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September 8, 2018 - Exemplar Lay Person

Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Scripture Readings

I'm currently enrolled in a Christology class as I pursue my masters. During the opening Q&A of my last class, one of my classmates asked about Mary. At one point in his answer, my professor called her the "Exemplar lay person." On this feast of her nativity I want to see where that takes us.

Laity is a title that comes from "people." Many of us reading this are laity. We are non-clergy as it has been commonly defined. But we are also the people. If the clergy are to serve the People of God, then that really points to "laity." Though not everyone is found of the title laity. A once heard a preacher say that he didn't care to be called "the laity" because it was too close to lazy. However, lazy is hardly a word I would use to describe Mary.

In today's gospel we hear of Joseph (another great example of a lay person) taking Mary into his home. Anyone who has known a mother, which would be all of us, can attest that motherhood is hardly a vocation of laziness. Beyond that, if we are familiar with the challenges to which Mary and Joseph had to respond we would hardly imagine them as lazy. There example challenges a temptation that the aforementioned preacher captured. When we reduce the definition of laity to what we are not (not clergy) then we can be tempted to laziness.

My heart went here as I recalled how the recent revelations in the church have brought about many conversations concerning clericalism. A simple, and very broad definition of clericalism is given by the Merriam-Webster website as "a policy of maintaining or increasing the power of a religious hierarchy." Clericalism is certainly a temptation of ambition and power for the clergy. For the laity however I wonder if it poses another temptation. I wonder if it represents our temptation to laziness? For with clericalism's increase of power in the clergy, it also leads to an exaggerated sense of holiness and responsibility within the clergy.

Does clericalism tempted the laity as well because it lifts the demands of the Gospel from our shoulders? Even today, are we still tempted by a new clericalism that is just a little broader as it includes lay employees of the Church?

As we reflect on the beginning of Mary's life, the exemplar Lay person, we are challenged to see that the demands of discipleship are set, not before a select few, but each and everyone of us. May we all exhibit the same obedience of faith as Mary and so be "conformed to the image of [the Father's] Son.

- Spencer Hargadon