08 March 2013

Vatican II: Lumen Gentium IV

From their discussion of the nature of the episcopate and the hierarchy of the Church, the Council Fathers move next into an extensive discussion on the function and role of the laity.  I don't know if it is just because I am a layman myself, but I find this section very powerful.  It is a veritable treasure trove of excellent passages.  In paragraph 31, we find:
But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven.
For all of the intrigue and suspicion that surrounds Opus Dei in the secular sphere, I see definite shades of it in this passage.  The primary function of the group (or personal prelature, if we are going to be precise) is to lead ordinary men and women to holiness through the work of everyday life in the world.  The sanctification of the world through the work of everyday life is a concept that has been on my mind a great deal recently, as I struggle to see how my (often rather dull) daily activities are helping me grow closer to God.

Of course, since one of the primary functions of the laity (specifically, those lay men and women called to married life) is the rearing of children, the Council Fathers discuss the importance of family life in paragraph 35:
For where Christianity pervades the entire mode of family life, and gradually transforms it, one will find there both the practice and an excellent school of the lay apostolate. In such a home husbands and wives find their proper vocation in being witnesses of the faith and love of Christ to one another and to their children. The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present virtues of the Kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to come.
The following chapter, flowing logically from these topics, is about the universal call to holiness in the Church.    In paragraph 41, we find:
The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one—that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. These people follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory. Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity.
The Fathers then explore the path to holiness for all of the various states in life.  Continuing their thoughts from above with regard to married couples, they write in paragraph 41:
Furthermore, married couples and Christian parents should follow their own proper path (to holiness) by faithful love. They should sustain one another in grace throughout the entire length of their lives. They should embue their offspring, lovingly welcomed as God's gift, with Christian doctrine and the evangelical virtues. In this manner, they offer all men the example of unwearying and generous love; in this way they build up the brotherhood of charity; in so doing, they stand as the witnesses and cooperators in the fruitfulness of Holy Mother Church; by such lives, they are a sign and a participation in that very love, with which Christ loved His Bride and for which He delivered Himself up for her.
These two chapters really should be required reading in marriage preparation classes -- there is so much good material in here about married life and finding holiness in the midst of everyday life.

Tomorrow: the Blessed Virgin Mary and her relation to the Church.

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