The Vicar of Christ Speaks

INTRODUCTION: In this "Lay Person's Guide to the Pope's Encyclicals" we catch a synopsis of the Holy Father's wisdom adroitly capsulized by Dr. Joseph Bagiackas, Ph.D. In his Papal Exhortation "Christifideles Laici", the Holy Father exhorts the laity to faithfulness. It is appropriate we follow-up November's pertinent document from the Holy See on Instructions to the Laity and Priests on abuses, by reinforcing the Pope's teachings with this Apostolic Exhortation imparted ten years ago. Now ten years later, after the "ten year period of grace" Our Blessed Mother spoke of to Father Don Stefano Gobbi back in 1988, we revisit this important letter from the supreme pontiff and, through the expert analysis of Dr. Bagiackas his holiness' words will be clearer and more simple to understand and most meaningful in these times when there are so many who, rather than pulling together for God's Will, are pulling apart within the laity. The eminent prelate from New York John Cardinal O'Connor has said of Dr. Bagiackas' work: "These summations will draw the reader closer to knowing God and will encourage broader readership of the writings of this remarkable Pope." BELOW: the first installment of Christifideles Laici: Twenty Questions We Laity Ask about the Lay Apostolate - First Five Questions

A Lay Person's Guide to Pope John Paul II's Teaching on the Laity

by Dr. Joseph Bagiackas

To read the entire Apostolic Letter click on Christifideles Laici

first installment:

Twenty Questions We Laity Ask about the Lay Apostlate - First Five Questions

      The order in which these questions are asked follows the orders of the topics discussed in Christifideles Laici.

Question 1. Do I really have to do more for the Church beyond living as a good Catholic? I'm pretty busy. I've got all I can handle.

ANSWER Yes, we laity are obliged to be active in the Church's mission, in spite of the difficulties involved. This has always been true, but today it is more important than ever for laity to be active in the apostolate. The temporal realm, where the lay apostolate is ordinarily conducted, has changed. It has much more impact on our Christian lives than in the past, and we laity are in the best position to witness to Christ there.

Question 2.When the Church talks about the "temporal realm," or "secular world," what does it mean? How has the world changed? Why is my active participation in the Church's mission more necessary than before?

ANSWER. The "secular world" or "temporal realm" is life outside of Churchly affairs like Mass, the sacraments, prayer, religious formation, and so on. It is not necessarily bad, but it needs to be redeemed by Christian activity. It has changed because the Church leaders of the past were able to directly influence the life of society in general, but this is no longer the case. Also, it is more dominant in one's daily life than in past times, when life was much harder and there was little time for leisure, culture, travel, and the like. We laity are in the best position to directly influence today's world.

Question 3. What are the main problems we laity face in today's world?

ANSWER. There are many problems that need work. The Pope most often mentions secularism, which is the attempt to shut out God and religion completely from public life. Attacks on the dignity of the person and increasing threats to peace in many places are two other major concerns most often mentioned by the Pope.

Question 4. What does the Church mean by "the laity?" Are we the non-experts in the Church, as opposed to the priests, sisters, and brothers? Are we the amateurs when it comes to religious matters, who passively do what we are told? Is that what the word "laity" means?

ANSWER. There are four parts to the Church's definition. Lay persons are all Catholics except for clergy and religious. A lay person is a member of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, through being baptized. We lay persons are called to be the Lord's representative in the temporal realm, reflecting Christ's priestly, prophetic, and kingly office. And we laity are defined by the "secular character" of our lives. This means that, as Catholics, we stay in our natural environment and redeem it, while the clergy and religious leave their natural environs to follow their vocation in life.

Question 5. What about being holy? Isn't that something for priests, sisters, monks, and brothers?

ANSWER. The call to holiness, to follow Christ with one's whole heart, mind, and strength, is for everyone. The lay call is more hidden than priestly or religious holiness, because it is lived out in ordinary circumstances of life.

Next week: The Second Set of Questions.

January 1998