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Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius
The Call of Christians to the Apostolate
Conference by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The Call of Christians to the Lay Apostolate. The Call of Christ the King starts the second week of the Exercises. Dont fail to supplement the powerful talk you will now hear with a prayerful reading from recommended books. We should examine our conscience daily for faults and sin, go to confession frequently and make a general confession as soon as possible. To know Gods will for ones self, prayer that He will help us follow His will, must be more frequent and more fervent. Finally as you come to realize the great spiritual benefit the retreat is having for you, promote it to others. Properly presented it will be for them the key to eternal life. The prospects are many, the potential, tremendous.
Now Fr. John A. Hardon.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Queen of Apostles, pray for us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is our third conference on the Spiritual Exercises. It corresponds to the beginning of the second week of the Exercises introducing Christs public ministry and His preaching of the Gospel. While the title of our conference is The Call of Christians to the Apostolate, I would like to offer a subtitle, because I wish to concentrate on the laity. And consequently, to speak as passionately of the responsibility of the laity in the apostolate. Never in the history of Catholic Christianity has there been more emphasis on the responsibility of the laity in the apostolate. Even more specifically, never before, has been greater need for the laity to evangelize, especially in the apostolate of religious education. Everything in Christianity, everything depends on our faith. The faith must first be gained, then must grow and only then and in that proportion can we speak of Christianity growing and expanding, not only in numbers, but especially in depth of commitment. The reasons for the need of the laitys involvement in the apostolate are obvious. The widespread secularization of western society, the secularization of once flourishing Catholic schools on every level, elementary, secondary, and how well I know, university level. The breakdown of family life, with some American states permitting an individual to get a divorce without even reporting to the courts - by telephone or by mail. The United States is the most unstable nation in the whole world. We have the highest divorce rate of any country, the practice of contraception on a massive scale along with sterilization on a scale never before known since the dawn of Christianity. Notice, since the dawn of Christianity.
It is Christianity that changed the history of the human race. As a nation or a people depart from Christianity they become, in the plainest language at my disposal, they become paganized. In other words, they revert to their pre-Christian beginnings. The closing of Catholic schools, one religious community that I know so well, in one diocese, in one year, walking out of thirty-one parish schools informing the archbishop and cardinal, We no longer want to be the nursemaids for other peoples children. We go on.
Why is there such a desperate need, and I repeat, not just for the apostolate, but for the laity to become involved in the evangelization, because of the widespread secularization of some of the most flourishing Catholic religious institutes in the Church. Closed novitiates with few or no vocations. With religious men and women now living and behaving according to the standards that are often not even Christian. Not to say characteristic of a consecrated life, the devastation of the Catholic priesthood seen for example in now the widespread legal prosecution of clerical immorality, Dioceses that are having now what they call priestless parishes. And so the ( ? inaudible ) litany could go on. All of these factors have had a devastating effect on the Catholic faith and conduct of millions. Moreover, these factors point up the urgency of a large scale, whatever I will say during this period I assure you it is not just another conference, it is the expression of a deep, heartfelt, bleeding need. The need for the laity to become involved as theyve never been before in the history of the Church, in the whole span of apostolic endeavors. To restore the faith where its been lost, to bring back the millions who have bartered their Christian morality by conforming to the standards of the world. All of this is by way of introduction. This is my plan. My plan is to cover the following areas, to be exact, four.
Four Important Areas of the Lay Apostolate
First, the apostolate of every vocation, to follow Christ. Every vocation must be, if it is Christian, must be apostolic, must be. Secondly, the duties of the lay apostolate as spelled out for the first time in the Churchs history in canon law, never before. Thirdly, this comes in two parts, the apostolate of the family and the apostolate for the family. And fourth, the apostolate as a channel of divine grace.
We begin then, by addressing ourselves to the apostolate in every vocation to follow Christ. There is no such thing as a vocation that a Christian receives, it doesnt exist, unless within its essence is the call to the apostolate. Consequently, to repeat and reemphasize, our first area of reflection is to see that the apostolate belongs to the heart of every authentic vocation. As we approach our subject the first thing that comes to mind is that the pursuit of holiness is primary to every vocation. God would not call anyone to any state of life except, obviously, to call the individual to holiness and the life of sanctity. Lets be clear, we cannot over emphasize the importance of holiness in every state of life. However, the true Christian is not to become holy, and hear it and dont forget, no Christian is ever to become holy just for himself. Jesus Christ was the all holy Son of God, we wouldnt dare say that God became man to become more holy, that would be blasphemy. But we must say God became man in order that as man, He might proclaim the Gospel and leave the foundations of the apostolate. In other words, Christianity is not, as my notes tell me to say, it is not narcissistic, it is to remain Christianity. Christianity is not to be withdrawn into itself. It must have an outreach which it somehow serves beyond itself. If there is one thing Ive learned from my father in God, St. Ignatius, it is none of us, none of us, is meant just for ourselves alone. In other words, the very holiness that we are to attain is itself to be a means to a further purpose which is, to save and sanctify others.
