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Tuesday, December 7, 2010
"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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