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Reparation, Consecration, and Mission

By Francis Cardinal Arinze

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By the sacrament of Baptism we are consecrated to God and are sent into the world as witness of Christ. As we bear this witness, it is important that we do not forget that sin has done much harm in the world, that the consequences remain, and that therefore there is need for repentance and reparation.

Our Christian commitment is greatly helped by our personal dedication to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary as our guide to Jesus Christ. A robust eucharistic faith with its appropriate expressions is also absolutely necessary. This finds its proper context within our faith in and love for the Church. It bears fruit in a dynamic apostolate or sharing of the faith.

Reparation, therefore, consecration and mission are our guiding thoughts as we request our Blessed Mother Mary, on this great solemnity of her Assumption, to obtain for us the light and strength of the Holy Spirit while we undertake this important reflection.

 1. Reality of Sin in the World

We cannot close our eyes to the fact that sin does manifest itself in the world in many ways.

There are some people who do not believe in God. Some states have even adopted atheism as an official ideology, although we thank God that most of such states have realized their error. Nevertheless, there are still places where people are persecuted because of their belief in God. And there are people who live and want others to live as if God did not exist. Such secularists, materialists or practical atheists are to be found both in areas formerly dominated by communism and in countries where capitalism reigns.

There are some who persecute the followers of Jesus Christ and even sometimes put them to death. The twentieth century counts Christian martyrs more numerous than in any of the preceding nineteen centuries.

Sin unfortunately can be found also among Christians. There are those who no longer keep the solemn promises they made to God in Baptism and who have abandoned the Church. There are Catholic priests who have been unfaithful to their priestly consecration and mission and religious or other consecrated people who have turned their backs on their vows.

The family in the world is damaged by an anti-life mentality, by fornication, adultery, rape, and pornography, by contraception, abortion, infanticide, divorce and abandonment of spouses or children.

Sins against life in society include abortion, murders, assassinations, suicide, drugs, violence in the TV and irresponsible use of guns. Apart from local and civil wars, our century has been marred by two world wars, by that terrible evil called the Holocaust, by so-called ethnic cleansing and by tribal massacres.

There are sins against justice such as oppression of the poor, exploitation of workers, racism, speculation on essential commodities, corruption in public life and bad government.

Sin therefore is a terrible reality in the world, also in our times. But lest anyone be led to pessimism, we must recall that Our Savior Jesus Christ brought us abundant redemption. As St. Paul tells the Romans, “however great the number of sins committed, grace was even greater” (Rm 5:20). But first, let us reflect on the consequences of sin.

 2. Consequences of Sin

Original sin committed by Adam affected all humanity except the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. It prepared the way for personal sins.

In varying degrees sin causes unhappiness, damage to personal relationship with God and, in the case of mortal sin, total deprivation of union with God and loss of merits.

A person who dies in the state of mortal sin goes to hell and is forever deprived of the possibility of seeing God.

But sin has also bad effects on society. It separates people. It leads to enstrangements, tension and violence. Sin does harm to human society and to the Church, even if the sin is hidden and is unknown to the public. Pope John Paul II puts it very clearly: “By virtue of a human solidarity which is as mysterious and intangible as it is real and concrete, each individual's sin in some way affects others. This is the other aspect of that solidarity which on the religious level is developed in the profound and magnificent mystery of the Communion of Saints, thanks to which it has been possible to say that ‘every soul that rises above itself, raises up the world.’ To this law of ascent there unfortunately corresponds the law of descent. Consequently one can speak of a communion of sin, whereby a soul that lowers itself through sin drags down with itself the Church and, in some way, the whole world. In other words, there is no sin, not even the most intimate and secret one, the most strictly individual one, that exclusively concerns the person committing it. With greater or lesser violence, with greater or lesser harm, every sin has repercussions on the entire ecclesial body and the whole human family” (Reconciliation and Penance, 16).

Pope Paul VI had earlier said the same thing in his 1 January 1967 Apostolic Constitution on Indulgences: “By the hidden and kindly mystery of God's will, a supernatural solidarity reigns among men. A consequence of this is that the sin of one person harms other people just as one person's holiness helps others” (Indulg. Doctrina, 4).

This leads us to consider the necessity of penance and of reparation both individual and communal.

3. Penance and Reparation are Necessary

Since sin upsets the divinely established order, repentance and reparation are necessary.

