In carrying out the Church’s mission, each Catholic has a role to play: his or her personal vocation. But the diverse apostolates also have some common characteristics. This question treats the common characteristics, while question E will treat personal vocation.
Vatican II teaches that the Christian vocation essentially is a calling to apostolate. Apostolate refers to each and every activity in the Church which is directed toward carrying out her mission (see AA 2). In respect to this calling, no member of the Church is ever off duty.
a) All Catholics, as members of a living body, should be active. Vatican II teaches: “It is incumbent on every disciple of Christ to do his or her share in spreading the faith” (LG 17; cf. AG 36). The Council also explains why everyone should help carry out the Church’s mission: “Just as, in the structure of a living body, no part is merely passive, but each part shares in the body’s workings as in its life; so, too, in the body of Christ, which is the Church, the whole body, ‘each part working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up’ (Eph 4.16)” (AA 2). The Church is Jesus’ living body; her vital functions are his own priestly, prophetic, and kingly functions.
Every baptized person is a member of the Church, and every member should be ready to do, in ways appropriate for each, what the Church as a community is called to do: worship God and offer him gifts, receive and hand on his word, and serve and build up his kingdom.44 Nor should anyone suppose that his or her potential contribution would be too insignificant to matter. Every organ’s functioning is important to the whole body; as a natural body’s head needs the body’s feet, so Jesus needs his members (see 1 Cor 12.21–22, Col 1.24; CMP, 23.E).45
b) One’s whole life should be apostolic. Every part of one’s life should help to spread the faith, for one should do everything in Jesus’ name (see Col 3.17; AA 4; CMP, 25.F, 27.E). Vatican II criticizes the tendency to divorce the rest of life from faith: “This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age” (GS 43). The Council calls for a vital integration of all activities—domestic, professional, social, and technical—with religious values, which should direct everything to the kingdom (see GS 43).46
c) Apostolic responsibility is no less today than ever. Since Vatican II, some have argued that it is an imposition on the religious liberty of others to insist on all the truths of faith and the uniquely integral goodness of Christian life. Some also think evangelization is no longer necessary because the Council made it clear that God saves all men and women of good will, whether conscious believers or not (see LG 16).47
Paul VI rejects such views as excuses for evading apostolic responsibility. He points out that proposing the gospel and the Christian way of life does not violate freedom of conscience but precisely respects and appeals to people’s liberty. He argues that, although God “by extraordinary means” can save those who have not been evangelized, Jesus by his teaching and his life opened up the “ordinary way” of salvation. Moreover, Christians are called to bear fruit, and so their own salvation is imperiled if they fail to do so.48
It also is worth considering that apostolic work builds up the human communion of the new covenant, which is destined to last forever, and that people of good will who hear and consciously accept the gospel and Christian way of life enjoy great human fulfillment through their conscious relationship with Jesus and his Church—human fulfillment on which they would miss out if saved in some other way. Moreover, Vatican II’s teaching that God saves all people of good will does not imply that evangelization is unnecessary, since evangelization calls those who lack good will to conversion and provides them with powerful reasons to accept God’s grace.
Although each Christian’s whole life should be apostolic, it will be so only if made up of truly Christian actions. All such actions respond to grace and include prayer as their foundation. It is this witness by action flowing from communion with Jesus, not activism detached from him, which fulfills apostolic responsibility.
a) The essence of all apostolic responsibility is to bear witness. God’s redemptive work is first, last, and always a merciful gift. Jesus’ human witness proclaims God’s kingdom and cooperates in receiving this gift on humankind’s behalf. Questioned by Pilate about his kingship, Jesus says: “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (Jn 18.37). Those who believe in Jesus not only receive the gift of communion with God, but also become Jesus’ allies insofar as he is a man.
