The Lay Apostolate

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"From the fact of their union with Christ the head flows the laymen's right and duty to be apostles.  Inserted as they are in the Mystical Body of Christ by baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit in confirmation, it is by the Lord himself that they are assigned to the apostolate." (Apostolicam actuositatem, 3).

While God calls some to serve him in the religious life or the priesthood, he calls most people to serve him in the world.  Those members of the Church who are not ordained or do not belong to a religious community are called the laity.

The laity share the universal call to holiness with those in religious life.  They, like priests, sisters, and brothers, must develop a strong spiritual life, uniting themselves with Christ through prayer, work, and the sacraments.  This form of the spiritual life, however, will be different from each group because of their activities and obligations.

In addition to this universal call to holiness, members of the laity are also called to serve the Church in various capacities.  This service begins within their individual parish communities.  They may also serve the Church at the diocesan, national, or even international levels.

Finally, the laity, like the religious, are called to be witnesses of Christ and his Church.  Both by their word and their example, laymen are called to bring Christ's gospel message to the world.  Because their manner of life is the same as that of others in the world - raising families, working, and so on - they may at times be more effective witnesses of the gospel than are those in religious life.

Unlike priests and religious, who are called to live separated from the world, the layman must live in the world.  He must "permeate society with the leaven of the gospel" (Mt 5:13), drawing the world to Christ.  This means that they must try to bring Christian justice and charity into all the activities of human life - social, economic, industrial, political, cultural, and recreational activities.

All of these are temporal (worldly) goods, and it is the specific vocation of the layman to sanctify them.  The grace of Christ does not take the place of nature but respects the natural order and perfects it.

The layman is especially called to use the three great goods that religious freely give up - wealth, sexuality, and independence.  The laity are called to use their money and possessions for the good of the Church, of their families and of those in need.  Most are also called to marry and raise a family, thus bringing new souls to Christ.  Finally, they are called to use their freedom to make Christ present everywhere in the world.

Even though the layman's vocation is to live in the world, he must always keep in mind the warning of Our Lord that we live in the world but not be of the world.  The laity must work to renew the temporal order, drawing all toward God.  But at the same time, they must strive to keep themselves free from the corruptions of the world.  St. Paul wrote, "Do not be conformed to this world" (Rom 12:2).

The lay apostolate encompasses both work and leisure (those activities that are not work and are done for their own sake).  The layman must sanctify himself as well as the world through these activities.

Each person is called to sanctify his ordinary labor, using it as a means of serving God.  While the principal "work" of students is to use study and homework to praise God, we all must be the best we can be so the duties of any job become a fitting offering in charity to God.  The layman is also called to sanctify his leisure - serving God through excellence in art, music, athletics, and the like.

The lay vocation embraces both the married and the unmarried life.  Both are called to live chastity in different ways, according to their state.  While most of the laity are called to the married state, there are some people who live the lay life as unmarried persons.  These people continue to live in the world and have no intention of entering a religious community.  While this calling may not be for many, those who are called to the single life in the world are given the graces they need to become holy through the sacrament of Confirmation.  They also gain strength from the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist.

The single state may be chosen by some people who desire to serve others in the world more fully than they could if they had a family.  For example, it was common in our country in the 1800's for women teachers to remain unmarried, so that they could devote themselves more fully to educating others.  Others may remain unmarried because obligations in justice or charity require it.  For example, one might remain single in order to be able to care for aged parents or other relatives who need one's care.  Most lay people however, live the married life.  This state is a great vocation, instituted and blessed by God at the Creation of the world.  

Used with the permission of The Ignatius Press 800-799-5534

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