Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 27, 2000
Lessons for Canadian laity
Pope's 'The Church in America' helps us understand Christian social responsibility
By JOHN LYNCH
Special to the WCR
If ever there were a good time to read and study Pope John Paul's apostolic exhortation The Church in America, now is the time: Canada's election is in full swing. Alberta's is promised for the spring.
Pope John Paul gives some relevant and energizing lessons for the Catholic laity in Canada and Alberta. The renewal of the Church in the Canadian and Albertan societies rests largely on the laity. He states that the renewal will not be possible "without the active presence of the laity."
The laity are enjoined to "live" their vocation to shape the secular world according to God's will. "That is the true and distinctive mark of the layperson and of lay spirituality." As laity, we are called to evangelize those secular sectors of our societies which we impact: family, social, professional, cultural and political. The social values of Canada and Alberta are up for grabs.
We, as Church, are urgently exhorted to provide "lay Christians able to assume roles of leadership in society." We have a profound responsibility flowing from our baptismal grace to encourage and train lay women and men so that they will be able to influence public life and direct it to the common good.
The pope does not hesitate to exhort Christian laity to find the path to their sanctification in political life in the administration of the common good. Formed in the scriptural principles of the Church's social teaching, they will be able to proclaim them in their own particular circumstances even when political leaders appeal "to the so-called 'neutrality of the state.'"
As laity we are called to a spirituality in which we have the opportunity to encounter Jesus in our secular communities, just as those who encountered him when he walked the earth. Encounters with Jesus have a transforming power that initiates the process of conversion, communion and solidarity.
Conversion must be fostered through the prayerful reading of Scripture and the consistent reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Conversion leads us to a new life where there is no separation between faith and works in our daily pursuit of the universal call to holiness.
Jesus, the servant leader, is the model we imitate. He teaches us that love is the heart of holiness that leads us to give our lives for others. The imitation of the holiness of God manifest in Jesus "is nothing other than to extend in history his love, especially toward the poor, the sick and the needy" in pursuit of the common good.
Pursuit of the common good requires that we must nurture the growing awareness of the dignity of every person in our society. We must promote in our communities a sense of our responsibility to participate in political life in harmony with the Gospel values of social justice.
Personal encounters with Jesus will bring about a profound transformation in us if we are open to him. We will follow Jesus "living as he lived, accepting his message, adopting this way of thinking, embracing his destiny and sharing his project which is the plan of the Father . . . in a just and fraternal society."
Our conversion carries with it a new commitment to the "new evangelization" portrayed in The Church in America. "The vital core of the new evangelization must be a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the person of Jesus Christ, . . . the preaching of his name, his teachings, his life, his promises and the kingdom which he has gained for us by his paschal mystery."
The spread of secularism in the political and economic sectors of the globe carries a definite urgency for lay Christians to evangelize those sectors of our societies by active participation in the political process according to their individual gifts and skills. We must proclaim Christ present in his teaching and grace with joy and conviction in our political participation, but above all by the witness of each our lives.
The trends in our federal and provincial governments to entrench the godless aspects of secularism in our respective societies brings a grave urgency for Christians to reverse those trends by political participation in the upcoming elections.
First, we must diligently examine the social issues and the common good in the light of our scriptural values and assess the position of those running for election in light of those values. It is our Christian responsibility to do our best to elect those who most truly reflect these values.
Christian political aspirants, on the other hand, must approach social issues that contribute to the administration of the common good by forming their consciences according to the teaching of Jesus and work to effect public policy that is in accord with his values.
Neither of these two roles is easy for Christians today. We are called to be a "contrast society" in a secular world where rugged individualism reigns supreme with arrogant disdain for the common good of all humanity. We are the representatives of Jesus in that secularized society. We must live our lives as he lived his while on earth. That is our baptismal accountability.
(John Lynch is coordinator of the archdiocesan Social Justice Commission.)