The Role of the Lay Faithful
Keynote Address From Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone
NASHVILLE, Tennessee, AUG. 18, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the text of
Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone's Aug. 8 keynote address
at the annual convention of the Knights of Columbus.
The text is provided by the Knights of Columbus.
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Celebrating 125 years of Faith in Action: Witnessing to the 'Yes' of
Address of His Eminence Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, S.D.B.
Secretary of State of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
August 8, 2007
Knights of Columbus 125th Supreme Convention
First of all, allow me once again to express my sincere gratitude to
Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson and fellow Knights for the invitation
to visit Nashville for this historic 125th Supreme Convention of the
Knights of Columbus. I am honored by the opportunity to address all of
you this evening on a topic as dear to me as it is to His Holiness Pope
Benedict XVI: "Faith in Action: Witnessing to the 'Yes' of Jesus
This evening, I will reflect on the importance of this "Yes" for the
Church's lay faithful. I will indicate some of the primary
characteristics of the lay vocation within the Church and in society at
large, and I will point to a few particular challenges facing the laity
Both in his work as a theologian and now in his ministry as the
successor of Peter, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly drawn
attention to the distinctive and irreplaceable role of the laity in the
renewal of the Church's mission in the modern world. At 78 years of
age, Pope Benedict said "Yes" to his brother cardinals, to the Church,
and to the Holy Spirit when he was asked to accept the Petrine ministry
after the long and remarkable reign of the Servant of God, Pope John
Paul II. The Holy Father's willingness to assume pastoral duties as
Chief Shepherd of the universal Church bore witness to the fundamental
attitude required of every Christian -- Pope, Bishop, priest,
consecrated, or lay person; it is the disposition exemplified in our
Lady's humble but sure response to the Lord's heavenly messenger in
Nazareth: "Fiat!" -- "Yes!"
The "Yes!" of Faith in Jesus Christ
But what exactly is the essence of this "Yes"? More specifically, how
is one to live it out as a member of the laity?
In regard to the first question, this "Yes" is quite simply the "Yes"
of faith. It is our full, unmitigated acceptance of Jesus as Lord and
our commitment to follow him as master and teacher. Indeed, the word
"Yes" only makes sense within the context of a dialog between two
persons: someone who utters the "Yes" and someone who accepts it. In
the case of faith, the person to whom we utter this "Yes" is none other
than the Son of God, the Anointed One, the Eternal Word made flesh.
Pope Benedict has emphasized the critical need for each of us to
encounter Jesus; more importantly, he has shown and continues to show
-- both in his words and through his life -- that true fulfilment, joy,
and lasting peace can only be found by saying "Yes" to God's plan of
salvation as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Only in intimate
communication with the incarnate Son of God do we discover the grace to
"put our faith into action."
Your founder Father Michael McGivney was prophetic -- indeed, well
ahead of his time -- in that he clearly understood that this complete
and total "Yes" to Christ was in no way exclusive to those who received
holy orders or had taken religious vows. On the contrary, it is a "Yes"
required of every man and every woman.
As a young curate at Saint Mary's Church in New Haven, Father McGivney
became keenly aware of the laity's need to be actively and fully
engaged in the life of the Church by exercising virtue, cultivating
prayer, and caring for others. He had a deep appreciation for the
special characteristics of the lay vocation as being thoroughly
immersed in the spheres of the family, civil society, and public life.
He made it his goal to develop practical ways of ensuring that faith
could be put into concrete action: especially by providing for the
material needs of orphans, widows, the imprisoned, alcoholics, the
unemployed, and the destitute.
However, it is sometimes easy to forget that Father McGivney's
conviction was based on an even more fundamental insight: namely, that
our concern for the needy and our perseverance in charitable works will
eventually become attenuated and deprived of their deeper meaning if
they are not rooted in faith -- faith understood as the indwelling of
Holy Trinity in our hearts through divine grace as we renew our "Yes"
each day to the person of Jesus Christ.
