The Theology of the Laity
by John Saward
The sensus fidei
In addition to the grace to witness prophetically to Christ, the laity, with the rest of the Church, have been
given a supernatural 'sense of the faith' (sensus fidei):
The totality of the faithful, anointed by the Holy One (cf 1 John 2. 20
& 27), cannot err in believing. This characteristic of theirs is manifested by the
whole people's sense of faith, when "from bishops to the last of
the laity", they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals. By
this sense of faith, which is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, under the guidance
of the Sacred Magisterium and faithfully obedient (obseguens) to it, receives not the word of men, but, in truth,
the Word of God (LG 12; cf 35).
In other words, through the Holy Spirit of Truth, Christ our Lord has given the
whole body of believers a supernatural and infallible instinct of orthodoxy. Now this is a doctrine that is frequently
misinterpreted. For example, it is sometimes claimed that if a large number of the laity in theory or in practice
reject some aspect of the Church's teaching, the doctrine in question cannot be regarded as the sure truth of Jesus
Christ. Such a view contradicts the text we have just cited from Lumen Gentium. The sensus fedelium is a grace common to all
the faithful ('from the bishops to the last of the laity'), so there can be no opposition between the laity's sense of the faith and the authentic Magisterium
of the Church as exercised by the Pope and the bishops in communion with him. The individual believer participates
in the Church's sensus fidei only insofar as he is guided
by and faithfully obedient to the Magisterium. A layman who refuses to accept that guidance is manifesting not
his God-given sense of the faith hut the unformed state of his conscience and the incompleteness of his submission
to the Word of God. There have, of course, been occasions in the Church's history when the laity have shown greater
steadfastness in their fidelity to the Magisrerium than those to whom the exercise of that Magisterium has been
officially entrusted. As Cardinal Newman reminds us, after Nicaea, in the struggle against the Arian heresy, 'the Catholic people ... were the obstinate champions of Catholic truth, and the bishops
were not'. Bishops like Athanasius, Basil, the two Gregories, and Ambrose stood bravely
against the Arian establishment, but they were exceptions. 'The governing
body of the Church came short, and the governed were pre-eminent in faith, zeal, courage, and constancy' (The Orthodoxy of
the Body of the Faithful during the Supremacy of Arianism, ed. J. Coulson.,
The sense of faith cannot be determined statistically or sociologically. It is not 'public
opinion', current tendencies, the latest fashion in theology. As a distinguished German
theologian has written:
We are dealing here wIth the capacity to judge and to bear witness in those
who have faith, who open themselves to the reality of Christ and His Spirit, who Tive consciously in the community
of the Church, which is the Body of Christ and the place where the Spirit Is manifested In a unique way. People
with a private faith of their own, the representatives of a 'vague Christianity', those who are prepared to identify
themselves only partially with the Church, cannot make the sensus fidel a reality (Leo Scheffczyk, 'Sensus fidelium - Zeugnis in Kraft der Gemeinschaft', Internationale Katholische Zeitschrift 16 (1987),
The sense of faith is not the achievement of individuals but a corporate gift shared by the whole
Church. Just as it is the universal Church which is the primary believer, so it is the Una
Sancta as a whole to which, to whom, the sure instinct of orthodoxy is to be attributed.
It is because she is Christ's Bride and Body, in intimate union with her bridegroom and Head, animated by His Holy
Spirit of Truth that she cannot err in either believing or teaching. The individual believers who compose the Bride
enjoy the sense of faith only insofar as they live deep in their heart. The Virgin Mother of God, who goes before
us as our supreme model of faith, is the one who personally embodies the Church as Virgin Mother and Immaculate
Bride. It is, therefore, she too, with her never failing Yes, with her treasuring of the things of Jesus in her
heart, who most beautifully and clearly exemplifies the sense of faith.
The Kingly Mission of the Laity
According to Vatican II, the laity share in Christ's kingship, first of all, by their self-denial, by conquering,
by God's grace, the reign of sin in themselves, letting Christ the King rule in their hearts; and secondly by serving
Christ in their brethren, leading them, by patience and humility, to the King 'whom
to serve is to reign' (cf LG 36). For Pope John Paul in Familiaris
Consortio, the Christian family manifests its royal dignity by being 'a community at the service of man' (631), a service of life and love, a service of both the Church and society:
Just as Christ exercises his royal power by serving us, so also the Christian
finds the authentic meaning of his participation in the kingship of his Lord in sharing his spirit and practice
of service to man (FC 63).
The laity, like all the baptized, enjoy a royal freedom, the glorious liberty of the children
and heirs of God. To serve the Triune God is indeed perfect freedom. To share in the incarnate Son's obedience
to the Father is to be on fire with the Spirit who is freedom. The grace of Christ the King is a power of liberation
from the fetters of self-will, from the enslaving cravings of concupiscence. The truth of Christ, faithfully treasured
and infallibly taught by His one true Church, sets us free from error and unmeaning, from ideology and fantasy,
from the fads and fancies of worldly wisdom. If we let the grace of Christ take hold of us and change us, if we
say Yes to His Catholic truth in the Church, we reign with the King of Kings. For, as St Leo once asked, 'What is there more princely than the soul submitted to God?'.
The Universal Call to Holiness
According so the Second Vatican Council, every single member of the Church, whatever his state of life, is 'called to holiness' (cf
LG 39). The layman, as much as the cleric or religious, has the vocation to be a saint.
