In His Light

by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

Lay apostolates are essential to our mission as Church

Dear Sisters and Brothers:

On a recent Saturday I had the opportunity to speak to a gathering of Hispanic Cursillo groups at St. Elizabeth Parish in Oakland. I very much appreciate the time I spent with them; it was for me a great blessing to be part of this faith-filled assembly.

The particular grace of that time was the encouragement and consolation I was given from seeing the vitality of their faith.

The subject matter of my remarks was the nature of the lay apostolic movements in the Church and the role of apostolic movements in the life of the Oakland Diocese. Because the apostolate of the laity is so important today, I would like to share with all of you some of what I said to the Cursillo gathering. I hope that my thoughts will encourage you to persevere in the often-difficult mission of witnessing to Christ.

The Apostolate
Every Christian vocation is apostolic. Making Christ known to the world is not optional. Yes, the particular ways Christians go about the apostolate differ, but all of us share in this one same mission. That is to say, every Christian is a missionary.

Some few of us have to get a passport and travel hours by plane to our mission field. Most of us have our mission field in our neighborhoods and where we work, and especially in our homes and families.

This apostolic activity is rooted in Baptism and Confirmation. In these sacraments Christ establishes our unity with him by sharing with us his Holy Spirit.

The gift of the Holy Spirit configures us to Christ. Christ is the First Apostle, the Primordial Apostle. In every apostolate it is Christ who is at work. The effectiveness of our apostolates depends upon our unity with him.

Because our apostolates are effective to the extent that we are united with Christ, the Eucharist is the indispensable “fuel” for the apostolate. It is in the Eucharist that, by feeding on the Lord’s Body and Blood, we grow most powerfully in his likeness. We become what we receive. All apostolates must be Eucharistic.

Because our apostolates are effective to the extent that we are united with Christ, all those engaged in the apostolate must be committed to ongoing conversion. Every day we must strive to strip off the old Adam, our sinful selves, and put on Christ.

Because the sacrament of Penance is the specific place for the grace of conversion, going to Confession regularly must be a habit for all committed to the apostolate.

Apostolic movements are especially effective because they are a cooperative effort. In a movement, the members give each other mutual support within the group, and the effort of each member to share Christ with others is reinforced by the efforts of all the members.

Lay apostolic movements have a particular power because the members are deeply immersed in the very fabric of the world to which they seek to bring Christ’s good news. Lay apostles find themselves in the very places where Christ most needs to be made known.

Apostolic movements in the Oakland Diocese
The Church in Oakland is a community made up of people of a vast diversity of languages and cultures. We are very proud of this; and, while it is for us a challenge sometimes, we judge our diversity to be a great gift from God. His beauty and goodness is reflected as in a thousand mirrors.

And in this diversity of reflection his splendor is amplified. Given our diversity it is essential that we have a broad diversity of apostolic movements. And for this I give thanks.

The social context in which the Christian community of the Oakland Diocese lives our life in the Holy Spirit is highly secularized. At all levels there are individuals and groups that hold values and espouse views that are not shaped by Christ’s heart and mind. This fact further underscores the need for the lay apostolate in our diocese.

There is much to do to spread the Gospel; there are many places into which we must carry the Good News. We can use all the help that is at hand, and then even more. It is a particular blessing that so many who are committed to the apostolate bring to this great effort the vitality of faith that is deeply rooted in a Christian culture.

The grace the Holy Spirit gives us for the apostolate is for the individual and for the community – for both at once. There is no opposition between the good of the individual and the good of the community. There is no opposition between one Christian growing in grace and the Church growing in grace.

As St. Paul says: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7).

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council put it this way: “The Holy Spirit distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts He makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church…. These charisms, whether they be the more outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation for they are perfectly suited to and useful for the needs of the Church” (Lumen gentium, 12).

As Pope John Paul II says: We must exchange our gifts. We must enrich one another.

Certainly there are times when we feel that the Church is like the field of dry bones described by the prophet Ezekiel. Like him we are tempted to say “our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost, and we are cut off completely” (Ez 37:11).

Sometimes we feel this way because the work of the apostolate, the work of making Christ known, is so hard. Sometimes we feel this way because of weaknesses and failings within the Church, the failings of others or my own personal weaknesses.

However, I ask God especially to strengthen your hope and renew your courage. We must not lose confidence in God’s promise. He said that he would send his Spirit, and he kept his word. Jesus breathed on the Apostles in the upper room on Easter Sunday night. The powerful wind came rushing into the Cenacle 50 days later, on Pentecost morning. The bones are not dry and dead, but they are alive, alive with the Holy Spirit, alive with the very life of God.

This gift of the Holy Spirit has never been and never will be withdrawn from the community of disciples gathered around Our Lady and the Apostles. Christ is with us until the consummation of the age. The Risen One continues to breath into us his immortal Spirit. The wind of his living Spirit continues to rush upon us with undiminished power.

Do not be afraid. Do not be intimidated. Do not doubt in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.

Christ is risen; and we live in him by the power of his Spirit. And so, please join me in praying: “Come, O Holy Spirit!



Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.