On September 23, Francis Cardinal Arinze spoke at Holy Apostles Church in Colorado Springs on "The Apostolate Specific to the Lay Faithful." Unfortunately, I was out of town and unable to attend. However, I was able to get a copy of his lecture, and I have summarized it below, with many quotations and a few observations of my own. The content of his lecture is remarkably similar to the Friday evening portion of the Called & GIfted workshop designed by Sherry Weddell and Fr. Michael Sweeney.
His talk was divided into seven brief sections:
1. what is the Church's mission?
2. who are the lay faithful
3. the foundation of the apostolate specific to the lay faithful
4. areas in which the lay faithful will need to be particularly engaged
5. involvement of the laity within Church communities
6. collaboration between clergy and laity
7. lay spirituality necessary to reap the fruits hoped-for in the apostolate
"For this the Church was founded; that by spreading the kingdom of Christ everywhere for the glory of God the Father, … the whole world might in actual fact be brought into relationship with him." (Apostolicam Actuositatem [AA], 2) Everything the Church does in pursuit of this goal is called the apostolate, or the mission of the Church.
Every member of the Church has a share in this apostolate. There are no spectator Christians. 'By its very nature the Christian vocation is also a vocation to the apostolate'" AA,2
Who are the laity?
"The lay faithful, clerics and the religious or people in the consecrated state all have a share in the apostolate of the Church. Negatively, the laity are those not ordained and not in a religious community. "Positively, and more importantly, the lay faithful are those Christians who by Baptism are made one body with Christ, are given a share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly functions of Christ, and are sent to carry out their own part in the mission of the whole Christian people with respect to the Church and the world."
"A secular quality is proper and special to the laity, and this distinguishes them from clerics and religious. The laity, by their very vocation, seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God…The laity…are called to live and work in the midst of the secular professions and occupations, to offer them to God, and to give witness to Christ in these arenas as insiders, acting from within."
Foundation of the Lay Apostolate
The foundation is the sacraments of initiation which incorporate the individual into the body of Christ and through which Christ commissions the individual to the apostolate.
"Each layperson can therefore say: 'I am commissioned and sent to carry out the lay apostolate by Baptism, strengthened in Confirmation and nourished by the Holy Eucharist. The other Sacraments received by the laity also empower me. Matrimony gives spouses the graces they need to witness to Christ in that state of life.'
He specifically singled out Baptism as the beginning and foundation of new life in Christ. As priests, lay people offer spiritual worship for the glory of God and the sanctification of people, and their lives are offered at Mass with Christ through the ordained priest. In their prophetic ministry, he said, the laity "evangelize the world from within, beginning in the family (cf Lumen Gentium [LG], 35). In their kingly role, they "seek to permeate the world by the spirit of Christ so that it more effectively achieves its purpose in justice, charity and peace. To discharge this role, the lay faithful will need to acquire competence in the secular fields, to know how to promote greater justice in society and a better distribution of earthly goods, and how to change social structures that promote evil or sin."
To call the lay apostolate "secular" is not to say that somehow it is less holy than the priesthood. It means first of all that sociologically the laity live in the secular sphere. But theologically, "secular" means that that is the part of life "where God has called them to live and work from the inside, to give witness to Christ there, and to sanctify it" in the manner of salt, leaven and light.
The Specific Nature of the Lay Apostolate
"The apostolate specific to the lay faithful is the evangelization, or Christianization, or animation of the temporal or secular order." Quoting Christifideles Laici [CL], 15, he said, "The 'world' thus becomes the place and the means for the lay faithful to fulfill their Christian vocation, because the world itself is destined to glorify God the Father in Christ."
Cardinal Arinze rightly points out that we are not attempting to establish a theocracy, because the things of this world "not only can help towards the attainment of our final end, but also possess their own intrinsic value. They take on special dignity because they are related to the human person."
The lay person at work, at leisure, in the family, and in the culture lives out his or her faith only insofar as they "organize these affairs in such a way that they may always start out, develop, and persist according to Christ's mind, to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer" (LG, 31)
Some Areas calling for lay Apostolate
The Cardinal mentioned marriage and family – but emphasized that this apostolate extends beyond the home into the political realm and in the mass media so that family life and marriage are protected and good schools provided for all.
