3 Tasks of the Laity: Grow Holy, Build Up the Church, Sanctify the World
‘The Lord wishes to spread His kingdom also by means of the laity, namely, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.’ (Lumen Gentium, 36)
The Catholic Church means everything to us. She’s our home, our resting place and our safe harbor in a world where morals and values come and go with the tide. She’s a sure tie that binds us to our parents, grandparents and ancestors who prayed their Rosaries in Old World languages we no longer know, and she’s the best hope we have to keep our children close and on track. She strengthens us, guides us and keeps us rooted in Truth. Most of all, though, she nourishes us with the grace that brings us into friendship and union with God in this life and can yield perfect joy forever in the next. She truly is our Mother on Earth, entrusted with the mission of guiding us all to Heaven.
But the airwaves shriek crisis and scandal, chaos and disunity, even from the Vatican itself, and we, the laity, are largely confused and disoriented by the whole thing. It’s a shock to have this kind of attack hit the Church, which we usually consider a beacon nestled safely on the shore in any storm, not a ship being battered at sea. As mediators between God and man, priests must “stand in the gap” for all of us, but scandals have shadowed some. Virtue itself is being disparaged, as well, often painted as something bad, while railing against the clear boundaries God has set for humanity is spun as something to aspire to. The four marks of the One True Church — One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic — have all become prime targets for a culture that wants to drag our Holy Mother down into the quicksand it’s been hanging out in.
In a world in which corruption has filtered even into the organization charged with the salvation of all men (“men,” meaning everyone), what can be done?
Who can help set things right?
Well, how about … us?
St. Paul tells us that each of us, whether clergy or layperson, has an effect on the entire Church:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ …
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” God has so composed the body that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now, you are the body of Christ and individually members of it …” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 20-22, 24-27)
Each of our actions affects all the other members of the Church. Our Lord even told St. Gertrude that each time someone receives him in Holy Communion, every person on earth, Purgatory and Heaven receives some good effect. That’s how connected we all are. The goodness of the Body of Christ as a whole largely depends upon the goodness of each of us.
As Servant of God Élisabeth Leseur put it, “Every soul that uplifts itself uplifts the world” (The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur, Sophia Institute Press, 2002).
And we have plenty to work with, even though we’re “only laypeople.” The authority entrusted to the Holy Father and other members of the hierarchy — and the graces that go with that authority — are a marvel. But the Church has equipped the laity with a different kind of strength. The upper hierarchy is relatively small in number, but as we go down the steps and individual authority decreases, the base widens, so that there are more than 410,000 priests worldwide. And Catholic laypeople? Nearly 1.4 billion.
With numbers like that, the laity are far from powerless, especially if we keep in mind that we have complete authority over the domain we’ve been given and which is a primary key to reinvigorating the Church: our own homes and families. The next crop of seminarians and postulants are eating dinner at our very own kitchen tables most every evening, right now, today. (Can I just add here that when kids are eating, we have a good chance for a captive audience?)
Besides, 1.4 billion people, all connected so closely to each other and the rest of the Church, are bound to have a profound effect simply by choosing extraordinary virtue in their own lives.
If we look at the mystical body of Christ as a thick rope, with each person being a single strand in that rope, we can see it: when one strand grows stronger, the whole rope does, too.
Sometimes we might feel the Lord calling us to a deeper holy action and hesitate because we don’t want to “be the only one” and draw attention to ourselves. But others might be holding back from that same good action, for that same reason. When the time is right and God wills it, all it takes for a great movement to spread is for someone to be brave and go first.
(If you’re already working hard at holiness and want to take it up a notch, you might find something at this Catholic YouTube channel. It promotes living a bold, authentic faith and offers some ideas we don’t often hear.)
Catholics from Spain to Australia, Alaska to Taiwan, share a common heritage, receive the same Eucharistic Christ and are inextricably woven together. We are a worldwide family, billions strong. Jesus himself prayed that we — the whole Church — would all be one (John 17:21), and in his letters, St. Paul says that we are.
Christ promised he would always be with us (Matthew 28:20), and he died to make that happen. Our Lady of Guadalupe said, “Am I not here, who am your Mother? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms?” We have their help, so we have to stand, and we can — by giving God everything and living our Catholic Faith boldly, no holds barred.
The Lord and Holy Mother Church deserve everything from us, and they’ve equipped us with what we need to help the Lord set the bellows back to the fire of holiness worldwide. These days are a precious window of opportunity for us, the Catholic laity, to help strengthen the Church from the ground up.
Lily Mills is a mother, former teacher and member of the Militia of the Immaculata. She writes from Texas.