The Complete Christian: Conference

Keeping Christ First

  • Introduction
  • Every Christian is Called to Be an Apostle
  • Getting Practical
  • Our Way
  • Our Words
  • Our Works
  • Conclusion: Answering the Call to Give



Jesus summoned his Apostles, the ones he wanted, and he appointed them to be his companions.
To follow that call required a commitment to prayer and fellowship — orare and amare — for those first disciples of the Lord, and requires the same from us, so many generations later. But Jesus also appointed them for a task. St. Mark describes this task as being “sent out to proclaim the message, with power to drive out devils.”
This is the task of the whole Church and every Christian, the mission received from the moment
of baptism: to roll back the powers of evil and sin
that have made such a mess of the world, and to spread the redeeming truth and goodness of Christ’s everlasting Kingdom. In other words, we are called to courageously give to others what we have received: the Good News of Jesus Christ, and the grace to live in harmony with that Good News.
This courageous giving, this “dare” — the third core element in our Christian living — is traditionally
called “apostolate,” or apostolic action. The word “apostolate” and “apostle” both come from the Greek root word that means “to be sent out.” And that’s the word St. Mark uses to describe the Christian mission: being “sent out to proclaim the message, with power to drive out devils.”
Every Sunday, when we affirm our faith in the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church,” we are also renewing our commitment to this mission. Here’s how the Catechism explains it:
The whole Church is apostolic, in that she remains, through the successors of St. Peter and the other apostles, in communion of faith and life with her origin: and in that she is ‘sent out’ into the whole world. All members of the Church share in this mission, though in various ways. The Christian vocation is, of its nature, a vocation to the apostolate as well. Indeed, we call an apostolate, every activity of the Mystical Body that aims to spread the Kingdom of Christ over all the earth”
The Church’s mission is shared by every member of the Church; we are all missionaries. And that mission is to spread the faith, to bring every person into friendship with Jesus Christ, to open channels for God’s grace to free them from their sins and lead them along the path of redemption and holiness.
Here’s how the Second Vatican Council explained it:
On all Christians therefore is laid the preeminent responsibility of working to make the divine message of salvation known and accepted by all men throughout the world
– Apostolicam Actuositatem, 2
Remember what happens at baptism? The baptized person receives a candle whose flame was lit from the Easter Candle. What are we supposed to do with that?
We are supposed to let it shine! To use it to light more candles wherever the light of Christ hasn’t yet cast out the darkness of evil, sin, and ignorance. Jesus told us this in no uncertain terms:
You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.
– Matthew 5:14-16
This is our fundamental mission in life: not making money, not winning championships, not even living a just, peaceful and moral life – those things are fine and good, and the last one is even necessary, but as followers of Christ, we are called to more.
We are called to be his co-workers, his messengers, his apostles, spreading his Gospel and rolling back the powers of evil that do so much damage to the human family that Jesus died to save. Every single one of us is called to that mission. Here’s how Pope Benedict XVI explained it:
Christianity is the present. It is both a gift and a task, receiving the gift of God’s inner closeness and — as a consequence — bearing witness to Jesus Christ.
– Jesus of Nazareth II, 282
– CCC 863

Every Christian Is Called to Be an Apostle

We need to stop and reflect on that statement, especially the part that reminds us: “The Christian vocation is, of its nature, a vocation to the apostolate as well.” We are all called to engage in spreading the faith, in sharing with others what we have received from God. Every single one of us.
Sometimes we can think that it’s just priests, nuns, and consecrated missionaries who are called to spread the faith, and the rest of the Church is just supposed to passively hold on to the faith. Not true.

