|Pope John Paul II|
Today I share my thoughts on Pope John Paul II's Christifideles Laici, a post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the vocation and mission of the lay faithful in the Church and in the world. Like so many of Pope John Paul's writings, Christifideles Laici is a treasure to draw from and one of the key documents the laity should be adding to their reading list. Christifideles Laici is a document that seeks to stir and promote a deep awareness of the laity's role in the Church, as individuals and within a group setting, striving to fulfill the mission of the Church. So important and relevant is Christifideles Laici that George Weigel in his book, Evangelical Catholicism refers to it in chapter nine, The Evangelical Catholic Reform of the Lay Vocation, as the, "...Magna Carta of the deep reform of the lay mission...a bold expression of the various evangelical roles of Christ's Faithful Laity..." For those of you who may not be familiar with George Weigel, he is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a Catholic theologian and a leading American public intellectual. He also holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies and was the individual personally selected by Pope John Paul II to write his official biography, Witness To Hope.
The laity have a very specific role in the Church's mission to evangelize and this is accomplished by "labouring in the vineyard." You might be wondering, what exactly does labouring in the vineyard mean? It is a reference that Pope John Paul II includes at the first paragraph where he states:
The lay members of Christ's Faithful People (Christifideles Laici)...are those who form that part of the People of God which might be likened to the labourers in the vineyard mentioned in Matthew's Gospel: "For the Kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard" (Matthew 20:1-2).Our "vineyard" is the vast world we live in, one that is to be transformed according to God's plan and in it, a multitude of men and women are called to labour in anticipation of the final coming of the Kingdom of God. (1) The call to "labour" is for everyone and how much more urgent and necessary is that call in today's Canadian society, one that is riddled with secularism, consumerism and a sharp decline in faith. As Pope John Paul II states, "...It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle." (3) The key underlying theme for the laity's role in the Church is to be active, to be doing something that contributes to its mission.
The laity have gifts that can contribute to the Church and its mission. Essential to those gifts being properly utilized is a process of discernment, discovery and development. This will take time, dedicated prayer and a realization that an adjustment needs to take place if one is serious about taking on any responsibilities and affecting a positive change. Crucial to the process is: the frequent reception of the Eucharist, and daily if possible, adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament and the daily recitation of the entire Rosary, that is all four sets of mysteries. By employing such a program, not only is one assured of clarity, inspiration, protection and guidance, but an abundance of graces necessary to effectively utilize God's given gifts.
So the question remains, what can the laity do to labour in the vineyard? I think the first and very important point to remember in answering this question is to pay heed to the words of St. Gregory The Great, "Keep watch over your manner of life, dear people, and make sure that you are indeed the Lord's labourers. Each person should take into account what he does and consider if he is labouring in the vineyard of the Lord." (2)
Consider labouring in the vineyard by your life example. By living a faithful life, you place God first in all things and this is reflected in the decisions you make, how you communicate and interact with others, what your involved in, your approach to matters, the life style you lead, all of which are indicative of your desire to cooperate with God's graces and plan for your life. By leading such a life, you are evangelizing all the time where ever you go, with whom ever you communicate and come into contact with. It is a life that not only seeks to live in communion with others as sincere gift of self, but also respects God and His creation in all things. It is a life that evangelizes by words and by actions, where your words are holy and of good repute and your actions are prompted by charity, justice and purity, spreading the Gospel of Christ to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.
Considering labouring in the vineyard in your family. As an extension of the first consideration, the family becomes the primary place to be that life example, to your spouse and the children. The family is the Ecclesia domestica, the Domestic Church, where God is at the center of the family, providing graces, blessings, protection and guidance allowing both the father and the mother to transfer the faith to the children by their life example. This is primarily accomplished by attending Mass together as a family, and the daily recitation of the Rosary as a family. You may have heard the well known phrase from Fr. Patrick Peyton, "The family that prays together stays together."
Consider labouring in the vineyard by networking or establishing an informal group with others who are like minded and possess similar gifts and interests that when pooled together, become effective tools of evangelization. As Catholics and Christians alike, we are not called to journey alone on this earthly pilgrimage. Labouring with others may involve a calling to a secular Order, such as the Third Order Carmelites, Secular Franciscans, the St. Vincent De Paul Society or the Knights of Columbus. Perhaps it may mean joining an apostolate such as the Rosary Apostolate or something else. What ever it may mean for you, the desire for community involvement should be apart of every conscientious Catholic's life.
At times, part of labouring in the vineyard may primarily be an individual effort, where specific God given gifts are best utilized. There are many individuals and efforts that could fall into such a category, artists and writers comes to mind immediately. I know of one such individual in particular, Michael D. O'Brien, a Canadian Catholic artist and writer who seeks to restore Canada's Christian culture. O'Brien's labouring has resulted in many articles and interviews posted on the internet by Catholic news web sites, such as Lifesitenews.com. O'Brien's books are published in several languages and like his paintings, they are sold all over the world. To some extent, such examples of individual efforts will also involve the assistance and collaboration of others. The primary thrust may be on an individual level, but it leads to and connects with others, that help to improve and complete the end goal.
One thing is for certain, the Catholic laity must endeavour to respond in a very courageous and generous way to the urgency of "labouring in the vineyard" in today's society. Canada's moral disorder invites the laity to labour on many fronts: abortion, proposals for legalizing euthanasia, pornography, the teaching of sexual immorality in the education system, attacks on the family with "same sex marriages," and the promotion of homosexuality and New Age and occult elements in our communities. Our Canadian laws and practices do not respect God, His creation and the dignity of the human person. It seems that many Canadians have forgotten or perhaps never knew and understood of the existence of Canada's Christian heritage. All one has to do is visit a few Catholic news web sites to verify how far we have strayed from our Christian roots. In my view, all this is ample proof of the urgent necessity for the laity to do something. Hopefully and prayerfully, we the laity will respond accordingly and help to restore Canada to a "culture of life."