The formation of the lay faithful

Mayo 24, 2012 | Carátula Artículos Compartir:

I. Introduction

How can we do so that the lay ministries become a resource, a force and an effective way for the evangelization of the laity?

I believe that it is important not to forget the source of the commitment of the layperson. The mission of the layperson is not an order given by a priest, or by a ministry. Nevertheless, the Code of Canon Law explicits that the competent authority can delegate functions to the laypeople. On the other hand, it is not possible to forget that there is an ontological reality that is the baptism in the origin of any mission or service that the layperson realizes. The Christifideles Laici in its number 10 affirms that we were incorporated into the Church and into its apostolic mission through living up to its last consequences with the reality of baptism: «it is no exaggeration to say that the entire existence of the lay faithful has as its purpose to lead a person to a knowledge of the radical newness of the Christian life that comes from Baptism, the sacrament of faith, so that this knowledge can help that person live the responsibilities which arise from that vocation received from God» (1). The encyclical Sacramentum Charitatis speaks about the importance of rediscovering the Christian initiation. In this sense it is important to understand that first of all the mission of the layperson is born of his baptism. His works are a consequence of his being and therefore being baptized makes him an apostle and it is a logical consequence of the sacrament. The ministries are constituted to better organize the forces of the laity. Therefore to perform correctly the lay ministry, it is necessary to know one’s own identity as layperson, his vocation to be a person and his vocation in Christ through the baptism.

Today because the world is very complex and the Christians have to face a culture more and more secular, it becomes a real challenge how to prepare mature and adult Christians. Although in the history of humanity changes have always been present. Today these changes are vertiginous, since they communicate rapidly to all the corners of the world. The impact of the change arrives in “real-time” through the mass media. Our technocratic society is characterized by a continued flood of information. The individual who is called to accomplish the dominion over the world feels fragile and needs more and more information to achieve this task in this society of the information; this is not necessarily something negative. Nevertheless it is necessary to know how to face this new situation. Often the person feels confused in the reading and hierarchical structuring of the values of the information. Moreover, this accumulation of information does not allow us to build a united and synthetic vision of the world. It is frequent that one wants to read the reality in a unilateral way, from the aspects of the information received: from the economic, political, scientific, or cinematic dimensions. It is in this absence of integration of perspectives, in the lack of coherence, sense of life, values and of the most authentic traditions; it is there where the faith responds to the real drama of the human existence.

II. Lay formation

How to prepare ourselves and others as mature laypeople?

In the document "co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord”, I have been positively surprised and very happy to discover that the topic of the formation of those who exercise lay ministries is explored in depth. The four areas of formation that were developed were: the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral areas. The formation of the person is considered in his integrity: "emotions, imagination, will, heart, and mind. It is the whole person who ministers, so the whole person is the proper subject of formation» (2). The document indicates the human qualities that he has to develop, the spirituality that he will have to cultivate, the necessary theological and pastoral knowledge, as well as the intellectual hardware that he will have to acquire, ending with the pastoral skills that will be necessary according to the particular ministry.

A big value of this document is that it offers concrete and practical means, the objectives and clear ideals of the formation. I would like to add certain considerations that can help in this process of formation. Definitively this document offers the instruments that as the Church we can use for the maturation of the laypeople. This dimension is a fundamental part. However, I would like to stop in an anthropological reflection on what concerns the layperson, the lay minister, the subject of the formation, so that these means could be made life in their lives.

First of all, we have to ask ourselves what does “formation” mean. As we all know, to form means “to give shape” but in the case of human beings it is not an extrinsic-type action. Edith Stein defines the formative process as: «matter takes a shape that turns it into the reproduction of a model». On the inanimate matter one can give a form, like the sculptor who with the marble creates a sculpture. It is the inanimate matter to which one gives a form from the outside. Also in the plants the animated matter is capable of being captured from the outside, depending for example if they are attached to sticks or if one makes them grow along with a wall. However, the plants in contrast to the inanimate things have a vegetative life to which the human being is a spectator and they are acquiring form in an autonomous way. The plants have an internal form that makes them develop. The animals through the movement and their senses have more major potentialities than the plants to intervene on their form. Thus, they can defend themselves; they can look for what they need.

