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A Book Review… The Lay Apostolate Defined

January 6, 2014 Frontpage No Comments

By REY FLORES

The Layperson’s Distinctive Role by Francis Cardinal Arinze. Ignatius Press: 2013, 118 pages. Available at ignatius.com or by calling 1-800-651-1531 as either a paperback or an electronic book download.

Witness to Honest Living — “In many countries, corruption is becoming widespread in fields like high finance, politics, civil service, trade and commerce and even sports. This is a big challenge to harmonious living, mutual trust and steady economic development. Christians cannot remain indifferent in front of this virus. And it is the lay faithful who are in the front line to give witness to honest living. They can achieve much individually and in organized groups” — Francis Cardinal Arinze.

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The above is an excerpt from The Layperson’s Distinctive Role, the latest published offering from Francis Cardinal Arinze, who has taken on a necessary and welcome task to clearly point out what a layperson’s distinctive role is in our work to bring more souls to Christ’s Kingdom. Cardinal Arinze, the former head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has the right experience to bring to his topic.
The statement itself comes from the sixth chapter, “Some Reasons for the Urgent Need of the Lay Apostolate,” which in my opinion is quite an understatement. Corruption is well in place and widespread already, especially in the areas that Cardinal Arinze specifically points out.
He is absolutely correct in his statement that Christians must not remain indifferent in front of what Arinze calls this “virus.” As the front-line laity, we must continuously remind ourselves and each other that we are indeed the Church Militant, and not just a label we like to put on ourselves. We are lay persons, not lazy persons.
While the book and its contents explicitly refer to the lay person, I am pleased that on its web site and in the book’s promotional press materials, Ignatius Press points out: “Clerics and religious will find these considerations by Cardinal Arinze of great help, both in appreciating the limits of their own apostolates and of seeing how to put before the lay faithful the demands of their calling.”
I say this because it is oftentimes that American Catholics have had to point out to some of our bishops the errors of their ways. As a matter of fact, I believe that it was the late Tom Roeser who pointed out that some of Chicago’s bishops were more like precinct captains than they were like churchmen.
Let’s take all of the problems surrounding the USCCB’s peace and justice programs, such as the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) and the Catholic Relief Services (CRS). According to Arinze’s approach here, why aren’t some of our bishops “appreciating the limits of their own apostolates”?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church points out that lay people have a right to make their opinion known:
“In accord with the knowledge, competence, and preeminence which they possess, lay people have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and they have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward their pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons” (CCC, n. 907)
And in part of the Code of Canon Law, n. 212, we find the following requirements of the laity:
“1. Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.
“2. The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.
“3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.”
I like books like this one that can once again clearly define what roles all of us play in the Catholic Church.
Overall, anyone who enjoys Cardinal Arinze’s wisdom of the faith and his unique and subtle writing style will appreciate reading this book. It is a timely read in a world with an increasing need for the laity to step up to the plate and help in our earthly endeavors, with eternal consequences.

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(Rey Flores can be reached at reyfloresusa@gmail.com.)

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