The Worldwide Apostolate of the Church

Author: Pope Paul VI


Pope Paul VI

In his illuminating address during the General Audience on Wednesday May 22nd the Holy Father continued his exhortation upon the various aspects of the apostolate, with special reference to the Apostolate of the Laity both within the Church and in the world at large.

Beloved Sons and Daughters,

We must speak to you again about the apostolate, that is to say about. the mission proper to the Church, and therefore to all who belong to the Church, with respect to the salvation of the world, of all men.

The Church, which is the means and the purpose of the apostolate, faces this problem as one of primary concern, especially after the teaching the Council has given to us as to the nature and mission of the Church, and it is one we cannot forget. Many Catholics still retain too individualistic a notion of their religion; the living Church reminds them not only of the community sense proper to the society of those who believe in and follow Christ, but also of the. character of the christian vocation and of the obligation to spread it abroad which result from their Baptism and from the share they have in the historical, social and dynamic life of the People of God.

Variety of Christian activities

We could still find much to say about the activity that each one must exercise within the ecclesial community: about the needs which it continually makes known, about the services it stands in need of to render its structure worthy, authentic and effective, about the multiple forms of action agreed upon within the bosom of the family of the faithful, about the duty it has to rejuvenate itself continually, whether by drawing upon its apostolic resources for new expressions of activity beneficial to personal salvation and that of others, or by seeking to avail itself of modern means for the effective spread of ideas and the formation of men's minds. All these would provide material for talking about the many apostolic activities that ever await those among the good sons of the Church who will put them into practical and effective operation. These activities are to be found, on the one hand, in the sphere of religious living, properly so called, as for instance in the teaching of religion, in spiritual. exercises and retreats, in the apostolate of suffering, in missionary propaganda, in liturgical action, in education with regard to the sacred chant. They are also to be found in other spheres, amongst them first of all in the catholic school, and then in the catholic press, in catholic literature and culture, in the hundred ways of assistance of care for the sick and of benefaction which charity offers, in christian art, in the social advancement of the underprivileged. Lastly they are to be found also in those areas that could be called non-religious, such as tourism, sports, shows, financial credit, and so on, were these not also become spiritualized and opportunities for the more or less direct service of God's kingdom, for the formation of souls, for charity—in a word, for the very life of the Church.

All this activity, which today rises to the dignity and merit of the apostolate, is usually classified, at least as regards its principal purpose, as internal to the Church herself.

But what of the external? Does Church citizenship mark the limits of apostolic activity, or does the Church's action extend beyond her own social perimeter? Is the Church an ecclesiastical religion, a privileged "ghetto", or is she universal, catholic in her design? There is no doubt as to the answer: The Church's action transcends her own established institutional boundaries; she must reach out to the whole society of man and must therefore give herself to an apostolate outside herself; all of us know that. The Church was not instituted for herself alone; she is not a closed society; Christ opened up to her all the pathways of the world. St. Paul stands as the apostle "of the Gentiles", who set the entire world as the object of the christian apostolate; and the Church of today, the Church of the Council explicitly and categorically, has not only defined herself as missionary but has proclaimed herself to be at the service of the world, of this our world to which we all belong and of whose lack of interest, withdrawal, indifference, hostility to the world of religion in general and to the christian and catholic world in particular we are all aware.

Paradox and drama of the Church

It may be that not all have averted to the paradoxical and dramatic aspect of the position taken by the Church in relation to the world at the very time when the latter declares, in word or in deed, that it has no need of her, on the contrary considers her to be all institution historically and culturally out-of-date and, what is more, obstructional and harmful. Laicism, that is to say, the aim to do without God, is the fashionable formula of today. The self-sufficiency of the world to resolve its own problems, to beget a humanism of its own, to provide its own equilibrium, its own morality, its own determination of man's destiny, is affirmed today in such secure and peremptory a fashion as to render paradoxical to it, not to say ineffectual and anachronistic, the insertion of the Church into the affairs of modern life. Hence come the various forms of radical opposition to the Church spread amongst the different nations, and particularly in the various sectors of thought and politics: The Church, it is said, has no place there. Atheism then proclaims itself the religious, the absolute (if one may say so) form of laicism. It is precisely in face of this state of affairs that the Church, with a courage that could be called ingenuous if it were not inspired, presents herself to the world, note well, as apostolic, that is to say as being determined in her aim to exercise her mission as "salt of the earth" and "light of the world" (Mth. 5, 14-15).

