The Laity Must Not Only Shoot, Hunt, and Entertain, But Must Restore All Things in Christ
It is our charge to work toward establishing or restoring all things in Christ
As Blessed John Paul II put it in stark terms in speaking to the bishops of the Antilles on May 7, 2002: "In a time of insidious secularization, it could seem strange that the Church insists so much on the secular vocation of the laity. But it is precisely this Gospel witness by the faithful in the world that is the heart of the Church's answer to the malaise of secularization."
To some extent, poor old Msgr. Talbot, a converted Anglican priest who had been selected by Pope Pius IX as one of his chamberlains, has unfairly been made a pre-Conciliar whipping post or characterized as monstrous example of clericalism gone wild. He was, perhaps, too much a man of his time. Perhaps his judgment was already then in question since in 1868 he was dismissed from the Roman curia and was placed in a mental institution near Paris, where he died eighteen years later in 1886.
Certainly, Msgr. Talbot--who in the same letter characterized Newman as the "most dangerous man in England"--if not then suffering the beginnings of insanity was certainly shortsighted, at least when looked at in hindsight. Newman was later (1879) created a cardinal by Pope Leo XIII, and he was declared a beatus by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. Blessed Newman's philosophical, theological, moral, historical, apologetic, homiletic, and literary works are a most important addition to the Church's most marvelously rich patrimony. There is no educated Catholic who should not have read at the very minimum his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, and his Idea of a University. A man is poorer for each work of Newman's that he has not read.
To be sure, Msgr. Talbot's restrictive view of the laity must be rejected. There is a charge which is imprudent words failed to recognize. And that is a charge that traverses the expanse between clergy and laity, between the teaching Church the ecclesia docens and the taught Church, the ecclesia docta. And that charge is the traditio Evangelii, the transmission of the Gospel. That charge is one given every Christian and comes directly from Christ's prophetic office to all of us.
None of us are exempt from it. None of us can be dispensed from it. None of us can evade it. In fact, none of us should want an exemption or dispensation from it, or seek to evade it. Why? Because the Good News ought naturally to flow over from our own encounter with Jesus Christ. It should be irrepressible, and if it is not irrepressible, then there must be something wrong with our encounter with the Lord.
As Vatican II's Lumen Gentium (No. 35) puts it: "Christ, the great Prophet, who proclaimed the Kingdom of his Father both by the testimony of his life and the power of his words, continually fulfills his prophetic office (munus propheticum) until the complete manifestation of glory. He does this not only through the hierarchy who teach in his name and with his authority, but also through the laity whom he made his witnesses and to whom he gave understanding of the faith (sensu fidei) and an attractiveness in speech (gratia verbi instruit) so that the power of the Gospel might shine forth in their daily social and family life."
While perhaps the means the prophetic office is fulfilled or expressed is different in the clerical state than in the lay state (or the religious state, for that matter), the prophetic office calls us all to spread the Gospel, to be evangelists in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. In ancient Greece, the evangelist (euaggelistes) was the envoy chosen by the victorious army to carry back the good news, the euangelos, to be the herald of good news to the Greek king, that the battle had been won and the king victorious.
Which one of us does not have good news to tell about the Lord? Which one of us does not have someone about us who has not heard the good news of the Lord's victory in us?
The heart of the Gospel is not merely a series of rules, doctrines, philosophical presuppositions, traditions, rituals, moral norms--what we might call Catholic practice--as important as the entirety of Catholic practice is. Catholic practice, while certainly important, involves the many spokes of a wheel all of which revolve around, point to, and are joined with, the hub that is the person of Jesus Christ.
At the core of the Gospel is a person, the God-Man Jesus, the Lord, who seeks an intimate relationship with every single human person in the world. This is not a distant Lord, but rather a Lord who wants an intimate union with each one of us. He wants to establish a friendship with us. It is one of the most remarkable and unique features of Christianity relative to other ...
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