Harvest Time: You go too! John Paul II on Lay Apostolate

John Paul II at Iowa Living Farm, Oct 4, 1979 (Neil Leifer)
The gospel reading yesterday, Matthew 20:1-16, on the parable of the workers in the vineyard, served as an inspiration to Blessed John Paul II to explain the task and urgency of lay apostolate. It may seem late in the day, according to the two millenia of Church history, for the fathers of Vatican II to lay such emphasis upon the role of laity in the modern world. 
But it is time for the laity to hear the call — the call to holiness and the call to evangelization. No doubt many homilies yesterday examined the issue of fairness and the gratuity of God’s call and his grace and rewards — good topics all. But John Paul II could not get beyond the first few pericopes — you go now! why are you standing by idle?! John Paul II focused the message of Vatican II on this precise point — oh lay faithful, all faithful — you go now too! How can any heart on fire abide idleness and repose? Make haste to get up and set out — now is the time of the visitation, as Mary, to make haste to serve.
Here is how John Paul II opens his great work Christifideles Laicis (On the Christian Faithful: ON THE VOCATION AND THE MISSION OF THE LAY FAITHFUL IN THE CHURCH AND IN THE WORLD, Post synodal Apostolic exhortation, 1988)
1. THE LAY MEMBERS of Christ’s Faithful People (Christifideles Laici), whose “Vocation and Mission in the Church and in the World Twenty Years after the Second Vatican Council” was the topic of the 1987 Synod of Bishops, are those who form that part of the People of God which might be likened to the labourers in the vineyard mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel: “For the Kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard” (Mt 20:1-2). The gospel parable sets before our eyes the Lord’s vast vineyard and the multitude of persons, both women and men, who are called and sent forth by him to labour in it. The vineyard is the whole world (cf. Mt 13:38), which is to be transformed according to the plan of God in view of the final coming of the Kingdom of God.

2. “And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too'” (Mt 20:3-4). From that distant day the call of the Lord Jesus “You go into my vineyard too” never fails to resound in the course of history: it is addressed to every person who comes into this world. In our times, the Church after Vatican II in a renewed outpouring of the Spirit of Pentecost has come to a more lively awareness of her missionary nature and has listened again to the voice of her Lord who sends her forth into the world as “the universal sacrament of salvation”.
You go too. The call is a concern not only of Pastors, clergy, and men and women religious. The call is addressed to everyone: lay people as well are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission on behalf of the Church and the world. In preaching to the people Saint Gregory the Great recalls this fact and comments on the parable of the labourers in the vineyard: “Keep watch over your manner of life, dear people, and make sure that you are indeed the Lord’s labourers. Each person should take into account what he does and consider if he is labouring in the vineyard of the Lord”. . .
You go into my vineyard too. During the Synod of Bishops, held in Rome, 1-30 October 1987, these words were re-echoed in spirit once again. Following the path marked out by the Council and remaining open to the light of the experience of persons and communities from the whole Church, the Fathers, enriched by preceding Synods, treated in a specific and extensive manner the topic of the vocation and mission of the lay faithful in the Church and in the world. . . .
The Pressing Needs of the World Today: “Why do you stand here idle all day?”
3. The basic meaning of this Synod and the most precious fruit desired as a result of it, is the lay faithful’s hearkening to the call of Christ the Lord to work in his vineyard, to take an active, conscientious and responsible part in the mission of the Church in this great moment in history, made especially dramatic by occurring on the threshold of the Third Millennium.
A new state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so. It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle. We continue in our reading of the gospel parable: “And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’. They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us’. He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too'”( Mt 20:6-7).
Since the work that awaits everyone in the vineyard of the Lord is so great there is no place for idleness. With even greater urgency the “householder” repeats his invitation: “You go into my vineyard too”. . . .
It is necessary, then, to keep a watchful eye on this our world, with its problems and values, its unrest and hopes, its defeats and triumphs: a world whose economic, social, political and cultural affairs pose problems and grave difficulties in light of the description provided by the Council in the Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes. This, then, is the vineyard; this is the field in which the faithful are called to fulfill their mission. Jesus wants them, as he wants all his disciples, to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” (cf. Mt 5:13-14). But what is the actual state of affairs of the “earth” and the “world”, for which Christians ought to be “salt” and “light”?
The variety of situations and problems that exist in our world is indeed great and rapidly changing. For this reason it is all the more necessary to guard against generalizations and unwarranted simplifications. It is possible, however, to highlight some trends that are emerging in present-day society. The gospel records that the weeds and the good grain grew together in the farmer’s field. The same is true in history, where in everyday life there often exist contradictions in the exercise of human freedom, where there is found, side by side and at times closely intertwined, evil and good, injustice and justice, anguish and hope.

End of quote. This gospel passage and John Paul II’s exegesis serve as a guiding impetus for the mission of the Pope John Paul Forum for the Church in the Modern World. “A new state of affairs today both in the Church and in social, economic, political and cultural life, calls with a particular urgency for the action of the lay faithful. If lack of commitment is always unacceptable, the present time renders it even more so.”

For the entire text, see the Vatican website.
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