“There is so much need today for mature Christian personalities, conscious of their baptismal identity, of their vocation and mission in the Church and in the world!”
–Pope John Paul II, May 30, 1998, Message for the World Congress of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities
By Brigid Hoagland, Catholic Charities Volunteer (Benedictine College, Class of 2019)
This is the first of a series on the Role of the Laity in the Church.
The laity serve a vital role in the function and mission of the Church. In today’s society, many people have lost sight of their ultimate purpose. Therefore, it is crucial that members of the Church live according to their true identity and remind others of their fundamental worth in Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that man was created to know, love, and serve God (CCC 1). But because of sin, we have lost sight of our purpose and become disconnected from each other. In order to restore harmony among men and invite us into the life of the Trinity once again, God sent his Son to proclaim the Gospel and remind people of their worth and purpose. In addition, Christ instituted the Church to continue to go out and do God’s work in the world, leading all men back into the family of the Church.
As members of the Church, the Body of Christ, we have a right and a duty to preserve unity among its members and to go out and invite people into a life in Christ. In order to accomplish this, God gave each person different gifts.
1 Corinthians 12:4-7 says, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”
We have a right and a duty to make God known and loved in this world and we must use our particular gifts to work for the common good of all men and to build up the Church.
Chapter IV of Lumen Gentium, a papal encyclical, refers to the laity by saying, “They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven…led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope, and charity.”
The Church was founded to spread the Gospel to the whole world, to bring glory to God, and to ensure salvation for mankind. As members of the Body of Christ, the laity are called to participate in this mission by loving and serving God both in the Church and in the world. They have a specific duty to perfect the temporal order by introducing Christian virtues and principles into the public sphere.
One of the ways that we can participate in this call is to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 37-39) by serving the suffering face of Christ in the people who have been deemed excluded and disposable by society. We are called to go out into the streets to be with those who are suffering, uphold their human dignity, and enter into an encounter that opens the door for others to “know and experience the tremendous and abundant life and abundant love of God through Christ Jesus.” By serving others, we can bring them into the life-giving love of Christ. However, we too are brought closer to Christ through the people we serve.
If we want to truly live as the Body of Christ on this earth, then we need to know, love, and serve the Head of the Body, Jesus Christ Himself, and also its members, our brothers and sisters present to us in the world.
We cannot truly know the person of Christ if we do not meet him in the faces of our brothers and sisters, in the members of the Body of Christ living alongside us in the world. We need more than just donations; we need people who are willing to meet people where they are and love them enough not to leave them there- to love them enough to lead them to Christ who can satisfy their spiritual needs, and to lead them to people who can satisfy their physical needs as well.
Tune in next week for the second installment and learn more about how that call for us to serve the poor to demonstrate Christ’s love can be played out in our everyday lives!