Monday, August 07, 2006

In Praise of the Laity

In one of the recent TV interviews ANC featured a lady lawyer. She was sharp, articulate, well-informed, educated, but unknown in the image world. And so, she appeared in the TV screen and just like that vanished from view, a forgotten entity. But somehow there has remained after she left a faint message that states: “sex education is so sacred a subject to be tinkered on by anybody. It has better be handled in the home than in the school.” That lady lawyer is an ordinary Filipina, a citizen of the country. Yet, more than that, she is a lay woman in the Church.

There are many of her kind. Like her they are unrecognizable, faceless people in the crowd, inconspicuous in society. But they are carrying within themselves the Christian faith to which they are deeply committed. These are the lay men and women of the Catholic Church in the Philippines. Because of this faith, they are there in the halls of Congress listening attentively to the discussions and deliberations regarding reproductive health, marriage, population control. They can be seen in the corridors of congress, entering the offices of senators and congressmen, talking with them, explaining, elucidating, clarifying, arguing for the pro-life stance of the Church on the issues of marriage and family life.

They are expressing their faith in the political and public life of society. Others are living out their faith in other modes and modalities, such as in the family, in offices, in different fields of work, depending upon the condition where they are called. But all of them have one common element: they are offshoots of the vocation of the laity, namely: to be in the world, to influence the temporal order with the Word of God, to seek their salvation in the condition of life where they are found. This is the qualifying element of the divine calling of the lay men and lay women of the Church. The Code puts it this way: “According to each one’s own condition, they are also bound by a particular duty to imbue and perfect the order of temporal affairs with the spirit of the gospel and thus to give witness to Christ, especially in carrying out these same affairs and in exercising secular functions” (C. 225, § 2). Their mission then is to be considered in the light of their being in this world, their secularity. They seek the Kingdom of God by immersing themselves in the temporal things and ordering them to God (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 31); they are to sanctify the world and sanctify themselves in the world (cf. Ibid., n. 31). This secularity characterizes the laity as belonging to that condition common to all the faithful in the Church, that is, the participation in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ, the mission, the vocation to holiness, the apostolate, and all the rights and duties (cf. Lumen gentium, nn. 34 and 35).

They differ from the ordained ministers and from those living the consecrated life precisely because they are in the world and commit themselves to the affairs of the world. It is true that they share with the ordained ministers and the religious men and women the common priesthood of Christ. They, however, differ from them because they are in the world and are committed to the affairs of the world. Thus, for them even their work becomes a reality that is offered to God, the family is a place of holiness, social relations are opportunities to live their Christian vocation (cf. Apostolicam actuositatem, n. 7).

Today, to be in the world is not easy, but messy. Ask the laity and they will tell stories of woes and wails, of derision and rejection, of disdain, snobbery and downright insult. One of the reasons for the unfriendly treatment is the fast changing spirit of the times. The world of our society and public life is evolving into a complex reality. It is on the one hand making great strides in attaining standard quality of life that is in keeping with human dignity. It likewise is progressing in its sensitivity to the common good, in its awareness and sense of responsibilities towards poor sectors of society. Yet, one can feel at the same time a subtle yet pervading spirit that tends to disregard the laws based on the nature of man, tendencies which Cardinal Ratzinger called cultural relativism (cf. Ratzinger, Doctrinal Note on some Questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life, 24 November 2002). This relativistic attitude gives birth to tolerance to any kind of moral choices; it admits of pluralistic ideas and policies. It offers to citizens that false claim that they have complete autonomy in their moral choices, while it influences politicians, particularly lawmakers who, sensing the pluralistic tendency of the citizenry, are emboldened to enact laws and policies that ignore the dictates of natural ethics and succumb to ephemeral cultural and moral trends. Pushed on by this tendency, citizens and lawmakers have come to the conclusion that there is no moral law rooted in the nature of the human person.

It is within this pernicious environment that our lay men and women are asked to give their witness. Fortunately they are well formed that to deny the centrality of the person is evil. For them respect for the human person is fundamental, basic in any human interrelationships and social activities. Rights of the human person have to be protected not only in private life, but also in public. Honed with this social doctrine of the Catholic Church, many of them come to the conclusion that participation in politics is a call of the time, a necessity, an urgency. This is in consonance to what Vatican II exhorted when it stated: “The protection of rights of the person is, indeed, a necessary condition for citizens, individually and collectively, to play an active part in public life and administration” (cf. GS 73).

And these lay men and women of the Church have taken up the challenge with flair and grace. They are Christians giving pure witness to the Gospel values – they are Christ, so to say, in the world. As such they obey duly constituted authority, for they believe that authority ultimately comes from God. They follow the exhortation of Peter who said: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution… Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil, but live as servants of God” (1Pt 2:13, 16). Yet, they are well aware that their involvement in public life and politics includes as well the right and even the duty to voice their just criticisms of that which seems harmful to the dignity of persons and to the good of the community (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2238). It is after all their mission to inject into the bloodstream of Philippine politics the needed Christian values.