The God revealed in the Old and New Testaments is infinitely holy, a God of incandescent purity, a God who is wholly
other, transcending all earthly things. Now this holy God wants His people to be holy too: 'Be holy, for I am holy . . . you shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy' (Lev. 11. 44; 19. 2). He wants Israel
to reflect something of His 'wholly otherness'
by dedicating herself exclusively to Him. A 'holy nation' (cf Ex. 20. 3) is one that has 'no other gods', that lives in whole-hearted fidelity to the
covenant. In the New Testament the one, true, holy God is revealed as the Holy Trinity. The Father sends His consubstantial
Son, God as He is God, holy as He is holy, to assume human nature and, in and through that human nature, by His
Cross, Resurrection and sending of the Holy Spirit, to sanctify mankind. 'And
for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in the truth' (John 17. 19, Douai version). The universal call by the holy
Son of God who has become their brother: 'You, therefore, must be perfect,
as our heavenly Father is perfect' (Matt. 5.
48). Our Lord does not speak these words to the Twelve alone but to the whole multitude
listening to Him. Sanctity is for all.
In the Old Testament, as we have said, to be holy is to live in fidelity to the covenant. In both Old and New Testaments,
that covenant fidelity is compared to marriage. The very purpose of the Incarnation and saving work of the Son
of God is to wed humanity to Himself, to be in Himself, in His blood, the new and everlasting covenant, and so
to draw us into a holy life of communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit. As Lumen
Gentium teaches us:
Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is celebrated as
'alone holy', loved the Church as His Bride, giving Himself up for her, in order to sanctify her. (Cf Eph. 5. 25-26) He loined her to Himself as His
Body and crowned her with the gift of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God. Everyone, therefore, in the Church,
whether belonging to the hierarchy or cared for by it, Is called to sanctity
The members of the Church must be holy, for the Church is herself Christ's sanctified Bride.
The holy soul is the soul with the attitude of Christ's Bride, holy Church, an 'ecclesiastical
soul', as the Fathers put it. Being holy means letting oneself be loved by the Bridegroom,
surrendering oneself in love to Him who loved us and gave Himself up for us. It means identifying oneself with
the 'holy and immaculate' Church (cf Eph. 5. 27) in her devotion to her Lord and Head (cf LG 39). Such a statement would be mere poetry, a hopeless
abstraction, were the Church no more than an impersonal organisation. In fact, the Church is a person, a holy person
of flesh and blood. In Our Lady we find the perfect personal realisation of the Church as spotless Bride and Virgin
Mother. To be holy is to be the Church. To be holy is to be like Mary.
Holiness for All: the Witness of the 'New Movements'
One of the most encouraging signs of hope in the Church today is the commitment of so many of the 'new movements' to the sanctification of their lay members in
and through their daily life and work. it was certainly at the forefront of the apostolate of Monsignor Josemaria
Escriva de Balaguer, the founder of Opus Dei. He once
described the aim of the Work as follows:
To love and serve God there is no need to do anything strange or extraordinary.
Christ bids all men without exception to be perfect as His heavenly Father is perfect. Sanctity, for the vast majority
of men, implies sanctifying their work, sanctifying themselves in it, and sanctifying others through it. Thus they
can encounter God in the course of their daily lives.... Since the foundation of the Work In 1928, my teaching
has been that sanctity is not reserved for a privileged few. All the ways of the earth, every state of life, every
profession, every honest task can be divine (cited in S. Bernal, Mgr. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, p. 130).
Father Luigi Giussani, the founder of Communione e Liberazione, has shown how, through His canonized saints, God encourages us all to be holy, to see that a real Christian
life is possible:
Sanctity, or holiness, is not merely an "exception" within the Church....
[Canonized saints] were chosen to be examples that would teach all those who have been called, in greater depth,
what the nature of their relationship with the mystery ideally ought to be. Adrienne von Speyr has written in this
connection: "The saints demonstrate that Christianity is possible; it Is for this reason that they act as
guides on a road to the charity of God that would otherwise seem an impossible path." In the physiognomy of
the saints and in the path they have followed, we can discern, as If under a magnifying glass, the true features
of holiness and the necessary steps for travelling the path they have already taken (Morality,
Memory and Desire, p. 96).
Our own dear CRUX, too, places the 'pursuit of holiness in private and
public life' at the forefront of its aims. This is the goal of all our strivings, the
reason, ultimately, for our attendance at this conference. Why are we here? Surely, to help and encourage one another,
by God's grace, to grow in holiness, to follow Our Lord in His Church with ever greater fidelity and love.
Becoming What We Are
In his epistles St Paul regularly addresses the Christians to whom he writes as 'saints' (cf Eph. 1.1). At the same time he
urges them to live holy lives; they already are holy, and yet they must strive to become holy. They are saints
who are 'called to be saints' (cf Rom.1.7). The members of the Church in Corinth, having been
'sanctified in Christ Jesus', are 'called to be saints together with all
those who in every place call on the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours'
(1 Cor. 1. 2). How are we to understand this
paradox of a sanctification already accomplished yet still incomplete? In Baptism we are truly washed clean and
sanctified by the blood of the Lamb. The alienation we inherit from Adam is ended, living communion with the Trinity
established. We are made sharers in God's holy Trinitarian life as children of the Father, members of the Son,
temples of the Spirit. That is what we objectively, really, are by the grace of our baptism. 'See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are' (1 John 3. 1). The vocation of holiness
is the vocation to become what we are in baptism. Baptism plants in us a seed of holiness; the aim of our Christian
life of earth is to help that seed bear the rich and beautiful fruits of the Spirit (cf
Gal. 5. 22). As the Fathers of Vatican II say, we must, with the help of God, 'hold on to and perfect in [our] lives that sanctification which [we] have received from
God' (LG 40).
