My focus this month is on leadership and, specifically, the core teaching on leadership of the laity as seen in Vatican II.
From my bookshelf, I picked the document about the role of the laity: the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem; November 18, 1965).
As always when you go back and read the documents of Vatican II, you are aware of the really fundamental way in which the Council asked us to re-examine the life and ministry of the Church.
This decree is quite radical. It really makes one point over and over again. Our faith, and our living of the faith, is not a separate element to our daily life.
We are called to live our faith in the world, and in the multitude of interactions that come to us with every person, every event and every action of our daily life.
When faced with this ‘modern’ world it said the task of leading, forming, responding, and bringing the Gospel and its challenge to the ‘real world’ is in the hands of the laity.
We are called to live the Gospel in what is called the ‘temporal order’; which translates as ‘in every place of work and every part of society, in every discipline and societal structure’.
There we are called to show leadership by engaging and challenging, and ensuring a ‘renewal of the temporal order’.
The Council doesn’t speak directly of leadership internal to the Church; rather its whole focus is on the action of taking the Gospel outward into the world – and this is in the hands of the lay members of the Church. The Council outlines aspects of how this leadership will be lived.
It is by collaboration with the pastors of the Church – which in Benedict’s writing becomes co-responsibility and wide co-operation – that we are called to pool our resources. And ‘to found and control … associations’ (AA19) as are needed locally, nationally and internationally, to ensure we are ‘fellow workers for truth’ (3Jn8).
There are vast areas of the life of the community the clergy and ‘church experts’ are not skilled in or don’t understand. It is especially here we are called to show full leadership and to take the initiative in bringing the light of the Gospel to our world.
The Council summarises its teaching: ‘Through this holy Synod, the Lord renews His invitation to all the laity to come closer to Him every day, recognising that what is His is also their own’ (Phil. 2:5), to associate themselves with Him in His saving mission.
Once again ‘He sends them into every town and place where He will come’ (cf Luke 10:1), so that ‘they may show they are co-workers in the various forms and modes of the one apostolate of the Church, which must be constantly adapted to the new needs of our times'(AA33).
That is pretty clear on leadership. We are co-workers with Christ in taking the message of the Gospel to every town and place, every workplace and school, every home and soup kitchen.
And we do this in exactly the same way as the Lord led, by washing feet and lifting up those who are bowed down.
Mark Richards is Manager Pastoral Services Diocese of Palmerston North.