Living the Call: An Introduction to the Lay Vocation, Michael Novak and William E. Simon Jr., Encounter Books (New York, 2011). 191 pp., $21.95.
“Living the Call: An Introduction to the Lay Vocation” is an accessible but far from cliché book about the crucial roles that laypeople play in the Catholic Church. While the number of priests in the United States has fallen, the number of Catholics has risen, increasing the demand for educated, passionate Catholics to fill open ministries in the Church. The 191-page book provides a collection of these opportunities growing in parishes around the country and offers spiritual reflections for laypeople.
Although the reason why the lay vocation is important for the survival of the Church is addressed in the book, theologian and author William Simon and businessman and lawyer Michael Novak provide much more for readers. The authors illustrate the lay ministry with entertaining stories about real people who are the youth ministers, principals, educators, and parish associates that make the Church world go round.
These are not the anecdotes of nice volunteers who put out coffee for parish gatherings. These are the stories of a diverse collection of men and women who studied, trained and spiritually discerned their vocation.
Take, for example, Ansel Augustine, associate director and black youth ministry coordinator for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. A son of the Lafitte Projects, he was attending Loyola University in New Orleans when his closest friend from home was killed by gunfire. Feeling lost and disconnected, a campus gospel service encouraged him to take a second look at his Catholic faith. A certificate in youth ministry from New Orleans’ Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University and a master’s degree in pastoral studies later, Augustine found himself closely in service for the Church.
While working as a volunteer for Catholic Charities after Hurricane Katrina ravaged his city, Augustine was called to identify the body of his girlfriend who was killed in the storm. He lost 18 friends and family members from the hurricane’s destruction, yet continued to help rebuild St. Peter Claver, his childhood church. Through his dedication to his faith, the church became a bedrock for local youths needing direction and community.
Though not all of the stories are as poignant and inspiring as Augustine’s, they are interesting. Simon and Novak should be applauded for their ability to make the topic engaging for the everyday Catholic.
In the second half of “Living the Call,” Simon and Novak give readers a bit of pep talk mixed with reflection and encouragement. Calling lay Catholics soldiers on “the frontlines of the war for souls,” Simon and Novak write that laypeople are not “little clergymen” but evangelizers to the entire world. This sort of job requires a rich spiritual life.
Simon and Novak note that Catholics can participate in a myriad of available retreats and join lay associations with religious communities. And, perhaps more appropriate for the layperson not quite ready or able to take up the sword, Simon and Novak also suggest opportunities for how God can enter into daily life more easily.
A quick read, “Living the Call” will be appreciated by both the seasoned lay minister and curious Catholic considering taking the plunge into the challenging and rewarding life of the lay vocation.
Regina Lordan is a freelancer writer and a member of St. Andrew Parish in Newtown.