Colossians 1: 21-23: God has reconciled you in Christ to make you holy & blameless before him
Psalm 54: 3-4 See, I have God for my help
Luke 6:1-5 The Son of Man is Lord over the Sabbath.
Religious Men and Women,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I welcome you all to this Eucharistic Sacrifice which we are celebrating together with the prayer and action groups of the Diocese of Buea. I welcome all of you who have come from far and near, and who are members of the:
- Catholic Men Association,
- Catholic Women Association,
- Christian Family Movement,
- Sacred Heart of Jesus Apostolate,
- Divine Mercy Apostolate,
- World Apostolate of Fatima,
- Catholic Charismatic Renewal,
- Precious Blood Apostolate,
- Block Rosary Crusade/Block Rosaire,
- Vincent de Paul Society,
- Legion of Mary,
- Jude Apostolate, and
- Dammes Apostoliques, ………………………
These groups are referred to in the Church as “apostolates”, or “apostolic movements”, even if some of them are prayer groups and others are action groups. Why are these groups called “apostolates”? The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, answers this question when it says: “every activity of the Mystical Body of Christ, which has in view the spreading of the Kingdom of Christ, over the earth to the glory of God, and to make men and women partake of it, goes by the name ‘apostolate’ ” (Apostolicam Actuositatem, no. 2, ccc 863).
Since like all Christians, Lay Christians are entrusted by God with the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they have the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth since it is through them that people can hear the Gospel and know Christ (ccc 900).
Understood this way, therefore, we can say that every member of an apostolic group, is in a way, a christian who is an “apostle”, meaning, he or she has been “called and sent”. He or she has been called by God, and sent to bear witness to the Gospel of Christ (1Pet 2:8).
Someone may ask the question: is it not true that it is the bishops who are succesors of the apostles, and the priests who are their collaborators? In what sense therefore, do we speak of the “apostolate of the laity”? In what way can Christ’s faithful who belong to prayer and action groups be said to constitute an “apostolate”? What distinguishes their mission from that of the ordained ministers?
To answer this question requires us to understand the specific identity and mission of Christ’s faithful in the Church. There was a time in the Church, when it was wrongly thought that the work of evangelization was reserved only to the ordained ministers, and the laity had no say in it. It was sometimes said in a joking manner, that the task of the laity was to do three things: “to pray, to pay, and to obey”. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Second Vatican Council II corrected this understanding of the Church by recalling the teaching of Scripture that in the Church, there is diversity of ministry, but unity of mission (ccc 873). The lay faithful therefore, have a specific identity, which cannot be limited merely to the fact that they are not ordained. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church teaches that:[The unique character of the vocation of lay faithful is that in a special way, they] “seek the Kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and ordering them according to the plan of God. ….Through baptism, the lay faithful are made one body with Christ and are established among the people of God (Lumen Gentium, #31).
What this means is that there is a special potential which the laity have, which is not available to the clergy. This potential comes from the fact that the laity are immersed in the world, they find themselves “on the front lines of the Church’s life”.(Christifidelis laici 9) For this reason, they can carry the Gospel message and penetrate the temporal world of human affairs far deeper to areas where the ordained ministers may not reach. Their activity in the ecclesial communities is so necessary that, for the most part, the apostolate of the pastors cannot be fully effective without it (ccc 900). To be a member of an apostolic group therefore, is a special way in which Christ’s faithful witness to the Gospel of Christ by the testimony of their own life in the world. The arena of the apostolate of the laity, therefore, does not end in Church, but extends into the world of business, health, politics, trade, international relations and so on. That is how you have been called to conquer the world for Christ, and lead the world back to God.
What spiritual advantage is there in involving in an apostolate?
The first reason, as seen above, is that belonging to an apostolate is a way of active involvement in the work of evangelization. Members of every apostolic group are called to preach the Gospel, and win souls for Christ, by words and by deeds. They live out their baptismal dignity by sharing in Christ’s triple function of prophet, king and priest to the world (Christifidelis Laici, no 14).The importance of the members of the prayer and action group to be formed cannot be over stressed for you cannot give what you do not have. I wish to say that it is my hope that every apostolic group present, will make the decision to avail themselves of the opportunities the diocese offers for a solid doctrinal and spiritual formation in the faith (such as JOPASIT). That is what will help us have an authentic interpretation of Scripture, and the Magisterial documents of the Church and also have the right application of it, in our daily lives. The special residential we have organized in Birocol which the catechists benefitted from will be very helpful to you all. Each year, I will like to get at two candidates for the program. If you do not do so voluntarily, I will choose the candidates myself with the help of your chaplains.
