'We Are All Responsible for All'

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7/31/2008

In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI writes: “The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics. … The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. … A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church” (28).

At first glance, this might appear to suggest that the Church no longer accepts responsibility for the world, that somehow the world has the right to go its own way. However, Pope Benedict is expressing something quite different. He is establishing the principles that will entrust the care for the world to the lay members of the Church. The work of Knights of Columbus and their families is more important now than ever in establishing a just social order, in building a civilization of love.

The Church's Mission Back to Top

Let’s begin with an important distinction. By “Church” Pope Benedict means the institutional Church: the hierarchy of pope, bishops, priests and deacons; the worshiping Church of clergy, religious and laity; the Church of the seven sacraments and of the disciples of the Lord. The Church is a communion of people, living in union with God and one another.

The Church’s mission in the world is spiritual. It is to proclaim the Gospel, to offer the gift of salvation to everyone and a life of union with God and with one another. This is the task that Jesus entrusted to his Church, and the Church fulfills this task through its evangelizing efforts.

Christ could have claimed political power, but didn’t. Instead, he proclaimed the word of God, inspiring people and directing them to pursue perfection and the kingdom of God. He opened to people a life of holiness and union with God and one another.

The Church has the same mission and must imitate the Lord Jesus. Christ is the pattern of human life. His command of love is the way human life is to be lived, personally and socially. The institutional Church fulfills its mission in the world by proclaiming this teaching and living it.

The Laity: In the Church and in the World Back to Top

The laity are members of the Church. Like all members of the Church, they seek to know Jesus Christ and achieve a more perfect life by following his ways, serving him with their lives and sharing him with others. This sharing takes place in the parish and in the family, but also in the workplace, at social gatherings, at civic events and through cultural activities. It is in sharing the Lord with others that a primary characteristic of the lay person is revealed: The laity live the dual membership of the Church and the world.

As members of the human community, the laity share with all of God’s children the responsibility to care for and perfect the gift of creation. What, then, is the goal of our earthly journey? What does God want us to accomplish? We are meant to perfect what we have been given (that is, the physical world as well as our own personal and social lives) and live together in universal brotherhood. As Pope John Paul II wrote, “We are all responsible for all” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38).

This is what Pope Benedict explained in Deus Caritas Est. By pursuing justice and the just ordering of our lives, the human family can live together in harmony. This is achieved in the human community through politics. Legislators and citizens must develop structures to establish a just order and achieve the common good. In other words, the task of the human community is to build a civilization based on justice and ordered to the fullness of life for its members. It is not the responsibility of the Church to see that this comes about; it is the responsibility of the human community.

Architects of a Civilization of Love Back to Top

It is here that the role of the laity takes on particular importance in God’s plan. It is the task of the laity to participate with others in establishing a just social order. As citizens of the world, the laity are to take on their own distinctive role and see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city.

The political life is crucial to the development of civilization. John Paul II echoed the teaching of the Second Vatican Council when he wrote, “The lay faithful are never to relinquish their participation in public life” (Christifideles Laici, 42). But politics is not the only means of achieving a truly human life and the common good; other components must supplement this work.

Here, for instance, is where the Knights of Columbus offers an additional contribution to development of the social order. By the acts of charity done on behalf of the community, by the individual Knight performing his job in the secular world with integrity and competence, by raising a good family and making the home a sanctuary of life, Knights transform the world around them and build a civilization of justice, love and peace.

My grandfather was a Knight who practiced law during the Great Depression. He once gave pro bono representation to a widowed landlady against a tenant who tried to cheat her of the 50 cents he owed for rent! That is the world my grandfather bequeathed me, a world that looks out for widows and the needy. That was also the world that inspired the Venerable Servant of God Father Michael J. McGivney to found the Knights of Columbus.

Indeed, the laity are the architects of civilization. The society they bequeath to future generations will be a just social order of charity, unity, fraternity and patriotism in proportion to what gets done now in our families, our councils, our parishes and communities, and among our youth.

Let us build something great, expressive of our love for one another. Let us make it a gift pleasing to God that renders back to him in thanksgiving our gift of life and the beautiful world we have received from him. There is much to do and much at stake. This is the time for action!

Father Joseph M. Walsh is a member of Fitzgerald Council 833 in Lincoln, Neb. Last spring, he was awarded his doctorate of theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. His doctoral thesis on the role of the laity in the temporal mission of the Church included a study of the Knights of Columbus.