How the Apostolate is Essential to Every Vocation
I would like to now focus on what I consider the four principle qualities of how the apostolate is essential to every vocation. In other words, every call from God to every state of life is always a call beyond oneself to reach out to others.
The first area is the meaning of vocation in general. In every broad perspective, we may say, the meaning of vocation and the special following of Christ, and its that special following of Christ which Im afraid many people dont realize were not merely to save our own souls, were not only to become holy in our own personal lives. We are to be means and I would add indispensable means, by which God, God sets down the condition, God wants to save and sanctify people through others. Let me be as clear as I can, we may say that God has a vocation for every believer in Christ. We could say, but wed be wrong in saying it, that every human being has a vocation. But then wed have to change the meaning of words. Wed be outside of the ambit of Christianity. The reason we have put it the way we did is that it is already a vocation to be called to be a Christian. Of the five and a half billion people in the world less than one billion are even nominally Christian. And lets say eight hundred million are professedly Catholic. Unfortunately, this primary substratum vocation, many people dont appreciate, dont even recognize. Whats that? The vocation to believe in Jesus Christ. Let me tell you the more you understand the non-Christian religious system the more you are spontaneously moved to gratitude to God for being called, called to Christianity. Because all that was necessary was that we be born in Tokyo or Bangkok or you name it. And through no fault of our own we could have been and likely would have been anything else but a Christian. God from all eternity planned, planned our primary vocation to Christianity, and within that vocation to Christianity, our vocation to the Catholic Church. Talk about a special grace to have been called to be a Christian and a Catholic. And if the madness going on in todays world does not wake us, us Catholics up, to the gift weve received I dont know what will. Consequently we assume that Christianity, and Catholic Christianity is already a vocation, indeed as weve been saying the primordial vocation. But then, within the scope of Catholic Christianity, what is a vocation? Every vocation of a Christian has certain features, especially for, and now I will identify what I consider the four basic qualities of every vocation, and were still by the way on part one of a four ply conference.
Every vocation is first of all selective. Of course within the scope of Christianity we should immediately say that everyone has a vocation, everyone has a call to a lifetime commitment. Some audiences I say this to look at each other, shake their heads, every Christian has a lifetime call to being committed to Jesus Christ. On this level evidently not everyone has the same kind of vocation. God must be selective. What language were using, with whom He calls to what vocation. Our parents had one vocation, thank God. When I misbehaved my mother told me, and my widowed mother, John, if you hadnt come along Id be a nun in a monastery today. Sorry mother. Our parents had one vocation, priests and religious have another. Some manage in a lifetime to cover a number of vocations, for example, St. Elizabeth Seton, was a remarkable woman. She was a single woman before she married, she married, she was widowed, and then she became a religious. Thats a lot of vocations for one lifetime. And that is extraordinary. First then, every vocation is selective. Secondly, every vocation is gratuitous. On the part of God, it is given as a grace. And part of the essence of grace is its gratuity. This means that God calls whom He wants, to what He wants, and no questions are to be asked of God. You only ask God, Lord, what do You want me to do? How do You want me to do it? You never ask God, why. He gives these vocations freely. A vocation is further gratuitous in that it is offered as an opportunity, in precise theological language, we do not receive a vocation to be saved, hear it and dont forget, we dont precisely receive a vocation to be saved, thats an obligation. Some spiritual writers, write as if a person who does not follow his/her special vocation endangers their salvation, at most, an unlikely probable opinion. It would not be just, because a person did not follow through on a given vocation. It would be through neglect of Gods grace or other reasons. Otherwise the whole theology of vocation would collapse. You cannot talk about vocation as you talk about it on the level of gratuity on Gods part and opportunity on ours. Vocation is a gift. It is something offered. And by definition, a gift may or may not be accepted. Admittedly the giver appreciates the acceptance of his gift. It is not as if the giver demanded it be taken. It would be a contradiction to oblige the recipient to accept the gift. Im stressing this side because, as we said before and we will take it up before the conference is over. The purpose of every vocation goes beyond not just the salvation but even beyond the sanctification of the individual. How beyond the sanctification of the individual? I am called, I am bidden, Im given the opportunity by God to cooperate with Him in sharing what He has so generously given me. As I hope we will see before this whole conference is over, behind this call to the apostolate is, generosity, and I mean generosity.