Repentance has first of all to be on the personal level. The sinner should listen to Jesus: “Don't sin any more” (Jn 8:11). “Repent, and believe in the Good News” (Mk 1:15) was the first message preached by Jesus as recorded by St. Mark. Speaking of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices, Jesus warned his followers: “Unless you repent you will all perish as they did” (Lk 13:3). And Jesus advised the sick man whom he had cured at the Pool of Bethzatha: “Be sure not to sin any more, or something worse may happen to you” (Jn 5:14).

The Church has received from Christ the power of binding and loosing in the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation. Sinners who repent of their sins, return to God and confess their sins to a priest duly approved, receive liberation from their sins in the name of God through the ministry of the Church. This sacrament is of fundamental importance in Christian life. This sign of God's infinite mercy should be received with faith and gratitude by all of us.

But it is not enough that the sinner be absolved from sin. Reparation is also owed to God's holiness and goodness. Jesus Christ our Savior, by his redemptive sacrifice on the cross, has made reparation for all our sins. He has won for us the grace to overcome sin and to make reparation for our sins and for those of others. “The truth has been divinely revealed,” says Pope Paul VI, “that sins are followed by punishments. God's holiness and justice inflict them. Sins must be expiated…The full taking away and, as it is called, reparation of sin requires two things. Firstly, friendship with God must be restored. Amends must be made for offending his wisdom and goodness. This is done by a sincere conversion of mind. Secondly, all the personal and social values as well as those that are universal, which sin has lessened or destroyed, must be fully made good” (Indulg. Doctrina, 2-3).

Reparation for sin therefore also includes redressing of social injustices and commitment to change unjust structures and to build up a social order according to God's will.

The Church is the place where humanity scattered by sin regains its unity and, through the ministry of the Church, attains salvation (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 845). The Church preaches that for personal sins and for the sins of others, reparation should be made by such acts as prayers, good works, the bearing of sufferings offered lovingly to God, acts of self-denial, devotion to the sacraments and active apostolate.

Our Blessed Mother confirmed these doctrines at her appearances to the three children in Fatima. She told them that people must stop offending God, should do acts of reparation and should consecrate themselves and the world to her Immaculate Heart. She showed the children a vision of hell and, as if to set a seal on all this, on 13 October 1917 there was the miracle of the sun seen by 70,000 people within a 20-mile radius. This fact was documented by a press which was not favorable to the Church and which was controlled by a non-believing government.

The community dimension of reparation needs to be particularly underlined. “The Christian who seeks to purify himself of his sin and to become holy with the help of God's grace is not alone. The life of each of God's children is joined in Christ and through Christ in a wonderful way to the life of all the other Christian brethren in the supernatural unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, as in a single mystical person” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1474; cf. also Indulg. Doctrina, 5). It is comforting to reflect that “in this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others. Thus recourse to the communion of saints lets the contrite sinner be more promptly and efficaciously purified of the punishments for sin” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1475).

This doctrine on the one hand brings us the comfort of knowing that by Baptism we share in the communion of the Saints. On the other hand it lays on us the obligation to do all we can to make reparation for our sins and for the sins of others. Another way in which we can do this is by consecrating ourselves to Jesus through the Blessed Virgin Mary. Let us reflect further on this practice.

 4. Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary

Baptism is the fundamental act by which a Christian, who already belongs to God (because God created us all and keeps us in existence), is more particularly consecrated to God. Baptism sets the Christian apart for God and gives the person a share in the new life won for us by Christ who is priest, prophet and king. The indelible sacramental character of Baptism remains in all who are so consecrated to God.

In order to live with ever growing commitment and generosity the vows of Baptism, Christians may wish to dedicate, or consecrate or offer themselves to the most Blessed Virgin Mary. They thereby put themselves under the special protection and inspiration of Our Blessed Lady and seek inspiration from her as our model in how to follow Christ.

The Christian has very strong theological reasons for doing this. Mary is the spiritual mother of all the followers of Christ. “In an utterly singular way,” says the Second Vatican Council, “she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the Savior's work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace…This maternity will last without interruption until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. For, taken up to heaven, she did not lay aside this saving role, but by her manifold acts of intercession continues to win for us gifts of eternal salvation” (Lumen Gentium, 61, 62).