As Jesus’ mission is to bear witness, every Christian’s mission is to cooperate in this witness, responding to God’s truth and love by giving thanks to the Father, and sharing God’s gift with others. Jesus told the apostles after his resurrection: “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1.8; cf. Mt 28.18–20). Vatican II teaches that this mandate extends to all lay persons: “Every single lay person should stand before the world as a witness to the resurrection and life of the Lord Jesus and a sign of the living God” (LG 38).49
In sum, because apostolic activity shares God’s gift with others, its essence is in bearing witness. This must not be confused with applying techniques for attaining certain specific human goals, even religious ones. Not just success but failure, too, affords opportunities to manifest hope, while successful efforts to attain human goals, including specifically religious ones, can be directed to ends other than the kingdom. Bearing Christian witness is thus very different from pragmatic activism.50
b) Apostolic activity presupposes and increases life in the Spirit. Since all true apostolate carries on Jesus’ saving work, and since the most important element of this work is Jesus’ prayer and self-offering to the Father, it would be a misunderstanding of the apostolate to try to spread the faith and serve the kingdom in others without nurturing one’s own interior life.51 People who try to give what they do not really have will neither build up the kingdom nor sanctify themselves. But those who truly live in Jesus not only bear fruit for him by carrying on his mission toward others but increase their life in the Spirit as, more and more, they engage their hearts, minds, souls, and strength in apostolic service.52 For, although Jesus needs his members, none can contribute humanly to God’s saving work without the Holy Spirit’s grace. That is why Jesus, in sending the apostles, bestows the Spirit on them (see Jn 20.21–22, Acts 1.8). The Church, too, constantly prays that God will send his Spirit to make her mission fruitful, and one should join personally in this prayer. Life in the Spirit depends on docility to God’s word and on prayer, penance, and worthy participation in the Eucharist.
c) The apostle must be both adaptable and uncompromising. Truly Christian apostolic activity imitates the Word. He emptied himself, identified himself with fallen men and women, claimed no privilege, used simple language, adopted the way of life of the most humble people, listened to what each person had to say, and conducted himself as a brother to everyone. But in no way did he water down or whittle away the truth, even though he was constantly under fire. Similarly:
Our dialogue must not weaken our attachment to our faith. Our apostolate must not make vague compromises concerning the principles which regulate and govern the profession of the Christian faith both in theory and in practice.
An immoderate desire to make peace and sink differences at all costs (irenism and syncretism) is ultimately nothing more than skepticism about the power and content of the Word of God which we desire to preach. The effective apostle is the man who is completely faithful to Christ’s teaching. He alone can remain unaffected by the errors of the world around him, the man who lives his Christian life to the full.53
It would be an error to suppose that clerics are responsible for what is of primary concern to the Church and lay persons for what is secondary. All Catholics have responsibilities with respect to the Church’s entire mission.
a) Not all are concerned in the same way with its distinct components. John Paul II teaches:
The lay state of life has its distinctive feature in its secular character. It fulfils an ecclesial service in bearing witness to, and in its own way recalling for priests, women and men religious, the significance of the earthly and temporal realities in the salvific plan of God. In turn, the ministerial priesthood represents in different times and places, the permanent guarantee of the sacramental presence of Christ, the Redeemer. The religious state bears witness to the eschatological character of the Church, that is, the straining toward the Kingdom of God that is prefigured and in some way anticipated and experienced even now through the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.
All the states of life, whether taken collectively or individually in relation to the others, are at the service of the Church’s growth. While different in expression, they are deeply united in the Church’s “mystery of communion” and are dynamically coordinated in its unique mission.54
b) Clerics are ordained for sacred ministry in the Church. Those in holy orders are ordained primarily for sacred ministry (see LG 31). They act in Jesus’ person when they establish the Church by proclaiming the gospel and when they build her up by serving as teachers of the faith, as celebrants of the Eucharist and ministers of the other sacraments, and as pastoral leaders (see LG 20–21, AG 39, PO 2). Plainly, then, the primary responsibility of clerics bears on the primary component of the Church’s mission.
