TO get to know someone it pays to be able to set him or her apart from others. I relearned this truth from two identical twins, named Gino and Geo, both altar boys in Brgy Locsoon. Believe me, even their own mother tells me to this day that she can’t distinguish one from the other because they look and behave so much alike. But I found a way one day when, before Mass, I noticed a tiny scar on the left temple of one of the boys and then, out of the blue, I let out a guess: “You must be Gino, right?” He nodded his head like I caught him with his hand inside an utap jar. From then on I have been ninety-nine percent able to distinguish the one from the other. Gino’s peculiarity was, for me, the key.
So how do you distinguish the laity from the other members of the Church? The key is the laity’s peculiarity. I was reading the book of Genesis and it struck me that Judah’s peculiarity among his brothers earns him the greatest blessing from their father Jacob or Israel. “Judah,” says Jacob in a prophetic state, “your brothers will praise you…Your father’s sons shall bow before you. Judah, a young lion! You return from the prey, my son! Like a lion he stoops and crouches, and like a lioness, who dares to rouse him?” (Gen 49:8-10). His peculiarity is his leadership among his brothers; it is also out of him that a royal figure will soon emerge to lead God’s people to greatness. Without Judah’s knowledge of his peculiarity the history of Israel would have turned out different. Because so many of our lay people—pardon my saying so—are out of sync with their peculiarity, need we wonder why the Church and the country are where they are today?
In the words of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: “Their secular character is proper and peculiar to the laity…[But] by reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will” (LG 31).
Now doesn’t this feel like a strong punch, somewhat akin to a Pacman jab? If secularity distinguishes the laity as ‘their’ peculiarity, what constitutes secularity? ‘Saeculum’ which means ‘world’ offers a window to an answer and the document confirms our suspicions when it refers to the lay faithful as those who are “engaging in temporal affairs”. As a rule (which is not to say there are no exceptions), it is they, and not the clergy or the religious, who become politicians, business people, scientists, lawyers, doctors, nurses, farmers, soldiers, accountants, engineers, etc. That is to say, activities and states that more directly tie people to the things of this world are the lay faithful’s field of competence, and not the clergy’s nor the religious’. I would leave it to the reader to draw his or her conclusions (not simply the likes of ”Oh, so that’s why it feels something is not right when Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion dress themselves like priests and when priests call themselves ‘Engineer’ or ‘Attorney’”).
But, and here’s the catch, secularity does not exhaust the laity’s peculiarity. The Vatican II fathers hastened to add to the laity’s act of “engaging in temporal affairs” the complementary phrase “and directing them according to God’s will”. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if some would react to this with, “And how do I know God’s will or whether or not I’m directing my own affairs according to God’s will?” Naturally to that it wouldn’t be difficult to say, “That is exactly why the Scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church are there, why the Church’s teaching authority, as exercised by popes, bishops and to a degree by priests, exists.” The point is, the document strongly instructs all lay faithful to allow the light of faith to guide them in the way they conduct their responsibilities in the world. In a word, it is not enough for the laity to know they “are in the world” and that the world is their field of expertise; they must likewise never stifle the voice of the Savior who reminds them: “But you are not of the world since I have chosen you from the world” (Jn 15:19).
To me what follows staggers the imagination. When true to their identity, the lay persons engage directly in something unspiritual but do so under the guidance of the Spirit who speaks through the Church and, therefore, in that sense they bring spirituality into the unspiritual. For instance, when a lawyer puts his law practice in the service of a true search for justice, and not just for money or profit, he becomes faithful to his vocation. A doctor who cares for his patients not only out of professionalism but especially because he wants to concretely express love towards those who suffer as persons in whom Jesus Christ is present similarly carries out his Christian discipleship. A politician who listens not simply to the voices of his own party or ideology but, most of all, to the highest demands of morality, when crafting decisions and putting them into action, completes his peculiarity.
Remember the first chapter of the gospel of Matthew that deals with the genealogy of Jesus? Remember how he takes pains to mention names of women among those of men, i.e., “Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba with whom David committed adultery)” (Mt 1:3-6)? While a case could be made for the holiness of Ruth, Tamar, Rahab and the wife of Uriah are known to be women who engaged in illicit unions. As Scripture experts tell us, the point of Matthew is to make us, first of all, realize that Jesus truly became a human being because he became a member of a human family, with members that were both heroic and cowardly, saintly and sinful. The evangelist makes it clear what he means by saying that Jesus is truly the “Emmanuel” or the “God-with-us” because he is with both saints and sinners in his own family, so as to save all.
And how is this relevant to our reflection of the laity’s peculiarity?
Again the answer should not be too difficult to see. It is Jesus who brings to the world of real human beings and real human families the kingdom of God and of heaven. This action by the Savior goes to the heart of the laity’s peculiarity. They are to bring the world of politics, economics, culture, sports, business, entertainment—worldly or temporal affairs—to God’s rule so as to put them within the sphere of God’s saving action.
The president used to say to Filipinos: “Kayo ang Boss ko (You are my Boss).” Pardon me but I think that is not exactly expressive of the real definition of the true lay person according to Vatican II. Filipino Catholic Laity are such because they are answerable not only to human bosses or employers but especially and, above all, to the Supreme Master of all, God who reveals himself through Jesus Christ in the Spirit. If any politician were to be a true Catholic lay person, he or she should rather address his constituents: “Kayo ang Boss ko, pangalawa sa Dios na Boss nating lahat (You are my Boss after God who is the Boss of us all).