There are therefore very solid foundations for Marian spirituality with its corresponding Marian devotion. This has manifested itself in many ways in the history of the Church. St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort is famous for his practice and teaching of true devotion to Mary in the form of total consecration. Pope John Paul II expressly mentions and extols this Saint as one who “proposes consecration to Christ through the hands of Mary, as an effective means for Christians to live faithfully their baptismal commitments” (Redemptoris Mater, 48). The Pope is pleased to note that new manifestations of this spirituality and devotion flourish in our time. He himself has kept as Archbishop and Pope his motto TOTUS TUUS, that is, “I am all yours, oh Mary.” This is a demonstration of his “attitude of total abandonment to Mary” (John Paul II: Crossing the Threshold of Hope, London 1994, p. 215).

Total consecration to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary as taught by St. Grignion de Montfort consists in offering to Mary all our good works, prayers and merits so that she will use them as she wishes. She will purify and multiply them, make them more effective than we ever could on our own, and offer them all to God (cf. De Montfort: True Devotion to Mary, nn 172; 223). It is in short a total offering to Jesus through Mary. Pope John Paul II testifies that this devotion has been central in his life: “Thanks to Saint Louis of Montfort, I came to understand that true devotion to the Mother of God is actually Christocentric, indeed, it is very profoundly rooted in the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity and the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 213).

This true devotion to the Blessed Mother of God is a beautiful way to live our Christian consecration, to make reparation for our sins and those of others and to carry out our own share in the apostolate of the whole Church. It is clear that this devotion or consecration is not just a prayer or an act made once. It is an offering which is to last the whole of life. The initial self consecration is lived daily in prayer, in sacrifices offered with love to God through Mary, in participation in the sacramental life of the Church and in active works of the apostolate. These two last ways will now engage our attention.

 5. A Robust Eucharistic Faith

If we are to live authentically and with growing dynamism our baptismal commitment, then a robust eucharistic faith is necessary.

The Holy Eucharist, sacrifice and sacrament, is at the center of the Christian life. The Second Vatican Council calls it “the fount and apex of the whole Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, 11),  “the source and apex of the whole work of preaching the Gospel” (Presb. Ordinis, 5). The Lord Jesus, the night before he suffered, entrusted to his Church the sacrifice that he was to accomplish the following day on Mount Calvary. This was to be celebrated in the sacramental form of bread and wine until the end of the world. At this eucharistic celebration, Christians duly prepared can be nourished with the Body and Blood of Christ.

The Holy Eucharist gives life and unity to the Church, apostolic dynamism to lay faithful, religious or clerics as they carry out their vocation and mission, strength and love to martyrs, fidelity to virgins and perseverance in the Christian calling to all. “No Catholic community can be built up,” says Vatican II, “unless it has its basis and center in the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist” (Presb. Ordinis, 6).

But eucharistic worship does not end when Mass is over. It continues in many forms. “Adoration of Christ in this Sacrament of love,” says Pope John Paul II, “must also find expression in various forms of eucharistic devotion: personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, hours of adoration, periods of exposition—short, prolonged and annual (Forty Hours)—Eucharistic benediction, Eucharistic processions, Eucharistic Congresses” (Letter to all the Bishops of the Church on the Mystery and Worship of the Eucharist, 1980, n. 3).

I wish therefore to support and to recommend very warmly the Eucharistic Holy Hours which the Apostolate for Family Consecration promotes. It is especially beautiful when the whole family gathers together with other families in the neighborhood to adore our Eucharistic Lord in the parish church. This is one of the ways in which we can carry out the wishes of Vatican II, prepare for the Jubilee 2000 and make reparation for sins. Pope John Paul II exhorts us: “Jesus waits for us in this Sacrament of love. Let us be generous with our time in going to meet him in adoration and in contemplation that is full of faith and ready to make reparation for the great faults and crimes of the world. May our adoration never cease” (Letter just quoted, n. 3).

Any Catholic who has the misfortune to fall into mortal sin knows that reception of the Sacrament of Penance is necessary before receiving Holy Communion. But spiritual masters also tell us that anyone who wants to make quick progress in love of God should go to Confession regularly, for example once a month, in order to be absolved from lesser human faults and to receive greater divine assistance for the spiritual struggle. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it thus: “Without being strictly necessary, confession of everyday faults (venial sins) is nevertheless strongly recommended by the Church. Indeed the regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father's mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1458). Thanks be to God for this sacrament of mercy, peace, strength, encouragement and continuing Christian formation. 

