Revisiting the missionary role of the laity
The lay faithful along with priests and religious form part of the labour force Jesus sends forth into His vineyard. [Mathew 20]. Everyone without an exception are called; some at the first hour, some at the third and some at the eleventh hour. [Paraphrased from christifideles laici]
Blessed are the ones who are called at the first hour, because they have been granted ‘bonus time’ to spend with the Good Master. The labour in the vineyard becomes for them a fulfilling experience because they treasure the proximity of Jesus right here in this temporal world.
Jesus’ mandate to preach the Good news to the ends of the earth has no exception. If one is not a missionary [labourer in the vineyard], he/she is either insensitive to the unconditional love and mercy of God or is too proud to admit the same. He/she has indeed turned a deaf ear to the call. St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians says “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel” [9:16]
Over the years, the role of laity has been understood as: pay, pray and obey. This understanding has not been completely wrong. It is our duty to support the church financially. It is crucial that we humble ourselves and plead before the Lord for we cannot do anything on our own and we ought to remain obedient to people in authority because Christ was obedient even unto death on the cross. But our role as laity does not stop here. We are called to tread deeper and farther.
The most essential duty of a Christian is to know, love and serve Christ. Every other duty stems from this. True knowledge of the person of Jesus is the beginning of it all. Once we know who He is and who we are, we will truly be drawn closer to Him. St Augustine said “My heart will be restless until it rests in thee” The third step of serving the Lord is the natural response to the relationship we share with Him. This “serving” is what Jesus means when he gives His final mandate “Go and preach the good news to all creation”. [Mark 16:15]. In the gospel of Mathew Jesus says referring to the last judgment “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' [25:40]
Since we are unable to repay God for the great deeds He has dispensed to us, we are to dispense freely to “others”. Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself [Mathew 22:39]. I would like to believe that Jesus is saying “be concerned about my neighbor’s soul just as I’m concerned about my soul not perishing in hell” for the greatest of all failures is losing heaven.
THE CALL TO EVANGELIZE
Evangelization is not a process of brain washing the other and driving home some ideology dear to me, screaming out loud in middle of the street with a microphone in hand. Instead it is the “expression” of the true awareness of God and self and the imminent transformation within. This expression is possible only to the one who “loves others as Christ loves” It is also, one’s loving response to the Father’s will that no one should be perished. [2 Pet 3:9]
The laity has a unique and prominent role in the mission of the church - to evangelize. Having a family and having to toil hard to earn a living are additional responsibilities we undertake. These responsibilities do offer us great challenge, but at the same time are unique opportunities as missionaries.
St. Francis of Assisi said “preach always but use words if necessary”. Mother Teresa is a shining example of preaching without words. Our mothers too preach a silent sermon, sacrificing little by little her life nourishing the young ones, just as Christ did.
The primary mission area of laity is family. The family offers far too many challenges that we often are tempted to quit rather than embrace it. The only role model before us is the Crucified Christ and the only rule is the rule of Love. St Paul in the letter to Ephesians reminds us “Husbands should love their wives, just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her to make her” [5:25]
Marriage is the divine call to a lifelong commitment to cohabit with the other despite any necessary common ground; for the sake of becoming ‘a gift’ to each other, just as Christ did. One ought to go through the painful process of “dying” on a daily basis in order to empty himself and be truly fruitful. Jesus said “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” [John 12:24]
The only thing that is common between me and my wife is that we both do not have the habit of reading. In everything else we have contradicting opinions and tastes. We fall, fret and fight yet start all over again because at the altar we were entrusted to each other in a divine covenant to be Christ like and not quit. With the generous supply of God’s mercy family life is extremely fulfilling and joyful. As husband and wife, we enrich each other and grow as a single unit experiencing the true happiness and peace on a daily basis. Sincere perseverance despite growing challenges within marital covenant transforms the persons thoroughly to be Christ like. Such families are great source of encouragement for the generations to come.
The fruit of selfless love shared between couples is children. Children bring joy to every parent but at the same time demands an emptying similar to the one above. I must say the only private time my wife gets is when she is in the bathroom. Other times she is at work either for my children or for me.
No two children are the same though they are born of the same parents. No single tactic or diplomacy works for all but each one has to be dealt uniquely. Among the three children I have, the older one needs to be told things with the foot down. Second one needs little cajoling and petting to take a word seriously and with the third one, we are yet to figure out a tactic.
When children are young, we sincerely hope things would be better when they grow up. But we know as parents, no such time arrives. We are on our toes no matter what age they are in. Every age begets its own challenges. And after all this ordeal, as for parents we are only custodians of the children God gives us. Like Mary who raised the Son of God for a unique purpose, we too raise them for God and He does with them as He wishes.