Third, every vocation within Christianity is purposeful. This is the key to further unlocking the relationship of the apostolate to vocation. God calls certain people to certain ways of life. Behind vocation is the idea of a lifes long calling so that when persons respond they give themselves in a lifelong commitment. So the idea of commitment is built into the idea of vocation and therefore its prominence in intention. God may for various reasons do things to alter a persons life, but as far as that person is concerned he/she must intend to make a total commitment which is lifelong. Thus theres a vocation to marriage and it better be lifelong. Theres a vocation to the priesthood and it better be lifelong. Theres a vocation to the religious life and it should be lifelong.
Fourth and finally, each vocation is distinctive. This corresponds to what we said in the beginning, it is selective as to persons, it is distinctive as to the way of life to which different people are called. Now behind the idea of distinctiveness is something which might not strike the eye, when we first see it. As we can now look back on 1900 years of vocationing, so to speak, in Gods thinking there are certain categories of distinctive ways of life. In other words, God calls certain people to certain ways of life and He prepares them for their vocation, hear it, from the moment they are conceived in their mothers womb. Consequently, when we speak of vocation, we imply always some kind of communitarian life to which the person is called, so that, hear it, other people in like manner will have a similar vocation. Otherwise theyd never get together. Built into vocation, as we shall see, built into the very essence of the apostolate is a togetherness. We need other people to work with us and we with them in order to extend the kingdom of Christ. And now, we go on.
Duties of the Lay Apostolate in Canon Law
The Duties of the Lay Apostolate in Canon Law, absolutely unique, for the first time in the Churchs history theres an extraordinary stress in Canon Law on the duties of the lay faithful to engage in the apostolate of Catholic education. And the moment we say it is part of Canon Law we are implying of course, how the Church recognizes this as a duty, as a duty binding here on the laity. In virtue of the two sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. Thus, Canon 210 spells out the duties of sanctity and the apostolate, in order that the laity by their sanctity might be effective in witnessing to and sanctifying others. Canon 211, unqualifyingly clear, for the laity are told, you have a duty under God to proclaim the Gospel. That Christs mandate before His ascension, Go therefore proclaim the Gospel to all nations, was given to the Apostles indeed, but through them to every one who ever since has been baptized and confirmed. Canon 216, spells out in a way never before found in the Churchs law, the rights, the rights of the laity to participate in the Churchs mission. And let me tell you, the clergy have yet to catch up with the Churchs latest Code of Canon Law. For the first time ever in two thousand years the Churchs law distinguishes, says of course, the laity may engage in the apostolate under the direct mandate of the hierarchy. But, not only the laity may and should engage in apostolic work with just, hear it, just the permission, the permission of the local ordinary to remain and exercise their apostolic work in a given diocese. And as a member of the Society of Jesus, the apostolic work that over the years Ive been encouraged by the Holy See to organize, I tell people, the highest hierarchy in the Church is the papacy. There is such a thing as being simply approved by the Bishop of Rome and the Holy See and you are thereby given canonical rights to engage in apostolic work as the laity. Finally, and crucially, Canon 217, how this needs to be said, the right under God that every baptized person, the right that he or she has from infancy to a sound, authentic, orthodox Catholic education. It is a grave duty therefore on the part of those who have authority in the Church to provide this kind of education. The Holy Father keeps pleading with the bishops to re-evangelize and re-Christianize their countries especially in the western world, in practice this means especially the laity. Why? Why the laity, because of their sheer numbers. Why the laity, because of their education. The United States is the most educated nation in human history. Why the laity, because of the phenomenal influence of the laity in modern society. Why the laity? And I can say this, and it has deepened and strengthened my faith immensely. The dedication of the laity to learn their faith, to deepen their grasp of Christs teaching and their zeal to spread the Gospel, Id say and I mean it, is a phenomenon that partakes of a miracle in modern times. Over the years, teaching at Notre Dame Catechetical Center in Arlington, Virginia, for some fourteen years most of my students, sixty, seventy students, over these years, most of them have been lay people. Getting masters degrees in catechetics so they in turn can share the faith with others. We go on.