6. Love for the Church

The Church is that new family of God to which we are admitted by Baptism. It is in the Church that we celebrate the Holy Eucharist and grow in the new life that Jesus has merited for us.

We should therefore love the Church. In the Creed we confess our faith in the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. This Church subsists in that community of faith which Christ has entrusted to St. Peter and the other Apostles to look after in his name (cf. Lumen Gentium, 8). And he insisted on obedience to these earthly representatives of his: “Anyone who listens to you listens to me; anyone who rejects you rejects me, and those who reject me reject the one who sent me” (Lk 10:16).

It means therefore that when the Pope and the Bishops in union with him teach us in the name of Christ, they are exercising a teaching authority which is of divine origin. They are not giving an opinion. Faith leads us to receive such teaching with respect and obedience.

Tomorrow in another reflection we shall go deeper into what our membership in the Church entails. But now let us close with a look at the necessity of our active involvement in the mission of the Church. 

7. Our Share in the Mission of the Church

Jesus Christ sent his Church to the whole world to bring his Good News of salvation to every human being: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you” (Mt 28:18-20).

Every baptized person has a share in this universal mission of the Church. No one is a spectator. Since most people in the Church are lay faithful, and so are the majority here present today, it is not superfluous to spell out the apostolate specific to the laity. It is to bring the spirit of Christ as insiders into the ordinary areas of secular life such as the family, the school, the place of work and recreation, the professions, the arts and sciences, trade and commerce, politics and international relations. This is a theme which would require another reflection all of its own.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, as we move towards the celebration of the Great Jubilee 2000, we all need a re-commitment of ourselves to the vows of our Baptism. We do not trust in ourselves. Our hope is in Christ. He is the Lord of history. He holds in his hands the destinies of the nations. He is the Alpha and the Omega of human history (cf. Apoc 22:13; Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 222). We must not be afraid (cf. Lk 5:10; Jn 6:20; 14:27).

May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Our Savior and Mother of Christians, obtain for us the grace to live our baptismal commitment with growing generosity especially in its dimensions of reparation, consecration and mission.

Some Responsibilities of the Lay Faithful at the Present Moment

By Francis Cardinal Arinze

 

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Every Christian is called to live for God. This call is answered by fidelity to God’s will, moment by moment, until our life on earth is concluded.

How do the lay faithful, who are the vast majority of the people of God, answer this call? To begin with, are they aware that every follower of Christ is called to holiness of life? What is the specific apostolic role peculiar to the lay faithful, as distinct from priests and consecrated or religious people?

The Apostolate for Family Consecration has coined the phrase “Responsibility of the Present Moment.” It has identified five dimensions in which this responsibility is to be lived each day: sacramental life, prayer and formation in Catholic doctrine, family and community life, work and active apostolate or evangelization.

Our reflection on the above points will help us articulate better how the lay faithful can discharge some of their major responsibilities at the present moment in the Church and in the world.

 1. Universal Call to Holiness

In order that the lay faithful may carry out generously their responsibilities assumed by virtue of Baptism, it is first of all necessary that they be convinced that every Christian is called to be holy. Holiness is the perfection of charity. “All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity” (Lumen Gentium, 40). “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess 4:3), St. Paul tells the Thessalonians. The Romans are “called to be saints” (Rom 1:7). The Corinthians are “called to take their place among the saints everywhere” (l Cor 1:2). The Ephesians are chosen “to be holy and spotless and to live through love in his (God’s) presence” (Eph 1:4). Indeed the early Christians were often called saints by St. Paul (cf. Rom 8:27; 15:26; 1 Cor 6:2; 16:15; 2 Cor 8:4; Eph 4:12; Phil 1:2; Col 1:4; 1 Tim 5:10).

Jesus preached perfection to all his followers. “You therefore are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). Through Baptism and Confirmation, the Holy Spirit is given to the disciples of Christ so that they can love God with their whole heart, soul, mind and strength (cf. Mk 12:30) and their neighbor as themselves after the example of Christ (cf. Jn 13:34; 15:17).

This universal call to holiness is lived by each Christian according to the person’s vocation in the Church and in the world. The Second Vatican Council spells out how clerics (bishops, priests and deacons) religious or other consecrated persons and the lay faithful respectively answer this call. The lay faithful become holy by living with great faith and charity their vocation in the family, in the place of work, in politics and cultural life and in all the areas of life where they are called to be witnesses of Christ. The Council expressly mentions married couples who are faithfully welcoming children and educating them, laborers who carry out their hard toil lovingly and the suffering and persecuted who join their pains with those of the Lord Jesus.