The only model of instruction that works with children is a life of witness. They silently watch how we do things and emulate us. To a great extent what sticks on with them in the future is what they pick up from us at a tender age. Apart from creating a good, healthy atmosphere for children to grow up, and educating them, what must become the prime concern of every parent is the salvation of their children. We must be confident that if we introduce our children to the relating-interacting Jesus; they have it all and they will lack nothing in the days to come and to eternity. Remember Jesus said “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”. [Mathew 6:33]
One soul [child] rightly cared for can bring many souls to salvation when they mature. If we do that, our job as parents is well done.
WITNESSING AT WORK
Christifideles Laici also notes “It is necessary, then, to keep a watchful eye on this our world, with its problems and values, its unrest and hopes, its defeats and triumphs: a world whose economic, social, political and cultural affairs pose problems and grave difficulties in light of the description provided by the council in the pastoral constitution, Gaudium et Spes. This, then, is the vineyard; this is the field in which the faithful are called to fulfill their mission. Jesus wants them, as He wants all His disciples, to be the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world" (cf. Mt 5:13- 14). But what is the actual state of affairs of the "earth" and the "world," for which Christians ought to be "salt" and "light"?
Having to work in the real world offers the faithful, tremendous opportunity as missionaries. They have access to where priests and the religious have limited access. If sensitive enough, he comes face to face with people who hunger and thirst for that ultimate Love which alone can satisfy. They unfortunately are ignorant or have their minds warped by worldly priorities. The laity awakened by the truth, propelled by His love, by the example of his life is truly effective in challenging people to rediscover God and be reconciled to His Church.
Humility, selfless love and availability are the keys to be effective instruments in hands of God. Jesus says in the gospel of Mathew “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven”. [5:5]
Being in business, I get to acknowledge to my clients, my faith and reliance on God’s unfailing providence, its impact on my life and work. The conversations often tread beyond the official boundaries and linger in to the personal realm where life and relationships are discussed. My website does not hide my identity as a beloved of Christ and boldly acknowledge that I’m a pencil in the hands of God. In the 7 years of my business, I have never been without work and there has been not a single need that is not met though I never have surplus money in my bank account. Jesus says "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. [Mathew 10:32]
The uniqueness of a business built around Christ and Christian values, fares well in a world that is alien to such concepts. It’s “newness” often enthuse people to dialogue where one could share his dominating values and sow the seed of Christ. In such a business scenario, the dignity of the other person is upheld above all other worldly values. Money is a reward for sincere hard work and not the ultimate goal of business.
When we are driven by the Holy Spirit, we are raised above the law. Yet by being obedient to the authorities and by being honest in paying taxes, we impact the lives around.
Internet and mobile technologies throw open a unique world to the 21st century missionary to communicate beyond geographical boundaries. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, blogs, Instant Messaging tools like Skype, Gtalk etc are excellent platforms to engage with people. These tools offers us great opportunity if due respect is given and the dignity of the person is upheld at all times.
Lay people also have the opportunity to be at decisive official positions to ensure social justice, not compromising Truth at any cost. Christian professionals especially in sports, music, art and cinema have a huge role to play as they have a huge impact on common people. They also present to their contemporaries, a transformed life style, challenging them to wiggle themselves out of the bohemian life styles they lead.
OTHER AREAS OF IMPORTANCE
Lay men and women could make themselves available to work among Teenagers, Campus students, Migrants, Professionals, Families etc depending on the unique charism each has been given. Musical and Artistic talents must be used in the work of evangelization and bring glory to God. Laity can entrust themselves to teaching catechism in their own parishes. Driven by His love, people can dedicate themselves to care for the poor, marginalized and the downtrodden according to the measure of grace they have been given. In the gospel of Mathew, Jesus says “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters; you were doing it to me”
In Christifideles Laici, Pope notes “two temptations laity have not always known how to avoid: the temptation of being so strongly interested in Church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world; and the temptation of legitimizing the unwarranted separation of faith from life, that is, a separation of the Gospel's acceptance from the actual living of the Gospel in various situations in the world.”
As laity, we are called and sent forth into the vineyard of the Lord as a “Universal Sacrament of Salvation” to the people in the world. "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. [Luke 10:2]
Evangelization is ineffective if it does not stem out from true love. The foundation is the desire to follow Christ, the decision to love Him above all and setting out to serve Him despite odds. Jesus asks you ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’[Mathew 20:6]