Rome -- November 29, 2000
At the Mass for the Spanish language participants in the World Congress of the Lay Apostolate
Dear brothers and sisters:
St. Paul’s words to the faithful at Corinth, which were just proclaimed in the first reading, are about to be fulfilled once more. “Brethren,” the Apostle tells us, “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” And after recalling Jesus’ command regarding the new covenant in his Blood, St. Paul adds: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Echoing St. Paul, as soon as the consecration of the bread and wine takes place, you acclaim, responding to the priest’s invitation: “Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.”
The salvific content of the Eucharist is extremely rich. “The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably,” we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord’s body and blood” (no. 1382). It is also the sacrament of the real presence of Jesus Christ, hidden beneath the veil of the sacramental species, and reserved in the tabernacle once the Holy Sacrifice is over, to be food for the sick, viaticum for the dying, and consolation for our souls whenever we need it. Finally, it is an anticipation of the eternal life that Jesus promised to those who, well prepared and with good dispositions, receive his Body and Blood in Eucharistic communion: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
These texts, which point towards the glorious coming of Christ, are in perfect harmony with the liturgical period in which we now find ourselves: the last week of ordinary time. During these days, before the beginning of Advent, the Church recalls with special insistence the last days of man and of the world. Perhaps to the eyes of an observer who knows little of the Catholic faith, this choice might seem unfortunate. Aren’t we celebrating now the apostolate of the laity, that is, of the men and women whose special vocation, as the Second Vatican Council proclaims, consists in “[seeking] the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will?” Why should we be exhorted to consider the last things, which refer to the hereafter, instead of being encouraged to be concerned about what we have in hand right now?
Christians well know that there is nothing incongruous in this invitation to raise one’s eyes to heaven, as long as, at the same time, we keep our feet firmly on the ground. It is, on the contrary, the only consistent attitude in the life of a believer. The Lord who told us not to set our hearts on earthly things, also commanded us to work unceasingly here below: Negotiamini dum venio, trade till I come, he said before his Ascension. That is, strive with all your strength to bring fruit from the talents that I have entrusted to you, the spiritual and material qualities that each of you has received. Thus you will help bring about, by your efforts in ordinary life, the full coming of the kingdom of God.
Let us listen once more to the teachings of the last ecumenical council: “The Church was founded to spread the kingdom of Christ over all the earth for the glory of God the Father, to make all men partakers in redemption and salvation, and through them to establish the right relationship of the entire world to Christ. Every activity of the Mystical Body with this in view goes by the name of ‘apostolate.’ ” The apostolate of the laity is one of the ways in which the Church carries out the mission entrusted to her by her Lord. It is not something added to the life of some of the faithful. “The Christian vocation,” continues the Decree Apostolicum Actuositatem, “is, of its nature, a vocation to the apostolate as well.”
The mission to do apostolate, contributing to the new evangelization to which the Pope is urging us, is not restricted to a few people. It is the duty of every Christian, by the unique and unrepeatable fact of having received baptism. I remind you of what John Paul II wrote at the beginning of his apostolic exhortation Christifideles Laici: “You too must go out. The call is a concern not only of pastors, clergy, and men and women religious. The call is addressed to everyone: lay people as well are personally called by the Lord from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world.” This collaboration of every Christian in the fulfillment of the Church’s mission is so necessary that, as the Second Vatican Council affirms, “a member who does not work at the growth of the body to the extent of his possibilities must be considered useless both to the Church and to himself.”
My sisters and brothers. The last few years there has been a lot of talk about “the hour of the laity” having arrived in the Church. And this is true. Every one of you is called to take a place on the front lines in the new evangelization of society, precisely through your personal apostolate. I insist on this word “personal,” echoing the urgency that the Holy Father wants to instill in your lives. I also remind you of the message of Blessed Josemaria Escriva, who already towards the end of the twenties began to spread this good news, then almost completely forgotten. In words of the founder of Opus Dei, I would like to remind you that our Lord is inviting us to spread “the divine message, by both teaching and example, to the farthest corners of the earth.” He asks us “as citizens of both ecclesial and civil society,” through fulfilling all of our duties conscientiously, “to be other Christs, sanctifying our everyday work and the responsibilities of our particular walk of life.”
It is wonderful how many different forms of corporate apostolate flourish in the ecclesial community due to the awareness of the commitment that each person has contracted with our Lord, by the very fact of baptism. “The dignity as a Christian, the source of equality for all members of the Church, guarantees and fosters the spirit of communion and fellowship, and, at the same time, becomes the hidden dynamic force in the lay faithful’s apostolate and mission.”
The personal apostolate of example in the exercise of one’s profession, in family life, and in political and social commitments, is essential, acting in full accord with the Catholic faith, as taught by the magisterium of the Church. And joined to this, the apostolate of the word: “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you.” This means anyone who crosses paths with us on our journey in life, beginning with those who are closest to us: relatives, friends, professional colleagues. If the common daily circumstances of your life in the world were not to constitute the usual place for your Christian struggle and your apostolic zeal, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to attract those who are farther away, to urge on those who are careless in their Christian duties, to be credible witnesses to Jesus Christ in an atmosphere that is frequently hostile to him or at least indifferent.
To attain this unity of Christian life, recourse to prayer and the offering of small sacrifices or mortifications to God is indispensable. These include especially sacrifices that help us perform our professional work better and to make life more agreeable to those around us. And above all, we need the frequent reception of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Without a serious effort to have personal contact with our Lord, constantly renewed, one cannot participate effectively in the Church’s mission, nor truly be an apostle of Jesus Christ.
If at the end of this Jubilee, you return to your countries with a resolution to pray more, to go with greater frequency and piety to the sacraments, to take advantage of your contact with your friends and colleagues to bring them closer to God, you will have made very good use of these days spent close to the tombs of the Apostles, so close to the Vicar of Christ. We should be spurred on in this by our hope in the glorious coming of our Lord, which is recalled to us in every Eucharistic celebration. It is what the Church invites us to ask for today: “May this sacrament of love be for us the sign of unity and the bond of charity;” so that “by the body and blood of Christ... all your people [will be joined] in brotherly love.” Thus there will be enkindled in our heart an ardent zeal to bring many souls to God.
We ask for this through the intercession of Holy Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, Queen of Apostles. Amen.