Faith and Love
This is precisely the message Pope Benedict XVI conveys through his
Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est. When asked why he devoted his first
Encyclical to the theme of love, he replied that he wished to manifest
the humanity of the faith. Only by living the life of faith -- that is,
only by deeply immersing ourselves in the love and mercy of God as
revealed in Jesus Christ -- are we able to love and forgive our
neighbor as ourselves. When it comes to living this faith in the midst
of an increasingly complex and contradictory world, no one knows more
about the obstacles and challenges that can so easily discourage us
than the Church's laity. Whether in family life, in the workplace, or
in the public square, lay persons are continually tempted to compromise
their "Yes" to God by diluting Gospel values and by placing limits or
conditions on love of neighbor.
The Holy Father underlined the unique challenges posed by the
contemporary world to the lay vocation during his Pastoral Visit to
Brazil. Noting that America is a "continent of baptized Christians," he
asserted that "it is time to overcome the notable absence -- in the
political sphere, in the world of the media and in the universities --
of the voices and initiatives of Catholic leaders with strong
personalities and generous dedication, who are coherent in their
ethical and religious convictions." The Pope insisted strongly that it
is necessary for Christians who are active in these social and cultural
milieus to strive to safeguard ethical values. Above all, he said,
"Where God is absent -- God with the human face of Jesus Christ --
these values fail to show themselves with their full force, nor does a
consensus arise concerning them. I do not mean that non-believers
cannot live a lofty and exemplary morality; I am only saying that a
society in which God is absent will not find the necessary consensus on
moral values or the strength to live according to the model of these
values, even when they are in conflict with private interests." In
short, being a Catholic in the world today takes courage; yet it takes
no more courage than it did when Jesus called his first disciples in
The role of the lay faithful: Vatican II and Benedict XVI
The Holy Father frames his teaching on the role of the laity within the
context of the Second Vatican Council, and interweaves it in an
unbroken line with the teaching of Pope John Paul II. The guiding
principle is always the same: namely the "universal call to
"It is quite clear," the Council fathers teach us, "that all Christians
in whatever state or walk of life are called to the fullness of
Christian life and to the perfection of charity." Insofar as it is a
call to holiness, the call to the lay state is no less a "vocation"
than that of the priesthood or religious life. It has its own
distinctive nature, which is absolutely essential to the healthy,
overall functioning of the Body of Christ, the Church. Lumen Gentium
explains: "It is the special vocation of the laity to seek the Kingdom
of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to
Clearly, if lay persons are to "carry out" and "develop" temporal
matters according to "Christ's way," they must first know Christ.
They must take seriously Saint Paul's exhortation to have "the mind of
Christ." This vision of the Church as proposed by Saint Paul and
elaborated by the Second Vatican Council demands not only our active
engagement with the world, but primarily our active engagement with the
person of Jesus. Otherwise, we can easily fall into the trap of
confusing the way of Christ with the ways of the world.
Through Christ's passion, death, resurrection and ascension, he has
renewed the face of the earth; but -- as is evident in the words he
speaks in the Gospel of Saint John -- the "world" still "has not known"
Christ, and in fact often "hates" Christ. It is no surprise then
that Christians often encounter resistance, opposition, and even
persecution in the world. Pope Benedict reminds us that the only
possible response for a Christian in the face of rejection is love -- a
response made possible for us through the grace of Christ. Because
God's very existence is love, love is the very essence of the
Christian life. The universal call to holiness is about patiently,
deliberately, and "programmatically" sharing this love with the
world. It is for this reason that the metaphor of "leaven" -- used
by our Lord and adopted at the Second Vatican Council -- so aptly
describes the concrete reality of living as a Christian in this world:
the work of Christians is often hidden, but nonetheless steady and
consistent, causing the entire dough to rise.
"The Church sets out with humility on her journey, between the sorrows
of this world and the glory of the Lord. On this journey, we will need
to grow in patience." Nevertheless, as the Holy Father noted, "the
Catholic Church grows in every century. Today too, the presence of the
Crucified and Risen Lord is growing. He still has his wounds, yet it is
precisely through his wounds that he renews the world, giving that
breath which also renews the Church despite our poverty…In this
combination of the humility of the Cross and the joy of the Risen
Lord…we can go ahead joyfully, filled with hope."