Getting Practical

But how? How are we supposed to engage in this mission?
In a sense there are as many forms of apostolate
as there are individual Christians. God wants his redeeming grace to penetrate every corner of time and space, so he guides each one of us to carry that grace into our unique circle of influence.
The Catechism reminds us of this too, when it tells us:
In keeping with their vocations [ordained ministers and lay people], the demands of the times and the various gifts of the Holy Spirit, the apostolate assumes the most varied forms.
– CCC 864
This is why the first requirement for carrying out our apostolic mission is to be good listeners, to listen to the whispers of the Holy Spirit directing our desires, our hopes, our thoughts, our actions.
But the Church has identified three general categories of apostolate. In fact, the Second Vatican Council published an entire Decree describing the apostolate of the Church, especially of the laity, called Apostolicam Actuositatem.
Understanding these general categories will help us be better listeners and more effective apostles. Let’s take a look at them, one by one.

Our Way

The first arena of apostolate is simply our way of living. As Christians, we are children of the Eternal King; as apostles, we are messengers of the Everlasting Lord. This is who we are, and it should affect the way we do everything we do, the way we relate to other people, the way we react to every situation that life throws at us.
Because we have received the Spirit of Christ, our manner of behavior should be like Christ’s: full of humble dignity, generosity, responsibility, openness, and simple elegance.
In what we choose to do and say, and in how we do and say it, God’s grace can help us be a living example of the goodness, love, and wisdom of the Lord.
How do you think Jesus worked in the carpenter shop with St. Joseph? Lazily, sloppily, irresponsibly? No chance.
How do you think the Blessed Virgin Mary would have interacted with the other women of Nazareth at the town well? Self-centered, self-absorbed, impatient, judgmental? Hardly.
As we mature in our faith, we are filled more and more with God’s grace, and this shines out in the way we live, the way we do things.
As the Second Vatican Council put it:
The very testimony of their Christian life and good works done in a supernatural spirit have the power to draw men to belief and to God.
– AA 6
There should be something different about Christians, something intangibly luminous about they way they do the ordinary things of life, because after the Incarnation, after God himself lived out the ordinary things of life for 30 years in a small town in Galilee, those ordinary things have been touched by grace and turned into windows of glory.
Br. Marco taught me this lesson in our novitiate. One morning during housework we were both assigned to fold laundry. There were over a hundred seminarians living in the center at the time, and there were mountains of laundry to fold. I strongly disliked folding laundry.
As we worked, I was getting mad, and frustrated, and tired, and resentful, and full of self-pity. I was carrying on a vibrant conversation with myself, telling myself that I hadn’t joined the seminary in order to fold laundry. And the more self-absorbed I became, the slower and sloppier my folding became.
About half-way through our hour of housework, I looked up and noticed my fellow novice, Br. Marco. Br. Marco was working about twice as hard as I was, and folding clothes about ten times better than I was. I kept looking at him. He was working with attention to detail, sincere effort, and a look of calm determination on his face.
Finally, I interrupted him. I asked, “Br. Marco, don’t you hate folding laundry? Why are you pushing yourself so much?”
He looked up, smiled, and said, “I don’t much like folding laundry, but I very much like working for the Lord.” His love for God was reflected in his way of working.
After the three wise men found Jesus and Mary in Bethlehem, worshipped him, and gave him their gifts, St. Matthew tells us that they went home. They went back to their normal lives. But, the Gospel writer tells us, “They departed for their country by another way.” Another way — a different way.
After encountering the Lord, we live all of life in a different way, and that different way becomes a magnet to draw others towards that same transforming encounter with Jesus Christ.
St. Paul understood this and repeated it over and over again in his Letters. Here’s how he explained it to the Christians in Colossae:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.
– Colossians 3:12-15