a) I am a person

In the case of human beings we are in front a person, a qualitatively diverse reality. Every person is a unique and unrepeatable existence. To be a person means to be free and this freedom allows the person to be formed and be auto-ruled, the person is able to give himself the form. The challenge of the human being is to be himself. Here dwells the deep difference between human beings and animals. As Ortega y Gasset said: "while the tiger cannot stop being a tiger, it cannot lose its tiger identity, the man lives in permanent risk of being dehumanized. Not only it is problematic and contingent that these things happen to him, as to the other animals, but it happens to the man sometimes not to be a man. And this is true, not only in abstract and in genre, but it is appropriate to refer it to our individuality. Each one of us is always in danger of not being himself, unique and non transferable as we are» (3).

So the human being is free. It is not a question of an unlimited freedom since this freedom only can be formed respecting the truth of his own human nature. We own a given nature; we have a perfection that is ours and we head towards this perfection. We have been created contingent and in state of perfection, but God has created us with all the potentialities to become what we have to be. Provided with rationality and freedom, all our gifts allow us to prosper enormously. We are called to grow, to be educated, to give ourselves a form and also to intervene in the world.

The goal is to be me, to be who I am, unique and unrepeatable. That's why « the neutral impersonal style “who is the man?” has to be transformed into “who are you?” », a question that only the person is able to answer. This means that this is a task in which nobody can replace the subject of the formation. It is about the vocation to be who I am and that's why there's the risk and the danger of betraying this calling and the truth about myself. The one who does not direct his own freedom towards the truth of his own humanity, betrays the gift of freedom and betrays his own humanity. Gregory of Nice says it with these beautiful words: “All the beings who are subject of whatever could happen, do not remain identical to themselves, but they go on continuously from one state to another by means of a change that is always translated in good or in evil... And so, to be a subject submitted to change is to be born continuously... But here the birth does not take place by a foreign intervention, since it is the case of the corporeal beings ..., but it is the result of a free decision and, in consequence we are -in certain way- our same parents, creating us as we want  and, with our election, giving us the form that we want ». The human being forms his self. Then, here we have a fundamental principle. The formation of the layperson is first of all an auto-formation, although we know well that it not only depends on him but on other factors. That's why the document speaks very precisely about the necessary “outgoing formation”. Since we are forming laypeople, we contribute with useful materials and means for the formation of others. Nevertheless, it is very important to search for means to freely stimulate and to motivate the persons in the desire to assume everything that the Church offers.

The gift of freedom involves in us agents of laypeople's formation to be deeply respectful with the human being that I have in front of me: child, youngster, or adult. Respectful of their own options. At the same time, to provoke the freedom of the other with the attraction of the Gospel. When we perceive that the freedom of the person does not head according to the truth, we have to be brave in announcing with simplicity and clarity the Truth of the Gospel, without thinking about how to force, but to invite and to present the beauty, the good and the kindness of the Good News.

The person is characterized by freedom, by rationality and by the fact that he has been created by God as body, soul and spirit. The spirit is God's image in the human being, it is a deep dimension that makes the human being tend towards God and be able to communicate with God and share God's love. The human being has been created in the image of God and in God's likeness, that's why his spirit is called to take part in God's life. To be able to be formed he has to understand the depth of his being; the human being has been created to live in communion with God and if he doesn't get formed in this relationship with God and if he doesn't enrich his spirit, he will be betraying the most important part of his own being. The human being often is not conscious of the depth of his spirit. The human spirit has the aptitude to be a container of God's life and it is called to be a temple of God, which the theologians call the Trinity Inhabitation. Saint Therese was always complaining about not having realized for so many years that it was enough to be in God’s grace to enjoy the presence of the Trinity in her own spirit. Let's think about the depth of the human spirit that makes it capable of taking part of God's life It is an abyss of infinite love, and this capacity has been placed by God. St. Therese of Lisieux put in Christ's mouth these words: “I have made his wishes infinite ». We can now understand the sadness, the frustration and the absence of plenitude that a human being who does not answer to the depth of his spirit lives through. At the same time, both the body and the psyche with all its potentialities and faculties should orient the realization of the being. The spirit is alive, it moves, is realized, expresses itself through the body, the soul, the faculties, and wants to act in the world. The human being wants to show in the world what has taken shape internally. An essential part of the personality is our external activity, the way we express ourselves, and our doing. (4)