But they also have a twofold responsibility with respect to the temporal order. First, they are rightly concerned with those temporal goods which are the means for carrying out the Church’s primary mission, for example, the Church’s property. Second, they have a wider responsibility concerning all temporal goods. This they fulfill in and through their sacred ministry: by teaching the moral principles to be followed in temporal affairs and by providing the spiritual aids by which the temporal order can be restored in Jesus (see AA 7, 24).
c) Lay persons have special responsibility in the temporal sphere. The laity’s primary responsibility is to bear witness by holding fast to the faith, offering their lives as a spiritual sacrifice, and growing in holiness (see LG 9–12). Lay persons, “exercising an apostolate of evangelizing and sanctifying” (AA 6), complement those in holy orders in carrying out the Church’s primary, saving mission, which is “achieved by belief in Christ and by his grace” (AA 6). But besides their role in bringing the gospel and holiness to others, they have a special responsibility “of permeating and perfecting the temporal order with the spirit of the gospel” (AA 2). “In following out the Church’s mission, the laity, therefore, exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, in both the spiritual and the temporal orders” (AA 5). The temporal order includes everything of human value other than the religious: the goods of life and family, work and business, culture, the arts and professions, political institutions, international affairs, and so on (see AA 7). Thus, lay people are properly and directly concerned with secular affairs. They are called to “seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God” (LG 31).55
d) Activity in the temporal sphere must be authentic apostolate. Christians must know and respect the proper principles of realities of the temporal order, because these principles direct action to the specific goods and human benefits of that order (see LG 36; GS 36, 43; AA 7). Christians also must know and respect the traditions of their own society, and live their faith within the framework of their own culture (see AG 21). How, then, will their activity in the temporal order differ from the outwardly similar activity of others, and so be authentic apostolate?
First, by conforming to Christian conscience, and thus insofar as possible healing and restoring the realities of the temporal order in the light of the gospel (see LG 36; AA 2, 7). Second, by ordering activities in the temporal order according to the demands of Christian love of neighbor, and so preparing material for the heavenly kingdom (see LG 34, 36; GS 38–39; AA 7). Third, by matching their apostolic deeds with apostolic words, using every opportunity to “announce Christ by words addressed either to nonbelievers with a view to leading them to faith, or to believers with a view to instructing, strengthening, and encouraging them toward a more fervent life” (AA 6; cf. LG 35). By differing from others’ activities in these three ways, what Christians do bears witness to God’s truth and love, and thus arouses hope, which draws people to the kingdom (see GS 93).
Therefore, even when lay people do their best, as they should, to protect or realize goods in the temporal sphere, they have a greater responsibility to bear witness to God’s mercy and faithfulness in regard to humankind’s integral liberation than to achieve that portion of it which can be realized within the fallen world’s history. For the good fruits of human nature and effort, mutilated as they are by human sin, will be perfected only by God’s re-creative act (see CMP, 34.E–G).
e) Religious meet their apostolic responsibility in a distinctive way. The religious state of life is not something “in between” the clerical and lay states.56 Each religious is either a cleric or a lay person who adopts a distinctive style of Christian life, shaped by the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience (see LG 43). Thus, religious who are clerics are concerned with the two components of the Church’s mission in the same ways other clerics are. Religious who are lay persons have diverse apostolic responsibilities proper to the diverse forms of religious life. Some devote themselves almost entirely to prayer or various ecclesial ministries, while others share fully in the characteristic lay involvement in secular affairs, for example, teaching and health care.57
But all religious who faithfully fulfill their commitment to live according to the counsels have this in common: their lives manifest in an especially clear way the hope which should shape every Christian’s life. For life according to the counsels closely imitates Jesus’ life and makes it clear that the kingdom and its claims transcend all worldly values (see LG 44). The witness of poverty, chastity, and obedience is especially needed and powerful in secularized societies where many people, living without hope, care only for possessions, pleasure, and freedom to do as they please.
Since the many members of Jesus’ body enjoy diverse gifts and have different roles in building up the whole, the apostolate of each will be different from that of any other—a unique complex of good works to which God calls each one personally (see Rom 12.4–6; LG 12, AA 2–3). Therefore, the basic commitments of one’s life, which organize the rest, help constitute one’s personal vocation (see LG 11, 46; PO 6; GS 31, 43, 75). Question E will treat personal vocation. However, all apostolates have some common characteristics, and here these are considered insofar as all personal vocations share them.
