Evangelii Nuntiandi 70: The Role of the Laity

Evangelization by the laity is as varied as the gifts men, women, and children bring to the practice of their faith:

70. Lay people, whose particular vocation places them in the midst of the world and in charge of the most varied temporal tasks, must for this very reason exercise a very special form of evangelization.

Their primary and immediate task is not to establish and develop the ecclesial community- this is the specific role of the pastors- but to put to use every Christian and evangelical possibility latent but already present and active in the affairs of the world. Their own field of evangelizing activity is the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, but also the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media. It also includes other realities which are open to evangelization, such as human love, the family, the education of children and adolescents, professional work, suffering. The more Gospel-inspired lay people there are engaged in these realities, clearly involved in them, competent to promote them and conscious that they must exercise to the full their Christian powers which are often buried and suffocated, the more these realities will be at the service of the kingdom of God and therefore of salvation in Jesus Christ, without in any way losing or sacrificing their human content but rather pointing to a transcendent dimension which is often disregarded.

Commentary:

I would agree the primary task of pastors is to establish and develop churches. But it must be conceded, especially in mission territories, that lay people often serve the Church by developing and maintaining the ecclesial community, often at great personal cost, and sometimes even in spite of the seeming disregard of bishops.

The variety of possible tasks for the lay person means that a careful discernment is required to allow people to best use their best gifts, and to determine the needs not only of the local church, but also the situations in which we find ourselves. In this way, the possibilities may seem even more demanding than what is expected of clergy or religious who have particular tasks, charisms, and apostolates.

That said, it would seem most of us lay people evangelize in the context of our lives. This means three areas, more or less: our work, our “neighborhood,” and our culture, as we live in each of these.

The workplace is obvious enough.

The neighborhood may include the people who live on either side of us, across the hall or street, and in the vicinity of our homes. but it might also mean the social circles in which we exist: other school parents, civic organizations, dinner parties, and old friends.

By culture, I would see the circles of people in our recreational lives: concerts and sports, shopping and internet browsing, clubs and associations–and this might have some overlap with our social/neighborhood circles.

We have an acknowledgement that the “Christian powers” of the laity are often “buried and suffocated.” Clearly, the exhuming and breathing life into these powers is the responsibility of pastors.

There’s potentially a lot here for a local community to discern. What sorts of questions do you see arising from this section? Most of my readers are lay people. Do you find yourselves buried and suffocated? Or just not giving much thought to evangelization? Or perhaps focused on your own circles, and doing it naturally?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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