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The laity fulfill their calling in the world

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 3 November 1993 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. It is well-known that in distinguishing the Church's members between the laity and those belonging to the clergy and to religious institutes, the Second Vatican Council identified the lay state's secular character as its distinctive feature. It stated: "What specifically characterizes the laity is their secular nature" (LG 31). Thus it indicated a state of life that identifies the laity's vocation and mission on the basis of the baptismal consecration common to all. Similarly, Holy Orders and the priestly ministry specify the clerical state and the profession of the evangelical counsels specify that of religious.

2. It is a question of a special vocation. It further specifies the common Christian vocation by which we are all called to "work" according to the demands of our "being," that is, as members of the Mystical Body of Christ and, in him, as adopted children of God. Again according to the Council (cf. LG 31), the ordained are called to carry out sacred functions by concentrating their life on God in a particular way in order to obtain spiritual goods for humanity: the truth, life and love of Christ. Religious, in turn, witness to the search for the "one thing necessary" by renouncing temporal goods for the sake of God's kingdom. Thus they are witnesses of heaven. Lay people as such are called and destined to honor God by engaging in temporal matters and by working together for the temporal progress of society. In this regard the Council speaks of the secular character of the lay state in the Church. When it applies this expression to the laity's vocation, the Council shows its esteem for the temporal order and, we could say, for the world. But the way in which it then defines this vocation shows how the latter transcends temporal perspectives and worldly matters.

3. According to the conciliar text, the lay Christian, as a Christian, has a true vocation, which, for the lay person, has its particular connotation. However, it always remains a vocation to the kingdom of God! Lay Christians certainly live "in the world," where they are concerned with temporal matters. They must provide for their own needs, at the level of the individual, the family and society. They must also work with others, to the extent of their own possibilities and abilities, for the economic and cultural development of the whole community, of which they should feel living, active and responsible members. In this type of life Christ calls and supports them, and the Church acknowledges and respects them. By virtue of their being in the world, they must "seek the kingdom of God" and "direct" temporal affairs according to God's plan. The Council said: "The laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God" (LG 31). The 1987 Synod reaffirmed this [1] .

The Council goes on to say in further detail that lay people "live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven" (LG 31). In this way they witness to the fact that the Church, faithful to the Gospel, does not consider the world essentially evil and unreformable, but capable of receiving the saving strength of the cross.

4. The vocation of the laity and the secular character of their state and mission raise a basic issue of evangelization: the Church's relationship with the "world," her judgment on it and the authentically Christian approach to salvation. Certainly, one cannot ignore the fact that in St. John's Gospel the phrase "the world" often means surroundings hostile to God and the Gospel. The human world does not accept the light (1:10); it does not recognize the Father (17:25) or the Spirit of truth (14:17); it is burning with hatred for Christ and his disciples (7:7; 15:18-19). Jesus refused to pray for this world (17:9) and drove out Satan, the "prince of this world" (12:31). In this respect the disciples did not belong to the world, just as Jesus himself did not belong to the world (17:14, 16; 8:23). The sharp opposition is also expressed in the First Letter of John: "We know that we belong to God, while the whole world is under the evil one" (5:19).

Nevertheless one must not forget that in John's Gospel the concept of "world" also refers to the whole human realm for which the message of salvation is meant: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life" (3:16). If God loved the world, where sin reigned, through the Incarnation and redemption this world receives a new value and should be loved. The world is destined for salvation: "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (3:17).

5. Many Gospel texts show Jesus' attitude of kindness and mercy toward the world, inasmuch as he is its Savior. Jesus is the bread which comes down from heaven that "gives life to the world" (Jn 6:33); in the Eucharist, Christ's flesh is given "for the life of the world" (6:51). The world thus receives Christ's divine life. It also receives his light, for Christ is "the light of the world" (8:12; 9:5). His disciples too are called to be "the light of the world" (Mt 5:14). Like Jesus, they are sent "into the world" (Jn 17:18). The world is thus the sphere of evangelization and conversion. It is the realm where sin exercises its power and makes it felt, but where redemption is at work. The believer knows this tension is destined to be resolved by the victory of the cross, the victory whose signs have been seen in the world since the day of the resurrection.

This is the perspective found in the Second Vatican Council, especially in Gaudium et Spes. This document deals with the Church's relations with the world, understood as "the whole human family," where Christ's redeeming power is at work and God's plan is realized and gradually brought to fulfillment (cf. GS 2). The Council does not overlook the influence of sin on the world, but stresses that the world is good inasmuch as it was created by God and saved by Christ. It is understood, therefore, that the world, regarded in the positive value it receives from creation and redemption, constitutes "the place and the means for the lay faithful to fulfill their Christian vocation, because the world itself is destined to glorify God the Father in Christ" (CL 15). Thus, according to the Council, the laity's particular responsibility is to work so that the Redeemer's work is fulfilled in the world.