a) Putting faith into practice is the basic form of witness. Jesus calls for the witness of a Christian life: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Mt 5.16). John XXIII approvingly quotes St. John Chrysostom, who makes his point by overstating it: “There would be no need for sermons, if our lives were shining; there would be no need for words, if we bore witness with our deeds. There would be no more pagans, if we were true Christians.”58 Vatican II teaches: “Lay people fulfill the mission of the Church in the world mainly by that consistency of life with faith which makes them the light of the world” (AA 13; cf. AG 36). Plainly, this is true not just for the laity but for all Christians.59
b) Apostolate of the word should complement the witness of life. While emphasizing witness of life, Paul VI also forcefully teaches: “The meaning of a person’s witness will be clarified by preaching, clearly and unambiguously, the Lord Jesus. The good news proclaimed by witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life.”60 That is so because, while actions speak louder than words alone by verifying them, words communicate more than actions alone by clarifying them (see DV 2).
Everyone always should witness by good example, but the apostolate of the word should be exercised only as occasion permits. Then, however, there should be no hesitating. Plainly, this witness must be given when silence would amount to denial of the faith; but Vatican II goes further. Pointing out that lay apostolate is more than witness of life, the Council remarks that St. Paul’s exclamation, “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” (1 Cor 9.16), ought to echo in every Christian’s heart (see AA 6). Every Catholic should speak to nonbelievers in order to lead them to faith, and to fellow believers in order to strengthen their faith.
For lay persons, the apostolate of the word is an especially pressing responsibility toward those “who can hear the gospel and recognize Christ only through the laity who live near them” (AA 13). Moreover, if bishops and priests call on lay people to help carry out the Church’s official ministry of the word—evangelization and catechesis—they should serve to the best of their ability.61
c) One should defend the faith when it is under attack. Leo XIII exhorts Catholics to defend their faith amidst the pluralism of conflicting modern opinions. Citing the teaching of St. Thomas that all believers should defend the faith when it is endangered (S.t., 2–2, q. 3, a. 2, ad 2), Leo adds:
To recoil before an enemy, or to keep silence when from all sides such clamors are raised against truth, is the part of a man either devoid of character or who entertains doubt as to the truth of what he professes to believe. In both cases such mode of behaving is base and is insulting to God, and both are incompatible with the salvation of mankind.62
Arguing against softening the gospel to make it acceptable, Pius X points out that this strategy ignores the experience of the apostolic Church:
If ever there was a time in which human prudence seemed to offer the only expedient for obtaining something in a world altogether unprepared to receive doctrines so new, so repugnant to human passions, so opposed to the civilisation, then at its most flourishing period, of the Greeks and the Romans, that time was certainly the epoch of the preaching of the faith. But the Apostles disdained such prudence, because they understood well the precept of God: “It pleased God by the foolishness of our preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor 1.21).63
d) One always should be prepared to suffer martyrdom. While only those who actually lose their lives are counted as martyrs, their merit is not in their dying but in laying down their lives (see S.t., 2–2, q. 124, a. 4, ad 4). Often those who die for Jesus suffer much else before that happens, and all who must suffer to profess and live Christian faith can and should commit themselves to persevere through everything, even until death. Vatican II therefore teaches that willingness to be a martyr is required of every Christian: “Though few are given this opportunity, still all must be ready for it: to confess Christ before others, and, amidst the persecutions from which the Church is never free, to follow him on the way of the cross.” (LG 42; cf. S.t., 2–2, q. 124, a. 1, ad 3).
Inevitably drawing attention from people of both good and ill will, a truly Christian life will provoke challenges. Christians must be prepared to explain the hope that is in them, accepting, as Jesus did, whatever suffering this entails (see 1 Pt 3.15–18). Moreover, readiness to lay down one’s life as a martyr for one’s fellow Christians a fortiori is readiness to part with one’s wealth when they need help (see 1 Jn 3.16–18).
e) Heroism can be and often is a strict Christian duty. While many Christians have died for Jesus as a result of making a profession of faith or doing good works which they could have omitted without sin, there also are cases in which martyrdom cannot be avoided without grave sin; then one has a strict duty to be heroic by human standards.