In the area of work, the apostolate is normally of "like to like. The apostles of doctors are to be doctors. Teachers are to be evangelized by their colleagues. Dock-workers are to be brought to Christ by dock-workers."
Mass media are other areas ripe for the lay apostolate: the press, radio, television, the internet, the entertainment industry, advertising and communications in general are the challenging fields 'ripe for the harvest.' The same is true for the world of politics and science, particularly biotechnology.
Different Roles of the Laity within Church Communities
Within the Church community, the laity are indispensable in the celebration of the liturgy, working as catechists, serving on parish and diocesan councils and participating in various lay movements. When ordained ministers are not available, a liturgical role can be entrusted to a lay person, but "the Church gains nothing from efforts to clericalize the laity or to laicize the clergy."
He pointed out that at times the laity don't feel sufficiently integrated into Church structures, and where that is true "the situation should be studied and remedied, with all due respect for the nature of the Church as willed by our Lord, her Founder." But at other times, the perception may come from a situation in which the vital apostolate to the world has been ignored and/or forgotten.
Collaboration between Laity and Clergy
The effectiveness of the lay faithful in carrying out their apostolate both in the temporal order and in the Church, requires collaboration between clergy and laity.
"The lay faithful have the right to receive from the clerics the Word of God and the Sacraments. They should reveal to their pastors their needs and desires. They are free to express their opinion in matters touching the Church. Sometimes, by reason of their special competence, they are bound to do so through the proper channels and always with respect…
The pastors, on their part, are to recognize and promote the dignity and responsibility of the laity, to welcome their advice and collaboration, to assign them duties in Church communities, to encourage them to take initiatives on their own especially in society, and to 'respectfully acknowledge that just freedom which belongs to everyone in this earthly city.' While everyone in the Church is to strive to work with the gifts or charisms that the Holy Spirit has bestowed for the good of the whole Church, the pastors 'must make a judgment about the true nature and proper use of these gifts, not in order to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good." (AA, 3)
(my comment) This paragraph makes a potent argument for the nature of the charisms to be taught in seminary, and for clerical candidates and those preparing for pastoral ministry to know their own charisms. How can I as a priest 'make a true judgment about the true nature and proper use' of the charisms if I don't know what the signs of a charism are, how they are manifested, and what their effects are?
Lay Apostolate Spirituality
The lay apostolate begins with union with Christ, apart from whom we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). This life is nourished by the sacraments, the study of Scripture, deliberately following Christ and "concretized and manifested in love of neighbor and solidarity with the needy." Yet it is a spirituality distinct from the spirituality of the monk or nun. It is shaped by the encounter with secular society and directs the lay person back into that milieu. The temptation for any person in the apostolate, cleric or lay, is pride. "The gifts that God has lavished upon us – talents, health, learning, high position, achievement – are for God's work, not for our self enjoyment."
Furthermore, if we are to have an impact in this world of ours, "The lay apostle has to learn to work with others. There are many complicated and difficult apostolates which cannot be carried out by individuals alone, but only by organized groups marked by discipline, self-forgetfulness and readiness to sacrifice one's opinion for the sake of a greater good.
(my comment) This seems to me to be a real challenge for us as Catholics. We seem to lack the imagination to work together towards a goal, unless it is within an already established apostolate like the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Even within lay groups like the Knights of Columbus, lay affiliates of religious orders (like the Dominican laity), or Opus Dei, our tendency seems to be to work primarily as individuals. When these groups do work on a common project, so often it is directed within the Church community – as catechists, or providers of pancake breakfasts, or liturgical ministers. Those are fine, but perhaps we priests need to challenge the laity to work together to change secular society – and provide the spiritual and emotional support that truly secular apostles will undoubtedly need.
I was delighted to read Cardinal Arinze's lecture and to be reassured that the Institute's understanding of the VCII documents regarding the nature of the laity and their apostolate is "spot on." I'm glad the tune is being sung by more and more Catholic clergy and laity these days!