Serving Christ on the Frontlines
Those words from the Decree On The Apostolate of the Laity mean that as a lay person I am called to serve God on the frontlines of the world. This is a huge privilege and a grave responsibility for all of us called to this lay apostolate and that means all of us who are not called to religious life.
I work at Lakeland College as a Biochemistry professor; however, my primary vocation as a Catholic layperson is to do the work of the Church. Our vocation as lay people is to do everything, no matter what that may be, for the glory of God. You may be a waiter, or carpenter, or businessman, or homemaker, or have any of kind of secular vocation but still your primary vocation is to do the work of the Church to evangelize others by the way you conduct your secular business and live your daily life. It is as St. Francis said, “Preach the gospel, and when necessary, use words.”
Wherever God has called you to be in your secular or family life, that is your mission field for Christ. For homemakers, your home is your mission field. For parents, your children are your mission field. For students, your classmates are your mission field. Indeed we have a mission to serve and to share the gospel with everyone we meet everyday. If we lay people took this view of our lives, we would become the leaven to the world that the Second Vatican Council has told us we are called to be.
Strengthening the Lay Apostolate
This mission to evangelize our part of the world for Christ is a huge responsibility. We cannot be successful on our own. We need to be connected to Jesus in order to be successful “apart from me you can do nothing.” A friend of mine told me a story of a church in Europe which had a statue of Jesus in front of it. During WWII, the statue was damaged in such a way that Jesus’ hands were blown off. After the war, the congregation decided that they were not going replace the hands of Jesus on the statue because they wanted to remind the parishioners as they left the church that they were called to be the hands of Jesus in whatever station in life God had called them.
The Church gives us many gifts to strengthen us for our lay mission in the world. If you believe that your witness to others needs to be strengthened, consider whether you are taking advantage of every opportunity to fortify yourself. Frequent reception of the Eucharist is critical if we are to be faithful to our lay vocation. How can we expect to bring Jesus to others unless we have Jesus in us? Your local parish serves the best meal in town for strengthening your lay vocation.
While confession may be difficult for us, frequent confession is an essential aid in helping us to be faithful in our lay apostolate. In the sacrament of confession we actually have to admit that we are sinners. However, when we make a good confession, we experience God as the loving Heavenly Father He is. We will be quicker to tell others about how merciful kind, loving, and helpful or Heavenly Father is. And our consciousness of our own sins will make us merciful and compassionate to others.
We also need to be connected to Jesus in prayer in order to be faithful as Jesus’ frontline disciples. I view my quiet time with Jesus as my daily “Hour of Power” so that I can fulfill my duties as a member of the lay apostolate. The powerful prayers and devotions of the Church, such as the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Liturgy of the Hours, among others are invaluable to us in strengthening our resolve to walk with God in our lay vocation.
Looking in the Mirror
With the scandals occurring in our Church today, the temptation has been to ask the question “Where were the bishops when all of this happened?” However, I think another question can be asked, and that is: “Where has the laity been?” We, as the laity, enjoy pointing the fingers at our shepherds over these problems when, in reality, Catholic lay people have done plenty to scandalize observers of their lives: It has been demonstrated that the divorce rate among Catholics is about the same as society at large. In addition, many lay Catholics have voted for politicians who advocate laws supporting the culture of death. Clearly evangelization is also needed among our fellow lay Catholics if our lay apostolate is to become stronger and better able to fulfill the mission given to us by Christ.
Still, we have reason to be greatly optimistic about the future of the Catholic Church in the USA and the world. Jesus promised us that the gates of the netherworld would not prevail against the Church He founded upon Peter, and Jesus is keeping His promise to us that His Church will never die. We are seeing this with our own eyes: While the Church is inundated with scandals right now we are also saturating the world with Catholic culture. For example, in the same quarter of the year that the bishops’ report on the scandal was released, Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ has rocked the world and the movie The Return of the King was voted the year’s best picture. These movies have been given to us as attractive and powerful tools for bringing Christ to the nations. Have you prayed for an opportunity to use conversations about these films to plant seeds of truth in the hearts of your co-workers and friends?
As members of the lay apostolate, we have an incredible opportunity to serve our Lord in the world. Let us pray that the Lord will give all of us the grace to live out our vocations faithfully until we hear those blessed words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”
© Copyright 2004 Catholic Exchange
Jeffery Schwehm is a former member of the Jehovah's Witnesses' Headquarters Staff in Brooklyn, New York and a former Lutheran. He currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at Lakeland College in Sheboygan, WI and is a member of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Kohler, WI. He is scheduled to be a guest on EWTN’s The Journey Home on May 10th.