But by reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will. They live in the world, that is, they are engaged in each and every work and business of the earth and in the ordinary circumstances of social and family life which, as it were, constitute their very existence. There they are called by God that, being led by the spirit to the Gospel, they may contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties. Thus, especially by the witness of their life, resplendent in faith, hope and charity they must manifest Christ to others. (Lumen Gentium 31)
Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church makes it clear that it is not simply the hierarchy of the the Church who are called to lives of holiness. Each baptized person in the Church is called to an active life of living the Gospel. In many ways, I often feel that the laity have been given an even greater challenge than those of us called to ordained ministry in the Church. While it is true that priests and religious are often the most recognizable Catholics because of their uniquely public role, it is the laity who most often interact with those who have yet to hear the Gospel and to accept it. Perhaps most importantly, it is the laity who have the primary responsibility of passing on the faith to our children.
Many times people comment to me about the large responsibility and workload that comes from being ordained. This is no doubt true, but there are also advantages not often afforded to the laity. One that I never fail to be thankful for is the fact that I was allowed six years of time in the seminary to learn about our Catholic faith from some of the best teachers in our country and to take part in intensive Christian formation. The time spent in the seminary is a precious gift most lay people do not receive. My vocation also allows me to give myself undivided to ministry in the Church, without having the added responsibilities that most in the secular world do. At the end of my time away from active ministry, my work required me to spend several hours a day in my car. The time in the car was invaluable to me, as much of it was spent listening to podcasts about the faith. On countless occasions I reached my destination longing to continue with whatever program I was listening to, but knowing my responsibilities at that time were elsewhere. The laity are called to find ways to continue learning about their faith, without neglecting their duties to family and work.
The laity are also called to give witness to the Gospel in all their daily activities. While this may be something done without too much added creativity at home, I would imagine that giving witness at work might be a bit more challenging. There were so many times at my last secular job that I wanted to share the good news of Christ with someone, I began to lose count. But the rules of my job would not allow me to explicitly talk about matters of faith unless the person I was serving at the time brought it up first. So what is a person to do in this kind of situation? Should we just abandon this call to be the face of Jesus to everyone we meet? My own decision was to simply do my best to give witness to Christ through my attitude and actions and to keep watch for opportunities to speak about our faith when it was appropriate.
Living out the vocation of a Catholic layperson is not an easy one, but I cannot think of one that is more important in today’s world. So my question today to those of you who are attempting to live out your vocation as a member of the laity is this: How is it going? What can priests and religious do to help you to continue your formation in the faith and to help you in bringing that same faith to others?