"The apostolate of the laity derives from their Christian vocation and the Church can never be without it."
These words come from the opening lines of the “Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity” (Apostolicam Actuositatem), one of the nine decrees that come out of the Second Vatican Council. They are quite moving and powerful documents that were handed down to us by the council fathers. This particular document on the laity shows that the Church is dependent on the apostolate of all people. But the term “apostolate” seems so daunting; clearly the word is rooted in the idea of being an apostle. I tend to think back to the Twelve Apostles, which creates a certain amount of anxiety. How can I even think about living up to the great examples of these twelve? Yet they are our example, and our apostleship is essential to the life of the Church.
In the Church we tend to use the word apostle quite a bit and in many different ways. It appears in terms such as: apostolic, apostolate, and apostleship. To find a secular answer, I looked up the word “apostle” in a Merriam-Webster dictionary. In using a dictionary, my hope was that I might come to a better understanding of what it means to be an apostle. The first definition that I came across for apostle was "one sent on a mission." This first meaning really helps expand the idea of the New Evangelization in simple terms. The discovery of this definition led me to formulate the following question: "What is our mission as baptized Catholics?" This is a very important question that has been the subject of major debate. A simple answer is that we are called to go out into the world around us and proclaim the Good News of our Lord, Jesus Christ. How this is accomplished is a decision that must be made by each one of us. We must find our own niche in the greater mission of Christ. We have been given a divine mission that we must go out and complete.
An interesting dilemma of this universal apostolic call is that for some reason people tend to shy away from it. I think that people tend to think that they are not worthy of such a calling or that they are not holy enough. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have all been given the necessary gifts from God to be able to be an apostle. These gifts are not always automatically known to us. Because of this, it is essential that we go out into the world and discover what our God-given talents are. Once we have become aware of our gifts, the task at hand becomes more manageable and attainable.
Personally, I have found that being an apostle in the world today can be quite difficult. Through my active search and prayer to recognize the gifts and talents God has given me, I have discovered that I am someone who is easy to talk to. In response to this realization, I make myself available for people, especially my close friends, and I make sure that I both listen and give general advice when necessary. Doing this, however, can be difficult because there are many instances when time is limited, and I need to make a decision about what to put on hold. This can be difficult, so I stop to think about the things on my agenda versus the needs of the person seeking my counsel. Taking this time to reflect makes the decision quite clear.
I developed a series of questions that has helped me in this process. I’ve found it very beneficial to go over them every now and again, particularly during the Lenten season. The questions are: Do I understand what it means to be a true apostle of Christ? Do I have an understanding of my mission at this current time in my life? Am I making decisions that help in my mission? Do I understand the gifts that God has given me to fulfill my mission? Do I thank God for these gifts and abilities?
My hope is that you find these questions as helpful as I have. Mary, Queen of the Apostles, pray for us!
Pat Fricchione is the Research & Production Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center.