Pray with the Pope: May 2018
What’s the Mission of the Laity?
General Intention: That the lay faithful may fulfil their specific mission, by responding with creativity to the challenges that face the world today.
The term “lay apostolate” brings to mind extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist taking Communion to the sick and presiding at services of the Word. This narrow view can confine the lay apostolate to a small group of people working at quasi-priestly tasks.
The broader sense of the term includes all laypeople, and the layperson’s primary mission or apostolate is to the secular world.
While the mission of the laity finds its origin in the laity’s share in the priestly, prophetic and royal office of Christ, it is primarily “directed to the evangelisation and sanctification of people and to the permeating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel”, as Vatican II put it in Apostolicam Actuositatem, the decree on the laity,.
To my mind this is a far more challenging mission than assisting at the altar. Trying to infuse the secular world with the spirit of the Gospel in this day and age is not for the faint of heart. We just have to look at the recent massive moral failures in business to see how daunting the commercial world must be for a Catholic businessperson who is concerned about upholding ethical standards.
The same is true for men and women working in public office. In a very contaminated moral environment, it is hard enough to remain uncorrupted, let alone proclaim the Gospel. And the call goes beyond the ethical — how to bring into a morally compromised world the “spirit of the Gospel”?
Clergy and religious cannot have access to all the places and people that the laity can and do on a daily basis in the natural course of their professional and social lives, but laymen and women are rubbing up against people of other faiths (and none) all the time. They can and do touch the heart of the secular world.
Simple Witness Without Words
On one level, it is about simple witness. Just to be known by colleagues as a person of integrity and to make it clear that this integrity flows from one’s Catholic faith, is half the battle. Such a person will have the respect of people who are not of the Christian or Catholic household.
We know this is true because the reverse is also true. We Catholics have deep respect for Jews, Muslims and other Christians who take their faith seriously and whose moral conduct is informed by that faith. Muslim banking or Jewish care to observe the Sabbath or Protestant knowledge of the Bible command our respect. What do they respect about us?
The Holy Father is asking laypeople to respond creatively to the challenge to permeate and perfect secular society through the spirit of the Gospel. There is much encouraging literature around these days to help stimulate that creativity. One example would be the former Jesuit Chris Lowney’s book, Heroic Leadership. Another is the excellent Vatican document on the “Vocation of the Business Leader”. Yes, vocation!
The Catholic tradition has some wonderful and often untapped resources which a layperson can delicately and discreetly deploy in his or her professional and social life. The deep listening that comes with a life of prayer, for example.
The way we deal with people for whom we are responsible can be powerfully infused by the Gospel. In religious life we call it cura personalis, the care of your community members.
In a world which reduces people to the graceless status of a consumer, such care testifies to a vision of the human person made in the image and likeness of God.
You can find a short, inspiring video on this theme featuring Pope Francis himself on www.thepopevideo.org