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Pope at audience: We are all called to be apostles

At his weekly general audience, Pope Francis says that all Christians – priests, religious, and laypeople – are called to mission.

By Joseph Tulloch

At his weekly general audience this Wednesday, Pope Francis continued with his series of catecheses on the “passion for evangelising”, stressing that Christ calls everyone – priest, religious, lay – to be an apostle. 

The Holy Father’s catechesis took the form of a reflection on several passages from the New Testament and from the documents of the Second Vatican Council, which together offer a vision of the universal call to mission.

What is an apostle?

Pope Francis began his catechesis asking what it means to be an apostle.

The first characteristic, he said, is being sent for a mission, adding that this aspect of apostleship is exemplified by the event in which the Risen Christ sends his apostles into the world, “telling them that ‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you’” (John 20:21).

A second feature of being an apostle, Pope Francis continued, is vocation or calling. This, he said, has a feature of Christian life since the very beginning, when Jesus “called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him” (Mk 3:13). It is also testified to in the letters of Saint Paul, who introduces himself as “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus” (1 Cor 1:1), and “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle” (Rm 1:1).

The universal call to apostleship

Pope Francis then went on to urge that all Christians receive this calling.

He quoted from the Second Vatican Council’s decree Apostolicam actuositatem, according to which “the Christian vocation by its very nature is also a vocation to the apostolate.” The call to apostleship thus “concerns both those who have received the sacrament of Orders, consecrated persons, and all lay faithful, man or woman.”

Importantly, moreover, the Pope added, there are not different callings for priests, consecrated persons, and the laity. Rather, all Christians – priests, religious, laity – have the same calling, a “calling that is in common”.

While there is a legitimate “diversity of ministry”, and it is true that “Christ conferred, on the Apostles and their successors the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and ruling in His name and power”, it is important to remember that “the laity likewise share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ.”

Collaboration between laity and hierarchy

In the final section of his catechesis, the Holy Father turned to consider what the Council meant of when it spoke of “collaboration of the laity and the hierarchy.”

Is this, he asked, “a mere strategic adaptation to the new emerging situations?” Not at all, the Pope insisted, going on to quote from Ad gentes 21: “The Church has not been really founded, and is not yet fully alive, nor is it a perfect sign of Christ among men, unless there is a laity worthy of the name working along with the hierarchy.”

It is also very important, he added, to ensure that “the diversity of charisms and ministries must not give rise, within the ecclesial body, to privileged categories.”

“Who has more dignity in the Church?”, Pope Francis asked. “The bishop, the priest? No, we are all Christians in the service of others … Everyone is equal, we are all equal.”

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