By Fr Luis Garza LC
A Dutch friend, a director of
a bank, sent me a book by David W. Miller
entitled God at Work (Oxford, 2007). I read it almost
immediately. It reminded me of a conversation that I had
with my father, a businessman in Monterrey, Mexico, years ago
when I was just starting my seminary studies. We talked
about the lay Catholic´s role in the Church. My father
was not the type of man easily satisfied with cursory
explanations, and I was not able to convey what the
Church envisions for lay people.
Finally, the conversation ground to a halt.
He said, "But really, Luis, besides fundraising to help the
parish and the diocese and cutting the grass at the
rectory, what else can we as lay people do?" The
only thing I could tell him was that all Christians
are the Church, and that we cannot think that the
life of the Church consists of priests and religious. The
days of the passive Christian are over, I said.
My father still
had many questions and kept looking for answers. I remember
that he and other businessmen met every month with the
archbishop of Monterrey, first with Archbishop José de Jesús Tirado
and then with Cardinal Adolfo Suárez, whom he esteemed highly.
Their purpose was to give the archbishop an occasion to
lay out his plans and concerns as shepherd of the
local church and also for them to tell him about
the difficulties that they, as committed Catholic businessmen, were encountering
in living out their faith.
Once my father organized something really unusual:
a meeting of some Mexican bishops, businessmen, and union leaders
to discuss social topics and the situation of workers. They
published a joint declaration that expressed everyone´s concerns and aspirations,
and that proposed specific ways to pursue the common good.
(I think that these sorts of meetings would be very
useful today for facing many of the social problems we
He was also a great friend of Cardinal Eduardo Pironio,
president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity at the
time. They spoke frequently, and my father admired his profoundly
spiritual outlook on life as well as his openness and
simplicity. My father never stopped thinking about the layperson’s role
in the Church up to the day of his death.
I believe he never found an answer that satisfied him.
does not attempt to give an answer, even a partial
one, to this great challenge that the Second Vatican Council
bequeathed to the Church. Rather, it seeks to spark a
conversation on a topic of crucial importance for the future
of faith and evangelization.
I use the word "crucial" for two reasons.
In the first place, the trend of urbanization appears unstoppable.
In Latin America, almost half of the population already lives
in urban areas. In developed countries, an overwhelming majority do.
In the second place, people spend an enormous amount of
time at work. The Church must find a way to
evangelize the world of work in cities, as this is
where the vast majority of people spend most of their
time. God cannot be absent from people´s lives.
I think that we
are facing one of the new areopagi that John Paul
II talked about in chapter 18 of his book Crossing
the Threshold of Hope.
Against the spirit of the world, the Church
takes up anew each day a struggle that is none
other than the struggle for the world´s soul. If in
fact, on the one hand, the Gospel and evangelization are
present in this world, on the other, there is also
present a powerful anti-evangelization which is well organized and has
the means to vigorously oppose the Gospel and evangelization. The
struggle for the soul of the contemporary world is at
its height where the spirit of this world seems strongest.
In this sense the encyclical Redemptoris Missio speaks of modern
Areopagi. Today these Areopagi are the worlds of science, culture,
and media; these are the worlds of writers and artists,
the worlds where the intellectual elite are formed.
Maybe I see it
too negatively, but it seems to me that the Vatican
II-era phrase "It is the hour of the lay people"
- a call to action that was so attractive in
the years immediately following the Council - did not have
a lasting impact. It is enough to read the daily
news to see that businessmen and those who steer the
economy do not make their decisions with a view to
eternity, nor do they ask themselves if what they do
is in accord with their Christian faith. The situation is
no different in the world of workers. Their ideals and
aspirations are often focused merely on getting their salary. I
do not want this to come across as an overly
critical judgment, but as a statement of fact, something caused
by circumstances which workers often cannot control.
The Church has tried to reach
out to the workplace, but our programs have been partial
in scope and sometimes not directed well, with very limited
and sometimes even negative results. Chaplaincies have been set up
in some businesses, but there are still very few. We
can also speak of the "worker priests" whose good intentions
were rewarded by scanty results and serious difficulties suffered in
their personal lives as priests. Often, their fellow workers even
resented them for taking jobs away from other workers in
times when work was scarce.
Certainly, the fact that the Catholic Church
has become aware of the need for commitment of the
laity is already an important step forward. It is most
certainly the result of a special enlightenment by the Holy
Spirit. Evangelization would undoubtedly take a decisive step forward if
the 1.3 billion Catholics in the world were all evangelizers
and apostles. I think it is well worth the effort
to awaken lay Catholics to their mission.
My goal in what follows is
to shed some light on the apparent contrast between the
Lord´s command to man, "Be fruitful and multiply. Subdue the
earth" (Gen 1:28) and Christ´s command: "Go out to all
the world and make disciples of all nations" (Mk 16:15).
There cannot be tension between these two requests made by
God, so we must discover how to fulfill them both
in harmony until human history shall reach its climax in
our encounter with Christ the Redeemer, when all things shall
be made new in Him.
1. WHY IT HAS BEEN SO DIFFICULT
TO EVANGELIZE THE WORKPLACE
As the Church has engaged the workplace, many
historical difficulties have arisen. It is necessary to review the
context in which they arose so as to bring our
topic into better focus. In particular, it will become clear
that we are facing a relatively recent phenomenon for the
Church, at least in the way the Church measures the
passage of time.
