Among the most frequently noted exhortations coming forth from the Second Vatican Council is the “universal call to holiness,” which encourages not simply those in the clerical and religious life but every member of Christ’s Body to participate, each according to his or her gifts, in the mission of the Church.
“Though the classes and duties of life are many, holiness is one,” the Council Fathers teach. “Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society. In order that the faithful may reach this perfection, they must use their strength accordingly as they have received it, as a gift from Christ” (cf Lumen Gentium 4o,41).
So desirous were the Council Fathers to make sure that this message was not lost, they produced a document, "Apostolicam Actuositatem" (The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity), specifically for the purpose of exhorting the laity to engage in apostolic endeavors in cooperation with Christ who “renews the face of the earth” (Psalm 104:30).
Since then, much good fruit has been yielded including the creation of a new dicastery in the Roman Curia in 1967, the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and the subsequent emergence of numerous laudable organizations that are dedicated to serving the lay apostolate.
“All associations of the apostolate must be given due appreciation, but those which the hierarchy have praised or recommended as responsive to the needs of time and place must be held in highest esteem,” the Council Fathers stated (AA 21).
One particularly noteworthy example of just such an association is Legatus, an organization that draws upon the collective strengths and talents of top-ranking Catholic CEO’s and other business leaders and their spouses in service to the mission of the Church.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary next year, Legatus was founded by Catholic philanthropist Tom Monaghan after meeting Pope John II in 1987, the idea having hit him as he describes it, “like a lightning bolt!”
In just the following year, our visionary pontiff of Blessed memory could already see how important the then fledgling organization would be in promoting a truly just society by aiding its members in Legatus’ stated mission: “To study, live, and spread the Catholic Faith in our business, professional, and personal lives.”
“The world needs genuine witnesses to Christian ethics in the field of business, and the Church asks you to fulfill this role publicly and with perseverance. This is the evangelical challenge being presented to you,” the Holy Father said as he imparted his Apostolic blessing to Legatus members gathered in Rome.
Now, more than two decades later (in the wake of so many scandals caused by the Enrons and Bernie Madoffs of the world) the importance of an organization like Legatus is all the more obvious.
That said, the real value of Legatus’ commitment to aiding Catholic business leaders in deepening their faith extends well beyond the boardroom, the stock market and the workplace. It’s really best considered a means toward accomplishing a much broader end – delivering the Gospel of Christ to the entire world starting with one family, one company, one community, etc. at a time.
Membership in Legatus – which is Latin for “ambassador” - is not intended for just anyone. It is comprised of a rather select group of individuals - those who some might call the “movers and shakers” of the world - who in addition to being committed to the sacred Magisterium of the Church also meet a quantifiably high standard of business achievement with regard to position (e.g. President, Owner, CEO, etc.), number of employees and company value.
According to Tom Monaghan’s vision, an elite group of proven business leaders such as this - individuals who have a demonstrably high capacity for creativity, resourcefulness and dedication - are also eminently qualified to serve as leaders in the Church as well. These are the men and women, in other words, who have been blessed with some unique gifts that, properly formed and applied, can go a long way toward transforming society with the light of Christ.
When one considers the anti-Christian impact being brought to bear by people like George Soros, Ted Turner and Bill Gates – business leaders who all-too-frequently use their God-given talent to create and fund organizations that actively promote a culture of death - the importance of Legatus in today’s world should be clear.
Indeed, the Council Fathers recognized this phenomenon taking shape nearly 50 years ago and felt moved to issue to laity what one may rightly consider to be a “call to arms.”
Since, in our own times, new problems are arising and very serious errors are circulating which tend to undermine the foundations of religion, the moral order, and human society itself, this sacred synod earnestly exhorts laymen - each according to his own gifts of intelligence and learning - to be more diligent in doing what they can to explain, defend, and properly apply Christian principles to the problems of our era in accordance with the mind of the Church (AA 6).
So, you’ve heard of MoveOn.org, the Ted Turner Fund and the Gates Foundation but you’ve never heard of Legatus?
Well, maybe that’s because its members according to the association’s stated mission, “don’t typically wear their faith on their shirtsleeves; rather, they spread the faith through good works, good ideas, and high ethical standards.”
You see, theirs is neither a political movement nor a PR campaign; rather, Legatus is modeled after the Council’s teaching that “the laity fulfill this mission of the Church in the world especially by conforming their lives to their faith so that they become the light of the world as well as by practicing honesty in all their dealings so that they attract all to the love of the true and the good and finally to the Church and to Christ” (AA 13).
That, however, doesn’t mean that Legatus members aren’t making their presence known in concrete, visible ways too; far from it. The manner in which individual Legates draw from their collective pool of resources, experiences and talents in service to the kingdom of God are as varied as the members themselves.
The organization itself provides what the Council calls “aids for lay persons devoted to the apostolate, namely, study sessions, congresses, periods of recollection, spiritual exercises, frequent meetings, conferences, books, and periodicals directed toward the acquisition of a deeper knowledge of sacred Scripture and Catholic doctrine, the nourishment of spiritual life, the discernment of world conditions, and the discovery and development of suitable methods” (AA 32).
Now, if you’re not exactly a business tycoon or a “captain of industry” type (and very few of us are) don’t simply write this column off as a nice little story about “them;” rather consider it encouragement toward finding your own place in the apostolate, whether individually or as a member of an association.
The truth is every single layperson by virtue of their Baptism is called to be an Ambassador for Christ. There are no neutral positions in the Christian life; one is either with Christ or against Him (Mt. 12:30), and the world in which we live is daily crying out all the more for an increase in lay involvement.
As the Council Fathers tell us, “The effort to infuse a Christian spirit into the mentality, customs, laws, and structures of the community in which one lives, is so much the duty and responsibility of the laity that it can never be performed properly by others” (AA 13).
Legatus is just one noteworthy example of what it means to answer the Council’s call for the laity to use the gifts the Lord has given them in service to the mission of the Church. The question that remains is how will you go about carrying the light of Christ in your own way, in your own small part of the world?
Author and speaker Louie Verrecchio was a columnist for Catholic News Agency from April 2009 to 2013. His work, which includes Year of Faith resources like the Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II Faith Formation Series, has been endorsed by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia; Bishop Emeritus Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster, England; Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, IA, USA and others. For more information please visit: www.harvestingthefruit.com