December 30, 2013, is the 25th Anniversary of Christifidelis Laici, the late Blessed John Paul II's Post Synodal Exhortation on the vocation and mission of the lay faithful in the Church and the world.
In this work the Holy Father, as was his usual practice, took a specific reference in scripture, this time "the labourers in the vineyard" (Mt 20:1-2) and gave a catechesis tied to the Church, the laity, and the world.
This parable according to Blessed John Paul II brings before the eyes of the world a large "vineyard," the Lord's Vineyard, where a large number of labourers (male and female) are called to serve Him in the situation of their life.
Unlike the media hype which seems to focus on "female priesthood" this document clearly outlines the many charisms which the laity can fully and completely participate in and bring as gifts to the church, and from there to the world in order to help sanctify it – not from an ordained perspective but specifically because they are enmeshed within the milieu of daily life.
Christifidelis Laici outlines the important character of the mission of the laity which is not to be seen as something of lesser value than the ordained priesthood but one entirely different though vital to the life, health and spirituality of the people of God.
The important issues covered in this Exhortation linked to the baptismal character of the laity are Koinonia (Communion), and the distinguishing of the labours and labourers, that is, ordained and non-ordained vocations each of equal value to the owner of the vineyard, God.
The imagery used is of "vineyard" (Mt 20:1-2, Jn 15: 1-11) and is important because in this we are told that the Master looks for labourers for the vineyard and hires them throughout all hours of the day.
Using this analogy we can learn that the laity in the Church is encouraged to labour in the vineyard (world) and be the living Gospel message in the milieu which they inhabit, that is Church, family, work, recreation, politics and all facets of life. To be leaven.
On the identity of the lay faithful, Christifidelis Laici says "only from inside the Church's mystery of communion is the 'identity' of the laity made known, and their fundamental dignity revealed. Only within the context of this dignity can their vocation and mission in the Church and in the world be defined."(CL 8)
Defined and strengthened not apart from the Church but tied to the Church and to Christ, "in whatever rank or status [we] are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity" (CL 16).
Christifidelis Laici develops the theme of Church as communion – characterised by the different ministries and vocations of all the members, both lay and ordained, which complete the whole body of Christ in its desire to worship God (CL 20). In this sharing of labours the word koinonia is applicable because in its true meaning this word has an element beyond "sharing." Indeed koinonia as advanced by Jesus is in its essence sacred.
We know that the difference between covenant and contract is the invocation of God by the oath sworn thereby making a pledge to truth, so too the difference between "sharing" and koinonia is the Eucharist, communion.
Church communion is a gift of the Holy Spirit, to be gratefully accepted by the lay faithful, and at the same time to be lived with a deep sense of responsibility, lived out in the mission of the Church (CL 20).
The aim of this document is to "stir and promote a deeper awareness among all the faithful of the gift and responsibility they share, both as a group and as individuals in the communion and mission of the church" (CL 2) and further to overcome the dangers of lay clericalisation "and the risk of creating an ecclesial structure of parallel service to that founded on the Sacrament of Orders" (CL 23).
The situations which exist in our world include the challenges from secularism, the human longing for God, loss of meaning yet a restlessness to know God (St Augustine, Confessions). There is the change in understanding of the human person whose dignity is now challenged and violated by new ideologies, economic power, political and inhumane systems, abortion, euthanasia and loss of real freedoms.
Despite all the difficulties, the Church knows that she has a mandate from her Lord to be "sign and instrument of intimate union with God and the human race" and indeed to be a sign of hope because Jesus is the "good news" and the lay faithful have an irreplaceable role in the announcement of this "good news" (CL 7).
Blessed John Paul II, particularly in this Exhortation, bases the lay apostolate within the mystery of the Church and communion.
Both Vatican II ( Constitution of the Church in the Modern World) and Blessed John Paul II speak of the distinctive approach that the lay faithful have been called to in order to help evangelise the secular order. Before Vatican II, many in the Church saw lay people as merely assisting the ordained apostolate (clergy).
However, Christifidelis Laici and the Vatican II documents see the essential character of lay roles within the Church as a vocation to bring the spirit of Christ into secular life from within, i.e., through Church, family, work and profession, trade and commerce, politics and government, mass media, science and culture and national and international relations.