We cannot become what we are without costly struggle. When we were baptized, the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ
wholly and completely remitted the guilt of Original Sin. But the painful effects of Original Sin remain, especially
concupiscence, the disorderedness of our desires. As the Council of Trent teaches against Martin Luther, this 'tinder of sin', though it comes from sin and inclines to sin,
is not sin in the just; it becomes sin only when we consent to it with our will. It is not, as Luther thought,
a source of harm but rather a challenge to be resisted manfully by the grace of Jesus Christ (cf DS 1515). In other words, the Christian struggle begins at home,
on the doorstep of our souls.
The Way to Holiness is the Little Way
If the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ is to bear fruit in holiness, it must take hold and transfigure our whole
life and being, all our thoughts and words and deeds. Holiness does not consist in extraordinary or extravagant
deeds, but in childlike confidence in God, in humble charity, in glorifying the Trinity and serving our neighbour
in the ordinary small circumstances of daily life. The only way to holiness is the Little Way.
When I say 'the only way', I am not exaggerating,
for that is what Our Lord Himself teaches: 'Truly, I say to you, unless
you turn and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven' (Matt. 18. 3). As Pope Benedict XV said, spiritual childhood
is obligatory for all. In the teaching of St Therèse of Lisieux, the Little Way is little in two senses.
First, it is the way of spiritual infancy or childlikeness. It means trusting and abandoning ourselves in a childlike
way to our heavenly Father, giving up our proud pretensions and remembering our poverty and utter dependence on
[To remain a child] is to recognize one's nothingness, to expect everything
from the good God, as a little child expects everything from its father. (Derniers
Entretiens, p. 119).
The Little Way is not a psychological technique. It is a grace given us by Jesus. It is He who
is 'the elevator' that lifts us up to the Father.
After all, it was in littleness, as a little baby conceived by the Spirit in the womb of the Virgin, that the consubstantial
Son came to us from the Father. And in a certain way, in His human nature, in His meek and lowly Heart, Jesus always
remained little before the Father. It is not for nothing that St Thérèse calls herself: 'Sister Thérèse of the Holy Child Jesus and of the Holy Face' and sometimes 'of the Holy Child Jesus of the Holy Face'. She sees that from childhood to Gethsemane and Golgotha the incarnate Son seeks only to do the will
of the One he calls 'Abba'.
The second sense in which, according to Thérèse, the way to holiness must be a
Little Way is that it is a matter not of outwardly grand deeds for God, but of simple fidelity and love in the
little details of life, for these unspectacular duties of the present moment are a kind of sacrament, enshrining
the will of our loving provident Father.
So long as our actions, no matter how trivial, remain within the focus of
love, the Blessed Trinity . . . gives them a wonderful brilliance and beauty. When Jesus looks at us through the
little lens, which is to say Himself, He finds all our doings beautiful. But If we abandon the ineffable centre
of love, what does He see? A few straws . . . besmirched and worthless deeds (cited in Hans Urs Von Balthasar,
Thérèse of Lisieux.
The Story of a Mission, p. 183).
It is important not to sentimentalise the Little Way. It is not an uncatholic anti-intellectualism.
St Thérèse said in her final months: 'All I have ever sought
is the truth'. The Little Way is a sure path to the truth. To be like a child is to have
a mind and heart in touch with reality, unobstructed by the fantasies of worldly wisdom. Both Plato and Aristotle
thought the path to wisdom began with wonder. The mysteries of the Kingdom are fittingly revealed to mere babes
(cf Mart. 11. 25ff), because babes, unlike grown-ups
who think they know it all, are ready to receive the truth. The Little Way is not childishness. On the contrary,
it is the way to true fullness of Christ. In St Thérèse's case, while we remember her as a Little
Flower, we tend to forget her admiration of St Joan of Arc, her sense of the Christian life as a spiritual battle:
'Sanctity', she once said, 'has to be won at the point of the sword'. We forget too easily
the struggles and darkness of the last period of her life. There is no contradiction in this. Childlikeness concerns
our attitude, through Jesus, to the Father; to the world, Our Lord tells us, we must show mature, soldierly vigilance.
To the world we must be as wise as serpents; with God, as simple as doves (cf
Matt. 10. 160). There is no contradiction, no hypocrisy, in this. Once more, our model
is Jesus. In relation to the Father, we are lambs in the Lamb of God; in relation to the world and Satan, we are
lions in the Lion of Judah.
The Call to Holiness - the Call to Love
Holiness, the perfection to which Our Lord calls us, is perfection in charity, loving God above all things and
our neighbour because of God (cf LG 42). The
holy God is a God of love, the Trinitarian God whose innermost life is an eternal consubstantial communion. To
be holy is to participate in the holiness of the Trinity and thus in the Trinity's life of love. 'God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him' (I John 4. 16).
It is the whole man that is called to love. As Pope John Paul II teaches us in Familiaris
As an incarnate spirit, that is a soul which expresses Itself in a body informed
by an immortal spirit, man Is called to love in his unified totality. Love Includes the human body, and the body
Is made a sharer In spiritual love (FC 11).
Human beings are neither angels nor brute beasts, but creatures of flesh and blood and spirit
in a wonderful unity. It is in the wholeness of our humanity that God wants us to love. Now, according to divine
revelation, there are two ways in which the whole human person can respond to God's call to love: marriage, and
virginity or celibacy (cf FC 11).
