The apostolate proper to lay people – again!

Having criticised the most recent set of draft documents from the PCLA, Cardijn responded on 9 January 1962 with a new document setting out his conception of “the essential and irreplaceable apostolate proper to lay people.”

All the faithful take part in the whole apostolate of the Church: hierarchical, doctrinal, sacramental, liturgical, ascetic, catechetical, missionary, etc. apostolate,” Cardijn began.

“However, in the apostolate of the Church, lay people have a specific, essential and irreplaceable mission that was given to the whole of humanity by the Creator at the very moment  of Creation: that of procreating, taking possession of the earth, using it  and developing it (Genesis I, 26-31).

The theological basis of this, Cardijn explained, was God’s creation of man in his own image and the mission and opportunity given to humanity to share in that mission:

God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild animals and all the creatures that creep along the ground.’

God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.

God blessed them, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that move on earth.’

God also said, ‘Look, to you I give all the seed-bearing plants everywhere on the surface of the earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this will be your food. And to all the wild animals, all the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that creep along the ground, I give all the foliage of the plants as their food.’ And so it was. God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good. Evening came and morning came: the sixth day. (New Jerusalem Bible translation)

The work of redemption

However, given that original and actual sin had vitiated that original mission, God now gave humanity a second opportunity to share in the work of Redemption of humanity and the world:

This primordial mission of man and humanity was vitiated by original sin and by actual sins that led to ignorance, error, corruption, injustice and under-development. It lost more and more of its divine and religious meaning. And the propagation of a materialist and secularist conception of the world — with all its practical consequences — is the greatest threat to humanity and for the Church.

It is this primordial mission of man and humanity that Christ has come, not only to re-establish, but also by his Incarnation, to raise up to a more intimate participation in the work of the Redemption of the whole human race. As the Church says in each Holy Mass:

“O God, by creating human nature, you have given an admirable dignity: in redeeming it, you have restored it even more admirable than before. Grant us, by the mystery of this water united with wine, to take part in the divinity of he who deigned to share our humanity, Jesus Christ…” (Biblical Missal)

The mission proper to lay people

The specific task of lay people, then, is to rediscover and relink the mission of humankind ot to the mystery of Creation and Redemption:

The specific (proper) mission, apostolate of the lay person thus consists in rediscovering the divine and proper mission of humanity, and rejoining it to the mystery of the Creation and the Redemption. The lay person must give or re-give to the temporal, secular world its divine, religious, redemptive meaning, in and through work, science and technology, education, international action, etc. It is the whole “consecratio mundi” of which Pius XII spoke so often:

“You are Catholics, are you are in the full sense of the term, that is to say, not only as individuals professing the truths revealed by Christ and living personally in the grace of the Redemption, but as members of the Christian community and fulfilling in this community, a specific task, indispensible to its life and its balance”. (Talk to jocists, 25 August 1957, N° 19. There are many other texts of Pius XII where he proclaimed and developed the idea of the consecration of the secular world).

It is this mission in their temporal life that it is necessary to enable lay people to discover and understand. They must know and make known the divine value of the secular world in which they live;  they must live integrally their specific and primordial mission in the secular world, its milieux, its existing and future institutions. And they must spread this divine and temporal conception and this sense of their specific religious mission, among the lay people in the midst of whom they have been providentially placed. Thus, they will transform the world and they will really consecrate it to the glory of God (See Annex).

And he explained this further as follows:

“This divine mission of the lay person and the whole laity — to procreate, dominate and develop the whole of creation — today acquires an apostolic and missionary importance, not only primordial, but decisive; and this, at a world dimension,

  • because of the unexpected growth of the world population, because of the growing needs of this population, its aspirations and its new level of consciousness;
  • because of new technological, scientific, cultural and social progress, which transforms the world and humanity;
  • because of the unity and solidarity that allthese problems create between all men, all peoples, all continents;
  • because of ideologies of all kinds which spread across the world, with an increasing facility and rapidity;
  • because of the different levels of development, which make more acute the great scourges (hunger, sickness, mortality, insecurity, illiteracy, etc.) and draw on one hand international oppositions and on the other hand international institutions which battle against the great scourges.”

No separation between religious apostolate and lay apostolate

Cardijn continues on to develop his critique of the artificial division by the PCLA of its work into evangelisation, social action and charitable action.

“The Church and religion cannot stay on the sidelines of building, humanising, transforming the world. While distinct from responsible secular authorities and the technological means of work and progress, they can neither be separated or ignored,” he insists. “This separation would be deadly for humanity and the Church.”

“The essential, proper and irreplaceable apostolate of lay people, whose importance cannot be exaggerated, is inseparable from their religious apostolate properly said: doctrinal, sacramental, liturgical, etc. as moreover from their religious life properly speaking.”

And he cites Pope Pius XII 1957 speech to the JOC pilgrims to Rome:

As Pius XII told the jocists:

The YCW “works to restore in all its nobility the Christian notion of work, its dignity, its holiness. You like to consider the gestures of workers as personal acts of a son of God and a brother of Jesus Christ, through the spirit and the body, for the service of God and the human community. May the members of your movement (…) cause this conception of work to penetrate the factories, offices, professional schools. This is an apostolate that is practical and necessary to a very high degree”. (Speech, 25 August 1957, N° 16).

Indispensable formation to make the whole of lay life apostolic

And he concludes with an explanation of the need for a holistic formation process for lay people in order that the whole of their life becomes apostolic:

This apostolate, which both sanctifies lay people and builds a more human world, always more conform to the plan of God and Christ, always more at the service of temporal happiness and the eternal destiny of humanity, always more exalting of the glory of the Creator.

The whole clergy and all lay faithful must see the need to transform the whole of lay life, to understand the increasingly important specific and irreplaceable mission of lay people. They must give and receive the indispensable formation, so that the whole of lay life becomes apostolic. Religion must be incarnated in the whole of life, to make this life an apostolate which helps to transform all milieux and all the institutions of life.

“The Church today needs more than ever young workers to valiantly build, in joy and suffering, in success and failure, a world as God would want it, a fraternal society in which the suffering of the most humble will shared and lightened.” (Speech of 25 August 1957, N° 19).

To raise this consciousness and give this formation are the only means, not only of saving the faithful from false conceptions of lay life, but also of exercising an appropriate apostolate among the non-faithful — Christians and non-Christians — that they rub shoulders with every day in their milieux of life and in institutions; to collaborate with them on the temporal and lay level; to overcome prejudices and errors in order to reveal little by little, in all their dimension, religion and the Church and to obtain that the whole of creation be redeemed by Christ and sing the glory of God.

FRENCH ORIGINAL

Joseph Cardijn, L’apostolat essentiel propre et irremplaceable de laïcs (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

Joseph Cardijn, The essential, irreplaceable apostolate proper to lay people (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)