“All of Christ’s faithful, therefore, whatever be the conditions, duties, and circumstances of their lives, will grow in holiness day by day through these very situations, if they accept all of them with faith from the hand of their heavenly Father, and if they cooperate with the divine will by showing every man through their earthly activities the love with which God has loved the world” (Lumen Gentium, 41).

Holiness is therefore not a special calling reserved to priests and religious. No Christian is ordinary. Every baptized person is specially called in Christ. St. Peter tells Christians: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet 2:9).

Examples of lay faithful who have been raised to the honors of the altar by the Church are boys who showed great love of God such as Saint Dominic Savio and John Berchmans; girls who gave their lives to defend their chastity such as St. Maria Goretti and, in the early Church, St. Agnes; model wives such as St. Monica (who prayed for her erring son Augustine), St. Felicitas (who gave her life in Carthage rather than deny her faith), Blessed Victoire in Madagascar (who remained faithful to an unloving husband), and Blessed Gianni Berretta-Mola (who as a pregnant mother preferred her child’s life to her own). We should not forget model statesman such as St. Thomas More (who gave his life rather than support Henry VIII in his wrongful divorce and remarriage and his rebellion against the Pope) and St. Charles Lwanga who gave his life to defend the Catholic  faith and the virtue of chastity of his younger Christian co-servants of the king in Uganda. Young men have as models: Blessed Isidore Bakanja who at the age of 24 gave his life in the Dem. Republic of the Congo because he refused to stop teaching catechism and praying the Rosary, and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frasatti who also died at the age of 24 as a model medical doctor. The Cause of Beatification of the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux is well on the way.

Everyone is therefore called to be holy. To be holy, it is especially necessary that we discharge with utmost love of God whatever is the will of God for us at any particular moment. To illustrate this, a group of boys in the seminary during recreation was asked: If God revealed to you that you would die in the next five minutes, what would you do? One boy replied: I would go to the chapel and pray. No. Wrong. Another replied: I would start the Rosary. Wrong again! A third answered: I would just continue with our recreation. Correct, because this is the will of God for him at that moment, as made manifest through his Seminary regulations.

Holiness consists in doing as perfectly as possible what God wants of us at any moment. The saints do in an extraordinary way the most ordinary things: cooking, cleaning the house, looking after the baby, working in an office, nursing, farming, piloting an airplane, preaching, speaking in parliament or in a political rally and teaching in a school. A person in the state of grace grows in merit by all such acts, in proportion to the love of God with which these acts are accomplished. Our Lord therefore meant it when he gave us the injunction: “You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

 2. Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful

The lay faithful are those Christians who through Baptism are made one body with Christ, are thus established among the People of God and are given a share in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ.

Thus equipped, they are sent to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God. The lay faithful share with clerics and religious the incorporation into Christ by Baptism and Confirmation and the nourishment given by the Holy Eucharist. But specific to the lay faithful is the mission to evangelize the secular order, temporal affairs, or the arenas of earthly life such as marriage and the family, the arts and the professions, science and culture, politics and government, work and leisure, the means of social communication and national and international relations.

The Second Vatican Council is very clear on the role specific to the lay faithful. “Laymen should also know that it is generally the function of their well-formed Christian conscience to see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city. From priests they may look for spiritual light and nourishment. Let the layman not imagine that his pastors are always such experts, that to every problem which arises, however complicated, they can readily give him a concrete solution, or even that such is their mission. Rather, enlightened by Christian wisdom and giving close attention to the teaching authority of the Church, let the layman take on his own distinctive role” (Gaudium et Spes, 43).

The lay faithful should resolutely resist the temptation of thinking that it is enough for them to attend Mass on Sunday, but that the evangelization of society is the job of priests and religious. Jesus prayed for his followers, not that they be taken out of the world, but that they be protected from the devil. Christians are not of the world. They do not identify with the spirit of the world when this contradicts the spirit of Christ. But they remain in the world. They do not run away from it. Rather, they strive to win the world for Christ. Jesus prayed to his Eternal Father: “I am not asking you to remove them from the world, but to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth” (Jn 17:15-17).