In marriage man and woman give the whole of themselves in love to one another in a lifelong, indissoluble union,
and in so doing they dedicate their whole selves to God. As Father von Bahhasar says:
In the married state, the Christian, by his sacramental 'Yes', gives his body
and soul to his spouse - but always In God, out of belief in God, and with confidence In God's bountiful fidelity,
which will not deny this gift of self the promised physical and spiritual fruit (The Christian State of Life, p.238).
The celibate person, renouncing sexuality for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, devotes his
whole being, body and soul, with an undivided love, to God. These two ways of Christian loving, the married and
the celibate, are not in tension with each other; on the contrary, they are mutually protective. It is only because
the Church regards marriage as so great that she regards its renunciation as something greater (cf Trent, Session 24, Canon 10; DS 1810). In the words of our
Virginity or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God not only does not
contradict the dignity of marriage but presupposes it and confirms It ... When marriage is not esteemed, neither
can consecrated virginity or celibacy exist; when human sexuality is not regarded as a great value given by the
Creator, the renunciation of it for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven loses its meaning (FC
It is no wonder, then, that the Church which has never failed to treasure celibacy is now, in
the modern world, the sole defender of Christian marriage and family life. Both celibacy and marriage are consecrated
under vow. This is because they are the two Christian ways of responding in love to the God of love. According
to Father von Balthasar, 'every true love has the inner form of a vow' (The Christian State of Life, p. 39). The one who loves wants to devote himself totally, body and soul, to his beloved. On the Cross the incarnate
Son gave up His All in love for the Father and the Church, His Bride. Christian vows, first of Baptism, then of
Marriage or Celibacy, are all ways of responding to that devoted love.
Love and Obedience
Love of God is incarnate as obedience to God. This truth, fundamental to the Gospel of St John, indeed to the whole
New Testament, has been beautifully developed in our own times by Father Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne von
Speyr. Their treatment of obedience is Trinitarian, Christological, Marian, and ecclesiological. In the eternal
life of the Trinity the co-equal Son loves the Father in the Holy Spirit. When the Son assumes human nature, including
a human will, He expresses His love for the Father, both divine and human, in the form of obedience unto death,
even death on the cross: 'I do as the Father has commanded me, so that
the world may know that I love the Father' (John
14. 31). Moreover, just as in the inner life of the Godhead the Holy Spirit is the mutual
love of Father and Son, so it is under the impulse of the Spirit, whose grace fills His human heart, that the incarnate
Son obeys the Father. According to Adrienne von Speyr, for the Son as man, the Spirit is the 'Rule' of the Father (by analogy with the rule of a religious order).
Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Church and all her members are taken into the loving exchange of Father
and Son. Once again, this takes the practical form of obedience. 'If a
man loves me,' says Jesus, 'he will keep my
word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him'
(John 14. 23).
The way of holiness is the way of charity and thus of obedience, seeking and doing God's holy will. 'Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord" shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but
he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven' (Matt.
7. 21). The supreme example of this loving obedience to Jesus and His Father is Our Lady.
When Our Lord says that 'whoever does the will of my Father in Heaven
is my brother and sister and mother' (Mark 3.
35), He reveals to us the heart, the immaculate heart, we might say, of Our Lady's divine
Motherhood: for she conceived the divine Word in her soul, by faith and loving obedience, before conceiving Him
in her body. By the grace that fills her from her conception, the Blessed Virgin is the first human person to share
in the obedience of the Son. This is what we mean when we say that she is 'first
Church' (cf J. Ratzinger & Hans Urs von
Balthasar, Maria-Kirche im Ursprung). She is the first to live in the relation-
ship to the Son, and thus to the Father and to the Holy Spirit, to which the whole Church is predestined.
There is a beautiful circle of grace connecting the obedience of Jesus and Mary. Historically, Our Lady's fiat precedes the obedience of Jesus, for it is she who gives Him His human
nature, including the human will with which He does the Father's will. But the fiat of Mary at the Annunciation, while truly hers, is also truly the achievement of God in her, the flowering
of the grace that has filled her from her conception, the grace which is the redeeming grace of her Son, the grace
flowing from His Cross and thus from His obedience to the Father. The Yes of Mary makes possible the Yes of Jesus, but
it is also true that the Yes of Jesus makes possible
the Yes of Mary. Mary's obedience is an anticipated participation
in the obedience of the Son.
To love God means to say Yes to Him, wholeheartedly and
without reserve, and such obedience is the only way to holiness. This is the unanimous teaching of all the saints
and spiritual masters of Catholic Tradition.
The highest perfection (says St Teresa of Avila) consists not in interior
favours or in great raptures or in visions or in the spirit of prophecy, but in the bringing of our wills so closely
into conformity with the will of God that, as soon as we realise He wills anything, we desire it ourselves with
all our might, and take the bitter with the sweet, knowing that to be His Majesty's will (Foundations,
'Little Teresa', St Thérèse of Lisieux, expresses the same truth with typical simplicity:
'Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be'. And how is God's will disclosed to us? In the law and the prophets, in the Ten Commandments, but above
all in the teaching of God incarnate, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the teaching faithfully guarded and infallibly
proclaimed by the Church He built on Peter. In addition, there is the natural law, the law written in our hearts,
whose voice is conscience. Of this too the Magisterium of the Church is the God-appointed interpreter, as Vatican
II clearly teaches:
The Church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of the truth. It is her
duty to give utterance to, and authoritatively to teach, the Truth which is Christ Himself, and also to declare
and confirm by her authority those principles of the moral order which have their origin in human nature itself
Love of God is incarnate as obedience to God, but obedience to God is incarnate in ecclesial
obedience, following the Church's teaching in its fullness and faithfully observing the duties of our state of
life. The religious lives out his obedience to God through fidelity to the rule of his order; the priest through
that obedience to his bishop which he promised at his ordination; the layman through fulfilling the responsibilities
of family, professional and social life. Finally, every Christian, with the help of the Church's teaching, strives
to discern and to do God's will as manifested, through His Providence, in the concrete circumstances of daily existence.
