D. in Theology and director of the journal Annales TheologiciProfessor Vicente Bosch, of the Faculty of Theology of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, teaches courses on lay and priestly spirituality in Rome and is the author of several publications.
He was kind enough to meet with us to address this relevant theological question - lay spirituality - which the Vatican Council, rather than defining it, "described" it. In passing, we also talked about his recently published book, which constitutes a true and novel course on the question of lay spirituality.
You have titled your book Sanctifying the world from withinWhat is the fundamental proposal you make in it?
-The whole content of the book could be summarized in this central idea: to be a layperson is a way of being a Christian, with all the richness that the Christian vocation entails; to be a child of God, to be called to holiness, to be a member of the Body of Christ and, therefore, to be responsible for the mission of the Church. And the laity is distinguished by its secular character, that is, by its insertion in the world to sanctify it from within and to sanctify itself in that endeavor.
The Second Vatican Council seemed to describe the laity more for what they are not - neither priest nor religious - than for what they are. Isn't that a way of undervaluing them?
Of course, the lay person is not a second-class Christian: one who, not having the "vocation" of a priest or religious, stays in the world and marries. No!
The lay vocation also carries with it the Christian attitude of overcoming selfishness, of fighting against evil tendencies, of exercising detachment, but living it in the heart of the world and not by distancing oneself from it.
It is relatively common to affirm that the characteristic of the laity is secularity. But, in your opinion, what exactly is secularity?
-Secularity is an unavoidable dimension of the Church, not only because she too is in the world (some authors defend this), but mainly because she has the responsibility to bring the world to God.
The Second Vatican Council affirmed that "the mission of the Church is not only to offer men the message and grace of Christ, but also to permeate and perfect the whole temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel." (decree Apostolicam actuositatem, 5). Therefore, to affirm that secularity is a merely sociological note, a simple fact, is to fail to grasp the profound theological meaning of secularity: the sanctification of the world is the mission of the Church.
All Christians - including priests and religious - participate in this responsibility, but the way in which the laity participate in this task is something proper and peculiar to them, precisely because of their insertion in all spheres of society. With their lives, the laity manifest the capacity of the Christian spirit to empower and vivify all that is human.
However, sometimes the model layperson is the one who dedicates more time to the parish or to ecclesial activities.
-With Christifideles laici (30.XII.1988) St. John Paul II wanted to reaffirm and deepen the conciliar doctrine on the laity and, among other things, he warned against the risk - confirmed with facts in the post-conciliar period - of "clericalizing" the laity, that is, of supposing that the maturity of a lay person is evaluated according to the time and energies he devotes to the parish or to other ecclesiastical structures: he/she is filled with assignments and ministries, forgetting that the laity builds up the Church, primarily, with his/her free and responsible action of evangelization of temporal realities.
Most lay people lead busy lives due to their professional, family and social obligations. How can they live in the world and in the Church while feeling more and more co-responsible for their mission?
-It is surprising that, with some exceptions, the theological and pastoral literature tends to present the "vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and in the world." (subtitle of the Christifideles laici) channeled in two parallel spheres or lanes: that of the Church, on the one hand, with its participation in liturgical life, in the parish community and in ecclesiastical structures; and, on the other, the world, the framework of its professional and social activities.
The expression "in the Church and in the world" is valid to signify the layperson's belonging to the People of God and to civil society, but it would be misleading to present the Church and the world as two distinct realities in which the layperson acts alternatively.
To insist on this dualism leads to a double theoretical and practical error: the fracture of the necessary unity of life of the lay faithful; and, above all, the lack of recognition of the "ecclesial" character of the action of the laity in the world. Church and world are indivisibly intertwined: ecclesial life aims at the growth of charity and this is materialized in human relationships and in the effort to improve the world, and - at the same time - the intra-worldly action of the laity (family, work, society) builds the Kingdom, here on earth, which is the Church.
You have recently published a study on the laity.
-The book, published in the collection Subsidia Theologica published by BAC, was born as a manual for the subject "Lay Spirituality" of the Licentiate cycle in the specialization of Spiritual Theology, with the experience of fourteen years of teaching this subject.
Although its origin is academic, it constitutes an adequate instrument for all those readers interested in knowing the history, theology and spirituality of the laity. It is precisely spirituality that is the object of study of the volume-as the subtitle points out-but its correct understanding requires a prior historical and theological context that is developed in six of the fifteen chapters.
What other characteristic features of lay spirituality would you point out?
-I understand that, in addition to what has been said so far, some other characteristic traits belong to the spiritual experience proper to the layperson.
For example, a particular Christian experience of the human and a special sensitivity to the human. I would also add a theological love of the world, that is, an appreciation and esteem for earthly realities, their values and their purpose.
In addition to this, the layperson must possess a positive appreciation of ordinary life and know how to discover the supernatural value present in the most ordinary tasks.
Another characteristic point is professional competence and a sense of responsibility, since the lay Christian is aware that the world is the place in which he sanctifies himself.
I would add two more notes: the laity's own awareness of the ordination to God of all earthly realities - in fact, this is where a good part of their contribution to the Church's mission is situated - and the accentuation of their sense of personal freedom, because it is proper for the laity to opt with personal responsibility for those options that are left to the free discussion of men and women.