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by Sr. Angela Erevia, MCDP (Missionary Catechist of Divine Providence)
Director of Hispanic Ministry
Diocese of Dodge City, Kansas
Cooper, a child known to us only by his first name, had spent the first two years of his life in silence. Communication with him had been limited to physical touch and signs by his mother and those surrounding him. After having a hearing device implanted, he heard his mother's voice for the first time. His reaction captured national attention. It was truly amazing. Cooper raised his arms, waving them, almost gasping in sheer delight. For those watching, that moment was magical; for some it was a miracle, yet for others it was and still remains a mystery. How our human body is created and how each part functions is truly the handiwork of our Creator. With the psalmist, we say, "I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!" (Ps 139:14). When each part of the human body functions properly, the whole body benefits. This is also true of the human family. When each member is healthy and vibrant, all the members benefit and take their rightful place in the Church and in society.
In proclaiming a Year of Faith—commencing on October 11, 2012, and ending on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, on November 24, 2013—Pope Benedict XVI called us to a New Evangelization as we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican Council II and the twentieth anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The New Evangelization calls us to renew our own faith in the Lord Jesus and to share our faith in such a manner that others may hear it as though for the first time. This certainly is and continues to be the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Second Vatican Council convened by Pope John XXIII was the greatest gift of the Church to the world of the twentieth century. Its intent was "pastoral" in nature. "Aggiornamento" became a new word in Church circles. It means "the act of bringing something up to date to meet current needs." The Council particularly called the Church to update itself and to be in solidarity with the whole human family. "The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well" (Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World [Gaudium et Spes], no. 1, in Vatican Council II: Volume 1: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery [Northport, NY: Costello Publishing, 1996]). Of the numerous and diverse contributions of the Second Vatican Council, the role of the laity in the Church and society has been particularly outstanding at all levels in the life of the Church. Therefore, this article will focus on the role of the laity in Church and society.
On September 15, Catechetical Sunday, we will focus on the theme "Open the Door of Faith" even as this Year of Faith draws close to its end in November. From the words of Paul, we learn what it means to evangelize and to make disciples for Jesus. "When they arrived, they called the church together and reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles" (Acts 14:27). In his preaching, Paul clearly understood two essential elements every evangelizer needs to know about the work of evangelization. First, God alone opens the door of faith, for faith is a gift that only God gives to those disposed to receive it freely. Second, Paul was a credible witness because he shared with others what God had done with him.
As pastors, catechetical leaders, catechists, and parishioners, we share the same privilege as Paul. We, too, prepare people to open their hearts to God. It is a sacred trust with many pastoral challenges and countless blessings. Knowing that people do not listen to those they do not trust, it will be very challenging at times for us to share faith with others. We must remind ourselves that our primary task is to cultivate the soil of the heart that others might receive God's gift of faith to believe in Jesus and faithfully to follow him.
Opening the door of faith is primarily about making disciples for the Lord Jesus. To be effective evangelizers, we need to be evangelized and be credible witnesses. We become credible witnesses when we accept the great power of God working in our own lives. We cultivate a few Christian virtues in shaping an attitude of gratitude to God for the gifts he gives us. First and foremost, we need to be men and women deeply in love with God and his people. We must have a strong and firm relationship with God through prayer and the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Firmly grounded in humility, we are consciously aware that all good things come from the loving God who created us in his own image and likeness. By perseverance, we find strength and hope not to give in to discouragement when facing difficulties in our lives.
Opening the door of faith takes many forms. Giving testimony of God's love and compassion for us in our weakest moments is a powerful way to begin a dialogue of faith sharing. We share with others how we struggle to live holy lives. We assure them that they are created in the image of God and convince them that they are the handiwork of God. We create an environment for others to experience a deep sense of their own human dignity. We provide opportunities for them to discover their purpose in life and direct them to a life of service for others. At other times we forgive someone who has hurt us deeply. We stand by others who struggle to live holy lives. We console those who mourn the death of a loved one. We seek the wisdom of the elders of the faith community. We embrace the energy and enthusiasm of the young and teach them to love and value their own lives. We welcome immigrants and accept their cultural gifts, which enrich our faith communities.
The laity makes up the vast majority of the People of God.
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. (Lumen Gentium [LG], no. 31, in Vatican Council II: Volume 1)
United to the mission of the Church, the laity evangelize by the witness of their lives and the sharing of their faith:
In the Church there is diversity of ministry but unity of mission. To the apostles and their successors Christ has entrusted the office of teaching, sanctifying and governing in his name and by his power. But the laity are made to share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ; they have therefore, in the Church and in the world, their own assignment in the mission of the whole People of God. . . . The characteristic of the lay state being a life led in the midst of the world and of secular affairs, laymen are called by God to make of their apostolate, through the vigor of their Christian spirit, a leaven in the world. (Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People [Apostolicam Actuositatem], no. 2, in Vatican Council II: Volume 1)
Recognizing and supporting the laity is crucial to the New Evangelization. By their very lives they contribute to the building up and the growth of the Body of Christ. More than ever in the history of the Church, countless men and women faithfully respond to the call to holiness. They are a powerful force of hospitality, goodness, love, compassion, forgiveness, and hope in our Church and society. They transform their homes and places of work into opportunities for God's presence to be lived, shared, and celebrated. "All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of love, and by this holiness a more human manner of life is fostered also in earthly society" (LG, no. 40).
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has published excellent materials for Catechetical Sunday 2013. Part of the continuing formation of the laity is to introduce them to these excellent resources and make them available for their use for all types of gatherings: conferences, retreats, days of prayer, parish missions, catechist formation, prayer groups, Bible study groups, support groups, and days dedicated for personal faith growth and enrichment. Those who participate in the life and the ministries of the Church are in a position to touch others in a very profound way that will bear lasting fruit. Let us celebrate their incredible contributions to the Church and society. Let us continue to form, support, and pray for the laity that they may be credible witnesses and effective proclaimers of the New Evangelization!
Copyright © 2013, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to duplicate this work without adaptation for non-commercial use.
Excerpts from Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents edited by Austin Flannery, OP, copyright © 1975, Costello Publishing Company, Inc., Northport, NY, are used with permission of the publisher, all rights reserved. No part of these excerpts may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without express written permission of Costello Publishing Company.
Scripture excerpts used in this work are taken from the New American Bible, rev. ed.© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
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