To quote the Council:
All of Christ's faithful will day by day grow in holiness in and through all
the conditions, duties, and circumstances of their lives If they accept everything in faith from the hand of the
heavenly Father and co-operate with the divine will by showing everyone, through this earthly service, the charity
with which God loved the world (LG 41).
The Call to Holiness is a Call to the Cross
We are made holy by the blood of the Lamb, by the Sacrifice He offered to the Father on the Cross (cf Heb.10. 10). If we are to be holy, to hold onto and to be
transformed by the grace of our crucified Head, the grace first given us in our Baptism, then we must enter ever
more deeply into His Sacrifice, the Sacrifice He gives us to offer in an unbloody and sacramental way, through
the ministry of priests, in the Mass. The attitude of holiness is the attitude of the crucified Son; arms outstretched
in total openness to the Father and all-embracing love of sinners; an attitude of adoration, confession, thanksgiving,
supplication; the attitude of wholehearted self-giving love. The only way to sanctifying union with the Father
is Jesus and His Cross. No one has set this out more clearly than St John of the Cross. In the Ascent of Mount Carmel he shows us how Our Lord reconciled the human race
to God at the moment of His own extreme desolation and abandonment by the Father. The journey to union with God,
he concludes, 'does not consist in recreations, experiences, and spiritual
feelings, but in the living, sensory and spiritual, exterior and interior death of the cross.'
(2, 7. 11). The Cross is truly the crux of holiness, the heart of the matter. Day by day, in the pains and trials
of life, we have the opportunity to shoulder our own crosses in loving imitation of Our Lord, to the glory of the
Father and for our own and others' sanctification. We should thank God that our movement places the faithful Cross
before our eyes, even in its very name.
Holiness and Love of Neighbour
Christian perfection is perfection in charity, love of God, and of neighbour because of God. Our Lord commands
us to love one another, as He loved us (cf John 15.
12). And St John tells us that since God loved
us so much that He gave His only Son to be the expiation for our sins, we ought to love another (cf John 4. l0f). It is the Incarnation, the hypostatic union
of divinity and humanity in the person of the Word, that unites love of God and love of neighbour. In becoming
man, God the Son has in a very real sense united every human being to Himself (cf
GS 22); He has made Himself the Head and Elder Brother of every human being. He has made
our humanity, my neighbour's and mine, His very own. So to close my heart against my neighbour is to turn away
from Jesus. And conversely to love and serve my neighbour is to love and serve Jesus. As the Lord Himself teaches
us, 'Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you
have done it to me' (cf Matt. 25. 40). Mother Teresa of Calcutta has on many occasions pointed to the link between the contemplative adoration
of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, which begins her sisters' day, and the love of Jesus in the poor which occupies
all their other hours. Listen to her own words:
Tell them ... tell them that we are not here for the work, we are here for
Jesus. All we do is for Him ... We serve Jesus in the poor. We nurse Him, feed Him, clothe Him, visit Him, comfort
Him in the poor, the abandoned, the sick, the orphans, the dying. But all we do, in our prayer, our work, our suffering
is for Jesus. Our life has no other reason or motivation. . . . Whenever a visitor comes to this house, I take
him to the chapel to pray for a while. I tell him: "Let us first greet the Master of the house. Jesus is here;
it is for Him we work, to Him we devote ourselves. He gives us the strength to carry on this life and to do so
with happiness. Without Him we could not do what we do ... Jesus explains our life . . . We do it for Jesus"
(E. Le Joly, We Do It for Jesus, p. 12f).
Father von Balthasar has said this of Mother Teresa:
What never occurred to Indian wisdom in all its sublimity - to gather up the
dying from the streets of Calcutta - has been accomplished by the foolishness of Mother Teresa, who has thus "enlightened"
all the holy gurus as to how and why Christianity is a human religion, (New Elucidations, p. 86).
Our love of Jesus, like our faith in Jesus, must be Catholic, whole, total. We must love Jesus
in His divine and human wholeness, in His every state, wherever He is to be found: in the bosom of the Father,
in Mary and the saints, in the Eucharist (where He is really, truly, substantially present in a unique sacramental
way), in the Church His Body, in the Pope His Vicar, in bishops and priests, in our neighbour. in the sick, the
poor and the hungry, in the unborn child, in the last, the lost, the little, and the least. This is the layman's,
every Christian's vocation - to do it all, to love all, for Jesus. He can have no finer watchword that the title
of Father Faber's great hymn, 'All for Jesus'.
The Formation of the Laity: The Recommendations of the Council
In the sixth chapter of their Decree on the Lay Apostolate, the Fathers of Vatican II say that the laity must receive
suitable training for their mission in the Church and the world. This formation should be realistic, reflecting
the distinctively secular character of the layman (cf AA 29). It is intended to prepare laymen, not priests or monks, for their witness to Christ in the world. Since
laymen are specially charged with the renewal of the temporal order, they should be 'instructed
in the true meaning and value of temporal things, both in themselves and in their relation to the total fulfilment
of the human person' (AA 31).
