This brings with it a deeper awareness of the Church as a community made up of all the faithful, where all share in one and the same mission, which each should fulfil according to his personal circumstances. Lay people, moved by the Holy Spirit, are becoming ever more conscious of the fact that they are the Church, that they have a specific and sublime mission to which they feel committed because they have been called to it by God himself. And they know that this mission comes from the very fact of their being Christians and not necessarily from a mandate from the hierarchy; although obviously they ought to fulfil it in a spirit of union with the hierarchy following the teaching authority of the Church. If they are not in union with the bishops and with their head, the Pope, they cannot, if they are Catholics, be united to Christ.
Lay people have their own way of contributing to the holiness and apostolate of the Church. They do so by their free and responsible action within the temporal sphere, to which they bring the leaven of Christianity. Giving Christian witness in their everyday lives, spreading the word which enlightens in the name of God, acting responsibly in the service of others and thus contributing to the solution of common problems: these are some ways in which ordinary Christians fulfil their divine mission.
For many years now, ever since the foundation of Opus Dei, I have meditated and asked others to meditate on those words of Christ which we find in St John: 'And when I am lifted up from the earth I shall draw all things unto Myself' (John 12:32). By His death on the Cross, Christ has drawn all creation to Himself. Now it is the task of Christians, in His name, to reconcile all things to God, placing Christ, by means of their work in the middle of the world, at the summit of all human activities.
I should like to add that alongside the laity's new awareness of their role there is a similar development among the clergy. They too are coming to realise that lay people have a role of their own which should be fostered and stimulated by pastoral action aimed at discovering the presence in the midst of the People of God of the charism of holiness and apostolate, in the infinitely varied forms in which God bestows it.
This new pastoral approach, though very demanding, is, to my mind, absolutely necessary. It calls for the supernatural gift of discernment of spirits, for sensitivity towards the things of God, and for the humility of not imposing personal preference upon others and of seconding the inspirations which God arouses in souls. In a word: it means loving the rightful freedom of the sons of God who find Christ, and become bearers of Christ, while following paths which are very diverse but which are all equally divine.
One of the greatest dangers threatening the Church today may well be precisely that of not recognising the divine requirements of Christian freedom and of being led by false arguments in favour of greater effectiveness to try to impose uniformity on Christians. At the root of this kind of attitude is something not only lawful but even commendable: a desire to see the Church exercising a vital influence on the modern world.
However, I very much fear that this is a mistaken way for, on the one hand, it can tend to involve and commit the hierarchy in temporal questions (thus falling into a clericalism which though different is no less scandalous than that of past centuries) and, on the other hand, to isolate lay people, ordinary Christians, from the everyday world, turning them into mere mouthpieces for decisions or ideas conceived outside the world in which they live.
I feel we priests are being asked to have the humility of learning not to be fashionable; of being, in fact, servants of the servants of God and making our own the cry of the Baptist: 'He must increase, I must decrease' (John 3:30), so as to enable ordinary Christians, the laity, to make Christ present in all sectors of society. One of the fundamental tasks of the priest is and always will be to give doctrine, to help individuals and society to become aware of the duties which the Gospel imposes on them, and to move men to discern the signs of the time. But all priestly work should be carried out with the maximum respect for the rightful freedom of consciences: every man ought to respond to God freely. And besides, every Catholic, as well as receiving help from the priest, also has lights of his own which he receives from God and a grace of state to carry out the specific mission which, as a man and as a Christian, he has received.
Anyone who thinks that Christ's voice will not be heard in the world today unless the clergy are present and speak out on every issue, has not yet understood the dignity of the divine vocation of each and every member of the Christian faithful.