As the new year begins I have been reflecting on the Apostolic Exhortation of Blessed John Paul II Christifideles Laici, on the vocation and the mission of the lay faithful in the Church and in the world. This document was promulgated on the Feast of the Holy Family (December 30th), 1988. Twenty-four years on its words are just as encouraging, calling all of Christ’s followers to labour in the vineyard.
Blessed John Paul II desired that the lay faithful would “…take an active, conscientious and responsible part in the mission of the Church in this great moment in history.” He then pointed out that “A new state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle.” How urgent those words are this day in my ears.
There are three trends which Blessed John Paul II identified:
- Secularism and the need for religion;
- The human person: A dignity violated and exalted, and;
- Conflict and peace.
Of particular interest for this post is the inherent dignity of the human person.
“The dignity of the person is manifested in all its radiance when the person’s origin and destiny are considered: created by God in his image and likeness as well as redeemed by the most precious blood of Christ, the person is called to be a “child in the Son” and a living temple of the Spirit, destined for the eternal life of blessed communion with God. For this reason every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offence against the Creator of the individual.”
In acknowledging the dignity of the human person, we therefore acknowledge the rights of the human person – the right above all to life.
“The inviolability of the person which is a reflection of the absolute inviolability of God, fínds its primary and fundamental expression in the inviolability of human life. Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights-for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture- is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.”
May it never be forgotten that the right to life is at the very core of any other rights a person may have in this world.
As secular society becomes more entrenched in the culture of death the mission of the Church becomes even more urgent.
“The Church today lives a fundamental aspect of her mission in lovingly and generously accepting every human being, especially those who are weak and sick. This is made all the more necessary as a “culture of death” threatens to take control. In fact, “the Church family believes that human life, even if weak and suffering, is always a wonderful gift of God’s goodness. Against the pessimism and selfishness which casts a shadow over the world, the Church stands for life: in each human life she sees the splendour of that ‘Yes’, that ‘Amen’, which is Christ himself (cf. 2 Cor 1:19; Rev 3:14). To the ‘No’ which assails and afflicts the world, she replies with this living ‘Yes’, this defending of the human person and the world from all who plot against life”(138). It is the responsibility of the lay faithful, who more directly through their vocation or their profession are involved in accepting life, to make the Church’s “Yes” to human life concrete and efficacious.”
And how are we, the lay faithful, to accept life, to proclaim it, to live it?
We need to live it in our own families first. Married couples need to be open to the possibility of new life. We need to teach our children to know, love and serve God, their creator. We need to teach our children to love one another. Prayer being at the heart of our lives. When we do this, we naturally will be of service to those less fortunate. We will care for the disabled and the sick. We will visit the elderly and house-bound. We will then be able to share this great “Yes” to life in our work place and social circles because we live it ourselves, with God’s Grace.
“God calls me and sends me forth as a labourer in his vineyard. He calls me and sends me forth to work for the coming of his Kingdom in history. This personal vocation and mission defines the dignity and the responsibility of each member of the lay faithful and makes up the focal point of the whole work of formation, whose purpose is the joyous and grateful recognition of this dignity and the faithful and generous living-out of this responsibility.”
Let your labour in the vineyard begin today, in your own family, for this is your calling, your responsibility, and as the great Blessed John Paul II reminds us, “it is not permissible for anyone to remain idle.”