Both the Fathers of Vatican II and the bishops at the 1987 synod use the word 'integral' to describe the formation they recommend: the lay apostolate can only be effective 'through manifold and integral formation' (AA 28); the 'integral spiritual
formation of all the faithful, lay, religious and clergy, should be a pastoral priority today'
(Synod Message). There should be a wholeness
about the formation given the laity; it should be Catholic in the most fundamental sense of the word, It should
present the faith of the Church as a beautiful Christ-revealed whole. The laity have the right to receive from
their pastors the teaching of the Church on faith and morals in its undiminished richness and integrity. The formation
of the laity should also be integral in the sense of embracing both spirituality and doctrine (cf AA 29), overcoming what Father von Balthasar has called the most
tragic divorce in the history of the Church, the separation of theology and spirituality. The layman should be
helped to see that holiness is nothing other than dogma lived, living the orthodox Catholic truth cf Christ in
faith, hope, and charity.
According to Apostolicam Actuositatem, lay formation
should also be integral in the way that it takes account of the God-created unity and integrity of human nature.
It should educate the whole person. It should strive to overcome any dualism of theory and practice. Citing the
teaching of Pope Pius XII, the Fathers recommend that, from the very beginning, 'the
laity should gradually and prudently learn how to view, judge and do all things in the light of faith as well as
to develop and improve themselves and others through action, thereby entering into the energetic service of the
Church' (AA 29). Formation
for the lay apostolate should be promoted within the Catholic family by parents, in parishes by priests, in Catholic
schools and colleges by teachers. It is also very much the business of lay groups and associations:
Frequently these groups are the ordinary vehicle of harmonious formation for
the apostolate since they provide doctrinal, spiritual and practical formation. Their members meet in small groups
with their associates or friends, examine the methods and results of their apostolic activity, and measure their
daily way of life against the gospel (AA 30).
CRUX and the Formation of the Laity
CRUX includes formation for the lay apostolate among its fundamental aims and objectives.
in general, it helps a member by providing him with a spiritual way of life
suitable for his special vocation; assisting him to train himself through its meetings, publications and training
sessions; and encouraging him by welcoming him into a community of Catholics who share the same views and aspirations.
The Gospel Enquiry, which has a central place at the Cell Meeting, is aimed at deepening the
members' knowledge. understanding and love of Our Lord, thereby helping them to do what Apostolicam
Actuositatem recommends - measuring their lives against His Gospel. The method of
the enquiry is, again, precisely what is outlined by the Council Fathers: 'seeing,
judging, acting' (CRUX);
'viewing, judging, doing' (AA). The lay apostle contemplates and then translates his contemplation
into action. He looks on Our Lord with the eyes of faith and love and then, with due judgement and the help of
grace, 'thinking with the Church', he tries
to co-operate with the work of the Redeemer in the world.
The perfect example of this type of spiritual and apostolic life is the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles.
While leading on earth a life common to all men, one filled with family concerns and iabours, she was always intimately
united with her Son and cooperated in the work of the Saviour in a manner altogether special. Now that she has
been taken up into heaven, 'with her maternal charity she cares for these
brothers of her Son, who are still on their earthly pilgrimage and are surrounded by dangers and difficulties,
until they are led into their blessed fatherland' (LG
62). All should devoutly venerate her arid commend their life and apostolate to her motherly
concern (AA 4).
Our Lady is the model for the layman, for every believer, in all that is universal and therefore most fundamental
in the Christian life: faith, charity, and union with Christ (cf LG 63). if we want to know what it means to witness to Christ and live a holy life in the world, then we should
turn to Mary. Her Yes - to the Incarnation of her Son in her womb by the Holy Spirit, to the mysterious challenge
of His ministry, to His Sacrifice for the sins of the whole world on Calvary - is the fundamental attitude of all
Christian faith and prayer and active service of God and neighbour. During the 1987 Synod on the Laity the Holy
Father led a Marian prayer vigil in which he spoke as follows about what Our Lady can teach the layman:
Mary not only goes before us in that total "Yes" to God, but she also teaches us to make that
Yes our own in the circumstances
in which each one of us is called to live (L'Osservatore
Romano (1987), n. 41, p. 18).
It is a woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, not a man, who is the supreme example of what it is to
believe in Christ and surrender oneself to Him. Only in the light of Mary can we understand why the necessary maleness
of the ministerial priesthood does not in any way imply the inferiority of the Christian laywoman. The impossibility
of women's ordination derives from the incomparable dignity of woman in the sexual order of God's creation and
the supernatural order of redemption and the Church. The apostles and bishops and priests who share their ministry
are not Christ; by ordination, through natural resemblance, these weak and sometimes foolish men are mere icons,
sacramental signs, of the Bridegroom-Priest. For the sake of their brethren, the office bearers simply 'represent' the Son made man and male. The Blessed Virgin is
and does something far greater. She is not a priest as the Apostles are, for she does not represent someone else:
she is the Mother Of God, the one who in faith and love gave flesh and blood to God the Son, and she is the Church,
the Church's personal embodiment as immaculate Bride, femininely open and receptive to the divine Bridegroom. The
Church as a whole is feminine, open to receive
the life and truth of her Head; the male hierarchy, by contrast, is only one part, with the humble vocation to
serve the feminine Marian whole. As Father Manfred Hauke has said in a book described by the late Father von Balthasar
as 'the definitive work' on women and the priesthood:
in the figure of Mary, it is quite clearly manifest that the clergy do not
constitute the real essence of the Church but only represent Christ's redemptive work within a more comprehensive
whole that is Marian in character. An official priest has no claim to a higher kind of Christian being but bears
a specific sort of responsibility. This is related to, and supported by, the priesthood of all believers, which
is reflected especially in the tasks that fall to women (Women in the Priesthood,
Consider the typical icon of Pentecost. There is no denying the importance of the necessarily
male office-bearers (Peter is there with his keys). But there is also no doubt who is the heart and centre of the
Spirit-filled apostolic Church: the praying Mother of God.