There is still a lot of ground to cover,
and I am hopeful that, as we move forward, we
will see the Church tackle this problem effectively and offer
the faithful in the world of work the tools they
need for their human and Christian fulfillment and for an
The difficulties the Church has found in evangelizing the world
of work are also caused by the inflexible laws of
the economy. These are not easily reconciled with the message
of the Gospel. The market, whether we like it or
not, dictates many of today´s decisions, since the survival and
growth of businesses depends on following its rules. Workers often
do not have many options, nor is it easy to
offer employment to people who need further training and cannot
offer immediate results.
Being disciplined and keeping focused on goals and results
may be necessary, but when taken to the extreme that
alienates people, it can dehumanize relationships within the organization. This
is one of the challenges faced by Catholics who run
businesses. It demands a high level of creativity and attentiveness
to the Holy Spirit, as a company subjected to unmerciful
competition can fall into the temptation of becoming an organization
without a soul. The Catholic businessman has the great responsibility
of resisting the dehumanizing influence of the laws of the
market and of fighting to uphold fundamental ethical principles. Thus,
I think that any proposal about how to evangelize the
world of business should be very realistic and should bear
in mind that today it takes great skill just to
Apostles only around the parish
I think that one of the difficulties
that has prevented an adequate evangelization of the workplace is
the common perception that the Catholic apostolate is something that
should directly serve the parish. An example of this is
the text of the document produced by the Fifth General
Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate, held in
Aparecida, Brazil, in May 2007. In speaking of the lay
faithful, it says: "Their proper and specific mission is carried
out in the world, in such a way that with
their witness and activity, they contribute to the transformation of
current social realities and create just structures according to the
criteria of the Gospel" (210) and then shortly afterwards reads:
"The lay people are also called to participate in the
pastoral action of the Church, first by the witness of
their life, and in the second place, with actions in
the field of evangelization, liturgical life, and other forms of
apostolate according to local needs, under the guidance of their
this document, the mission and activity of the lay faithful
is carried out in the world, where their apostolic responsibility
seems to be reduced to only giving witness and creating
structures that are just. It seems as if the world
of work were somehow fireproof to a deep evangelization, and
the Christian was only carrying out his functions with an
ethical sense and with justice. If he wants to carry
out an apostolate, he has to leave the world and
his work and act within the sphere of the parish
to give catechesis and dedicate himself to liturgical life.
I do not
want to criticize the bishops´ document, but there seems to
be a reductive understanding of the apostolate that underlies these
paragraphs: an implicitly "clericalized" concept of the apostolate.
Before Vatican II, people talked
about the "hierarchical apostolate" as something proper to pastors and
delegated to the laity via a canonical mandate. There could
be no apostolate in the world of work, because this
is not a sphere of action of the clergy. Although
the terminology is no longer in use, and it is
understood that laypeople can and should do apostolic work without
needing a mandate, some people still think that the clerical
apostolate is the only real one.
Going further, the difficulty in understanding
the apostolate of the laity is based on the difficulty
of understanding the distinction between institution and charism. This distinction
has been used in discussion on the relationship between the
movements and the parishes. John Paul II, speaking of the
movements, told them that institution and charism are coessential in
The institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential as it were
to the Church´s constitution. They contribute, although differently, to the
life, renewal and sanctification of God´s People. It is from
this providential rediscovery of the Church´s charismatic dimension that, before
and after the Council, a remarkable pattern of growth has
been established for ecclesial movements and new communities. (May 27,
understand this very enlightening comment from the Pope in the
following way: That which is essential is an element that
is proper to the object, as its most deeply constitutive
part. If there are two coessential elements, this means that
both are part of this constitutive nucleus. Thus, we cannot
separate institution and charism in any Church reality. They are
intrinsic to each other; that is to say, they live
within each other. It is the Holy Spirit himself who
gives life to the Church, giving it form always with
these two aspects. To understand the apostolate of the laity
in the world, we must first understand the profound unity
between institution and charism.
If we still have not perfectly grasped the
concept of the apostolate of the laity and of the
charismatic action of the Church, it is evident that we
cannot completely evangelize the workplace. It´s possible for the committed
lay person to suffer a sort of schizophrenia when he
believes that he is truly a Christian only when he
does something in the direct service of his parish. It
is not my intention to forbid the lay person from
committing himself to his parish, of course, but we do
require a more robust understanding of the role of the
lay person in the Church.
Without giving a theological definition, I can
say that the parish is the realm (normally defined geographically)
of the ordinary pastoral care of the Catholic faithful. This
makes it a privileged place, without excluding other realities, for
the faithful to receive formation and where they can gather
their collective strength to undertake organized apostolic work. The parish
is the point of reference for their liturgical life and
the celebration of the sacraments as a community of believers.
However, it does not seem appropriate to me to think
that their apostolate can only be an apostolate if it
is carried out in the parish or in activities that
are mainly parish based.
If a Catholic does not have an apostolate
of his own in the workplace, he will live in
two parallel universes: what he does from Monday to Saturday
will be irremediably separated from his faith and from his