The role of the clergy and religious is different. The clergy's role is to celebrate the sacred mysteries, to preach the Word of God and to gather the people of God, while the role of the religious is to show, by lives lived as witness based on the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, that the attraction of the grace of Christ is more powerful than the attraction of earthly realities.
Some of the common misunderstandings of the role of the laity may be to see the lay apostolate as an appendage to the apostolate of the clergy. To view the clergy as being "the" Church and the laity as their assistants just outside of it, and whose apostolate is to assist them to manage Church/parish affairs as in parish councils, diocesan councils, financial matters, catechetics, or even as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist – all important works in themselves but only a shadow of the true meaning of the lay apostolate whose charism is to be the light of Christ in the secular world.
The apostolate of the laity is most truly fulfilled and understood as an apostolate of "like to like" not only in the area of marriage and sexuality as expressed in Humanae Vitae but in catechesis beginning in the family, friendship circles, parish, society, work, recreation, in communities, and the world.
The unique character of the lay vocation is in being witnesses for God in the temporal order and thus transforming the world according to His plan.
The Second Vatican Council describes the lay faithful's situation in the world to be where "they are called by God" (CL 33)
Husbands, wives, teachers, doctors who honour their Hippocratic oath and respect for life, men and women who work to protect life from conception to natural death, lawyers who seek for true justice, politicians who act with conscience to govern the people, role models of honour, trades people, business people, indeed all work is honourable and holy, and made more so when it is carried out by one through whom the light of Christ shines.
Role of clergy
The role of the clergy is to celebrate liturgy, sacraments, and prepare the laity to be light and life in the world. "Be supportive of them by encouragement, and inviting them to be involved in parish and Church life while at the same time encouraging the laity to take on their own distinctive role in the secular world.
"In the context of Church mission the Lord entrusts a great part of the responsibility to the lay faithful, in communion with all other members of the People of God" (CL 32). Indeed the entire mission of the Church is concentrated in evangelisation to fulfil the command of Jesus to "go out into the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mk 16:15).
Opening the door to Christ, introducing Him to humanity and speaking about Him as the good news, and helping society to live lives, carrying out their duties and become "shining and convincing testimony, where not fear but loving pursuit of Christ and adherence to Him will be the factors determining how a person is to live and grow, and these will lead to new ways of living more in conformity with human dignity" (CL 34)
We are told: "The Church in her lay faithful participates in the mission of service to person and society. Without doubt the Church has the Kingdom of God as her supreme goal, of which she on earth is its seed and beginning, and is consecrated to the glorification of the Father", and in this work of contributing to the human family, a particular place falls to the laity by reason of their "secular character" thus "obliging them in their proper and irreplaceable way to work towards Christian animation of the temporal order" (CL 36).
The laity must always be prepared to defend and promote the dignity of the human person as inviolable and understanding the dignity of each human being who is unlike any other creation. The human being is "recognised as person", a conscious and free being and as such the "centre and summit" of all that exists on the earth.
The dignity of the human being exists because the human being is created in the image and likeness of God as well as being redeemed by Jesus, the Son of God, and made a temple of the Holy Spirit and destined for eternal life with God. So violation of human dignity is an offence against the creator (CL 37). Defence of life becomes a priority for the lay faithful.
Defending and respecting the right to life of every human being is an inherent, universal right. No one – no individual, group, authority, or state – can change or dispose of this right, because this right finds its source in God Himself.
Vatican II proclaimed "all offences against life itself, such as every kind of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and wilful suicide, all violations of the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture, undue psychological pressures, all offences against human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, selling of women and children, degrading working conditions where men are treated as mere tools for profit rather than free and responsible persons, all these are certainly criminal, [for] they poison society and do more harm to those who practise them than those who suffer from the injury; moreover they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator" (CL 38).
Against all pessimism, the Church always stands for life and in each human life. Defence of life is a work of mercy and a work of the laity in the society which they inhabit. It is the responsibility of the laity who directly through their being in the world through their vocation or profession are involved in accepting life to make the Church's "Yes" to human life concrete (CL 38).
Defending and respecting the dignity of the person implies defence and promotion of human rights and demands recognition of the individual's right to practise religious belief. Even if not all believe in this truth, those who do have a right to be respected for their faith and for their life choice – individual and communal – which flows from that choice. This is the right of freedom of conscience and religious freedom. "Religious freedom, an essential requirement of the dignity of every person, is a cornerstone of the structure of human rights and for this reason an irreplaceable good of individuals and society" (CL 39).