Romans 16:3-9, 16, 22-27
It is interesting that the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, which is his most formal presentation of the revelation of Christ, ends with greetings to some 26 coworkers he hopes to meet in Rome. Some of them are assisting him in Corinth, such as Tertius who was his secretary and Phoebe who was to be his messenger and take his letter to Rome.
We get just a glimpse at how organized the Church was some 25 years after the great events of the first Holy Week. We see it is a Church of Apostles and a very active laity.
Aquila and Priscilla worked with Paul in Corinth and Ephesus and had now apparently returned to Rome. The message of Vatican II is nothing new! Parish staffs, lay volunteers, some going out to distant lands as missionaries, are as necessary to the Church of the 21st century as they were essential to the time of Saints Peter and Paul.
The Vatican II General Council insisted: "No less fervent zeal on the part of lay people is called for today; in fact, present circumstances demand from them a more extensive and more vigorous apostolate. For continuing population increases, progress in science and technology, and growing independence between peoples worldwide have immensely enlarged the field of lay apostolate."
This call does not come as something new from our Church leadership. It comes from the Living God. "Lay people’s right and duty to be apostles derives from their union with Christ their head. They are inserted into the Mystical Body of Christ by baptism and confirmation, it is by the Lord himself that they are assigned to the apostolate."
In that first generation of Christians, we find lay people taking up ordinary tasks that need doing. Deacons began by waiting on tables, taking care to provide food, shelter, clothing for poor among the newly baptized Christians. Instructing new comers to the Faith, providing for traveling preachers, reaching out to the needy, sending Paul help when he was imprisoned. Even a slave, Epaphroditus brought the faith to cities the apostles did not reach. It was their Church. Today the Church belongs as much to laity as it does to the Pope and the Bishops. In it all are called to live the faith fully and to share it generously.
And today, the care for the secular world is part of the lay vocation. The Bishops thought it proper to warn: "Christians who shirk their temporal duties shirk their duties to their neighbor, neglect God himself, and endanger their eternal salvation."
Paul cited 26 names in his final paragraph, a Bishop today would need to write a book! It is the age of the lay apostle!
Fr. Fred Sucher, C.P. is retired and lives in the Passionist community in Louisville, Kentucky. For many years he taught philosophy to Passionist seminarians.