Enthusiasm and boldness, filled with hope, have always been
characteristic of the Knights of Columbus, and this will no doubt
remain at the heart of their apostolate in the future.
Cooperation in the Church: A Challenge and an Opportunity
I would like to pause for a moment to reflect on this point. Our
integral and persuasive witness to the truth of the Gospel depends
heavily on the ability of Bishops, priests, deacons, religious and
laity to work together for the spread of God's Kingdom by acknowledging
the distinctive role of each vocation within the Body of Christ. For
the Knights of Columbus, perhaps this is most clearly evident at the
parish level. How wonderful it is to behold the pastor, the local
council of Knights, and the rest of the parish mutually supporting one
another as they each exercise their unique forms of service for the
building up of the local community!
During your time together at this 125th Supreme Convention, I would
invite you to encourage and inspire one another by sharing experiences
and ideas of how to facilitate effective cooperation between
yourselves, your Bishops, your pastors, members of the parish staff,
and the civic communities in which you live and work. If your local
community is suffering from the wounds of division, be they large or
small, take the opportunity to deepen your cohesion, since when this is
lacking in a parish family or a local Church, the ability to witness to
Christ in the larger society is weakened. At such times, prayer and
faith are all the more essential to bring about healing and
reconciliation. Pope Benedict writes: "the Spirit is…the energy which
transforms the heart of the ecclesial community, so that it becomes a
witness before the world to the love of the Father, who wishes to make
humanity a single family in his Son."
Benedict XVI's Pauline Vision of the Church
On June 28th -- the eve of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul --
Pope Benedict announced the opening of a special Jubilee year
commemorating the bimillenary of Saint Paul's birth. Over the next
year, the Church will reflect on the life and writings of this great
"Apostle to the Gentiles."
In fact, the vivid images Paul uses to describe the Church -- both at
the local and universal level -- have always been very dear to His
Holiness. He employs them often in more informal discussions with
clergy and laity.
For example, in responding to a question addressed to him during an
audience with members of the clergy of the Diocese of Rome, the Holy
Father recently said: "The Church, though a body, is the body of Christ
and therefore a spiritual body, as Saint Paul teaches. This seems
extremely important to me: that people will be able to see the Church
not as a super-national organization, not as an administrative body or
means for power and domination, not as a social agency -- even though
she carries out a social and 'supra-national' mission -- but rather as
a spiritual body.
Pope Benedict is not only a man of deep theological wisdom; he also
brings to the Petrine ministry extensive pastoral experience. He has no
illusions about the serious challenges confronting local ecclesial
One such challenge is the tendency to focus too narrowly on the
administrative, bureaucratic, and financial aspects of parish and
diocesan life. Not that these are unimportant -- on the contrary!
However, we end up viewing worldly realities through a distorted lens
if we fail to see them with the eyes of Christ. We can only be prudent
stewards of worldly goods if we freely subject them to the good of
Every concrete method and strategy taught and promoted by Father
McGivney in the public square was aimed at the good of the human person
destined for eternal life. Father McGivney's legacy lives on today in
the Knights' continuing effort to keep themselves -- and others --
informed about complex issues regarding human life, justice, freedom,
and the common good.
Friendship and Joy: The Key to Understanding Pope Benedict XVI
Finally, I must say a word about two recurring themes in Pope
Benedict's teaching which are absolutely essential for the "animation"
of "the entire lives of the lay faithful": friendship and joy. These, I
believe, are the keys for grasping Pope Benedict's thought on what it
means to translate faith into action.
The words "friendship" and "joy" echo continuously throughout his
preaching, especially when he addresses himself to young people as they
prepare to gather for the 2008 World Youth Day in Sydney. According to
Pope Benedict, "friendship" and "joy" have God as their primary
reference. The Holy Father never tires of reminding us that God is
near, that he is our friend, and that he is constantly speaking to us
about the most essential things in life. He accompanies us on our
journey through this life, in our joys and sorrows, and -- as a Good
Shepherd who cares only for his flock -- he never abandons us.