The lay faithful should therefore with courage strive to carry out their mission in the world and bring hope to society. “This will be possible,” says Pope John Paul II, “if the lay faithful will know how to overcome in themselves the separation of the Gospel from life, to again take up in their daily activities in family, work and society, an integrated approach to life that is fully brought about by the inspiration and strength of the Gospel” (Christifideles Laici, 34).

The lay faithful carry out their apostolate as individuals but also as members of approved ecclesial movements and associations. We can mention, for example, various orders of Knights such as the Knights of Columbus, Catholic action groups, marriage enrichment associations such as the Marriage Encounter Movement, Couples for Christ and the Apostolate for Family Consecration, St. Vincent de Paul Society, the Legion of Mary, Catholic women’s organizations, and associations for Catholic professionals such as doctors, lawyers, teachers and nurses. These movements or associations fulfill an important role because they provide support for individual Christians and families; they offer programs of formation; and they stimulate generosity and channel initiatives in both Christian witness in professional life and in the apostolate generally.

 3. Living Out the Lay Person’s Responsibility

How in the concrete do the lay faithful live out their call to holiness of life? How do they carry out their specific mission and thereby grow in holiness? As I said above the Apostolate for Family Consecration has coined the beautiful phrase: “responsibility of the present moment.” How do the lay faithful discharge this responsibility?

The lay faithful are neither monks nor nuns, nor are they supposed to live the monastic way of life in the world. They are neither priests called to celebrate the sacred mysteries, to preach and to gather the people of God together, nor are they religious brothers and sisters called to take vows of celibacy, poverty and obedience and follow Christ in Church-approved institutes. And yet the lay faithful are called to follow Christ, to be his witnesses in the world and to attain perfection of charity or holiness no less than that of clerics, monks and nuns, brothers or sisters.

The Apostolate for Family Consecration has identified five dimensions to the concept of “responsibility of the present moment.” I call these five dimensions five interconnected and necessary paths to holiness for the lay faithful. You can also call them five aspects of the same integrated reality.

These five essentials for a mature lay following of Christ are:

• dynamic sacramental life • prayer and growth in knowledge of our Catholic  faith • healthy family and community life • work done with a Christian spirit • generous engagement in the active apostolate.

The rest of this presentation will now focus on each of these five dimensions.

 4. Dynamic Sacramental Life

The sacraments are major celebrations of the pilgrim Church on earth. They give us a share in that new life which Jesus merited for us by his suffering, death and resurrection. They nourish that life. They restore it when it is lost by mortal sin. They give the followers of Christ the graces that they need to live generously and dynamically their various vocations in the one mission of the Church. And they prepare Christians at the end of their earthly pilgrimage to meet the Lord. The Christian life is not possible without the sacraments.

Baptism opens to us the doors of the Church. It makes us members of the Body of Christ. It equips us to begin the new life in Christ. By this sacrament we become, as St. Peter says, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called us out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet 2:9). Baptism gives us the capacity for Christian worship and makes us able to receive the other sacraments.

Confirmation strengthens the graces of Baptism, gives us a more abundant outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and equips us more fully to spread the faith.

The Holy Eucharist as sacrifice is “the fount and apex of the whole Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, 11), the center of Christian worship and a reference point for the apostolate. Through the sacrament of his Body and Blood Christ nourishes us, sanctifies us, unites us in his Church and gives us strength to fight the Christian battle of life. All Christians are to remember that “it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the Sovereignties and the Powers who originate the darkness in this world” (Eph 6:12). To withstand and defeat the devil and his agents, we absolutely need the strength which the Holy Eucharist gives.

The sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation is an expression of God’s merciful design to give us back the state of grace if we have had the terrible misfortune of falling into mortal sin. But most people who receive this sacrament have no mortal sin. They receive grace to overcome lesser human failings, to know themselves better, and to pursue holiness of life with greater commitment.

The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick helps the infirm to recover if it is God’s will, forgives sins and prepares the dying for the coming encounter with God.

Holy Orders and Matrimony are sacraments that equip people for specific vocations in the Church and in the world. Holy Orders gives special graces to deacons, priests and bishops to serve Christ the priest, prophet and king in his Church. Matrimony gives spouses the graces they need to become holy as husbands and wives and as parents.

No Christian can afford to ignore the place of the sacraments in the effort to respond to Christian responsibilities of the present moment. Special faith and attention are required with regard to the Holy Eucharist and Penance, because these are the two sacraments which are received most frequently.

