> Status Ecclesiae, December 2005: "Lay Mendicants"
- by John Mallon, Contributing Editor, Inside the Vatican
The "status of the Church" from one writer’s
“Ha! If I threw a quarter into a room, ten guys would
dive for it!" So said a Catholic banker friend when I
asked him if he knew anyone who could help Inside the
Vatican financially. The ten guys to whom he was referring
would be laymen running orthodox Catholic apostolates. My
friend was not unsympathetic or being flippant, he was merely
naming the state of affairs — the state of the Church.
In the past few months, I have seen numerous appeals from
very worthy Catholic apostolates saying that if they didn't
raise a certain amount of money soon they would have to severely
cut back their activities or even close down.
This is a serious problem, because these groups are doing
work that dioceses and parishes can't—or won't—do.
Some is work that official organs of the Church simply cannot
As a Catholic man in lay apostolic work told me some time
ago, the scandals of 2002 not only hurt Catholic giving to
parishes and dioceses, but has affected many nonprofit groups
However, it cannot all be blamed on Church scandals. Since
last Christmas, beginning with the Asian tsunami, the globe
has been assaulted with unprecedented disasters, both natural
and man-made, creating needs of the most urgent kind, including
a record hurricane season which put an entire region and major
city in the United States out of commission. Some call the
result "giving fatigue."
This has put Catholic laymen and laywomen in the awkward
and unaccustomed position of simply begging. We are seeing
the emergence of "lay mendicants." While there is
a long tradition of mendicant religious orders, this is an
odd experience for lay people, especially men, who have been
in the business world. One could become a millionaire honorably
manufacturing bottle caps, but one can work just as hard trying
to explain or defend the Gospel of Salvation and barely stay
above the poverty line. Perhaps this is as it should be, but
it can be hard on the nerves of those with the strongest faith.
In trying to support myself as a Catholic writer, I recently
had a brief crisis of being ill and unable to write, which
meant I didn't get paid. I maintain a mailing list by which
I alert people to my latest articles, so I bit the bullet
and sheepishly asked the people on my list if they could make
a donation to my online PayPal account to help me. I asked
that if my articles were useful or helpful to them if they
would consider a donation. I was startled and humbled by the
generous response. It wasn't a fortune, but it got me through
the month's bills. It taught me much about gratitude, humility,
God's Providence and the goodness of His people.
On the other hand, some stories are disappointing. A friend
of mine who has done work speaking internationally, and very
successfully, to young people about chastity has been faced
with losing her non-profit status due to the loss of an important
backer. She and her colleagues sent appeal letters to members
of an organization of Catholic CEOs—millionaires—and
received not a single response. I told her that didn't speak
well for that organization.
These apostolates all fill a void. Recently a young priest
told me that on his first assignment he was "spoken to"
by his pastor after preaching against contraception. It was
clear he was not to do it again. "Watch the collections
go down," the pastor said. It's enough to make one wonder
what the Church exists for if this is the attitude.
The orthodox lay apostolates that have been raised up in
the last decade or so remind me of the words of Jesus, "If
these do not praise me, the very stones will cry out"
(Luke 19:40). If you look around you might notice
that many of the issues being addressed by these lay apostolates
are urgent issues which one seldom hears addressed from the
pulpit: abortion, chastity, homosexuality, pornography. Natural
Family Planning vs. contraception, apologetics, and of course,
news and commentary which is not in the tank for dissent.
It is a commandment of the Church to contribute to her sustenance
and upkeep, something I try to remind people of when they
withhold donations in protest. Sadly, many have felt they
have no other recourse in the face of episcopal and clerical
wrongdoing, especially when their letters of concern receive
only patronizing form replies. Still, we cannot let the sins
of men distract us from the awesome beauty and true mission
of the Bride of Christ, the Church universal.
We celebrate now the season of giving when God gave His only
Son for our salvation; who gave His life that we may live.
Despite so many demands, I pray that Catholics will continue
their characteristic generosity motivated by gratitude for
God's gift of Everlasting Life, to the Church, who is charged
with carrying on Christ's work of salvation; in dioceses and
parishes, and yes, to those crucial lay apostolates who are
stones crying out.
God bless you and Merry Christmas.
John Mallon is a Contributing Editor to Inside the Vatican
magazine. He also has regular columns on the website Catholic.Org.
An archive of Mr. Mallon's work also appears here: http://www.petersvoice.com/mallon/index.html.
You can reach Mr. Mallon at
Inside The Vatican (ISSN 1068-8579) is a Catholic news magazine, published monthly except July
and September, with occasional special supplements.