At the 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne, His Holiness said this to the
young people present: "A true revolution can take place only by
radically turning to God without reserve; he alone is the measure of
all that is just, while at the same time existing as love eternal. And
what could possibly save us if not love?"
Love is the source of the Holy Father's inspiration in all that he
undertakes, and especially in his commitment to dialogue. He has spoken
with countless lay persons, listening attentively to their practical
ways of reasoning. He truly follows the agenda he set for himself at
the beginning of his pontificate: "My true program for governing the
Church is not to carry out my own will or pursue my own ideas, but to
place myself together with the entire Church in listening to the Word
of the Lord, discerning his will, and allowing myself be led by him,
because he alone will guide the Church through this phase of
The Holy Father always teaches with clarity and precision, and with a
spirit of humility and encouragement. He wants everyone to understand
how beautiful and fulfilling it is to be a Christian, to experience a
personal, living encounter with a life-changing "event," to meet the
One who opens a whole new horizon and gives life a new, decisive
direction. It is precisely for this reason that even the commandments
are never too burdensome for us if we are abiding with Christ.
In his first public interview after having been elected Pope, the Holy
Father summarized his deepest wish, both for young people and for the
"I want them to understand that it is beautiful to be a Christian! The
generally prevailing idea is that Christians have to observe an immense
number of commandments, prohibitions, precepts, and other such
restrictions, so that Christianity is a heavy and oppressive way of
living, and it would therefore be more liberating to live without all
these burdens. But I would like to make it clear that to be sustained
by this great Love and God's sublime revelation is not a burden, but
rather a set of wings -- that it is truly beautiful to be a Christian.
It is an experience that gives us room to breathe and move, but most of
all, it places us within a community since, as Christians, we are never
alone: first of all, there is God, who is always with us; secondly, we
are always forming a great community among ourselves: a community of
people together on a journey, a community with a project for the
future. All of this means that we are empowered to live a life worth
living. This is the joy of being a Christian; that it is beautiful and
right to believe!"
Indeed, how beautiful it is to believe, for to believe is to say "Yes"
to Christ; and to say "Yes" to Christ is to bear witness to our faith
in action. My dear Knights of Columbus, may you always remain men
firmly committed to this "Yes" -- "Yes" to your families, to your
Church, and to your communities -- but most importantly, to Christ who
is the "Yes" to all our hopes and desires. God bless you all.
--- --- ---
 Papal Address at the Inaugural Session of the Fifth General
Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean (Sunday,
13 May 2007).
 Lumen Gentium, 39.
 Lumen Gentium, 40; Cf. Romans 8:28-30.
 Cf. Romans 12:4-5
 Lumen Gentium, 31.
 1 Cor. 2:16. Cf. Phil. 4:7.
 Matthew 7:13-14. Cf. Deut. 30:15-20; Catechism of the Catholic
 Cf. John 15:18; 1 John 3:13; Matthew 10:22 and 24:9.
 1 John 4:8.
 John 13:34-35; 1 Cor. 13:13.
 Cf. Deus Caritas Est, 31.
 Luke 13:20-21; Lumen Gentium, 31. Cf. Matthew 13:33; Catechism of
the Catholic Church, 2832.
 Cf. The Holy Father's Address to the Clergy of Belluno-Feltre and
Treviso at Auronzo di Cadore (Wednesday 25 July 2007).
 Deus Caritas Est, 19.
 See Pope Benedict XVI's Homily for the Celebration of First
Vespers of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul given at the Basilica
of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls (28 June 2007).
 Response to a question addressed to Pope Benedict XVI during an
audience with the priests of the Diocese of Rome (22 February 2007).
 Homily (24 April 2005).
 Interview with E. von Gemmingen, the head of the German section of
Vatican Radio (15 August 2005).