And so, « first of all, in every human being from his nature a fundamental vocation is demonstrated: that of being a person according to the divine plan ... to answer to this primary, structural vocation, is a call to any creature of all the times and of all the places ». Then in first place we have to answer to ourselves the question what does it mean to be a person, and then to answer about my own person. That is to say, about my specific vocation and my mission in the world, because «every human being, along with this vocation that we have been calling 'fundamental' has also, because of the divine plan, a call to realize in this world his own mission. Thus, the horizon of the vocation goes on to a more specific individuality with the personal call to a concrete mission».

b) I am Christian

Nevertheless, we must look at the human being, subject of the formation, not only from a static perspective as body, soul and spirit, but also from a dynamic and historical comprehension. We admit that it is not so easy to form the individual in authenticity and to know with clarity who one is and which is this specific form that one has to give to himself. The revelation shows us that we were created in the image of God and in God's likeness, and the image of the Son, however this image was darkened because of the original sin of our parents. That's why God, in his infinite love sent to the world his Son Jesus Christ. Christ, is the perfect image of the Father. Christ is the full and entire man. Christ is the model to which the human being has to be conformed. But since the human being has been made to God’s image and God's likeness, through the baptism we have been sealed by the image of the dead and resuscitated Christ. We need to grow into this image, which develops through the likeness, to reach Christ's height. Then, the form that the Christian, the baptized layperson has to assume is the form of Christ; it is Christ's image in the Christian. The formation leads to Christ's image growing inside the Christian, leading to maturity and self-expression in the world. Therefore, the lay minister cannot form himself or form others if he doesn't live through a deep personal encounter with Christ, with an intense life of prayer, and a continuous knowledge of Christ's person through the divine lectio, which makes him understand the model to which he must conform. Therefore to form authentic people means to form them in Christ's image. And this formation is not enough just with words. We have to announce Christ, as someone who knows him in the first person. Benedict XVI stated: «Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction». (5) In order for the lay minister to form authentic human beings, he must be an authentic human being. The more like Christ one is, the better he will be able to form others like Christ. Also the one who is in continuous contact with Jesus Christ, the one who assimilates his life, his words, the Gospel, « the one who studies in depth the actions and the Words of Christ’s full of love, converts himself into the living Gospel, in an alive force, and is continuously active». (6) And then, everything he has inside will go out through his words, his gestures, his decisions, his thoughts. When his faith is challenged with doubts, he will answer with simplicity and evangelical knowledge. So there is an extra dimension of the formation, one which is not planned, it appears when the lay minister has been conformed to the Gospel and has allowed himself to be captivated by the Gospel. This person will act involuntarily spreading the effects received from his continuous contact with the Gospel.

It is Christ who indicates to us the way of this formation. What form do we have to give to others? How do we generate a healthy spirituality that does not turn into an escape or into a distortion of a real human spirituality? I believe that the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son has to be a sure guide for us. The form that we must assume is an incarnate conformation. Christ, was incarnated as Mary's Son. This means, that Christ is a real God and real man. His humanity was raised by the divine person of the Word. The way of formation of the layperson is a spirituality that follows the incarnate dynamic, that lives in communion with the whole mystery of Christ: birth, family, work, suffering, joy, poverty, difficulties, thirst, famine, death ... all the human mysteries lived by the Incarnate Word. And what are the pillars of this form, of Jesus’ state as Mary's Son? I would say that his life is centered on the obedience to the Father and on his three loves: to the Father in the Spirit, to Mary and to all of us. We are called to reproduce in us this lovely obedience that does not distrust the Father, but accepts with docility what the Father allows in the life of each one of us, and adheres in everything to fulfill and to obey the Plan of the Father. An infinite love and a confidence that puts God as the center of the existence, a love to Mary granting to her the role of truly being an educational mother of the human spirit and a sincere love towards all people that matures into dynamics of service, solidarity, and care for others. This is the Catholic Faith: “it is a faith that is saying yes from the spirit to abstract truths and it is an affective enthusiasm of pure confidence in the mystery. And also, it is a Christological faith, that takes part from the perspective of Jesus, from his innate attitude to the acceptance of the will of the Father and to the obedience through love until the end. A faith like this is not acquired by imitation, but by free communication of the Holy Spirit». (7)

