It’s a common occurrence in the Church. I’ve talked about it multiple times over the years. Often, when lay Catholics have an experience of encounter or re-encounter with Christ, their hearts ignite! They are on fire for the Lord. As a result, they want to serve God and take their place in the Catholic Church. So, what do they do? They go back to their parish and sign up for every “ministry” (more appropriately called, apostolate) they come across. Some want to teach catechesis. Others want to become apologists. Another group might consider dropping everything to pursue a master’s in theology. Some set up a tent and camp at the parish! But while all these things are good. They don’t constitute the authentic character of the lay vocation.
Why am I bringing this up now? Tepeyac Leadership has recently announced a national conference to take place in November 2023. It is titled, The Hour of the Laity: A Lay Catholic Conference (THL2023). What is unique about the conference is that it is exclusively focused on understanding, realizing, and developing the authentic vocation of the laity as taught by the Magisterium, particularly through the documents of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II).
Friends, I am convinced that for the longest time we’ve been getting it wrong when it comes to living the lay vocation. Well-meaning, faithful, lay Catholics misunderstand their role in and outside the Church. One must simply look around to see that most highly engaged lay Catholics are “highly engaged” precisely because they are busy involved in parish or diocesan life. When not seeking to join the Catholic speaking-circuit, you may find them involved in the liturgy, as lectors, ushers, musicians, and many other ways, the closer to the altar it seems, the better.
Let me be clear, all the things mentioned above are good and desired by the Church. Every lay Catholic should be involved with his or her parish community and be of service to the pastor. But still, none of these things constitute our primary vocation as laity. Nor should they be where and how we spend most of our time and energy to advance the mission of the Church.
So, what is the role of the laity in the Church then? The simplest way to put it is to be ambassadors of Christ in the world. That is the secular world! Nowhere is this clearer than through the documents promulgated by Vatican II which address the role and vocation of the laity (particularly, Apostolicam Actuositatem). In other words, lay people should be plugged into parish and diocesan life, seeking the frequent reception of the Sacraments, seeking continued faith formation, and ready to be of service to the Church, as needed. Yes, but after being nourished and strengthen by all these, lay Catholics must go forth, as we are told at the end of Mass, “glorifying the Lord by our lives” in the world! That’s where the focus of the lay apostolate should be. That’s our true field of mission.
But what does that mean? How do we glorify the Lord by our lives? How do we become ambassadors of Christ in the world? Or to use the language of Vatican II, how do we renew the temporal order? I suggest to you that a primary way of doing this is by becoming leaders. That’s right, leaders. I am aware that lay Catholics can also struggle to recognize their call to leadership. This is often the result of a false understanding of humility. To be humble, as incorrectly understood, should constitute an effort to suppress our aspirations or justly ordered ambitions. Every desire to be in the spotlight should be avoided, as we really are supposed to be followers of the ultimate leader, Our Lord Jesus Christ. However, it is precisely our condition as followers of Christ that should naturally dispose all baptized to LEAD others to Christ. What most understand as the “Great Commission” of “making disciples of all nations,” for the laity, necessarily means leading others to Christ. To do apostolate, my friends is to be a leader!
I want to expand on this notion of a lay apostolate of leadership. Because another common misconception is that leadership only pertains to prominent positions of authority in large or important institutions. But in truth, leadership is not a position, it’s a condition of the heart. Leadership, as taught and modeled by Our Lord, is service. Every time we serve others out of love for Christ and neighbor, we are in fact leading. Therefore, the place in which we, the laity, should be serving (leading) as lay Catholics, should be the (secular) world, primarily. There’s a reason we are asked to be the “light of the world and light of the Earth.” If our servant leadership causes others to look up to us and wonder about “the reason for our joy,” if it results in our taking on positions of influence in civil society, none of these are contrary to our call to humility. In fact, they constitute the true character of our lay vocation.
The key, brothers and sisters, is that we always “remain in the vine,” close to Christ in the Sacraments and committed to an interior life, with Christ at the center of everything we do. This way, we only become mirrors, which reflect His light—not ours—in our lives. The authentic character of the lay vocation, then, is to insert ourselves into the fabric of society, sanctifying ourselves by sanctifying the world. The Pope, our bishops and priest, cannot do it for us. It’s our vocation! It’s our job to order the world! Our lay apostolate and vocation are meant to be lived out in every area of secular life, in every moral human activity, including education, business, government, science, and entertainment. This isn’t language we are accustomed to hearing in the Church. You may be hearing it for the first time. It is, however, consistent with Church teaching. If this vision of lay Catholic leadership for the world resonates with you, I invite you to consider attending THL2023. Six years ago, our organization started a mission to forge the next generation of lay Catholic leaders for the world. We are building a global network of faithful and committed Catholics who understand the authentic character of their lay vocation and are ready to influence the world with the values of the Gospel. Join us! We are just getting started.
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