There are times in my life where I think I’m made for so much more than being a “simple layman.” I think most of us feel this way at one point in time or another.
Personally, I’ve gotten into the habit more than once of thinking that as a lay person I contribute less to the Kingdom of God than I could. I justify to myself, “If I was only a priest I could do so much more” or “The only way I’m going to make a real difference is to be full-time in an apostolate.”
This sort of thought is infectious. As tempting as it is to think this way, to think we must be professional apologists, writers, speakers, or that we have to be ordained in Holy Orders to make a difference, it is folly to believe this lie. I’m reminded of this every now and then when my patience for the apostolate is thinnest. But something encouraging happened recently.
Without expecting it, in the last 24 hours, two remarkably surprising things happened.
Yesterday I was talking shop over some bagels with a co-worker. She knows I’m Catholic; it’s no secret with a cross crowning my cubicle and small pictures of saints throughout. All of a sudden, she just asks me, “So, you’re a convert right? Converts always seem to be in high gear, bu why Catholicism?
I answered, “You know, after looking at what I believed about Catholics and what I discovered is actually what Catholicism is, I just couldn’t choose otherwise. I believe that Catholicism embodies the entire teaching of Christianity.”
She looked at me odd but I continued, “You see, truths like the Eucharist shocked me when it was explained, or baptism. But even aside from that, a perfect example is the saints – nobody has saints like us – the incorruptibles, great Popes and Doctors.”
Perhaps I was presumptuous but I was expecting her to tell me how I was wrong, how Catholics are pagans, or whatever common accusations we receive. Instead, she explains to me that she is practically the only one of her high school friends who is still at least interested in her Catholic faith. [picture me trying to keep my composure and I just want to burst out and hug her]. I keep going, “Are you looking to learn more about our faith or are you looking to get some sort of jump-start.”
“I think I just need some inspiration to keep being Catholic. My whole family is, and I just feel like I’m at the point where I need that flame rekindled.” I could have jumped over my cubicle to jot down some books for her to go get because I was so excited.
But I told her, “You know what, I’ve got so many books at home. Let me bring you one called Rediscover Catholicism. It sounds like what you need to read and if it isn’t, we’ll find something else.” We parted. This morning, I dropped the book off on her desk. In my experience, I might never know if she will even read it but I have to trust that God will guide her.
Then this morning I get an email from a co-worker. We’re both confused about something and I get the sense I might be coming off a little snippy, so I explain myself and crack a small joke about this third-party: “[after explaining the problem] I was asking you cause I didn’t recognize it either. The contractor is obviously out to confuse us and set us against each other. Just kidding.”
What happened next made my day. She replied, “Shaun, no problem at all. You know more than I do since you figured it out. I saw the photo of Pope Francis at your desk when I left the waiver for you. I’m Catholic and am so very pleased with such a humble servant leading his flock. Very nice card.”
I was ecstatic! How few things like that happen, especially in a government job. Like I mentioned, it made me realize once again that we can make a difference as laity. As a blogger, I’m usually thinking evangelization and apologetics via media, as if I haven’t got the skills or the opportunity to talk about my faith or to kindle and encourage someone else’s in my daily interactions.
I said that sometimes I think to myself that I will not make a difference unless I am full-time in an apostolate. But that’s actually the mindset that the Church was trying to correct with the Vatican II document, Apostolicam Actuositatem which is the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity.
This is one of the most empowering documents of the Magisterium I have ever read. Being part of the laity is no simple thing to the Church – its vital! The document literally says that the laity have their work cut out for them, and that the pastors would seldom complete their mission without the involvement of the laity:
As sharers in the role of Christ as priest, prophet, and king, the laity have their work cut out for them in the life and activity of the Church. Their activity is so necessary within the Church communities that without it the apostolate of the pastors is often unable to achieve its full effectiveness. (AA, 10)
The document Lumen Gentium, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, summons the laity in a powerful way as well. Lumen Gentium skillfully and beautifully tells us how the laity are separate from others in the Church, and why they are intimately tied to the world; more equipped than any other in the ability to evangelize and influence others. It reads,
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. (LG, 31)
“The salt and the light” are truly what it is to be a lay person. We are not apart from those in a vocation — to be a lay person is already a vocation! Not just any vocation but an invaluable one.
My experience in the last couple days gave me a lot of joy. There are times where I am so hungry to serve that I forget that I am exactly where God wants me to serve and I have to continue to trust that, though it doesn’t look like I thought it would, I am being used by Him to touch the lives of others.