Thus, in the formative process there is something that we cannot calculate, and this is God's grace in us which forms us. And in this sense it is essential that the one who forms or the lay minister be a person of deep faith. Several times, without wanting it, we have still a negative anthropology. Although we believe in the ideal of holiness, sometimes we do not believe up to the end that Christ is truly capable of transforming and making us new men and new women. That’s why, it is fundamental that the lay minister transmits confidence and hope in the action of the grace in all his apostolic mission. If the person collaborates with his humble means, the Lord will not stop spilling his grace. Edith Stein affirms that « the way of formation of the man is a way of the divine providence ». God, respecting the freedom of the human being, respecting the diverse external factors, is the Master of the history of each one of us. He intervenes with his provident love for the good of the person, in order to provide his salvation and fulfillment. God may « transform the [human] nature, influencing from the interior in the formative process, so that, from the exterior, it turns out to be surprising, narcotic, especially for the one that is the subject of the change». (8)

The central character of our holiness is the Holy Spirit. It is Christ's Spirit that forges our spirit. That's why the space dedicated to the meeting with Christ in the Eucharist turns out to be fundamental for the formation. It is also significant how much importance we give to visiting the Blessed Sacrament. It is in this silence, in this meeting with the Blessed Sacrament that He is forming us. When we open our soul, our spirit, our own heart to Christ, then only in that availability can Christ have and forge the heart of the person. With this openness Christ can grant us the light and the eyes of the spirit that makes us capable of seeing and of understanding what we often cannot see and understand. And since the Holy Father Benedict XVI has indicated, «those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them». (9)

c) I am myself

The interesting thing is that each one of us will personify Christ's model of an only way, because the human being is unique, and has been called by God with an identity and a particular mission. Therefore, it is always important, to understand that in the formative process, there are common elements of the human nature but it is necessary to help the person to discover his way of being himself, his individual call to be holy and to the mission in the Church, so when faced to a model, he won't aspire to a project that is not necessarily what God asks from him.

After all, we all want to answer the question: What does God want from me? What should I do? What is my own call? The Lord gives us the necessary direction to walk and to understand what God wants from us. In order to understand how we must form ourselves, we have to discern, to be attentive to the signs of the times, to be sensitive to the Spirit and open to the brothers. We will never be completely sure. God is the only one who has entire clarity because He knows us deeply and he can penetrate in depth the image in which we were created.

This invites us to an attitude of humility in the formation of other people, in the formation of the laypeople and in our own formation. The security is not infallible. We must approach ourselves and others in reverence and in tune with the Spirit to understand where He wants to lead us.

Many times we know well what we have to do or what the others have to do in order to be mature Christians and surprisingly it is not carried out. This is what Fr. Rulla has called inconsistencies. This means an absence of harmony between those values that the Church proposes, the internalization of them and our performance. Sometimes we believe in the values but in a superficial way, sometimes we act without having internalized them and it ends up by being only an exterior action. Sometimes we believe in the evangelical values but it is not translated in works and concrete actions in daily life. Thence, it is fundamental in the formation to head towards an integration of our own being. We have to be realistic also with ourselves. Do not look for perfectionism in the formation of the laypeople. We are hurt by sin. The image that should accompany us is the image of resuscitated Christ who keeps the wounds of the passion, but the light of the Resurrection passes across the wounds transforming them.

