of the sick. Christ entrusted the celebration of these sacraments to his apostles, the first bishops of the church. There are no scriptural or Catholic theological teachings suggesting that the sacraments can exist without these faithful servants.
Similarly there are no Dominicans, Franciscans, Benedictines, Jesuits or any other ancient and venerable order without men and women willing to lay down their lives and embrace a call to the religious life as sisters and brothers, monks and nuns.
Additionally, and this is where most Catholics come in, there are no Catholic marriages and no future generations of the faithful without the millions of men and women who comprise the Catholic laity around the world.
This, at last, brings us to the point.
The time has come — and is long overdue — for rank-and-file laity to rouse from the pews and begin assisting a church in desperate need of their talents, expertise and love of the faith.
For too long too many have relied on dedicated priests, overworked staff and a handful of inspired parishioners to keep our parishes afloat.
This is not a criticism of the many parishioners who have dedicated large swaths of time and energy to help build up vibrant local churches. These words are tailored to the many others who attend Mass regularly, but just leave it at that.
Can you play the piano (perhaps even the organ)? Are you a natural teacher of church history or theology? Can you refurbish an old statue or help bring in sacred art and stained glass? Maybe you’re a cook, a singer or a prison evangelist? Does the pastoral council need members? What about the liturgy committee or those who visit the homebound?
Perhaps there are saint celebrations and holy days that could be properly observed with rousing community feasts and commemoration of the heroes of our faith? Might you help lead a Good Friday or Corpus Christi procession through the town?
Could the parish benefit from an inspired book club or a specific outreach to boys or girls? Could dads benefit from a men’s club or moms find inspiration in a women’s group? What about sporting events and dances that bring everyone together?
In many places these projects will never get off the ground without an army of lay faithful willing to commit time, innovation and energy to them.
Maybe there is a glaring need or a simple lack of manpower? Rather than limp along — or worse, complain about it — why not get down to work?
In some of the most remote areas of Alaska the need for greater involvement is easier to see — places where the loss of two or three volunteers could easily devastate parish life.
We live in a time when many Catholics leave a church they think of as irrelevant to their daily lives. We cannot afford to passively sit by as one of the pillars of the community struggles to reach men and women who desperately need the love and life of God as expressed through the local parish.
The work is plentiful. Who will go?