This principle applies as well to readiness for martyrdom and every sort of suffering for Jesus’ sake. For, “There is no act of perfection subject to counsel which does not come under precept in some circumstances as necessary for salvation; for example, as Augustine states, a man is bound by the necessity of preserving continence because his wife is absent or ill” (S.t., 2–2, q. 124, a. 3, ad 1). Those who must make hard choices—for example, between wrongly cooperating in grave injustices and losing their possessions or their jobs, or between living in unchaste relationships and practicing lifelong continence—are called to heroism and are strictly obliged to respond to that call, thus bringing into play their readiness to accept martyrdom.
Denied release by a quick death from their slow martyrdom, they may have greater merit than those who actually give their lives. Yet the residual sinfulness and personality defects of such slow martyrs are likely to render their witness ambiguous, so that the nobility of their lives is less obvious than the nobility of the deaths of those who shed their blood.
f) Genuine and effective apostolate requires humility and love. Since the basic form of apostolate is the witness of life, all who share Jesus’ mission must imitate all his virtues. But two, humility and love, are required for additional, special reasons.
Humility is necessary to receive, live by, and hand on a gospel which is not one’s own but God’s: his word, which one may not amend to please oneself or others, but must either serve faithfully or else betray.
Love is necessary to communicate the gospel’s truth, as something one truly cherishes, to persons one truly loves, for their great benefit; to respect fully the human dignity and freedom of all, and so make available to them without pressure or manipulation Jesus’ truth, which alone can vindicate their dignity and fulfill their freedom; to persevere in bringing God’s truth to those who seem to reject it and even persecute anyone who tries to help them to know it; and to restore, maintain, and increase ecclesial unity, without which the gospel’s credibility is diminished in many people’s eyes.64
44. See LG 31; CIC, c. 4, §1.
45. See Pius XII, Mystici corporis Christi, AAS 35 (1943) 204–21, PE, 225.25–59, at the heart of which (AAS 213, PE, 44) is the striking affirmation: “Christ has need of his members. . . . This is not because he is indigent and weak, but rather because he has so willed it for the greater glory of his spotless Spouse.”
46. An emphatic reassertion of this conciliar teaching: John Paul II, Christifideles laici, 59, AAS 81 (1989) 509–10, OR, 6 Feb. 1989, 19–20.
47. On the possible salvation of people who have not heard the gospel, see CMP, 26.1; on the truth that outside the Church there is no salvation, see CMP, 30.2; 1.C.5.i, above.
48. Paul VI, Evangelii nuntiandi, 80, AAS 68 (1976) 72–75, Flannery, 2:755–57; cf. John Paul II, Redemptoris missio, 4–11, AAS 83 (1991) 252–60, OR, 28 Jan. 1991, 5–6.
49. CIC, cc. 9–10, states the obligation of all the Christian faithful without exception to remain in communion with the Church and pursue personal and ecclesial holiness; c. 211, states the fundamental responsibility to contribute to the Church’s mission: “All the Christian faithful have the duty and the right to work so that the divine message of salvation may increasingly reach the whole of humankind in every age and in every land.”
50. CIC, c. 673, illustrates this point with respect to religious life: “The apostolate of all religious consists first in their witness of a consecrated life which they are bound to foster by prayer and penance.” Clearly, what is most important is not service of other kinds to one’s neighbor, but the service Jesus came to render.
51. John XXIII, Causa praeclara, AAS 54 (1962) 568, Catholic Documents (London), 4, no. 33 (Jan. 1964), 9, points out that prayer and self-sacrifice are so much the essence of the apostolate that one’s life cannot be truly apostolic without them, but can be genuinely apostolic without external action.
52. See AA 4, which begins: “Since Christ, sent by the Father, is the wellspring and origin of the Church’s whole apostolate, the success of the lay apostolate depends upon the laity’s living union with Christ.” Although not concerned with the laity, Vatican II’s document on priestly life and ministry (see PO 12–14) clarifies the dialectic of interior life and apostolic service to be lived out, with suitable adaptations, in every Christian life.
53. Paul VI, Ecclesiam Suam, AAS 56 (1964) 647, PE, 271.88.
54. John Paul II, Christifideles laici, 55, AAS 81 (1989) 503, OR, 6 Feb. 1989, 18. For the legal distinction between clergy and laity, and between those in the religious state of life and others, see CIC, c. 7.
