All Called to the Apostolate

Author: Pope Paul VI


Pope Paul VI

At the packed General Audience on Thursday May 16th, the Holy Father delivered an inspiring exhortation on the duty, necessarily devolving an all the People of God, of being true apostles within the Church.

Beloved Sons and Daughters,

The presence of so many visitors, amongst whom We are happy to note some fine and specially dear youth groups, brings Us great consolation and encourages Us to believe that all of you have taken hold of the declaration of the recent Council desiring "to intensify the apostolic activity of the People Of God" (Ap. act. n. 1) and looking also to the laity, as live members of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, to contribute a vital and personal collaboration both to the saving mission of the Church (cf Lumen Gent.. n. 33) and to the establishment of the temporal order in accordance with God's design (cf. Ap. act. n. 5). This declaration is not in itself something new, for it stems from the very nature of the Christian vocation; but it was so much brought to the fore in the Council, enjoined with so much authority and repeated with so much insistence, as to constitute for the conscientious follower of Christ a new consideration, that namely of the activity which each most contribute to the vitality and development of the Church.

The Vital Question at Issue

For Us, at this moment of spiritual .ad ecclesial encounter, that consideration resolves itself into a question to which We believe, with paternal confidence, you will all want to give a positive answer. These visitors, We ask Ourself, have they grasped what the Church of the twentieth century is calling for from them? Are they truly the faithful of the People of God? Are they truly Our friends? Do they want to help Us to preserve and spread the christian way in the life of today? What is their real attitude to the Church? A passive and unaware attitude, or an active and conscious one? Are they here for a merely casual visit, or rather to renew and reanimate their faith in Christ and their adherence to the Church? Are they here just as curious tourists, or as sons desirous to experience something of the secret power that makes them authentic followers of Christ, attentive to the teachings of the Gospel, even more, apostles? We believe the answer would be a favourable one.

"I ask not for what isyours, but for you"

If, for example, We were to tell you at some length what the Church thinks of you today, of each one of you, would you accept her judgment as a binding definition? We will limit Ourself to saying just this: The Church thinks of you as true Christians, called to that kind of love for Christ and for his Church which displays itself in action or, as it is commonly called today, in the apostolate. Are you ready, are you available, to profess this sort of love? For action, for the apostolate? The prospect of action, of the apostolate, is frightening to many. Who ever feels fit to act in the name of Christ? How many put themselves on the defensive when they are asked far some offering, something of theirs? What resistance would they put up if We were to repeat, with the Church, the words of St. Paul: "I ask not for what is yours, but for you." (2 Cor. 12, 14)?

It is understandable. — But take heed of this. It is St. Paul again who offers the solution of our perplexity in face of the call to the apostolate, that is to say to the function of the Christian as part and parcel of the community of the Church. He tells us of the diversity and multiplicity of ways whereby a Christian can cooperate towards the common good of Christ's cause, insisting always on the symbol of the body in which there are many members, their various individual functions different, the good of the body one alone, a body organised in its variety. (1 Cor. 12, 12ff.). Speaking of the laity, the Council takes up this teaching and, for clarity of instruction, simplifies it by declaring that there are two spheres in which their many-sided apostolate can be exercised, the one within the Church, the other outside. (cf. Ap act. 9-10). This elementary division is very important, because it allows for the development of the various aptitudes, according to temperament and preparation, which each can offer towards collaboration in the apostolate.

Need for Total, Sincere, Operative Dedication

And here, fixing now our attention on apostolic collaboration within the Church, We must note that this sphere is open to all, whilst the other, the external sphere, is not always available in practice for everyone. In fact each one of every age and condition can and should offer his or her contribution of active love for Christ and for the Church, willingly belong to one or more ofthe many forms of activity which foster the fervour, the spirituality, the efficacy, the structural organisation of the community duly united in the name of Christ, that is to say of the Church

It is above all important to make clear the community and organised character of the Church, not only her ideal and spiritual, but also her visible, concrete and, as they say nowadays, institutional character. Important, too, to give to this social Church, which reflects and perpetuates the mystery of the Incarnation (and which, being human, is not without its limitations and its defects), a duly faithful and heartfelt adherence. This is the primary apostolate. Let each one ask himself what is the degree of his own adherence—total or partial, sincere or ambiguous, loving or disparaging, operative or inactive, steady or intermittent, trustful or otherwise, and so on. And let him ask, too, whether he has an exact concept of that primeval expression of the christian community, namely the Parish, his own Parish: and whether he, as a good layman, does anything for this ecclesiastical organism, the basic authorised and responsible source of the Word of God and of the grace of Christ, be it no more than by his attachment, his attendance, his help.

The Apostolate of Youth

That is the second degree of the apostolate for which no one lacks ability and from which no one should withhold himself. If we were to succeed in giving to the parochial institution its plenitude of prayer and of charity, of organisation and of solidarity, of ecclesial awareness and of operation in benefaction and instruction, we should already have accomplished a great up-to-date and excellent apostolic work And here one sees how all can collaborate; and the surprising thing is that the little ones are the first togive the Parish its profound apostolic direction: the children who attend the schools for catechism and other subjects and have an oratory there— this magnificent institution of value in so many ways, pedagogic, recreational, religious, social—or who join particular associations and lend gladness to the community festivals, these too accomplish apostolic works of high quality and great merit.

The Apostolate of the Needy

What shall We say of the Poor, who give honour by their patience and who receive their humble fare from the Pastor? Do they not per chance give to the Church her apostolic halo of charity? What shall We say of the Sick who receive friendship and assistance form the Parish, of the Unemployed, of the needy in general who, putting their trust in this centre of charity (itself certainly unable to respond in adequate measure to all), provide in their way the best witness to the Church of Christ, the Church of the Poor?

The Apostolate of the Laity is Limitless

The theme of the Apostolate of the Laity would be unending if We were to make mention of all the organising facilities which the Catholic community has at its disposal, from the apostolate of prayer through to Catholic Action, particularly in the Associations of every kind, such as the Catholic Scouts, the parochial libraries, the St. Vincent de Paul Societies, the sports groups, and so forth. He who gives his time, his alms, his prayer and his heart to these manifold forms of good and approved activities accomplishes something most worthy of the apostolate. We should like to speak to you, too, of the Christian Family, conceived and organised as a community of christian love, of human and religious education, of moral and spiritual witness, in order to give it the highest praise,which it won from the Council, as focal point of the apostolate. (cf Apost .act. nn 11, 30, etc.). But it suffices here to have made mention of it in order to illustrate with irrefutable argument the simple thesiscontained in these words: We are all of us called today to the apostolate, you layfolk with special exhortation; and all of us, at least in some form or degree, can respond, must respond. To this end may you be assisted by Our Apostolic Blessing.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
23 May 1968, page 1

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