By Fr. Steve Kanonik, Pastor
Over the last couple of weeks I have been commenting on the exhortation by Pope Saint John Paul II “Christifidelis Laici”. I chose to do this in October because the synod of bishops from which the exhortation came, occurred in 1987 through the whole month of October. And this past Monday we celebrated the feast of Saint John Paul II.
So the Pope continued into Chapter 1: I AM THE VINE AND YOU ARE THE BRANCHES The Dignity of the Lay Faithful in the Church as Mystery. He emphasizes the biblical image of Christ and us being the vine and branches. We are all connected and Christ’s grace works through all of us. He shows how this image is used throughout the bible. The pope says that this imagery that Jesus uses makes clear the very important and essential dignity of the lay faithful. He adds: “Only within the context of this dignity can their vocation and mission in the Church and in the world be defined.”
In a powerful and important statement, Pope John Paul II shows that this is not some minor point but the very identity of the Church. He quotes Pope Pius XII:
"The Faithful, more precisely the lay faithful, find themselves on the front lines of the Church's life; for them the Church is the animating principle for human society. Therefore, they in particular, ought to have an ever-clearer consciousness not only of belonging to the Church, but of being the Church, that is to say, the community of the faithful on earth…”
The Pope continues with the reminder that this special dignity all the faithful share comes from our Baptism. He points out that Baptism brings three fundamental aspects:
“Baptism regenerates us in the life of the Son of God; unites us to Christ and to his Body, the Church; and anoints us in the Holy Spirit, making us spiritual temples.”
This brief statement holds such profound truth that a large number of paragraphs are dedicated to unravelling the depth of that statement. And the Pope winds up those sections with the call to remember that all the baptized share in the mission of Christ to be priest, prophet, and king. This too he spends a number of paragraphs on, pointing out the meaning for all of us, but in particular all the lay faithful.
Pope John Paul II adds a section here on how we can see all of this lived in our daily lives. He brings up the biblical images of salt, light, and leaven. This is to remind us that by working in the world we are to transform the world. It is our mission and purpose. He strongly emphasizes the writings of Vatican II and here spends some time addressing a major theme of Vatican II, the universal call to holiness, and he talks of living this life of holiness in the world.
Pope John Paul II then wraps up this section with a quote from one of the great documents of Vatican II: Lumen Gentium.
"Upon all the lay faithful, then, rests the exalted duty of working to assure that each day the divine plan of salvation is further extended to every person, of every era, in every part of the earth."
I have been trying to give you just a small taste of a special document which gives a vision to the important role everyone plays in building the kingdom. Pope John Paul II has much more to say in this document, however we will continue in the next weeks with sharing by some of the other staff members. I will continue in the future to share some of the document, but if you wish to dive into it yourself, I can assure you that you will not be disappointed, but will find it insightful and important especially in this time in the history of the Church. You can download a free copy here.