The laity are catholic, yeast in business and finance, entertainment, nursing and medicine, arts and science, law and law enforcement, politics, and sports. They are the inner power with its limitless ability to make things grow, even in small ways. The laity find their holiness in the world with its financial concerns and family responsibilities. Those who marry and have children become not just a family but also the Domestic Church.
In 1987, the Catholic Church held a World Synod on the Laity, one of many, beginning with Vatican II in the 1960s. According to the synod’s final document, the laity are equal with clergy and consecrated religious in the life and mission of the Church.
The call to holiness of the laity differs from the vocation of consecrated religious. The laity are to be in the world in an unworldly way. They approach life with wisdom that teaches the limited and relative value of material things. This would seem to be a contradiction in terms. How to be worldly and unworldly at the same time? It cannot be easy, for at times, the challenges seem insurmountable. Yet, it remains for the lay vocation to find a theology of being present in the world. It is a practical spirituality of the family and the workplace. For the laity, this is where holiness resides.*
Holiness of the Laity
The holiness of the laity began with Jesus himself. He was a rabbi and teacher, as were his disciples. Peter was a married man, and for all we know, so were the other apostles, the exception being John, the Beloved Disciple.
St. Paul addresses and refers to those he evangelized as ‘saints,’ meaning that they were on their way to becoming saints. In the Early Church, there were no consecrated institutes of men and women. All Christians grasped the importance of living as disciples and ambassadors of the Lord.
As increasing numbers of Christians came to view the world as wicked, they flocked to the desert to live alone. When the desert grew so overcrowded with these solitaries, they came together and formed religious communities. Thus, the start of monastic orders of men and women.
Consecrated men and women, and especially those who live in cloisters, spend several hours a day in prayer.
This is not the way of the laity. Their days focus almost entirely on family and the means of supporting it. Their prayer is measured not in hours but in minutes—two here, five there, perhaps a Holy Hour or Retreat Day on rare occasions.
The conciliar document on the sacred liturgy encourages Catholic families to pray portions of the Liturgy of the Hours (#102-111). The Hours are not private or devotional prayer but the prayer of the entire Church, the Church at prayer. Praying the psalms nourishes Catholic family life whose welfare is daily beset with conflicting external forces. If prayer is the underlying power of strong family life, then parents can find ways to incorporate parts of the Hours into their daily schedule. In prayer, married couples derive the strength of God’s grace to live their married vocation.
As children mature, they too must learn to travel the road to discipleship in the Lord. Small children can be taught to pray a psalm or two at bed time. If this is not feasible during the week, then prayer on weekend is an alternate possibility.
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A minimal and external Christianity will not fortify today’s Domestic Church but only a vibrant Christianity in which Christ is a living reality. It takes a few minutes to pray short sections of the Hours, even on public transit. It is a consoling thought to recall that “in him, we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
At Pre-Cana instructions, couples can learn the practice of making the Hours an integral part of their married life.
Can Yeast Corrupt?
The image of yeast is not always positive. In First Corinthians 5:6-8, St. Paul mentions what all Jews understood. At the Paschal festival time, they were to destroy all yeasted products because leaven was a metaphor for the corruptive influence of evil, for puffing up the self, leaving no room for God.
Proofing the yeast in warm water will yield bubbles around the surface, and the yeast will become puffed up if it does not interact with the flour dough. The puffed up yeast will die. In this sense, neither the laity, nor any minister in the Church, can afford to be puffed up with pride.
Élisabeth Leseur (1866-1914) and Félix Leseur (1861-1950)