CHAPTER III: PARTICULAR CHURCHES (c)
The Laity in Mission Lands
“The Church is not fully established and does not fully live nor is a perfect sign of Christ unless there is a genuine laity existing and working alongside the hierarchy” (Ad gentes, no. 21). This no. 21 resembles a summary of another Vatican II document, Apostolicam Actuositatem, the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People, which was promulgated on November 18, 1965, less than a month before Ad gentes. Here are some of its most striking sentences:
“The lay faithful belong fully both to the people of God and civil society.” On the surface this sentence seems contrary to St. Augustine’s division of human society into those who are citizens of the City of God and those who are citizens of the City of Man. But only on the surface, for Augustine does not divide humanity into the City of God (Church) and the City of Man (rest of the world). He recognizes that what makes men citizens of the City of God is their love for God even to forgetting themselves, not that they are Catholics, and what makes men citizens of the City of Man is their love of themselves even to the hatred of God, not that they are living in the world. The laity really do belong fully to both the Church and civil society and must fulfill their duties to both. We religious, on the other hand, give up as many connections with civil society as we can, although we participate in civil society when we can thereby influence it for good, for example, when we exercise the right to vote.
“The principal duty of both men and women is to bear witness to Christ, and this they are obliged to do by their life and their words, in the family, in their social group, and in the sphere of their profession.” Wow! So not only priests and religious have as their principal duty to proclaim Christ, but every Catholic has it! Under those circumstances we can never regard our religion as a private thing. We must proclaim Christ by all that we say and do, wherever we are.
“[The laity] should be linked with their fellow countrymen by ties of sincere charity so that their manner of life reveals the new bond of unity and universal solidarity which derives from the mystery of Christ.” For example, we cannot run away from our Muslim neighbors just because they are Muslim, for then we are missing the opportunity to reveal to them that bond which binds all of us in Christ, even if they don’t know Him.
“Ministers of the Church should greatly value this arduous apostolate of the laity.” It is an apostolate that requires great courage, great love of Christ and great love of our neighbor. We must encourage them in it.
Mary, Mother of humanity, give us the courage to do our part in making your Son known to all your children, so that they too can be redeemed and saved by Him. Amen.