Age of the Laity: Empowered Disciples

Ervin TanReflections

Age of the Laity: Empowered Disciples

For our Church to grow, the laity needs to be empowered as disciples of Jesus. This was what Archbishop William Goh shared at the 2018 Catholic Foundation Dinner on 29 October. The following is an extract of his address.

Our Church in Singapore has about 150 priests. Roughly half are above 55, and just ten are below 40 years old.

Although we have been promoting vocations in priestly and religious life, few young men and women respond. If we depend on the clergy alone, it will be increasingly difficult to keep the Church going.

Lack of priests and religious

The sad reality now is that parish priests are crying out for assistance, and parishioners are sometimes unable to get hold of them. So we have been asking priests from overseas for their help.

However, I do not believe  this is the way to build up the local Church. Our foreign priests eventually need to return to their own countries. We need priests based here in Singapore to journey with you.

Because of a decrease in vocations, some religious congregations, such as the Infant Jesus sisters and Brothers of St Gabriel, have established foundations managed by lay people. They know that it is unlikely that there will be religious left to continue their work, once their generation passes on.

Co-responsibility of the laity

Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 proclaimed that the laity are called to be co-responsible for the Church, not mere collaborators.

The Church does not exist for herself. It is always for the greater good of our society, our country, the whole world.

Many of you have heard the call of God and have given your services to the Church and the community, in areas such as catechesis, liturgy and social services, despite your tight schedules.

You have been generous with your time, resources, and talents of technical, legal and professional advice. I am deeply indebted to all of you. Without you, I cannot do anything, and the Church will not be where it is today.

Not just good workers 

Yet while many of our lay people are good workers, they have not been trained as disciples.

If there is no solid spiritual, moral and biblical formation, they are going to be hurt when they join church organisations or serve in ministries. And when they encounter problems, disagreements or the shortcomings of other members, they leave.

Jesus makes it clear: “If you want to be my disciple, you must take up the cross and come after me.” (Mt 16:24) But they can only carry that cross and truly be a disciple if they are well-grounded in their faith.

I have heard some say that the priests are too busy to form them. But our parish priests have so many responsibilities: pastoral and sacramental duties, and maybe 50 parish organisations between two priests. They cannot attend ministry meetings every week.

Call to missionary discipleship

So where is your formation? Who is going to form you in your faith? There is only output – giving and serving – but no input. You need to grow in understanding of your faith, and imbibe the Word of God.

That is our weakness. We are not yet missionary disciples, as Pope Francis reminds us. Many of us are just involved in the mission without being disciples.

We urgently need to mentor our volunteers and full-time workers – they need to mature in their faith. I honestly believe that the only way for the Church in Singapore to grow is to invest in our lay people. We cannot totally depend on our priests. The laity will have to step up.

Investing in our laity

I have met many people who are enthusiastic about their faith and passionately in love with Jesus, serving the Church in full-time ministry, not just in administration or logistics.Many organisations in our archdiocese are excited about spreading the Good News.

So we need to empower and develop lay Catholics, working full-time and side by side with the priests, to form the rest of the laity. Trained in theological and spiritual studies and the Bible, they too can give formation retreats and talks.

I invite you to reflect: Are we willing to invest in our laity? Are we giving our full-time workers a decent pay so that they can support their families? Unless we are ready to empower those who want to serve full-time, I can tell you that frankly, the Gospel will not spread. If we continue the way we are, the Church will diminish.

My dear brothers and sisters, we cannot remain complacent. It is the responsibility of every Catholic – whether clergy, religious or laity – to build a more vibrant, evangelistic and missionary Church.

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