 5. Growth in Prayer and in Catholic Doctrine

The living of the sacramental life has to be nourished and accompanied by prayer and by growth in knowledge of the Catholic  faith.

The sacraments are already prayer of a very high order. They constitute the main part of the public prayer of the Church. But the lay faithful who are able should also pray part or all of the “Prayer of the Hours,” or the official prayer of the Church for the various times of the day. For clerics and religious this is obligatory.

For all Christians, personal prayer is necessary. It can take such forms as short ejaculatory prayers, prayers on rising and on going to bed, prayer before and after meals or other activities and prayer after reflecting on sacred readings from the Bible or Church documents. Specially to be recommended is personal prayer of the heart protracted for a certain period of time, for example for thirty minutes, each day. This helps greatly so that the Christian’s activities can all be carried out for God and be done in ever greater union with Christ. In this year of the Holy Spirit, we should pay special attention to the Divine Spirit Who configures us to Christ.

Prayer has to be nourished by good and sound doctrine. The Catholic faith is founded on Holy Scripture and the Sacred Tradition of the Church. It is explained and handed on by the teaching authority of the Church, or the Magisterium, which is vested in the Pope and the Bishops in union with him. Consequently to know our faith today here are some sure guides: Sacred Scripture, the teachings of the Fathers of the Church (those great early Church teachers such as Saints Ambrose, Augustine, Ephraem and Leo), the Documents of the Councils of Trent, Vatican I and Vatican II, documents of the Popes and more particularly of Pope John Paul II who has given abundant teaching on most aspects of Christian life in our time, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

In this connection, I would like to say a word on apparitions, since many people are attracted by them especially as this century and millennium are drawing to an end. Our Lord Jesus, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints, can appear to anyone, as Divine Providence decides. And God can send visions, or thoughts and locutions to anyone. If such are genuine, they are called private revelations. Public revelation was concluded with the death of the last of the Apostles. That is about 1900 years ago. If a private revelation is genuine, it will always be a confirmation of what is already in public revelation. Only public revelation becomes an object of divine or Catholic faith. Only such does the Church demand that we all believe. The Church never imposes belief in a private revelation, even when such a private revelation is approved by the Church as coming from heaven, like Lourdes and Fatima.

It is very difficult to know in practice if a reported apparition is really from God, or if it is only the fruit of a person’s over-fertile, pious imagination or the deceit of the devil. And even in a genuine private revelation, the seer can make mistakes in recounting or interpreting some details. This has happened even to Saints.

In practice, it means that we should test a reported apparition by such questions as: does it agree entirely with revealed and defined Catholic faith? Does it lead us to the center of our faith which is where Holy Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Pope and the Bishops are? Does it lead us to obey the Pope and our Bishops?

It is therefore a mistake if a Christian now makes a reported apparition a central event in Christian life, or a test of those who are fervent Christians. It is a negative sign when some Christians follow reported “seers” or “visionaries” and feed daily on their writings and utterances, while neglecting to read the Gospels, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the documents of the Pope. It is a very negative sign when some people disobey or ignore the Pope and the Bishops in union with him, all in the name of a vision or apparition. For Christ has told his Apostles: “Anyone who listens to you listens to me; anyone who rejects you rejects me, and those who reject me reject the one who sent me” (Lk 10:16).

 6. Family and Community Life

Family and community life plays a major role in the formation of each individual and in the way that individuals discharge the responsibilities of life and strive to become holy.

The family launches us into life. From the family the child learns the basic virtues of acceptance and love of others, a sense of justice and sharing, self control and willingness to make sacrifice, gratitude for favors received, and consideration for others. If the family is spiritually bankrupt, all the members, and especially the children, suffer as a result. If the child never really knew what it is to be loved by father and mother, how can we expect such a child to love others and to be considerate towards them? If the parents are often quarreling, if one parent divorces or deserts the other, should we be surprised if the child becomes unbalanced, or closed-in, or violent? If there is no common prayer in the family, if the parents rarely go to Mass together with their children and if the parents often speak evil of priests and the Church, who would expect the children to want to become priests, brothers or sisters?

All this shows us how very positive it is for both parents and children when a family lives the Catholic faith with love and authenticity, when the family opens itself out to help other families with doctrinal teaching and when the hungry, the poor, the sick, the old and the orphan are shown Christian solidarity. The prayers of many parents for and with their children have been the providential means that led to some children embracing the priestly or the consecrated states of life. The Bishops of America, North, Central and South, gathered in Synod in Rome last autumn, placed high hopes on good families: “We hold in esteem all the families who are faithful to their Christian calling and who raise their children in the spirit of the Gospel” (Message, 7).

