"A lay Catholic perspective"

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The Trustworthy Steward

by Neil MacDonald


T HE Decree On The Apostolate Of Lay People gives a deep impression of the high regard and expectations of the Second Vatican Council Fathers for the laity of our Church. If anything, we might be a little surprised at the Council's expectations of the 'person in the pew'. This is especially evident in the article dealing with "The Spirituality Of Lay People" (#4).

This section of the Decree first offered instruction for living a holy Christian life, reminding the faithful that the life we have is hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). We are therefore to rid ourselves of all spite, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and carping criticism (1 Pet 2:4). We are exhorted to do good to all, especially to our brothers in the faith. (Gal 6:10)

Lay spirituality will be determined by the lay person's state of life (married, single lay, religious, or priest), state of health, and from our professional and social activity. Regardless of our circumstances, we must cultivate the talents (personal gifts of the Holy Spirit) God has given us. We "should also hold in high esteem professional competence, family and civic sense, and the virtues related to social behaviour such as honesty, sense of justice, sincerity, courtesy, and moral courage; without them there is no true Christian life." The Council directs us to make our own the spirituality of the Church-approved associations to which we belong. We are not to ignore the spiritual life of these bodies but "adopt" it as much as possible for ourselves.

The Decree cited some very strong sayings of our Lord; passages that the laity were not used to hearing quoted in their regard. The laity are to "strive... to please God rather than men, always ready to abandon everything for Christ." The Council Bishops asked us to read Luke 14:26 — "If anyone comes to me without turning his back on his father and mother, his wife and his children, his brothers and sisters, indeed his very self, he cannot be my follower." We are to endure persecution in the cause of right (Mt 5:10) and to remember Jesus's saying, "If any man wants to come my way let him renounce self and take up his cross and follow me" (Mt 16:24).

Saint Paul's View of the Laity

The Council was simply following the earliest traditions of the Church in the Decree. Saint Paul, for example, understood the demands of the Gospel upon the people of God. He made this statement to the Corinthians — People should think of us as Christ's servants, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God. In such a matter, what is expected of stewards is that each one would be found trustworthy (1 Cor 4:1-2 NJB). Saint Paul was reminding a dissenting faction of the Corinthian Church that he was indeed an apostle entrusted with the mysteries of God. Repeatedly, Saint Paul used himself as a model of Christian maturity, a true image of the good steward. Saint Paul's reference to trustworthiness alluded to an Old Testament proverb (20:6), Many describe themselves as people of faithful love, but who can find someone really to be trusted? Some of the Corinthians certainly viewed themselves as people of faithful love. Paul asked them to produce some evidence of it. He could produce evidence; he contrasted in detail his constant sufferings with their comfortable lives (see 1 Cor 4:10-13; 9:19). Here was a witness to give even the harshest critic pause for reflection. In all his sufferings, Paul proved unwavering and reliable - completely trustworthy.

In a subsequent letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul explained the reason for his constancy in suffering. Jesus's own life could flow unobstructed and unobscured through such a vessel.

We hold this treasure in pots of earthenware, so that the immensity of the power is God's and not our own.... Always we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our body. Indeed, while we are still alive, we are continually being handed over to death, for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our mortal flesh. In us, then, death is at work; in you, life (2 Cor 4:7-12).

What Are the Conditions For Trustworthy Stewardship?

We need hearts of love, purity, obedience, and zeal. And as Christ's truth is in me, this boast of mine is not going to be silenced in the regions of Achaia. Why should it be? Because I do not love you? God knows that I do.... There is one thing that we are proud of, namely our conscientious conviction that we have always behaved towards everyone, and especially towards you, with that unalloyed holiness that comes from God.... I have worked with unsparing energy, for many nights without sleep... (2 Cor 1:12; 11:10,11,27). In fact, preaching the gospel gives me nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion and I should be in trouble if I failed to do it. If I did it on my own initiative I would deserve a reward; but if I do it under compulsion I am simply accepting a task entrusted to me (1 Cor 9:16,17). Especially noteworthy is the fact that Saint Paul expected the Corinthians to live the same level of dedication to Christ as he did. Take me as your pattern, just as I take Christ as mine (1 Cor 11:1). Could he be serious?

Very serious, indeed. He in fact complained to the Corinthians that he still needed to feed them milk instead of solid food. We must remember that it had been only about six years since he first preached the Gospel in Corinth, and he already expected them to be living mature Christian lives! Do our expectations for spiritual growth more resemble the Corinthians' than Paul's? Could it be that spiritual leadership will elude us until we undergo the same initiation that Saint Paul endured? If we desire to dispense mysteries as Paul did - and all members of Christ's mystical body have this call (see Eph 1:9) - we must be just as reliable in the work. Such by God's mercy is our ministry, and therefore we do not waver... (2 Cor 3:17-4:1).

Toward the Twenty-First Century

Our Holy Father, John Paul II, calls for a great preparation as the Jubilee Year 2000 draws near. His call is as much a prophecy as an appeal: the Church will be set on fire in the Third Millennium. There is no time for indifference during the few years left in this century. Now is the time to become good stewards of the mysteries. Saint Paul considered five years more than enough time to complete our initiation.

The Laity and Our Lady

The Council Fathers ended Article #4 of the Decree in the same way that marks many of John Paul II's encyclicals, by reminding us that the "perfect model of this apostolic spiritual life is the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles." Her life on earth was like any other; "always, however, she remained intimately united to her Son and cooperated in an entirely unique way in the Saviour's work.... Everyone should have a genuine devotion to her and entrust his life to her motherly care." By including the life and ministry of the laity in the life and work of our Blessed Mother, the Council expresses with finality the fundamental place, dignity, and purpose of the laity in the Church and in the world.