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opinion/commentary View Comments

Lay Renewal
By Joseph Duerr, editor
Source: The Record
Published: Tuesday, December 7, 2010
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"Since the laity ... live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like a leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ."

These words of the Second Vatican Council in its Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity were echoed in a recent message to laypeople by Pope Benedict XVI.

The pope said lay Catholics have a responsibility to promote social justice and charity in a world often marked by injustice and inequality. Calling for "renewed evangelization of the church's social doctrine," he said that lay men and women, as "free and responsible citizens," are invested with "the immediate task of working for a just social order."

In a message Nov. 4 to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Pope Benedict acknowledged that Catholics have their work cut out in striving to give hope to victims of injustice and inequality. But he added that only through acts of charity, "sustained by hopes and illuminated by the light of faith and reason," can the objectives of humanity's liberation and universal justice be reached.

Pope Benedict also cited another responsibility of lay Catholics in speaking to the Pontifical Council for the Laity earlier this year. In this message he appealed for a renewal of politics in which citizens are inspired by Christian values of solidarity and working for the common good.

"Authentically Christian politicians are needed" -- laypeople who are witnesses to Christ and the Gospel in civil and political areas, he said.

Politics need to be renewed by "authentic political wisdom," which is open to dialogue and collaboration with all sectors of society and is not restricted by an ideological viewpoint or utopian assumptions, he said. Lay men and women should demonstrate through their personal, social and political lives how Christian faith and values can effectively address current issues.

Both examples mentioned by Pope Benedict underscore what the Second Vatican Council said more than 40 years ago: "The laity must take up the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation. Led by the light of the Gospel and the mind of the church and motivated by Christian charity, they must act directly and in a definitive way in the temporal sphere."

Questions some might ask are: "Just how can Catholic lay men and women bring about this renewal in society? What are some things individuals can do?"

Several U.S. bishops' pastoral messages on Catholic social teaching have mentioned particular things people can do. A 1993 document on the social mission of parishes noted that in living their faith there is "no substitute for the everyday choices and commitments of believers -- acting as parents, workers, students, owners, investors, advocates, policymakers and citizens."

The document mentioned these things as examples:

-- "Building and sustaining marriages of quality, fidelity, equality and permanence in an age that does not value commitment and hard work in relationships."

-- Raising families with Gospel values in a culture in which "materialism, selfishness and prejudice still shape so much of our lives."

-- "Being a good neighbor, welcoming newcomers and immigrants, treating people of different races, ethnic groups and nationalities."

-- Seeing "themselves as evangelizers who recognize the unbreakable link between spreading the Gospel and work for social justice."

-- Bringing "Christian values and virtues into the marketplace."

-- Treating "co-workers, customers and competitors with respect and fairness, demonstrating economic initiative and practicing justice."

-- "Bringing integrity and excellence to public service and community responsibilities, seeking the common good, respecting human life and promoting human dignity."

Similar suggestions were mentioned in the U.S. bishops' 1998 pastoral statement on "Everyday Christianity: To Hunger and Thirst for Justice." This document said: "Unless the church's social teaching finds a home in the hearts and lives of Catholic women and men, our community and culture will fall short of what the Gospel requires. Our society urgently needs the everyday witness of Christians who take the social demands of the faith seriously."

It is through this witness that lay men and women become the "leaven" in society envisioned by Vatican II. This witness includes the actions we take and the choices we make in our everyday lives as parents, workers, consumers, citizens, and business and political leaders. It means living our faith and Gospel values in everything we do.


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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog To replace our sins with virtues may seem like a daunting task, but fortunately we can follow the example of the saints who have 
successfully defeated these sins in their lifetimes. They provide us with a way forward so that we, too, can live holy, virtuous lives.

 
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