55. See John Paul II, Christifideles laici, 14–15, AAS 81 (1989) 409–16, OR, 5 Feb. 1989, 4–5. CIC, c. 225, §1, states the general right and duty common to all Catholics to work “so that the divine message of salvation becomes known and accepted by all persons throughout the world,” and adds that the obligation on lay persons is more exigent if “people can hear the gospel and know Christ only through lay persons.” Idem, §2, states the special responsibility of lay persons: “Each lay person in accord with his or her condition is bound by a special duty to imbue and perfect the order of temporal affairs with the spirit of the gospel; they thus give witness to Christ in a special way in carrying out those affairs and in exercising secular duties.” The development in Vatican II and since of the Church’s teaching regarding the apostolate of the laity was prepared by various theological studies, among which one was most significant: Yves M. J. Congar, O.P., Lay People in the Church: A Study for a Theology of Laity, trans. Donald Attwater (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1957).
56. Religious state of life is used here in the broad sense which includes not only the life of members of religious communities strictly so called but of the whole spectrum of those who commit themselves to live according to the counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience in a way approved by the Church. Some suggest using consecrated life instead of religious state of life to make it clear that members of secular institutes and societies of apostolic life, as well as individuals consecrated as virgins, hermits, widows, and so on are included. However, although the life of a person committed to live according to the counsels is consecrated in a special way, every baptized person’s life is consecrated (see PC 5). Hence, the substitution of consecrated life for religious state of life would lead to its own confusions.
57. Such involvement in the world is compatible with the renunciation of the world essential to the religious state of life, since life according to the vows excludes attachment to the world insofar as that attachment is sinful or an obstacle to growth in holiness, but does not exclude the concern for the world proper to the lay apostolate, which treats the world as potential material for the kingdom.
58. John XXIII, Princeps pastorum, AAS 51 (1959) 851–52, PE, 266.34; quoting St. John Chrysostom, PG, 62:551.
59. Paul VI, Evangelii nuntiandi, 21, AAS 68 (1976) 19, Flannery, 2:719–20, sketches a picture of Christians “radiating simply and spontaneously their faith in values which transcend common values and their hope in things which are not seen and of which even the boldest mind cannot form an image. By bearing such silent witness these Christians will inevitably arouse a spirit of enquiry in those who see their way of life. Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way?”
60. Paul VI, Evangelii nuntiandi, 22, AAS 68 (1976) 20, Flannery, 2:720. Likewise, while Vatican II strongly commends witness “of the whole of a lay person’s life flowing from faith, hope, and charity” (AA 16), the Council adds: “Then by the apostolate of the word, which is utterly necessary under certain circumstances, lay people announce Christ, explain and spread his teaching according to each one’s situation and skill, and faithfully profess it” (AA 16).
61. See LG 33. CIC, c. 759, makes it clear that the laity always share in the responsibility of spreading the gospel by virtue of their Christian initiation and sometimes share in the clergy’s apostolic responsibility because they are called on to do so: “In virtue of their baptism and confirmation lay members of the Christian faithful are witnesses to the gospel message by word and by example of a Christian life; they can also be called upon to cooperate with the bishop and presbyters in the exercise of the ministry of the word.”
62. Leo XIII, Sapientiae Christianae, ASS 22 (1889–90) 390, PE, 111.14.
63. Pius X, Iucunda sane, ASS 36 (1903–4) 524, PE, 166.26. Paul VI, General Audience (28 June 1967), Inseg. 5 (1967) 813, The Pope Speaks 13 (1968–69): 163, concerned about the impact of public opinion, warns against conformism: “In social conversation we are easily satisfied with accepting public opinion, or else we find it convenient to agree with the strongest, even if he isn’t the most reasonable. We readily become conformists and part of the herd.”
64. See Pius X, E supremi, ASS 36 (1903–4) 137, PE, 164.13; Paul VI, Evangelii nuntiandi, 76–80, AAS 68 (1976) 67–75, Flannery, 2:751–57; John Paul II, Homily at Mass at College of St. Peter the Apostle (Rome), Inseg. 5.3 (1982) 842–46, OR, 27 Dec. 1982, 15.