Sunday, November 06, 2005

The vocation of the laity

These past number of days I've been somewhat occupied with other activities and, well, slacking with the homework (& blogging) a little bit. This evening, however, I received something of a wake-up call while studying Vatican II's Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity.

Here's the setup, from paragraph 2:
The Church was founded for the purpose of spreading the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth for the glory of God the Father, to enable all men to share in his saving redemption, and that through them the whole world might enter into a relationship with Christ. All activity of the Mystical Body directed to the attainment of this goal is called the apostolate, which the Church carries on in various ways through all her members. For the Christian vocation by its very nature is also a vocation to the apostolate. No part of the structure of a living body is merely passive but has a share in the functions as well as life of the body; so, too, in the body of Christ, which is the Church, "the whole keeping with the proper activity of each part, derives its increase from its own internal development."

Okay? So far so good. But next comes the knock-out punch (emphasis mine):
Indeed, the organic union in this body and the structure of the members are so compact that the member who fails to make his proper contribution to the development of the Church must be said to be useful neither to the Church nor to himself.
If that doesn't say "get off your lazy kiester & do something worthwhile" then I don't know what does.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some prayer and fasting to attend to...


At 11/07/2005 2:26 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Hi Dan,

I'm going to register a dissent today.

First of all, I hope that the authors of that document had a clear separation in mind between an individual's USE to the Church and the intrinsic WORTH of an individual in the eyes of God. I'm sure they did but the passages you quote seems to place a awful lot of weight on the usefulness of a person.

Second, 'proper contribution' seems to me to mean living up to ALL of your obligations to the church. Maybe I'm misreading it and if I am, please correct me. But, assuming I am interpreting it right, then what is the value of the good works done by a person who fails the 'proper contribution' test? Your passage says he is 'useful neither to the Church nor himself'. So, for example, if he fulfills 50% of his obligations, what is the value of that 50%? If the good works he does do have any value at all then he can't be 'useless', can he?

I take the passage 'all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God' seriously and believe that no one has really fulfilled all of their obligations to the Church. And yet we all are useful in one way or another.

At 11/07/2005 5:18 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

Hi Steve,
Usually I seem to err on the side of putting too much verbage in my quotes, and thereby bogging them down. Today I think I erred on the side of not including enough background. Sorry for the misunderstanding! I think it's mostly a matter of semantics; you're pretty much on the same page as the Decree.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Bingo. This is the very reason for the ongoing, neverending struggle to eradicate sin from one's life. This document hasn't forgotten that, and in paragraph 4 says: "The laity must make progress in holiness in a happy and ready spirit, trying prudently and patiently to overcome difficulties."

Although not specifically addressed in this document, the rest of Vatican II placed a great emphasis on the intrinsic dignity of every human being, so I don't think there's any danger here that the worth of a person is overlooked in favor of their mere usefulness.

What the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity is, however, trying to advance, is a clearer picture of the metaphor or image of the Mystical Body of Christ: all believers who are united with Christ.

As the metaphor goes, a body is made up of many members, who all have different parts to play, but all contribute to the good of the whole. So all of us have our own function as part of the Body of Christ, and to the extent that we all play our role in union with Christ, we can help to "build up" the whole body.

Of course, the corollary is true. If I have a broken leg, it does affect my whole body. So similarly if we are not faithful to our role in the Body of Christ, we are letting down the entire body, in addition to ourselves.

The basic principle still in operation here is that salvation comes from Christ, and Christ alone. And all of us on earth are sinners, and thus do not perfectly fulfill our role in building up the Body of Christ. Yet God still uses us anyway, with all our imperfections.

The jarring quote I provided from the Decree was, I think, if put in its context, not negating the above, but was just trying to emphasize the duty each one of us has to do our part, and that we are accountable for any failure to do so. As I read it, it felt like God was talking directly to me...


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