6. Instead of fleeing the world, lay people are called to sanctify it. We repeat this once again, citing a beautiful conciliar text that can serve as the conclusion for today's catechesis. Lay people "are God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity" (LG 31).

[1]   Propositio 4; cf. CL 15; CCC 898"

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

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca 

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Indem ich innig dafür bete, dab Ihr Eurer Berufung, an der Erlösung der Welt mitzuwirken, jederzeit mit Eifer Folge leistet, grübe ich Euch alle, liebe deutschsprachige Pilger und Besucher, sehr herzlich. Mein besonderer Willkommensgrub gilt den Mitgliedern des Cäcilienverbandes der Erzdiözese Freiburg im Breisgau, den Kimling–Chören aus dem Kreis Karlsruhe und dem Polizeichor München. Für Eure Darbietungen, mit denen Ihr Herz und Seele der Menschen erfreut, danke ich Euch und wünsche zugleich, dab Ihr durch Euer Singen auch weiterhin zur Verinnerlichung der Liturgie beitragen möget. Ebenso grübe ich herzlich die Gruppen der Katholischen Militärgemeinden Regensburg und Neubiberg und den Verein ”Gemeinsam Reisen mit Behinderten“, Ulm.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen und Freunden in der Heimat sowie allen, die uns in diesem Augenblick verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen. 

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

J’accueille avec joie les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience, en particulier la Délégation des Ecoles catholiques de Belgique. J’adresse un cordial salut au groupe de militaires de Périgueux, venus avec leur aumônier, raviver leur foi sur la tombe des Apôtres Pierre et Paul. J’encourage les jeunes, spécialement ceux qui acceptent de servir à l’autel du Seigneur, à puiser dans l’Eucharistie, source de Vie, la force pour être des témoins de l’Evangile auprès de leurs camarades. A tous, j’accorde volontiers ma Bénédiction Apostolique! 

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

To all the English speaking pilgrims and visitors–especially those from England, Ireland, Canada and the United States–I extend a cordial welcome, and I invoke upon you the grace and peace of Christ our Saviour.

Ai pellegrini di espressione spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo ahora muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española.

En particular, a los alumnos y profesores del Colegio San Luis de los Franceses, de Madrid, y a las peregrinaciones de Argentina y México.

A todas las personas, familias y grupos procedentes de los diversos países de América Latina y de España imparto con gran afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Neste mês, que tradicionalmente a Igreja comemora os fiéis defuntos, convido os peregrinos de língua portuguesa a renovar a própria fé na ressurreição da carne, e a pedir por todos os falecidos nas famílias, nas paróquias e em toda a Igreja. Saúdo e desejo a todos felicidades, paz e graça no Senhor! Que Deus vos abençoe!

Ai fedeli polacchi

Z Polski są tutaj różne grupy. Ale przede wszystkim pragnę pozdrowić księdza arcybiskupa gdańskiego Tadeusza Gocłowskiego, jak też bpa Gerarda Bernackiego, sufragana z Katowic. Pozdrawiam serdecznie następujące grupy: pielgrzymkę ojców kamilianów z Grosławic, grupę kombatantów ze Światowego Zwiazku Żołnierzy Armii Krajowej z Krakowa, oraz pielgrzymkę Polskiej Misji Katolickiej w Siegen (w Niemczech), prócz tego grupę turystyczną z Wronek i Gorzowa Wielkopolskiego, z parafii św. Jacka w Chicago (USA), kolejarzy z Gdańska, Poznania i Wrocławia, grupę turystyczną “ Arkadiusz ” z Gdańska, oraz wszystkich innych pielgrzymów, zarówno z kraju, jak i z emigracji. Wraz z księdzem metropolitą gdanskim pozdrawiam wszystkich uczestników pielgrzymki z Gdańska.

Ad alcuni gruppi di fedeli italiani 

Rivolgo ora un cordiale saluto ai vari pellegrini di lingua italiana, presenti a questa Udienza. La solennità di Tutti i Santi e la commemorazione dei Fedeli Defunti, che abbiamo recentemente celebrato, ci offrono l’opportunità di riflettere, ancora una volta, sull’autentico significato dell’esistenza terrena e sul suo valore per l’eternità. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Questi giorni di riflessione e di preghiera costituiscano per voi, cari giovani, un invito ad imitare l’eroismo dei Santi, rimasti fedeli al progetto divino per tutta la vita. Siano di grande conforto specialmente per voi, cari ammalati, associati, in maniera profonda, al mistero della passione di Cristo. Infine, diventino un’occasione propizia per voi, cari sposi novelli, per comprendere sempre meglio che siete chiamati a testimoniare con la vostra reciproca fedeltà l’amore infinito con cui Dio circonda ogni uomo.

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