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Jesus' earthly life is a model for the laity

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 10 November 1993 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. We have already noted that the secular character of the laity's life cannot be considered from a mere "worldly" standpoint, because it includes man's relationship with God in the community of salvation that is the Church. For the Christian, then, the lay state has a transcendent value stemming from Baptism, by which the human person becomes an adopted child of God and a member of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.

For this reason, from our first catechesis on the laity, we also said that it is wrong to understand and use the word "laity" in opposition to Christ or the Church, as if it meant an attitude of separation, independence or even mere indifference. In Christian usage a lay person is a member of the People of God who at the same time lives in the midst of the world.

2. The lay person's membership in the Church, as one of her living, active and responsible parts, originates from the will of Jesus Christ, who wanted his Church to be open to all. One need only recall the conduct of the vineyard owner in the meaningful and interesting parable recounted by Jesus. Seeing some men unemployed, the master says to them: "You go into the vineyard too" (Mt 20:4). The 1987 Synod of Bishops remarked that this call "never fails to resound in the course of history; it is addressed to every person who comes into this world. The call is a concern not only of pastors, clergy and men and women religious. The call is addressed to everyone: lay people as well are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world" (CL 2). All are invited to "be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5:20), to be saved and to work together for universal salvation, because God "wants all to be saved" (1 Tim 2:4). All are invited with their personal qualities to work in the Father's "vineyard," where each one has his own place and his own recompense.

3. The call of the laity involves their sharing in the Church's life and, consequently, an intimate communion with Christ's very life. It is a divine gift and, at the same time, it has a corresponding duty. Did not Jesus ask the disciples who followed him to remain in constant union with him and in him, and to allow his own zeal for life to penetrate their minds and hearts? "Live on in me, as I do in you. Apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:4-5). As it is for priests, so it is for lay people--true fruitfulness depends on union with Christ.

"Apart from me you can do nothing" does not mean that without Christ they cannot use their talents and personal qualities in the realm of temporal affairs. However, Jesus' words, handed down in John's Gospel, warn us all--clergy and laity--that without Christ we cannot produce the most characteristic fruit of our Christian life. For lay people this fruit is specifically their contribution to transforming the world by grace, and to building a better society. Only with fidelity to grace can the ways of grace be opened in the world. This happens when the laity carry out their own family tasks, especially in raising children. It also involves their own work of service to society at every level and in every form of involvement for the sake of justice, love and peace.

4. This Gospel teaching was repeated by St. Paul (cf. Rom 9:16) and confirmed by St. Augustine [1] . In harmony with it, the Council of Trent taught that, although it is possible to do "good works" even without being in the state of grace (cf. DS 1957), only grace gives saving value to these works (cf. DS 1551). Pope St. Pius V, in turn, while condemning the opinion of those who maintained that "all the works of non-believers are sins and the virtues of the [pagan] philosophers are mere vices" (DS 1925), rejected all naturalism and legalism as well. He asserted that the meritorious and saving good comes from the Holy Spirit who pours grace into the hearts of God's adopted children (cf. DS 1912-1915). This was the balanced approach of St. Thomas Aquinas. To the question "whether without grace man can desire and accomplish what is good," he replied: "Because human nature is not altogether corrupted by sin, so as to be lacking all natural good, even in the state of corrupted nature it can, by virtue of its natural endowments, achieve some particular good, such as building dwellings, planting vineyards and the like [the sphere of values and activities in the realm of work, technology and the economy]. Yet it cannot do all the good natural to it...just as a sick man can of himself make some movements, yet he cannot move with the movements of one in health, unless he is cured with the help of medicine..." [2] . Even less can he achieve the higher, supernatural good, which is the work of the infused virtues, especially of the charity due to grace.

As you can see, this issue regarding the holiness of the laity also involves one of the basic theses of the theology of grace and salvation!

5. In their own lives lay people can be conformed to the mystery of the Incarnation precisely through the secular nature of their state. We know that the Son of God wanted to share our human condition, becoming like us in all things except sin (cf. Heb 2:17; 4:15). Jesus described himself as "he whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world" (Jn 10:36). The Gospel tells us that the eternal Son was fully involved in our condition, living his own consecration in the world. Jesus' fully human life in the world is the model that enlightens and inspires the life of all the baptized (cf. GS 32). The Gospel itself invites us to discover in Christ's life a perfect image of what can and should be the life of everyone who follows him as a disciple and shares in the mission and grace of the apostolate.

6. In choosing to live the common life of humanity, the Son of God conferred a new value on this life, raising it to the heights of the divine [3] . Since he is God, he introduced even the humblest activities of human existence to a participation in the divine life. In him we can and must recognize and honor God, who as man was born and lived like us. He ate, drank, worked and did what everyone must do, so that the mystery of the trinitarian life is reflected in all of life, in all human activities raised to a higher level. For whoever lives in the light of faith, as lay Christians, the mystery of the Incarnation also penetrates temporal activities, imbuing them with the leaven of grace.

In the light of faith, the laity who follow the logic of the Incarnation, which took place for our redemption, also share in the saving mystery of the cross. In Christ's life the Incarnation and the redemption are one mystery of love. The Son of God became incarnate to ransom humanity by his sacrifice: "The Son of Man has not come to be served but to serve--to give his life in ransom for the many" (Mk 10:45; Mt 20:28).

