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Lay spirituality is rooted in Christ

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 1 December 1993 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The specific role of lay people in the Church requires them to have a deep spiritual life. To help them to achieve this and to live it, theological and pastoral works have been published on spirituality for lay people. This is based on the assumption that every baptized person is called to holiness. The way this call is put into practice varies according to different factors: specific locations, living and working conditions, abilities and inclinations, personal preferences for a spiritual and apostolic director, or for a specific founder of an order or religious institute. This has happened and still happens in all the groups comprising the Church at prayer and at work, on her pilgrimage to heaven. The Second Vatican Council itself outlined a specific lay spirituality, in the context of a doctrine of life valid for everyone in the Church.

2. All Christian spirituality must be based on what Jesus said about the need for a vital union with him: "Remain in me.... Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit" (Jn 15:4-5). The distinction between the two aspects of the union to which the text refers is significant: Christ's presence in us, which we should welcome, recognize and increasingly desire, happy if we can sometimes experience it with particular intensity; and our presence in Christ, which we are invited to achieve through our faith and love.

This union with Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who instills it in the soul. The soul accepts it and complies, both in contemplation of the divine mysteries and in the apostolate, and seeks to communicate its light in both personal and social action [1] . Lay people are called to this experience of communion just like any other member of the People of God. The Council recalled this, pointing out that: "While correctly fulfilling their secular duties in the ordinary conditions of life, they do not separate union with Christ from their life" (AA 4).

3. Since it is a gift of the Holy Spirit, union with Christ must be asked for in prayer. Doubtless, when work is performed according to God's will, something pleasing to the Lord is being done, and this is a form of prayer. Thus even the simplest actions become an offering that gives praise to God, and this pleases him. But it is equally true that this is not enough. Specific moments must be expressly devoted to prayer, following the example of Jesus, who even in the midst of the most intense messianic activity withdrew to pray (Lk 5:16).

This is true of everyone, and thus, for lay people too. These "pauses" for prayer can take many different forms. But in each case prayer remains indispensable for everyone, in both personal life and the apostolate. It is only through an intense life of prayer that lay people can find inspiration, energy, balance, the courage to face difficulties and obstacles, and a capacity for initiative, endurance and recovery.

4. The prayer life of every member of the faithful, including the laity, must involve participation in the liturgy, recourse to the sacrament of Reconciliation and above all the celebration of the Eucharist. Sacramental communion with Christ is the source of that kind of mutual immanence between the soul and Christ which he himself proclaimed: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" (Jn 6:56). The Eucharistic banquet guarantees the spiritual nourishment that makes it possible to produce abundant fruit. The Christifideles laici are also called and invited to an intense Eucharistic life. Sacramental participation in Sunday Mass should be the source of both their spiritual life and their apostolate. Blessed are they who, in addition to Sunday Mass and Communion, feel attracted and encouraged to receive Communion more frequently, as many saints recommended, especially in recent times with the ever greater development of the apostolate of the laity.

5. The Council wishes to remind lay people that union with Christ can and must involve all the aspects of their earthly life: "Neither family concerns nor other secular affairs should be irrelevant to their spiritual life, in keeping with the words of the Apostle, 'Whatever you do in word or work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through him' (Col 3:17)" (AA 4). All human activity takes on a deeper meaning in Christ. Here a broad and clear perspective of the value of earthly realities unfolds. Theology has stressed the positive nature of everything that exists and acts by virtue of its participation in the being, truth, beauty and goodness of God, the "Creator and Lord of heaven and earth," that is, of the whole universe and every small or great reality that is part of the universe. This was one of the fundamental theses of St. Thomas' vision of the cosmos [2] . He based it on Genesis and many other biblical texts. It is widely confirmed by science with the marvelous results of research on microcosms and macrocosms. Everything has its own being; everything moves according to its own capacity for movement, but everything also declares its own limits, its dependence, its immanent finality.

6. A spirituality based on this authentic view of things, open to the infinite and eternal God who is sought, loved and served throughout life, is discovered and recognized like a light that clarifies the events of the world and history. Faith establishes and perfects this spirit of truth and wisdom and makes it possible to see Christ's presence in all things, even in so-called "temporal" things, which faith and hope reveal in their relationship with God, in whom we "live, move and have our being" (Acts 17:28; cf. AA 4). With faith, it is possible to discern the fulfillment of the divine plan of saving love, and in the development of one's own life the Father's constant solicitude revealed by Jesus--the interventions of Providence in response to human requests and needs (cf. Mt 6:25-34). In the lay state, this view of faith puts everyday things in the right light, in good and evil, in joy and sorrow, in work and rest, in reflection and action.