Our Words

Our first apostolate consists simply in reflecting God’s goodness in the way we go about the business of daily living. Our second field of apostolate has to do with our words. Here’s how the Second Vatican Council puts it:
… a true apostle looks for opportunities to announce Christ by words addressed either to non-believers with
a view to leading them to faith, or to the faithful with a view to instructing, strengthening, and encouraging them to a more fervent life. “For the charity of Christ impels us” (2 Cor. 5:14). The words of the Apostle should echo in all hearts, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16).
– AA 6
Some members of the Church are ordained in order
to preach the Gospel in an official manner. But every single one of us is called to be able to explain our faith to others, and to look for opportunities to do that. St. Peter put it like this in his First Letter to all Christians:
Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.
– 1 Peter 3:15, NABR
Of course to be able to explain our faith to others,
we have to understand it ourselves. We have to make an effort to understand the reasons behind what we believe, and the implications of our faith for every aspect of the human drama.
This takes study, conversation, and reflection — not just reading the latest headlines and following the latest blogs. The Second Vatican Council urged us to take this apostolic opportunity to heart when it said:
… this sacred synod earnestly exhorts laymen — each according to his own gifts of intelligence and learning — to be more diligent in doing what they can to explain, defend, and properly apply Christian principles to the problems of our era in accordance with the mind of the Church.
– AA 6
Words are powerful things. St. James illustrates this by comparing the human tongue — our primary organ of speech — to the tiny rudder of a huge ship, and to a small match that can set an entire forest on fire (cf. the Letter of St. James, Chapter 3).
St. Paul also recognizes the power of words, and gives a beautiful, though strict, standard that the Christian should live by in our speech:
No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.
– Ephesians 4:19, NABR
Words that impart grace and edify, words that build up those around us and help draw them closer to God. That’s the second arena of apostolate, the apostolate of bearing testimony to God through what we say.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we should only talk about spiritual things all the time. That would be inhuman.
Nor does it mean forcing people to listen to personal sermons all the time. That would be disrespectful and counterproductive.
But it does mean that we are called to be Christ’s messengers, and we need to be ready and willing to impart the message when God gives us the chance. And he will.
Not too long ago, I was getting into a car in one of those huge parking lots near a shopping mall. As I was getting in, I noticed a man running in my direction, dodging through some parked cars about five or six rows in front me. By the time he reached me, I had already sat down in the driver’s seat, but he stopped and asked if he could talk to me.
So I opened the door and got out. And he explained that he had just been sitting in his car, leaning against the steering wheel, praying for help. And he looked up and saw me walking through the parking lot, and he thought that was the answer to his prayer. He went on to tell me that his mother had just passed away, after a long, complicated, and drawn out illness. A couple weeks
had passed, and he wasn’t at peace. He wasn’t sure he had made the right decisions about the treatments the doctors had recommended.
So I asked him to tell me the whole story. We stood there for a while, and he explained the entire situation. And together we talked it through. And I explained the Church’s teaching on end-of-life issues, and together we applied that to his mother’s situation. And as we talked, I could physically see the tension and the anxiety drain away, and peace and joy come over him.
This is an example of the apostolate of the word, of speaking the truth in love, of being “sent out to proclaim the message.”

