Catholic Action

Photograph of Pius XI by Nicola Perscheid.

Catholic Action refers to groups of lay Catholics who are trying to influence the cultures of the societies they live in. While these groups are often conceived of and executed on the initiative of laity, they can only really deserve the adjective of “Catholic” when they are conducted in reference to the clergy. Catholic Action without reference to clergy is simply “Action.”

Don’t Wait for the Clergy: Be Proactive

Most laypeople really have no idea how busy our clergy are. They conduct catechism, prepare people for marriage, say Mass and the Office, travel to far-flung places to give solace to Catholics, make sick calls, and oh yes, occasionally they sleep and eat. Laypeople often are waiting for the clergy to ask them to do things, as if the clergy necessarily have time to conceive of projects and then assign them to the right people.

The first priority should be attending to projects that the clergy need locally and regionally. Ask Father what projects he needs help with and how you can help. For example, perhaps Father needs help with a website, or adding a shelf to a room, or doing some data entry. If you can do any of those things, volunteer. If not, spread the word and see if you can help find someone to help.

Only when all these needs are attended to, the “maintenance” needs, can you then bring your own particular projects to the clergy.

Begin Within

Remember that Catholic Action isn’t worth anything if it just proceeds along in the entrepreneurial spirit of the world, in which individuals bend reality to their will. Catholic Action primarily begins with an interior life, as articulated in The Soul of the Apostolate. If the individuals involved in Catholic Action do not have an interior life, or do not prioritize one, they will have nothing to offer. This is because the lubrication necessary to power Catholic Action comes from the overflow of that interior life. 

Without this interior life, any project of Catholic Action is doomed from the beginning.

Be Bold, But Be Realistic

When conceiving your project, make sure that you have the right people to pull it off. Rarely, if ever, are projects of Catholic Action the work of a single individual. Once you’ve put together the outlines of your projects, and gotten buy-in from those who are going to help, bring your project to the clergy. 

Remember that you’re not necessarily asking Father to contribute his time and labor (he often won’t have any to give you). You’re asking if it’s permissible to continue with your project and whether he would be willing to answer some questions or give it some oversight. If Father greenlights your project, you’re good to go!

If he tells you to hold off or come back to him at a later time, obey! You’re always free to come back to Father in the future (remember Our Lord’s lessons in Scripture about persistence!) but sometimes your vision and his will not align. That’s okay. Obedience is better than sacrifices, and Catholic Action without supervision or oversight from the clergy doesn’t deserve the name (or the support of Catholics).