The second spiritual advantage in belonging to an apostolate, is that every apostolate invites its members to seek holiness of life. Our Lord invites us in the Gospel to “be holy as my heavenly Father is holy” (Matthew 5:48). The Church teaches that the call to holiness is a universal call, for God wants everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of him (LG 14-16).In his Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exultate, on the call to holiness in today’s world, Pope Francis tells us that “To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious. We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves. Are you called to the consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment with joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by labouring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain” (GE 14). “Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self” (GE 32).
A third spiritual advantage in belonging to an apostolate, is that each apostolate invites its members to practice the commandment of charity, which as our Lord says, is the greatest commandment. This becomes a sign of witness to the world, for as Christ said: “by this the world will know that you are my disciples when you love one another” (Jn 13:35). When members of the apostolic movements go out to the under-privileged, they bear testimony to the words of Christ who said: “as long as you did this to the least of my brethren, you did it for me” (Mat 25:40).
As you carry out the works of the apostolate, it is possible also that the some apostolic groups face some challenges, permit me examine a few of them:
The first challenge that some apostolic groups may have is the difficulty of acknowledging the supremacy of the Sacraments over sacramentals and acts of devotion.The Holy Mass is the greatest prayer of the Church, for it is the memorial of the death and resurrection of our Lord, in which the sacrifice of the cross is made new for all ages. The Code of Canon Law teaches in this line that:
“The Christian faithful are to hold the Most Holy Eucharist in highest honor, taking an active part in the celebration of the most august sacrifice, receiving this sacrament most devoutly and frequently, and worshipping it with the highest adoration.” (Can. 898).
“Indeed, the other sacraments and all the ecclesiastical works of the apostolate are closely connected with the Most Holy Eucharist and ordered to it (Can 897).
For this reason, it is not right, that apostolic groups should hold meetings while the celebration of Holy Mass is going on (unless they have just attended Holy Mass, as the case may be, on Sundays). It is also a scandal for an apostolic group to hold their weekly meetings, and then close and depart just before Mass time, since they have been asked to cease all activities in the parish premises during the celebration of Mass. All other devotions and para-liturgical functions must flow from the Eucharist as their source, or flow to it, as their summit. Sometimes mass is going on and some people are praying the rosary or other private devotions.
The second challenge some apostolic groups may have is that of collaboration with their chaplains. Due to pastoral exigencies and the greater good of the faithful, transfers are made for priests in this Diocese on a yearly basis, and the same apostolic group may find themselves having a frequent change of chaplain, just as the Christian community of the same parish experience a change in their parish priest or curate. This reality calls, on the one hand, for a spirit of understanding on the part of the apostolic group, and a spirit of patience on the part of the chaplain, to learn the spirituality of the apostolate and give direction to its members. Sometimes, however, it could happen that some apostolic groups or their leaders may hesitate to trust the capacity of one priest or the other to serve as spiritual director, on the counts of his age or experience, and will prefer another one, whom they consider to be more “gifted”. At the Diocesan level, a conscious effort is made to appoint Diocesan Chaplains who are well versed with the Spirituality and functioning of the apostolate, but at the Parish level, there is need for more collaboration.
Another Challenge the members of some apostolates may face is the difficulty of appreciating the charism of other apostolic groups. As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthians:
“There are a variety of gifts, but the same Spirit, there are different kinds of service, but the same Lord, there are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”(1Cor 12:4-5)
For this reason, it is important that the apostolic groups of the parish should be seen to complement each other, and not to compete with each other. No group needs to claim a monopoly over any assignment they are called to perform in the parish or deanery level. It will be a good sign of unity in diversity, for example, for the CMA to celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph with the presence of CWA, for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal to take turns in leading the rosary during October Devotion, and for the members of the Block Rosary to take turns in leading the novena for the Solemnity of Pentecost. These are all little ways to show that we are all members of one Body, though we serve as different parts.
The members of apostolic groups are therefore called to a life of humility, and docility even in the least of tasks. We should guide against the temptation to want to be seen only at the top or visible positions at Parish, Deanery or Diocesan levels, while we fail to identify with the Church in our grassroots. As it is often said “to belong to an apostolic group is optional, but to belong to an SCC is compulsory”. This means that the life of witnessing that the members of apostolic groups manifest in public must stem from a convinced Christian life in private, and a solid spiritual life in the family, which is the domestic Church.
As we continue with this Mass, May St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary intercede on our behalf so that we may use our various charisms for the common good and for the spread of the gospel.
 Cf. Christifidelis Laici, no 9.