Who's an active Catholic?

Q. In our prayer group recently, we had a discussion of what is an "active" Catholic. Most of the group said that it means Sunday Mass and confession, plus involvement in one or more ministries or programs of the parish. I felt left out as, with four young children, I am not able to donate any volunteer time to the parish. Does this mean I am not an "active" Catholic?

A. Here’s a reply from Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:

The consensus of your prayer group on what constitutes an active Catholic is, I am afraid, widely shared. An active Catholic is thought to be one who, besides regular attendance of Mass and the sacraments, serves as a reader or extraordinary minister of holy Communion, teaches in the religious education or the RCIA program or is a member of the parish pastoral council. When we think of a "very active" Catholic, we are inclined to thinking of someone who is highly involved in parish ministries and programs.

Such a way of thinking is, at one level, not wrong. Every parish community depends on groups of parishioners who are willing to assist in the life of the parish. Without them, the parish would be poor and would not operate very well.

But, fundamentally, the consensus of your prayer group is not adequate. The fact is the most basic and necessary description of an active Catholic is a person who, besides participation in the Mass and the sacraments, seeks to live out the Catholic faith in the ordinary circumstances of his or her life.

Before we serve God in the parish, we serve him first in our homes, as parents, children, spouses and as single persons, and in society at large as workers, professionals and citizens.

Not enough Catholics think of their marriage as a vocation and the primary means by which they are active Catholics. Living together "for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness or health," constitutes the framework within which most Catholics live their faith actively.

The role of parents in raising their children involves the same sort of commitment. The Church has, since the Second Vatican Council, promoted the idea of the family as the "domestic church." All that goes on in the lives of parents and children goes to make up a truly active unit of the Church.

Consider also the area of work and the professions we have. We are not adequately inclined to think of these as vocations or the arenas within which we can be active Catholics. Yet they are in truth vocations, because they are the ways in which we serve God.

Whether we are employers or employees, there are a whole host of virtues that we are called upon to practice in our daily work. These include diligence, wisdom, fairness, charity, tolerance, solidarity and consideration of the needs and failures of others.

Being an active Catholic in our places of work does not mean that we go around preaching to others. It means acting out our faith in the knowledge that actions speak louder than words. Each profession or job brings with it a whole host of possibilities for serving the kingdom of God and embodying the Catholic faith.

Each and every one of us is called to be an active Catholic. This does not begin and end with what we do on Sunday morning. Certainly, the liturgical aspect of faith is central. But being an active Catholic means living our faith in the ordinary circumstances of life Monday through Saturday.

If on top of that we are able to take on some participation in the ministries and programs of the parish, so much the better. But such activities should be regarded as secondary to what has traditionally been called "the apostolate of the laity," the work of advancing God's kingdom within the everyday circumstances of life.