What has been said about natural families of father, mother and children, can with proper adjustments, be applied to other forms of community life such as communities of monks, nuns, brothers, sisters, and members of other forms of consecrated or apostolic life, and communities of priests. Other residential institutions should also help to build up its members. Our nature as human beings is a social one. We all need other human beings in order to become all that we are called to become, in order to realize our full potential. It is indeed possible to become holy in spite of our family or community. But it is much less difficult when our family or community facilitates the discharge of our responsibilities and our pursuit of holiness.

 7. Christian Attitude Towards Work

Our daily work is an important area in which we carry out our responsibilities of the present moment and grow in holiness. Not only is our work not a grey area outside our Christian life of union with God, but it is very much an essential part of it. A Christian should therefore have the attitude of a follower of Christ towards work.

By our daily work we cooperate with God the Creator in making the world a better place for humanity. By work we show love and solidarity towards our fellow human beings. And by work we earn a livelihood so that we can discharge our responsibilities to our relatives, to society and to ourselves.

A Christian at work therefore should be diligent, efficient and honest. Our work is part of our offering to God. When we come to Mass, we do not come empty-handed. We come to offer Christ to God the Father. But we also come to offer ourselves, with all our hopes and fears, work and projects, joys and sorrows. Our work is part of our daily sacrifice to God. So St. Paul tells the Colossians: “Whatever your work is, put your heart into it as it were for the Lord and not for men, knowing that the Lord will repay you by making you his heirs” (Col 3:23).

Therefore work in the home, in the factory, in the office, on the farm, in the school or in the hospital—all is to be offered up as acts of love of God and neighbor. “By their daily work itself,” says Vatican II, “laborers can achieve greater apostolic sanctity” (Lumen Gentium, 41).

 8. Active Evangelization

Active evangelization by the lay faithful is the fifth dimension of responsibility of the present moment. The lay faithful who are fervent and regular in sacramental life, who pray and who are backed up by a healthy family or community, are expected to go further and positively share the Good News of Christ with others. This can happen in many ways. The riches of our faith can be shared through catechesis and the spread of Catholic literature. Children can be taught prayers and be helped to prepare themselves for First Confession and First Communion. Young people could be helped to prepare for marriage. People in irregular marriage situations or who have kept away from the Church or the sacraments can be persuaded to meet a priest, or to return to confess their sins and take part in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Law makers and politicians can be helped to realize better their responsibilities in defending the unborn child and the family and in working for justice and peace. Operators of the TV and publishers of magazines and newspapers can be led to see the good they can do through good programs and the harm that portrayal of violence and sex without reference to the laws of God can bring on society.

The lay faithful have to learn to resist the temptation to say that all this is the work of priests and religious women and men. These indeed have their own responsibility. But so have the lay faithful. None can fully supply for the apostolate proper to the other. All are called to evangelize for Christ. “Woe to me if I preach not the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16), says St. Paul. The Second Vatican Council in its document on the lay apostolate spells this out in detail. So does Pope John Paul II in his Post-synodal Exhortation, Christifideles Laici. The 1997 Synod for America appeals to all the faithful: “In an age tainted by materialism and yet yearning for faith, we urge you to share the Gospel with others: those who have abandoned the faith, those who in their longing are still searching for God, and those who have yet to hear the Good News of the Lord Jesus” (Message, 30).

The lay faithful must not allow themselves to be discouraged by excuses. If you think you have no time to evangelize, the answer is that we can somehow carve out time for anything we consider very important. If you say that you are not a theologian, the reply is that even if you do not have a doctorate in the sacred sciences, there are plenty of Catholic books and other material for learning more about our faith, such as the many tapes and television programs of the Apostolate for Family Consecration which will equip you sufficiently. If you fear that other people may laugh at you, or mock you, or that you do not want to be disturbed from your comfortable brand of Christianity, then my work is to remind you that Jesus said: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me” (Lk 9:23).

My dear brothers and sisters, the Christian vocation is a high one. It is a demanding call. And it is a most fulfilling mission. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles and Mother of the Church, obtain for all of us, and especially for the lay faithful, the grace to respond to this call with generosity that is increasing, persevering and contagious.

 

 
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