Peter and the Apostles leave Behind their Vocation and Jesus calls them Back
What is our mission in the life of the Church? This is the question Peter and the other Apostles struggled with after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus had already appeared to Mary Magdalen and to the Apostles the first time without Thomas and the second time with him present, yet they were still confused as to what to do next. So, they did what perhaps any of us would have done, they went back to what they knew, fishing. Peter and a few of the disciples went back to their old jobs in Galilee, where they were before they met Jesus. And it is here that Jesus appears to them a third time. It interesting to note, that it was at this same location (the Sea of Galilee) where it all began when Jesus invited Peter to a different path in life, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At that time Jesus invited Peter to follow him in a new way and take up a new mission. Now, in this Gospel, he reminds him again of that mission he was given. Next, Jesus takes Peter aside. To the man whom he chose to be the leader of the twelve and the one on whom he would build his Church, Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me.” Entrusted with this particular mission, Peter would need to be close to Jesus and even ‘love him more than the others,’ so that he could bring them close to the Lord.
Peter Experienced Confusion in his Vocation and Returned to what he Knew
Peter experienced confusion with regards to his vocation, it wasn’t crystal clear, even after the Resurrection. Despite the fact that the Lord had made him a priest and leader of the twelve, he still went back to his former way of life as a fisherman. Perhaps in our lives, we have experienced something similar at difficult moments.
Clergy and Laity Experience Confusion and Return to what they Know
Over the last few decades inside of the Church there has not always been clarity about the missions the Lord has entrusted to us. There have been some priests who have gotten too caught up in worldly things, losing sight of their mission and responsibilities as priests, and have failed to serve, you the people, well. Likewise, some lay people have directed too much of their attention to what happens inside of these four walls, they have sought out a ‘ministry’ in the Church as the primary expression of their faith, as lectors, extraordinary ministers of holy communion, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that these things are wrong and I’m deeply grateful the ministries so many of you carry out. But what I am trying to say is that this is not the primary mission of the laity, it does not remain inside of these walls.
Pope Francis on the Mission of the Laity
Listen to these words of Pope Francis from an interview before he became Pope in 2011:
The layperson is a layperson and has to live as a layperson with the power of baptism, which enables him to be a leaven of the love of God in society itself, to create and sow hope, to proclaim the faith, not from a pulpit but from his everyday life. And like all of us, the layperson is called to carry his daily cross — the cross of the layperson, not of the priest.
The Genius of the Laity is in Bringing Christ to the World
The laity are not priests and they don’t have the mission of the priest. You are not called to be mini-priests. Yet this does not mean that you are somehow less. You have a mission too, one that is given by God and one that is incredibly important. Pope Francis indicates, and this is in complete conformity with Vatican II, that the primary mission of the laity is to bring Christ to the world. You live in the world, you know what it is like. Your families are out there, your place of work, … You have a certain genius that others don’t have, not even priests. It could be true that in the past the Church has underestimated the power of the laity. Whereas before evangelization was done through missionary orders and consecrated brothers and sisters, now the Church has turned specifically to you, the laity, to carry out the New Evangelization. So, wherever you are out there, whatever you do, even if it’s picking up groceries at the store, bring Christ with you. Bear witness to him everywhere and sanctify the world for his glory.
The Possibilities for Evangelization are Endless
Practically what does this mean? Sometimes people look for the Church to take the lead. They wait for the hierarchy to present a program. But this misses the mark. The whole point is that you as the laity have initiative, you have creativity and by your own genius you can come up with means of spreading the Gospel in the world today. The possibilities are endless. As a baptised lay person committed to Christ and guided by the teachings of the Church, you have everything you need to bring Christ to the world.
Laity, be who you are! Don’t try to be someone you are not. You have a clear and important mission from God. At your roots you are followers of Jesus, as members of the Holy Catholic Church, and the best evangelizers we have today. It is you who take Christ to the world.
Excerpts from Interview with Pope Francis from 2011 as Cardinal Bergoglio:
“We priests tend to clericalize the laity. We do not realize it, but it is as if we infect them with our own disease. And the laity — not all, but many — ask us on their knees to clericalize them, because it is more comfortable to be an altar server than the protagonist of a lay path. We cannot fall into that trap — it is a sinful complicity.”
“neither to clericalize norask to be clericalized. The layperson is a layperson and has to live as a layperson with the power of baptism, which enables him to be a leaven of the love of God in society itself, to create and sow hope, to proclaim the faith, not from a pulpit but from his everyday life. And like all of us, the layperson is called to carry his daily cross — the cross of the layperson, not of the priest.”
From Lumen Gentium:
31 .. But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.