31. The term laity is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in holy orders and those in the state of religious life specially approved by the Church. These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.
What specifically characterizes the laity is their secular nature. It is true that those in holy orders can at times be engaged in secular activities, and even have a secular profession. But they are by reason of their particular vocation especially and professedly ordained to the sacred ministry. Similarly, by their state in life, religious give splendid and striking testimony that the world cannot be transformed and offered to God without the spirit of the beatitudes. 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. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.
Here the Council Fathers consider the primary vocation of the laity, which is nothing less than to act as a leaven within the world for the sanctification of the world.
The laity do not seek the kingdom of God by removing themselves from the world. Rather, they seek the kingdom of God specifically by engaging in the affairs of the world and ordering them according to God’s plan. The laity live and act in the world, in the world’s various professions and occupations. Each lay person, then, is to work toward the sanctification of the world from the position of their profession or occupation and their role as father, mother, sister, brother, etc … . A doctor, for instance, is not to simply adopt the values and mores of those in his profession without first considering whether such are consistent with those of the Gospel. This is particularly important today, when those in the medical or nursing fields are being asked, or even required, to adopt positions contrary to the natural law. Some doctors, even Catholic doctors, may feel that their profession and their obligation to treat all who come to them objectively requires that they cooperate even with great evil, such as contraception, sex-change or gender re-assignment therapies, euthanasia, or even abortion. Nothing could be further from the truth! Their thinking and philosophy being forged more by a supposed effort to be tolerant and objective, or by the demands of their professional associations, these doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals believe that their only proper role is neutral adviser, guide, or assistant in providing to their patients all that their patients want or what societal pressures insist their patients need.
But every person’s first obligation is to the truth. God is truth, and the truth that He has revealed to us about profound evils that threaten the soul of the individual and the well-being of society must take precedence over people’s attitudes, values, and any particular position of any particular age. Truth does not change with the ever-fluctuating opinions of people, whose hard and fast priorities of this age quickly surrender to those of the next. It is a grave moral error to kill the innocent, regardless of the age, or the results of the most recent Gallup poll, or the considered opinion of the American Medical Association.
Doctors and nurses may be those who find themselves more often on the front lines of maintaining a just and righteous defense of the natural law and God’s truth, but they are not the only ones. In so many other professions and occupations there is pressure to abandon God’s eternal truth for the claimed truth of the present moment. Being true to God’s revelation, true to the Gospel, has been a challenge in every age, and ours is no exception. Woe to those who surrender their consciences to the wiles of a never-satisfied corrupt culture! Praise and honor to those who stand strong in the face of the storm!
How do we prepare ourselves for the mission of sanctifying the world and ordering affairs according to God’s plan? The place to begin, of course, is the ordering of our own lives according to God’s plan. How can we begin to order the world according to God’s plan if our own lives are disordered, or ordered according to a plan contrary to God, or a plan that does not consider God?
How do we order our own lives according to God’s plan? The place to begin, of course, is prayer, study, and action. Regular prayer, regular conversing with God, is how we come to know and love God and become infused with the desire to serve Him. A life of prayer is first and foremost for it’s in a life of prayer that we develop a true love and friendship with God, so that our hearts become open to hearing His will for our lives and strengthened with the fortitude to act on it.
We must also be committed to a study of God’s revelation, in His Holy writ and in the teachings of the Church, since the Church is the instrument of God’s revelation. In order to order our lives according to God’s plan we have to know what that plan is. How can we know if we have never listened to or read His Word, or become familiar with the fullness of His revelation given through the Church? Ignorance of God’s revelation sets us up to think that our own reflections and considerations hold the substance of God’s plan for our lives. From there, it’s a quick step to convincing ourselves that we know better than the Scriptures or the Church what is God’s will for ourselves and for others. How many fools have thought or even spoken the words, “Well, this may not be what the Church teaches, but it’s what God told me!” This betrays a fundamental error, the claim that God has abandoned His people and cast His hope in revealing His truth to you and you alone, and now it is your responsibility to encourage others to set aside the teachings of the Church, the Word of God in Scripture, the wisdom of the Councils, Fathers, and saints of centuries in favor of your own personal thoughts that you’ve convinced yourself come straight from the Father’s throne! Knowledge of and submission to God’s revelation is essential to ordering our lives according to His divine will and plan.
Finally, we must not fall to the temptation to think that we can enjoy a cozy, comfortable relationship with God from the safety of our own chambers. We are called to go out into the world and live lives of action for the sake of the Gospel. We proclaim the Gospel with our words and as much or more so with our actions that reveal in their faithfulness to His revelation and in our personal integrity the transforming power of God’s grace. As the Council Fathers say, lay persons “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. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity.”
I want to point out that the Council Fathers make clear that lay persons are called by God to their vocation of working for the sanctification of the world. We make a mistake if we think only priests, deacons, and religious have a vocation or a calling. We all have a baptismal calling from God as priests, prophets, and kings to live out that vocation, that calling, according to our proper role in life and in the Church. Indeed, how much stronger a witness to the Gospel is one who lives the Gospel in his or her everyday life, in his or her profession, in his or her relationships and contacts with others in those daily moments and activities of “ordinary” life. Perhaps this is where “ordinary” grace can work most powerfully in transforming our temporal world to better reflect the priorities of the eternal Kingdom.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.