Pierre HEGY, Lay Spirituality, From Traditional to Postmodern.  Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017.  $29.00 Pb, 221 pgs.  ISBN 978-1-5326-3194-8.  Reviewed by Francis BERNA, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA.


With St. Jane Frances de Chantal, St. Francis de Sales founded a congregation of religious women who could not endure the severe practices of other communities.  He applied the same spirit encouraging holiness of life for the laity by trusting in God’s love.  Among others Pope Benedict XVI has proposed that this 17th Century spirituality resonates with contemporary seekers.

Pierre Hegy’s Lay Spirituality raises a significant caveat worthy of consideration.  In one sense Hegy questions just how “lay” a spirituality can be in a postmodern world and church.  Simultaneously his text challenges perceptions that the Roman Church has truly engaged a postmodern world.  Thus, can a 17th Century institutional spirituality really fit on today’s world?

The genuine strength of Lay Spirituality lies in the breadth of its considerations and the details Hegy provides.  The author offers significant theoretical perspectives along with sound historical and sociological data.  Hegy structures the text to offer a consistent balance between theory and practice.  The reader will find his style of writing very engaging.

The balance of the text might well arise from what Hegy identifies as three levels of consideration regarding spirituality – abstractions and practices as polar opposites with exhortations to a spiritual life in between.  Hegy correctly notes the absence of a clear picture for the practices of a truly lay spirituality in the documents of Vatican II.  He likewise details the clerical focus and control in the exhortations of St. John Paul II.

Council scholars could argue that the documents offer little detail on most matters, advocating instead implementation to be enacted in a post-conciliar church.  One might suggest that the Council proposed a more collaborative church, “the People of God.”  This model suggests less distinction between clergy and laity.  Again, Hegy correctly observes that the contemporary church has identified with some less collaborative images in Council documents and hierarchical statements.

Part IV of Lay Spirituality provides four examples of what Hegy calls postmodern churches.  His subheading is “From hierarchies to networks.”  The examples include a Protestant Evangelical church in New York, a vibrant parish and the Charismatic Renewal in Guatemala along with the social justice engagement of a Catholic parish in Chicago.  He effectively explains the strengths and limitations of each community in reflecting a lay spirituality in the contemporary world.

Interestingly enough, these communities often incorporated traditional theology (Protestant Evangelical) and variations of traditional practices (Eucharistic devotion, Ash Wednesday).  At the same time each community was marked by a clear difference – the engagement and leadership of the laity.

Vatican II advocated a return to the sources with an adaptation to the current circumstances.  Here I think Lay Spirituality could have included a more detailed consideration of movements like Focolare, the Catholic Worker, or the writings of Madeleine Delbrél.  In that spirit one might also find some good insight in the writings of that 17th Century bishop to continue to develop a lay spirituality that Hegy correctly identifies for the Catholic Church in a postmodern world.