7. If faith provides a fresh outlook, hope also gives new energy to involvement in temporal affairs (cf. AA 4). Thus lay people can attest to the fact that spirituality and the apostolate do not paralyze commitment to perfection in the realm of temporal things. At the same time they demonstrate the surpassing greatness of the goals to which they aspire and the hope that animates them, which they desire to communicate to others. This is a hope that is not devoid of trouble and sorrow but can disappoint no one, because it is based on the paschal mystery, the mystery of Christ's cross and resurrection. Lay people know and witness to the fact that sharing in the sacrifice of the cross leads to sharing the joy proclaimed by Christ in glory. Thus in the very glance at external and temporal goods gleams the inner certainty of whoever sees them and deals with them, while respecting their proper purpose, as the means and the way to the perfection of eternal life. All this happens by virtue of the charity which the Holy Spirit pours out in the soul (cf. Rom 5:5), to enable it to participate in God's life already on earth.

[1]   cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theol., II-II, q. 45, a. 4
[2]   cf. Summa Theol., I, q. 6, a. 4; q. 16, a. 6; q. 18, a. 4; q. 103, aa. 5-6; q. 105, a. 5, etc."

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

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Je vous salue cordialement, chers pèlerins de langue française qui prenez part à cette audience. Je vous souhaite une bonne préparation à la fête de Noël, au cours de l’Avent qui vient de commencer.

A chacun d’entre vous, je donne de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique. 

Ai pellegrini di espressione inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to welcome the young people taking part in the "Up with people" programme, and to thank them for enlivening this meeting with their music.

Upon all the English–speaking pilgrims and visitors, I cordially invoke the abundant blessings of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai fedeli giapponesi 

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Carissimi pellegrini provenienti da ogni parte del Giappone, è iniziato il periodo liturgico dell’attesa del Natale del Signore. Auspico, carissimi, che questo vostro pellegrinaggio ai luoghi sacri del Cristianesimo giovi per la buona preparazione alla Festa del Natale.

È con questo augurio che vi imparto di cuore la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! 

Ai pellegrini di espressione tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung heibe ich Euch, liebe Schwestern und Brüder, sehr herzlich willkoen. Ich verbinde damit den Wunsch, Euer Besuch in Rom zu Beginn der Adventszeit möge Euer geistliches Leben vertiefen, verlebendigen und stärken. Dazu erteile ich Euch und allen Euren Lieben von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora con todo afecto a los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española. En particular, a los alumnos de la Escuela Italiana “ XXI de Abril ”, de Mendoza (Argentina), y a las peregrinaciones procedentes de Guatemala y México.

A todas las personas, familias y grupos provenientes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos irmãos e irmãs,

Saúdo e desejo felicidades aos peregrinos de língua portuguesa.

Que a luz de Cristo anime sempre a vossa fé, esperança e caridade, numa vida digna, cristã e repleta de alegrias. E dou–vos de coração, extensiva aos vossos familiares e pessoas amigas, a minha Bênção.

Ad alcuni gruppi di pellegrini italiani 

Il mio pensiero si rivolge ora a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare, desidero salutare gli Allievi Ufficiali di Complemento del Battaglione “Tobruk”, auspicando che il corso da loro attualmente frequentato offra una solida formazione ai valori della giustizia, della solidarietà e della pace.

Saluto inoltre con affetto i ragazzi del Gruppo “Arcobaleno” di Alzano Lombardo (Bergamo) con il loro parroco, i familiari e gli animatori. Carissimi, auguro che le musiche da voi apprese ed eseguite con tanto impegno, anche allo scopo di aiutare i vostri coetanei meno fortunati, diventino un valido richiamo, sia per voi sia per quanti vi ascoltano, a vivere in profondità il tempo di Avvento appena cominciato. 

Ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli 

Saluto poi i giovani, i malati e gli sposi novelli presenti a questa Udienza. Il tempo d’Avvento ci invita, carissimi, a prepararci al Natale accogliendo senza timore Gesù Cristo che viene in mezzo a noi. Se gli spalanchiamo la porta della vita, tutto acquista una luce nuova e la famiglia, il lavoro, il dolore, la salute, l’amicizia, diventano altrettante occasioni per scoprire la sua consolante presenza, presenza di Emmanuele che vuol dire Dio con noi e per testimoniare questa sua presenza agli altri. Allora vi auguro che nell’itinerario dell’Avvento vi accompagni la Vergine Madre del Verbo Incarnato, questa Vergine che adesso sta aspettando la Notte di Betlemme, la Notte del Natale del Signore. Con affetto tutti benedico.

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