The lay vocation in the Church is not a series of functions for the non-ordained, but rather an encounter with Christ that transcends all other human activities, says the patriarch of Venice.
Cardinal Angelo Scola said this when he addressed the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, which was dedicated to a consideration of John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation “Christifideles Laici,” some 20 years after its publication.
“The Church cannot be defined in the abstract, but must be based on two focuses: in relation to Christ and his mission, and in relation to the world, to which she is constantly sent,” the cardinal said, according to a L’Osservatore Romano report of his address.
“The risk of thinking that the Church is an independent reality must be overcome.” The cardinal went on to affirm that the “lay dimension” is essential for the Church.
The lay faithful are called “within each particular Church, to live their specific lay nature, facing the historical circumstances and situations in which they are protagonists,” he said.
And in that regard, it is necessary to “overcome the temptations” that contradict this dimension of the Church, but which are very present today, the cardinal contended.
The first temptation consists in enclosing the faith within believing communities, which “does away with the popular dimension of the initial Christian experience,” Cardinal Scola suggested. This temptation “is ever greater in areas where publicly living the faith and ecclesial membership is increasingly difficult.”
The second temptation, he continued, consists in reducing the Christian faith “to a civil religion or mere ethical cement,” an ever greater temptation in Western society “in which civil life is rather exhausted.”
“The Church lives her characteristic lay dimension with the simple courage of being the People of God moving through history, the whole of history, giving witness to the beauty of the integral event of Jesus Christ, which in the form of communion, opens eternal salvation to us, giving us 100-fold as a pledge here on earth,” the cardinal affirmed.
In this connection, he added that it is necessary to overcome a “theology of the laity” understood only as a “juridical demarcation of the laity’s functions within the Church.”
“The appropriate way to understand the lay dimension of the Church,” Cardinal Scola stated, “is that of an encounter with Christ which transcends all realms of human existence.”