Our Works

Our way of life, and our words are the first two arenas of apostolate. The third is our works. This has to do with projects and activities that we engage in so as to spread the message of Christ.
The Second Vatican Council identifies three basic modes of this kind of apostolate. First, we can engage in projects and activities directed towards instructing and sanctifying people in the faith. This involves catechizing, teaching, and inviting people to participate in the life of the Church.
A powerful example of this kind of apostolate can be found in the advertising campaign created by “Catholics Come Home” (
Tom Peterson, the Catholic layman who started this apostolate, used to work in secular advertising. The Holy Spirit gradually stirred up in his heart a desire to use his knowledge of communications to bring non- practicing Catholics back home to the faith.
These campaigns have been used successfully by numerous dioceses, and their Internet reach has helped hundreds of thousands of people rediscover the beauty of their faith.
Besides those kinds of evangelization projects, we can also engage in activities that improve and perfect what the Church calls “the temporal order.” That term that refers to human society in all of its multiple dimensions. Here’s how the Second Vatican Council explained it:
The laity must take up the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation… the good things of life and the prosperity of the family, culture, economic matters, the arts and professions, the laws of the political community, international relations, and other matters of this kind, as well as their development and progress. . .
– AA 7
Renewing the temporal order means building a society that reflects and protects the truth of human dignity in all of these spheres. In another place, the Council put it like this:
Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ.
– AA 2
This is the arena of apostolate most characteristic of the laity, as opposed to the ordained clergy. The Council made this very clear:
The apostolate in the social milieu, that is, the effort to infuse a Christian spirit into the mentality, customs, laws, and structures of the community in which one lives, is so much the duty and responsibility of the laity that it can never be performed properly by others…
– AA 13
We all know that western civilization is no longer Christian, but if we who are Christ’s apostles form a strong enough subculture and penetrate with God’s light and grace the different sectors of civil society, we can gradually re-Christianize it, or at least protect it from further decay. This is a key element in what recent popes have called the New Evangelization.
Today’s faithful Catholics who bring their Christian wisdom and knowledge to bear in science, politics, business, education, and entertainment can follow in
the footsteps of the very first generations of Christians, who converted the pagan Roman Empire from the inside out, like leaven in a lump of dough.
Besides works of evangelization and works that renew the temporal order, there is a third arena of apostolic works: projects and activities dedicated to mercy and charity, helping to show forth the love of God to those who are in need and can’t help themselves.
Orphanages, hospitals, schools, and other
social initiatives taken up to serve the poor and underprivileged are a powerful channel through which the Church spreads the message of God’s redeeming love. The Second Vatican Council stressed the central role of this kind of apostolate when it declared that
… pity for the needy and the sick and works of charity and mutual aid intended to relieve human needs of every kind are held in highest honor by the Church.
– AA 8
Works by which we start or join projects dedicated to evangelization, to renewing the temporal order, and to Christian mercy — this is the third category of apostolic action.
We can do all of these apostolates as individuals, or as groups and associations. But in each case, we should always be in harmony with the rest of the work of the Church — never acting contrary to the loving fellowship we are called to live as Christ’s companions.

Conclusion: Answering the Call to Give

Answering this call to spread Christ’s message, rolling back the darkness of sin and evil, through our way, our words, and our works, is one of the most powerful ways to experience the joy that only Christ can give. He pointed this out when he said; “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving” (Acts 20:35).
To give — “dare” — to give to others what God has so generously given to us, and what he continues to give! This is the third element in our Christian motto of prayer, fellowship, and apostolate, of orare, amare, and dare.
But in reality, they aren’t three separate elements. They are more like three interconnected dimensions, or the three sides of a triangle — you can’t really have one of them, authentically, without the other two. Because Christ himself is the source of all three dimensions, and wherever he is, he brings them all.
The Catechism reminds us of this when it tells us:
Christ, sent by the Father, is the source of the Church’s whole apostolate; thus the fruitfulness of apostolate
for ordained ministers as well as for lay people clearly depends on their vital union with Christ… But charity, drawn from the Eucharist above all, is always as it were, the soul of the whole apostolate.
– CCC 864
Vital union with Christ — prayer. The charity drawn from the sacraments — fellowship. And apostolate. It’s not a bad motto for someone who wants to be a complete Christian.
Take a few minutes now to go over the ten questions in the personal questionnaire. Do it prayerfully, taking your time.
It’s not meant to be a quiz, but a tool to help you tune in to whatever the Holy Spirit wants to tell you about your Christian life right now.
Personal Questionnaire
1. How did I receive my Christian faith? What apostolic activity did God use as a means to bring it to me?
2. How well is Christ reflected in the way I carry out my daily duties (school, work, family life, etc.)?
3. What one area in my life needs the most improvement as regards to giving good Christian example through my way of living?
6. How deeply do I respect the power of words for either good or bad? What personal experiences have helped increase this respect?
7. When was the last time I explained or defended my faith with words?
8. What types of apostolic works have always attracted me and why?
9. What apostolic work have I engaged in that has been most memorable for me?
10. Am I sufficiently involved in the apostolate, or am I a bit off balance in my Christian living, with plenty of prayer and fellowship, but very little apostolic activity?

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