In the World but not of it

Beloved children, it is necessary to take heed of this militant, almost temerarious position in which the Church puts us all today. When she was confining her preaching to urging her children to separate themselves from the world, she made use of words that were upsetting (it is always so with the concept of christianity as a freeing from the exclusive enjoyment of the kingdom of this world), but they were, at bottom, easier to grasp. Now, however, integrating her preaching, she exhorts us, in accordance with the Gospel, to be in the world, apostolically, and at the same time not of the world (cf. Jn. 17, 15). That is more difficult, just as it is more difficult for a doctor to live amongst the sick, in order to cure them, without himself contracting their diseases, or for an administrator to handle money without undue appropriation of the same; more difficult, that is, for each one of us to be in the midst of our society, such as it is, full of seduction and often of corruption, showing love to it and serving it with dedication, without assimilating its mentality, its profanity, its immorality. Those in the pastoral apostolate are well aware of these basic norms in their contacts with secular life.

Laity versus laicism

But the laypeople, how are they to behave? This question would require not one answer but many different ones. Let us be content for the moment with one general preliminary observation: The Church of today, the Church of the Constitution "Gaudium et Spes", does not fear to recognise the "values" in the non-religious world, does not fear to reaffirm what Our predecessor Pius XII, of venerable memory, already openly recognised, namely a "legitimate wholesome secularity of the State" as "one of the principles of catholic teaching" (A.A.S. 1958, p. 220). Thus the Church today distinguishes between secularity, that is the proper sphere of things temporal which are regulated by their own principles and with a relative anonymity deriving from their intrinsic requirements—scientific, technical, administrative, political, etc.

—and laicism which We have described as the exclusion from human organisation of all moral references and those pertaining to humanity as a whole which postulate indefeasible relations with religion. For this reason, whilst the Church recognises in the laity, those who live in the secular sphere, that is to say without the offices pertaining to the religious ministry, the right to pursue freely and licitly their natural, non-religious activities; she does not abandon them at the point where these activities have repercussions in the conscience. That is to say that she does not leave them without providing the double light of principles and purpose which should direct and support human life as such; and it is the clear and docile regard for this double light that can turn secular life and the non-religious activities into something worthy of note and of imitation, that is to say into an apostolate which transpires, especially by, example, from the moral and spiritual way of life evident in the conduct of the catholic layman and which induces in him a constant effort to stamp his temporal activities with a dignity, a rectitude, an honesty, a sense of duty and service, with an orientation which endues his life, wordlessly as it were, with the light of a higher order of things that God would have even in the temporal sphere. The conscientious and faithful layman offers in this way his christian witness; his probity is his silent message; it is the service he renders to the temporal order and to the common good; it is his apostolate. The autonomy of the temporal sphere is removed from the competence of the Church ("Render to Caesar…"; you remember?); it is not, as it is said ironically, "clericalized"; but at the same time it is not removed from harmony with the higher complex requirements that belong to the integral vision of man and of his higher destiny.

The Christian contribution to the World

Discussion of these things is a delicate matter and an endless one; but today they are so much talked about that no one is wholly ignorant of the much vaunted distinction between the sacred and the profane. But many are not aware what balance, what interrelation, what mutual help can result from a reciprocal and considerate recognition by each other. They are not aware what restraint, what moderation, what respect for the liberty of each, and also what ardour for good, what providential help can be supplied by the catholic who, crossing the ecclesial confines, goes out into the world with intent to spread there the light of the kingdom of God

May that courageous christian, and all of you, be accompanied by Our Apostolic Blessing.

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

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