Mary our Mother
The layman, by his baptism, is an adopted child of God the Father, a son in the Son. But that is not all: he is
also a child of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The incarnate Son has shared His All with us - He has given us the power
to be the children of His heavenly Father and from the Cross He gave us his human Mother to be our Mother in the
order of grace. Was it not sufficient for the incarnate Son to make us the children of God? Why did He share His
Mother with us too? What difference does Our Lady's spiritual motherhood make to us? Father Louis Bouyer has argued
that Christians who accept that they are adopted sons of the Father but spurn the very thought of being children
of Mary are guilty of a kind of Docetism, a dehumanised Christianity.
If, in this new and, in a sense, divine life, we did not come from a human
Mother, our new birth would do violence to our nature. it would not be a fulfilment but a supernatural mutilation.
Divinized by grace, a humanity . . . with a relation to the Father in heaven but without a relation to the Mother
on earth would be inhuman . . . There is a Docetism in regard to ourselves, to our new life as children of God.
We are bound to succumb to it if we fail to acknowledge that Mary is our Mother in the life of grace, the life
of grace, the life which is but the expansion in us of her Son's. The attitude of the Christian who imagines that,
at the level of grace, it is sufficient to have a heavenly Father, and unnecessary to have an earthly Mother, is
highly equivocal. Is he not supposing that Christian life and ordinary life have to remain on different levels,
with nothing in common? it is hard to think of an idler fancy. There is no Christian life which is other than ordinary
life, but it is this life placed under the immediate governance of God, without, for all that, being in the least
severed from its roots in history (L. Bouyer, Le
Trône de la Sagesse, p. 239f).
Since the grace of the Word made flesh fulfils and does not destroy human nature, it is supremely
fitting that we who, by nature, have both mothers and fathers should have both divine Father and human Mother in
the supernatural order. Of course, Mary's Motherhood in the order of grace (cf
LG 61), though supremely fitting, is not to be explained by any kind of necessity; it
depends, as Lumen Gentium says, on 'the disposition of God' (LG
60). Mary's mothering of us is the Trinity's free gift: eternally willed by God the Father,
entrusted to us in time by the crucified Son, lived out in the Church in the power of the Spirit.
In Redemptoris Mater the Holy Father has given us rich
teaching on Mary's spiritual
Motherhood. It began on earth in her co-operative consent to the Incarnation and Sacrifice of her Son, through
which we are given rebirth as children of God:
Already on earth she co-operated in the rebirth and development of the Church's
sons and daughters, as the Mother of that Son whom the Father "placed as the first-born among my brethren"
(RM 44; cf LG 63).
And, from Heaven, where she reigns in glory of body and soul, Our Lady, by her intercession,
continues to embrace us with her motherly love:
For, taken up to Heaven, she did not lay aside this saving role, but by
her manifold acts of intercession continues to win for us gifts of eternal salvation . . . Mary's motherhood continues
unceasingly In the Church as the mediation which intercedes (RM 40).
All life, all holiness, comes to us from the Father, by the working of the Spirit,
through the glorified humanity of the Son, and so passes through the prayers and the love of His and our Mother.
Just as the divine Head was conceived in the flesh 'by the Holy Spirit
and from the Virgin Mary', so His members are reborn as sons of God through the power
of the Spirit and the prayers of Mary. Such is His will, says St Bernard, 'who
wanted us to have all things through Mary.'
But what is the relation between the believer's sonship of God and his sonship of Mary? Our Lord shared His Mother
with us because He wants us to receive the Kingdom like children. He wants us to go to Him and the Father in the
way He came to us from the Father - little and lowly and in the arms of Mary. The experience of receiving the grace
of Christ from the hands and love of His human Mother helps us to be more humbly childlike in our approach to Him
and His divine Father. For the Mother is herself the supreme example of that humility and childlikeness. To go
to Jesus through Mary is the 'Little Way'.
It is a regular and significant feature of Marian apparitions that the seers emphasize Our Lady's youthful appearance.
In the fourteenth century the English mystic, Lady Julian of Norwich, saw her 'as
a simple maiden and meek: young of age, little more than a child'. St Bernadette, too,
stressed the childlikeness of the Beautiful Lady. This can be interpreted in a number of ways. It is, for example,
in harmony with the fact that Our Lady probably bore her divine Child in her mid-teens. It may be that it teaches
us something about the eternal freshness of the glorified body. Or perhaps it is that Our Lady's physical youthfulness,
as revealed to St Bernadette and the others, is an outward and visible sign of her inward and spiritual disposition
of perfect childlike humility, trust, and self-surrender.
The eternal Son of the Father became true and perfect man in the Virgin's womb in order, by His cross and Resurrection,
to make all things new, to rejuvenate a world grown old and grey in sin, Our Lady, by anticipation, in the Immaculate
Conception, was the first to receive the rejuvenating grace of her Son; for from the first moment of her existence
in the womb of St Anne, she was engraced as beloved adopted daughter of the Father and temple of the Holy Spirit,
the grace that made possible the childlike quality of her faith. By the grace that has filled her from the beginning,
the Blessed Virgin's assent to God's will is free of the tired old cynicism, the mouldering mistrust, of the sinner.
