Peter Keogh, Local Minister SFO - Mosman

Lay people have their own special responsibilities. Catholic laity today are working in shops and banks, studying at school and university, living in families, contributing to society in thousands of ways. It is the special responsibility of these lay people, gradually, yet persistently, to change all of this temporal and passing world, so that it will reflect God's will.

The Fathers of the Church at Vatican II, wrote in the document Lumen gentium: "The laity are to seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God's will", and, as the Catholic Catechism reaffirms, "This apostolate of all the baptised is completely necessary for the spread of the gospel life". Many people who do not attend Church will never hear the Gospel or know Christ except through the witness of lay people. Without this witness, the Catechism suggests, the work of Pastors will not be effective (CCC 900).

The Vatican Council taught, in Lumen gentium, that every lay Catholic shares in the priestly office, making the world holy and offering it up to the Father, just as the consecrated priest offers up the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ at the altar. All lay people share, too, in Christ's prophetic work of giving witness to the Gospel and proclaiming it at every opportunity, and also in his kingly office, by our overcoming sin and learning to rule ourselves rather than being ruled by outside forces or inner forces of sin and despair.

Because we all share in Christ's mission, we cannot lay down responsibility and say, "I don't have to think about these things. The Church will tell us what to do". As a holy people, we have the freedom of the sons and daughters of God, and we are created intelligent, in God's own image. This means that we have the responsibility to try to understand why the Church teaches as it does, and not just to view church teaching as a set of rules and regulations, set up by strangers for our blind acceptance in obedience.

Some people who dearly love the words of Vatican II on the laity, can be rather selective with the rest of the Council's teaching , e.g., the Catholic Church is scattered throughout the world, but must remain united in faith with Christ.

Keeping the Church united is the work of the Holy Spirit and the special responsibility of the bishops, but so that bishops always speak with one voice, Lumen gentium reaffirms the central importance of loving and loyal communion with our Holy Father, the Pope.

This is also the responsibility of the laity, individually and in associations. When we feel ourselves drifting from the teachings of the Church, we must stop and review where we are at, and how we got there. We have the need and the responsibility to be with Christ and his Church, not on some track of our own making.

The mission of Catholic lay people is thus one in total unity and collaboration with the Pope, the bishops and the clergy . All of us together have the same hope: to make the world holy and fit to be presented by Christ to the Father on the last day.

In 1988, Pope John Paul II , in an exhortation named Christifidelis laici, explained what the true holiness of the laity involves. I recommend that this exhortation should become the basic formation document for all lay Catholics and all Catholic lay organisations.

At the outset, the Pope made it clear that it "is not permissible for anyone to remain idle" It is, he said, the duty of lay people to be the "face of the Church", and the "limbs of Christ" in the world , and this means that they should be active in good works and ideas.

In a secular climate there is an even deeper need for religion than at other times , and it is the laity who can build the Kingdom of his grace in the world.

"Re-evangelising our culture , is the Pope's great call in Christifideles laici. Far from turning our backs on the world, the Pope's vision, and the Church's vision, is one of turning towards the world, but in a new way. The Pope explains for example, how the lay apostolate called for by Vatican II has developed into networks of organizations and individuals devoted to: respect for human Life; the support of Family Life; political and economic support for those in need; care of the sick; revitalisation of parishes, and so on, through many other concrete and practical ways, in which we are to build up our personal holiness and holiness within our communities.

The Pope is especially clear that younger people have a major role to play in evangelisation. He describes youth as the "hope of the Church". It is essential that we listen to and encourage the participation of younger people in our apostolates and works within our Church.

We are also told in Christifideles laici that we should try to avoid separating our "Christian lives" from our "secular lives".