The Apostolate of the Family
The Apostolate in the Family: The primary apostolate, which is the apostolic duty especially of parents, is to give their children a sound Catholic education. Given the times in which we live this duty is more demanding than ever before. Why more demanding? Because of the secularization of organized educational agencies, because of the political pressure for secular sex education, because of the anti-Catholic propaganda of the modern media, that is why so many parents are, and I say this necessarily, going into home schooling. Either in all subjects or at least in religious instruction. The religious instruction that parents, under God, are gravely obliged to give, let me be plainer, binding on the parents under mortal sin. They must, they must provide their children with a sound Catholic education. It is to be done in the family and I would add, its a lifetime responsibility. And just because the children, as we say, have grown up, or left home or married, you are still their parents dont you dare, dont you dare excuse yourselves. You still are responsible for the salvation and sanctification of your offspring. We are saying this apostolate in the family is a duty. It is primarily, of course, the duty of father and mother, and notice whom I place first, father and mother. It is also the responsibility of brothers and sisters, do you hear me. The older brothers, the older sisters, in fact all the children in the family because we teach not only verbally, we teach especially in the way we behave. It is also, somebody better say it, is a grave, grave obligation for the sponsors at Baptism, and I underline the word grave responsibility. It is correspondingly especially, if the duty is neglected, by the immediate family, the duty of other relatives, uncles and aunts and of dedicated lay people in a growing number of apostolic associations. Like the Legion of Mary, the Marian Ignatian Catechists, the Blue Army, the Servants of Fatima. Thats in the family. And now Id say its especially home schooling parents, especially if they have a larger number of children, they need help, but where, where do you begin to convince people especially those who think in terms of mazuma of money. Dear God, dear God, its the faith, its grace.
Apostolate for the Family
Now the Apostolate for the Family: Now the modern popes have been telling us, the family in western society is being dissolved by the militant forces of anti-Christianity and they are militant. And I didnt think Id say this, but I will, and these anti-Catholic militant forces have penetrated the Church, I know. And some in high places. In one once civilized country after another, the birth rate is dropping far below the survival rate. Radical feminism, sodomy, oh what a vocabulary the devil has, the gay movement, lesbianism, all of these are hedonistic, selfish, Christ-less atheisms, they will do everything in their power to change the very concept of the family. Go back to Karl Marx, Ive said this Im sure more than once, to you people, I began reading Marx at the age of fourteen. Marxism, politically, might just as well, politically, have been dissolved in Russia. Marxism has deeply, profoundly penetrated our country. Bedrock to Marxism is the claim that the family is the creation of those who want to have a patriarchal control of human beings, masculizing society. The Catholic Church alone, of any organized authority in the world, as the Cairo Conference made so palpably plain, the only authority worldwide still defending the existence, the rights, the freedom, the propagation of the family. And its you lay people, dear God, its you lay people, youre under God, called to proclaim Christ in a way and with a zeal that was never called upon before, because the forces of evil were never so demonically organized as they are in our day.
Apostolate as a Channel of Divine Grace
Our last reflection; the Apostolate as channeling of grace. Needless to say, the apostolate belongs to the supernatural order, of course it uses natural means, teaching, training, books, media. But the essence of the apostolate is for the apostle, and with emphasis, the lay apostle, to be a channel or vehicle of grace to other people. If you ask me to what other people, I would say to every person who enters your life. Here the law of supernatural reproductivity is fundamental. God uses believers to produce other believers. God uses prayerful people to reproduce other prayerful people. He uses chaste people to reproduce other chaste people, humble people to reproduce other humble people. And summarily, God uses heroic people to reproduce heroic people. The laity are indispensable in the apostolate of reproducing themselves in spirit in todays world.
I have a closing observation. I call it - to be an apostle of Christ, is to be a martyr for Christ. This meditation as we said, corresponds to the meditation of the Call of Christ the King in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. What is Christs call? It is nothing less than conquering the whole world for His heavenly Father. What are we to do? We, following the example of Jesus Christ, are to dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to walk, to walk the path that Jesus walked in carrying His cross. Because it is especially to carrying the cross with Christ, for Christ, and like Christ that we are to cooperate with Christ in His apostolate of saving and sanctifying the world. Amen.
Thank you for listening.
Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica
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