It is a Yes that is inextinguishably young. What I am
trying to say has been expressed with incomparable beauty by the great French novelist Georges Bernanos in his
Diary of a Country Priest:
The eyes of Our Lady are the only real child eyes that have ever been raised
to our shame and sorrow. Yes, lad, to pray to her as you should you must feel those eyes of hers upon you: they
are not indulgent, for there is no indulgence without something of bitter experience - they are eyes of gentle
pity, wondering sadness, and with something more in them, never yet known or expressed, something which makes her
younger than sin, younger than the race from which she sprang, and though a Mother, by grace Mother of all grace,
our little youngest sister.
What is the relevance of these reflections about Mary and spiritual childhood to the vocation
of the layman? The answer is simple. We have said that the layman, no less than the priest or religious, is called
to holiness, and that the way to holiness is the Little Way. We are called to be holy, not through extravagant
gestures, but by childlike fidelity and love in the fulfilment of the duties of our state. Mary, lowly Handmaid
of the Lord, is the most beautiful and perfect example of this Little Way of holiness in the world. Listen to these
two stanzas from a poem by St Thérèse written at the end of her life. It is called 'Why I love you,
Mary'. In it the Little Flower shows that Our Lady's Immaculate Conception, far from making her remote and unattainable,
brings her into the closest solidarity with us as model and Mother, for it is sin, not grace, which isolates us
from one another. After God, no one is nearer to us, no one more accessible, than Mary full of grace. What is more,
says Thérèse, Mary's immaculate all-holiness is lived out, not in outlandish experiences, but in
the humble human homeliness of Nazareth.
You make me feel it's not impossible
To follow in your footsteps, O Queen of the Elect,
The narrow way to Heaven you have made visible.
Close to you, Mary, I like to stay small,
I see the vanity of woridiy grandeur.
When St Elizabeth receives a visit from you,
I learn to practise ardent charity.
In Nazareth, Mother full of grace, I know
You live in great poverty, wanting nothing more.
No raptures, no miracles, no ecstasies
Adorn your life, O Queen of Elect!
The number of little ones of earth is very great.
They can raise their eyes to you without trembling.
it is the common path, incomparable Mother,
You are pleased to tread so you can guide them to Heaven.
As our Mother, 'la petite Marie' shares
her littlenes with us. Her prayer in Heaven is that we should be conformed to the littleness of her Son, from whom
the grace of her
own spiritual littleness flows. In another poem by St Thérèse, the Queen of Heaven addresses Sister
Marie of the Holy Face:
I am looking for a chIld
Like Jesus, my only Iamb,
So I can keep the two of them together
in a single cradle
In her final agonised months, plunged into the darkness of the Cross, Thérèse clung
to Mary like a little helpless child, calling upon her, as she had done since Our Lady first smiled on her, 'Maman', 'Mummy'. It was in the arms of her Mother Mary, in the heart of her Mother the Church, that she made the final
gift of herself, in union with Jesus, to the Father. In her writings, but also in the way she lived and died, the
Little Flower of Lisieux has bequeathed the Church precious testimony to the place of the Mother of God in the
life and apostolate of every Christian. Though herself an enclosed religious, she is an example for us all.
In the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, God has given the Church an invaluable instrument for the spiritual
and apostolic formation of the layman. During the 1987 Synod on the Laity, the Holy Father made the point as follows:
The mystery of Mary is rich In possibilities that make for an understanding
of the lay charism . . . In the Rosary even the most lowly and humble son or daughter of the People of God can
find the fullness of his or her baptismal vocation, his or her prophetic, priestly and kingly role, and finds in
and through Mary an extraordinary capacity to approach the heart of Christ and of the Father . . . The Rosary,
thanks to Mary, brings the saving mysteries of Christ to shine on all the circumstances and difficulties of our
daily life and transforms it all, raises it up and purifies it.
To pray the Rosary is to look in love on Jesus and the mysteries of His life, to look at Him
from the perspective of His Mother, to go to Him through His Mother. The Rosary - Christ-centred, Trinitarian,
Marian prayer - helps to draw the believer, priest, religious or lay, into the attitude of Mary to Jesus, and of
Jesus to the Father. Like Mary and with her help 'now and at the hour
of our death', we ask to share in the obedience of the Son: 'Thy will be done'. And so we learn to make an offering of our lives to
the glory of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end
AA Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity: Apostolicam
Acsuosuatem; Vatican II
AG Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity: Ad Gentes;
CIC Codex luris Canonici
DH Declaration on Religious Freedom: Dignitatis Humanae; Vatican II
DS Denzinger-Schoenmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum; 1976
FC Familiaris Consortio; Pope John
GS Pastoral Consitution on the Church in the Moden World
Gaudium et Spes: Vatican II
LG Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium; Vatican II
OT Old Testament
PO Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests; Presbyterorum Ordinis; Vatican II
RM Redemptoris Mater; Pope John Paul
ST Summa Theologiae, St Thomas Aquinas
All quotations applied to CRUX and not attributed to any other source, are taken from the CRUX booklet describing
the movement and its aims and methods. Quotations from the documents are either the author's own or an adaptation
versions of W M Abbott SJ and A Flannery OP.
Copyright © John Saward, 1994 and 2001
The author, John Saward, was a clergyman in the Church of England. He
and his wife, and eventually their three children, all became Catholics. Formely on the staff at St Cuthbert's
College, Ushaw, England for several years he then became Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Saint Charles Borromeo
Seminary in Pennsylvania, U.S.A. Since 1998 he has been Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the International Theological
Institute (a Papal institute of graduate theology in Gaming, Austria) The above article is a slightly revised version
of a lecture given at a CRUX conference in 1988. The article originally appeared as a booklet published by CRUX
Publications Limited and is reproduced here with permission.
This Version: 7th February 2003