When the Letter to the Hebrews states that the Son became like us in all things except sin, it is speaking of a likeness and a sharing in the painful trials of this life (cf. Heb 4:15). We also read in Philippians that he who was born in the likeness of men obediently accepted even death on a cross (cf. Phil 2:7-8).

Just as the experience of daily difficulties in Christ's life culminated in the cross, so too in the life of the laity daily trials culminate in death united to that of Christ, who conquered death. In Christ and in all his followers, priests and lay people, the cross is the key to salvation.

[1]   cf. De Correptione et Gratia, ch. 2
[2]   Summa Theol., I-II, q. 109, a. 2
[3]   cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theol., III, q. 40, aa. 1-2"

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser Betrachtung grübe ich Euch alle sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Grub gilt den Schülern und Lehrern des diözesanen Musikgymnasiums Linz sowie allen Schülerinnen und Schülern aus Österreich und Deutschland. Weiter begrübe ich die Mitglieder der Historischen Deutschen Schützenbruderschaft Leverkusen, die anläblich des 575–jährigen Gründungsjubiläums nach Rom gepilgert sind.

Christus, der uns in allem gleich geworden ist, auber der Sünde, der mit uns das Leid und die Schmerzen des Lebens teilt, führe Euch zum Heil des ewigen Lebens. Dazu erteile ich Euch, Euren Lieben zu Hause sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbundenen Gläubigen von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

Chers frères et sœurs,

J elue cordialement tous les pèlerins de langue française qui prennent part à cette audience. J’offre en particulier mes souhaits chaleureux aux pèlerins de Paris et à ceux de Sanary. Je souhaite un bon séjour romain au groupe de la “ Communauté chrétienne des policiers de France ” et je demande pour eux au Seigneur la grâce d’être toujours au service de leurs concitoyens, fidèles à l’esprit de leur noble mission.

A chacun d’entre vous, chers frères et sœurs venus de nombreux pays francophones, je donne de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique. 

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to welcome the Provincial Superiors of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. My greeting also goes to the pilgrimage group from the Diocese of Pittsburgh. To the choirs from the Philippines and the United States I express my gratitude for their praise of God in song. Upon all the English–speaking visitors present at today’s Audience I cordially invoke the grace and peace of Christ our Saviour.

Ai fedeli giapponesi 

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Come la visita che Hasekura Tsunenaga compì in Europa 3 secoli fa diventò il ponte tra l’Oriente e l’Occidente, così anche la vostra visita in Europa possa diventare un nuovo ponte che unisca nella concordia e nella pace gli uomini di tutti i continenti.

Con questo auspicio vi benedico di cuore.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! 

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Con esta exhortación saludo muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de los distintos países de América Latina y de España. En particular, a la peregrinación proveniente de Dos Hermanas (Sevilla), al grupo de la Tercera Edad de Castilla y León, y a las peregrinaciones de Bolivia, México, Argentina y Guatemala.

A todos imparto con gran afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ad alcuni gruppi di fedeli italiani 

Rivolgo ora un cordiale pensiero ai numerosi pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare, saluto il gruppo proveniente da Macerata, che, guidato dal Vescovo, Monsignor Tarcisio Carboni, è venuto a ricambiare la mia recente Visita pastorale alla loro Diocesi. Avendo sempre vivo nell’animo il ricordo della calorosa accoglienza ricevuta, esprimo a tutti, specialmente ai giovani, speranza della Chiesa e della società, l’augurio di testimoniare con gioiosa coerenza la loro adesione al Vangelo, per contribuire validamente alla crescita cristiana ed umana della Comunità. Sia essa sempre all’altezza dell’impegnativa qualifica di “Civitas Mariae” ereditata dai Padri.

Sono lieto di accogliere i partecipanti al Corso di Pastorale Sanitaria, promosso dall’Ordine Ospedaliero di San Giovanni di Dio, e manifesto loro il mio apprezzamento per l’impegno col quale, nel delicato campo della sanità, si sforzano di unire preparazione scientifica, fedele adesione all’insegnamento morale della Chiesa e viva sensibilità pastorale. L’attenzione prioritaria alla persona del malato, carissimi, continui ad essere vostra costante preoccupazione, sì che il servizio da voi reso diventi sempre un autentico annuncio del Regno di Dio.

Saluto, poi, il Consiglio direttivo dell’Associazione “Giornalisti Brianza”, nel 1o anniversario della fondazione, ed esprimo di cuore l’auspicio che la loro professione sia intesa come vera e propria “missione”, da svolgere con competenza e responsabilità morale. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Saluto infine tutti voi, giovani, ammalati e sposi novelli presenti a questa Udienza. Oggi la liturgia ricorda San Leone Magno, Papa e Dottore della Chiesa, che ha consacrato la sua esistenza alla difesa e alla diffusione della verità evangelica. Per sua intercessione, cari giovani, la vostra venuta a Roma e l’incontro col Papa vi aiutino a costruire il futuro con fede intrepida e gioiosa; voi, cari ammalati, seguite con costanza Cristo nel misterioso sentiero della sofferenza; e voi, sposi novelli, siate sempre, nella nuova via del Matrimonio, testimoni limpidi dell’amore del Signore.

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