Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity Of the II Vatican Council
November 4, 2012 The Gospel of today teaches us the law of God. The greatest commandment in the Church, in the world and in the universe is "You shall love God with all your heart, and love your neighbour as yourself". That's it. To love God is to desire him as our happiness, to respect him as a Father, to love him and to trust him as we trust a friend. To love our neighbour is to care for the other. For his or her material welfare, and his or her spiritual welfare. It is to desire the good of others as if it were our own good.
That's why today I would like to present the document of the II Vatican Council on the apostolate of the laity. Because most of our parishioners are laity, that is to say, they are baptized, they live in the world, and they are not religious or clergy. And also, because apostolate is the greatest love we can offer to our neighbour. Let me give first some introduction, then a survey of the content of the document, and finally we will consider one particular point.
1. Apostolate is every activity of the Church directed to extend the kingdom of God and bring men and women to share in the salvation of Jesus. Apostolate is to bring people closer to Jesus. Preaching, teaching, working, visiting, etc. Nowadays, because of many reasons, among others the complication of the society and the impossibility for clergy to face by themselves all modern problems, the apostolate of the laity becomes more than ever absolutely necessary.
2. Content. Let see the content of the document. Six chapters.
1- The vocation of the Laity to the Apostolate
Every person in the Church has the right and the duty of doing apostolate. The Church is a body, and was founded to spread the kingdom throughout the earth. In a body, no member is passive, but every one shares the life and the functions of that body. So, in the Church, everyone shares the responsibility of evangelizing. We are all priests, kings and prophets since our baptism, and although our prophetic mission is different than the mission of the ministerial priests, we all have the duty of preaching the gospel in our own way.
Apostolate is not only to evangelize the church, but also our temporal affairs. It is not only to give an example of life, which is first, but also preaching the good news when there is opportunity. We are called to the works of charity, spiritual and material.
3- The various fields of apostolate
The document lists here «the more important fields of action, namely, church communities, the family, youth, the social milieu, and national and international levels». The apostolate of married families is very beautifully pictured: to give example of fidelity and charity, to educate their children and to help the poor, the needy and the elderly.
4- The various forms of apostolate
Apostolate may be individual and in organized groups or associations. The individual apostolate is absolutely necessary, and there cannot be organized apostolate without it.
5- The order that should be observed
There is a special relationship with the hierarchy in every apostolate. The most important principle is unity. In the Church the clergy are the leaders, but they do not have to put their nose in everything. Lay people have the right and the duty to organize and direct apostolic groups, always in harmony with the institutional leadership of the clergy. «Indeed, union with those whom the Holy Spirit has assigned to rule His Church (cf. Acts 20:28) is an essential element of the Christian apostolate». I think people here understand this very well. The Bishop says that here the priests must be doing nothing, since everything is done by the laity. But how respectful they are to us priests, even when they are so talented and experienced!
6- Formation for the apostolate
Because everyone has to be ready for apostolate, the formation must reach everyone. Even children in their families have a school of apostolate. When you see at home that your parents care for the poor and for your Christian education, you learn love, and love is the soul of apostolate.
3. The apostolate is carried in all aspects of our life.
Now let us consider one point in the document, which is how Christian life and apostolate are intended to reach all dimensions of our human life. Christians not only in church, but everywhere.
-Neither family concerns nor other secular affairs should be detached from their spiritual life, in keeping with the words of the Apostle, "Whatever you do in word or work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Col. 3:17)». (# 4)
-In both orders [Church and world] the layman, being simultaneously a believer and a citizen, should be continuously led by the same Christian conscience». (# 5)
-The apostolate in the social milieu, that is, the effort to infuse a Christian spirit into the mentality, customs, laws, and structures of the community in which one lives, is so much the duty and responsibility of the laity that it can never be performed properly by others». (# 13)
-Catholics skilled in public affairs and, as it is fitting, rooted in faith and Christian doctrine should not refuse to administer public affairs since by doing this in a worthy manner they can both further the common good and at the same time prepare the way for the Gospel». (# 14)
-.The unity and integrity of the human person must be kept in mind at all times so that his harmony and balance may be safeguarded and enhanced. In this way the lay person engages himself wholly and actively in the reality of the temporal order... At the same time, as a living member and witness of the Church, he renders the Church present and active in the midst of temporal affairs».(# 29)
-The whole lay apostolate. must be carried on not only among the organized groups themselves but also in all circumstances throughout one's whole life, especially one's professional and social life» (# 30).
Everything has to do with concern for our neighbour. Why sometimes we don't share faith? Perhaps because we feel our own faith is weak. So, should I enclose myself? No, because faith becomes stronger when you share it, as John Paul II used to say. I'm sure that many of you are here not because a priest told you to come to church, but because your parents or your relatives told you that. Some of you are here because a friend brought you to Church. Let us express our concern and love for our neighbour, let us share the faith we have, let us open in their lives a different prospective, let us give a meaning to their lives. It is a work of charity, and at the same time our duty, because our law is love.
May the Lord increase our love for our neighbour, may he increase our faith.