III. The basic areas of formation (10)

To overcome these inconsistencies we have to concentrate on the basic areas of the formation. The basic areas of the growth in the faith are those of knowing, feeling and doing. Three fields in close relation. The Christian formation must be founded in the invitation to a cognitive response, to an affective response, and to an active response. Since what a person knows determines his attitudes and inclines him to a behavior; the vital experience of the person is related to his knowledge and his behavior; and the action of the person tends to influence his feelings and his cognitive potentiality. Three fundamental areas happen intimately tied in the person; nevertheless, to try a better comprehension we will look at them separately.

a) Faith in the Mind:
A horizon of apprehension of the truth that goes, very much beyond a cerebral, to the existential dimension of the human being.

The categorical aspect of the faith is not avoidable. Just the opposite.

One of the serious evils of our time is to relegate the doctrine of the faith. Hence, an inadequate comprehension facilitates its dissolution on having collided with the aggressive secularism. It would seem that the political correctness or the ‘pensiero debole’ have come to many and for them it "sounds" disagreeable, for saying less, insisting on the existence of the truth and on the adherence to the truth. These truths are excessively uncomfortable for those who support political correctness even to the point of tolerating them. But the person, and the young person in particular, are natural searchers of the truth and they will stay fundamentally as such.

In the critical modern environment a faith badly educated will be a faith badly lived, the morality will be slightly coherent and the worship will not be there or will be merely epidermal. In spite of its transcendence, there are some people who do not consider the importance the faith in the mind. This way, we can verify how in many catholic fields the religious formation has been abandoned or it has been replaced by subjectivist procedures. In many cases there’s a pronounced emotional and feeling accent as if faith were a matter without importance on which the person can think whatever seems good to him or what his caprice dictates him, leaving aside the education and the meditation on the revealed truth, or as if it was a mere emotional subjective sensation.

The faith in the heart corresponds to the field of the feelings and the will. The cognitive reception of the Truth is not enough; we need its vital assimilation. The faith does not remain in its conceptual objective aspect, but its dynamism tries to radiate in the entire person. Through the experience it goes beyond the expansion of the Truth.

In everything, it is indispensable to have in mind that the Christianity is a personalizing religion. It is based on the relationship of the person with God, One in Three. This relationship “I - you” has to be emphasized not only in the intellectual field, but also, and very especially, in the affective one, in the vital one.

The faith in action is the projection -by means of the expression in the daily life and the testimony- of the faith in the mind and in the heart. It is necessary to point out that the educational aspect of faith in action does not consist only of promoting action, but fundamentally in creation of habits of right action and its subsequent employment in acting in response to God's Plan for the fulfillment of the human being himself and in relationship with the others.

In this field it is fundamental to refer to the liturgy, since this one, well led and understood, produces a highly positive impact in the cognitive and affective areas. At the same time it is the sustenance and expression of the Christian life, which is born of it and leads to it (11).

Equally, it is necessary to remember the deacon-functional sense that the Christian has. Life is a service. This deacon sense must be remarked and applied through the transmission of the Good News and the transformation of the world according to the Divine Plan.


(1) JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici, n. 10.
(2) Ibid., 33.
(3) J. ORTEGA Y GASSET, El hombre y la gente, Madrid 1983, 45.
(4) Cf. E. STEIN, La vita come totalità, ob. Cit. 29.
(5) BENEDICT XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus caritas est, n. 1.
(6) E. STEIN, La vita come totalità, ob. Cit. 98.
(7) CARD. M. OUELLET, La belleza di essere cristiani, in: PONTIFICUM CONSILIUM PRO LAICIS, La bellezza di essere cristiani. I movimenti nella Chiesa, Città del Vaticano 2007, 42.
(8) Cf. E. STEIN, La vita come totalità, ob. Cit. 34.
(9) BENEDICT XVI, Encyclical letter Deus caritas est, n. 42.
(10) Cf. L.F. FIGARI, Nell’educazione dei giovani, en: PONTIFICUM CONSILIUM PRO LAICIS, La bellezza di essere cristiani. I movimenti nella Chiesa, ob. Cit. 143-153.
(11) Ver Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10.