One of the most unhelpful terms in the life of the church is the word “lay” as applied to Christians who are not clergy. The implication is that the one who is called a “lay person” is more a helper than an initiator, a follower who is not able to be a leader.
Today’s scriptures give reason to stop using the word “lay,” a word that literally means non-professional and is therefore inappropriate for anyone who is baptised.
We have been slow to understand this, even five decades after Vatican II emphasised all the baptised together as the People of God, each using their own gifts, responding to unique callings from God within roles that may be lived as people who are single, married, with families, in careers, as religious sisters and brothers or as priests, but all equal as the People of God. All the baptised are therefore professional Christians. While we may slip into using the word (lay) for convenience and clarity, it is time to drop the term completely and speak more of ministries and callings instead of referring to more than 99% of Christians as amateurs.
Pope Francis makes the point well explaining the understanding of the Second Vatican Council:
“Hence, the Council did not see the laity as if they were members of a “second order”, at the service of the hierarchy and simple executors of higher orders, but as disciples of Christ who, by virtue of their Baptism and of their natural insertion “in the world”, are called to enliven every environment, every activity, every human relationship according to the spirit of the Gospel (cf. Lumen Gentium, 31), bringing light, hope, and the charity received from Christ to those places that otherwise would remain foreign to God’s action and abandoned to the misery of the human condition (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 37).
… the proclamation of the Gospel is not reserved to certain “mission professionals”, but must be the profound yearning of all the lay faithful, who are called, by virtue of their Baptism, not only to reform the temporal reality in the Christian spirit, but also to works of explicit evangelisation, proclamation and the sanctification of people. (full 2015 text at this link)
Excuse the long introduction, but it grounds today’s scripture readings in the reality of present challenges.
“The rulers, elders and scribes were astonished at the assurance shown by Peter and John, considering they were uneducated laymen…”
However their personal encounter with the risen Jesus had transformed them into fearless and professional preachers of faith and witness to the living presence of Jesus in the challenging circumstances of the decades after the resurrection.
Remember that the rulers, elders and scribes were good and well-educated people. According to secular measure of religious leadership they were professionals, but compared to Peter and John and the other disciples they were amateurs.
These first disciples were weak and imperfect, aware of the gravity of their sin, and considered by Jesus to be incredulous and obstinate, stubbornly refusing to accept the evidence before them, but they were the ones appointed by Jesus to be the first professional Christians.
Because they had no personal knowledge and ability of their own to rely on they were dependant on Jesus which is why he could confidently appoint them to witness to him, commissioning them, ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation.’
- Which part of this reflection most encourages you to stand tall as a professional Christian?
LECTIO DIVINA FOR SATURDAY OF EASTER WEEK (18 April 2020)
I offer two options for Lectio today, the first is with one reading of the gospel for today, and the second with the passage read twice. As a result they are of different lengths, the second also with some longer pauses for reflection.
Saturday Lectio Divina (15 minutes)
Saturday Lectio Divina (25 minutes)