What's a Layman to do in the Brave New World


The most profoundly threatening dystopia for the future is not the brutal totalitarianism sketched in George Orwell's novel '1984,' but the mindless, soulless authoritarianism depicted in Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World'

“The most profoundly threatening dystopia for the future is not the brutal totalitarianism sketched in George Orwell’s novel ‘1984,’ but the mindless, soulless authoritarianism depicted in Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World,’” said the American biographer of John Paul II, “a world of stunted humanity; a world of souls without longing, without passion, without striving, without suffering, without surprises or desires — in a word, a world without love.”

Weigel’s was one of the more somber notes struck at a round-table discussion on Tuesday, the fourth day of the six-day Congress of Catholic Laity. Laity from six countries addressed the congress on areas where Catholic men and women are called to be missionaries.

Marriage and the Family Anouk Meyer, a French mother and member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, opened the sessions, explaining that “like the apostles in the Gospel, spouses are sent on mission by Christ two by two.” In this connection, Christian spouses have a double mission: “to be faithful to one another, and to educate their children.”

Meyer said that “all love is fruitful” and, indeed, there are couples “who are not fertile but who have immense spiritual fruitfulness.” Parents have the mission to be “awakeners,” she said, attempting to “open their children’s heart to God and others.”

She added: “The priestly vocation and marriage vocation are complementary ways to build the Church.”

“In the family, we have the experience of being unique, of being loved for our own sake,” Meyer continued, yet “the family does not develop in an isolated manner, but rather must be directed to others.” Thus, she said, “the mission in matrimony and the family consists in generating day after day the joyful, sorrowful and glorious mysteries of the rosary of life, saying: yes to God, yes to love, yes to life.”

Work and Economics The globalization of the economy (and the introduction of new technologies) poses new challenges to the mission of the laity in a world transformed by work. These topics were addressed by Rafael Serrano Castro, secretary-general of Madrid’s Lay Apostolate.

This new situation of fragmentation and lack of work, Serrano warned, has caused “division and confrontation among the workers themselves, human relations have deteriorated, mistrust and competition reigns in business, and xenophobia increases.”

According to Serrano, the mission of the laity consists in humanizing work in the global economy. This implies, he said, “recovery of the centrality of a cultural work that will facilitate the generation of a social individual with the will and desire to construct a different society, with ethical principles, which keep the weakest in mind.”

Serrano believes that the promotion of the “spirituality of work” is decisive, which “starts with an experience of an encounter with God,” and offers “a way of being, feeling, living the worker’s life, to the extent that we are able to experience our effort as a grace that allows us to cooperate with God and others in the creation of a more fraternal world.”

Poverty The founder of the Sant’Egidio Community, Andrea Riccardi, said: “A great sign of the novelty of life in our contemporary world is Christians’ love for the poor.”

Riccardi observed that the past century was “the most secularized in history.” Yet he classified it as “the century of martyrdom,” in which lay men and women “have not been afraid to lose their own life out of love for the poor.”

“For the Christian layman, the poor are, above all, men and women,” he added. “The ideologizing of the question of poverty can distance us from direct and personal contact with the poor. In fact, direct contact with the poor is an important fact in the spiritual life of a Christian. Whoever does not see the poor up close, will understand little, perhaps, about man and love.”

Among the different forms of poverty, Riccardi mentioned war, conceived in the last century by popes as “useless killing.” “Should the laity not ask themselves increasingly if they must not effect a miracle of peace?” he asked.

Education and the University Nikolaus Lobkowicz, founder of the Catholic University of Eischtatt, recalled the joy he felt when reading the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution “Lumen Gentium.” That document clarified that the laity, including married men like him, have a vocation. Because of this, the German professor considers it strange that “this text of the council, which is so important for us, the laity, causes the opposite effect it aimed at,” leading many lay people to confuse their own tasks with that of priests’.

In the realm of education, Lobkowicz sees the university as a privileged field for the mission of the laity as a “school in which the teachers work in the most advanced frontiers of the development of learning, and in which the students take up a profession in virtue of what they learned in the university.”

The first task of a Christian in the university is to be a good professor or researcher, he said. However, the Christian must also see his whole reality “with the eyes of Christ,” that is, “with the love that Christ has asked us for, keeping the teachings of the Church in mind,” Lobkowicz said.

“In this connection, I often think of St. Paul’s words in the first Letter to the Thessalonians: Try everything, but choose what is valuable,” he added. “We still have not really learnt what this ‘trying’ means,’” because an attitude of fearful suspicion has given way to an uncritical acceptance of all novelty.

The Christian who works in the university, especially in more-developed countries, must look beyond relativism to see the truth and to make others see it too.

Politics The defense of authentic democracy has become the great commitment that must be faced by Catholics involved in public life, said George Weigel, member and former director of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, in Washington, D.C.

According to Weigel, author of Witness of Hope, it is necessary to listen to the Pope’s call at the United Nations five years ago, to accept the “risk of freedom,” based on the “inalienable human rights, rooted in the nature of the person,” and reflected in the “universal moral law.”

“The task of the laity in the political arena is to insist that freedom means doing things in the ‘right’ way, rather than doing things ‘my’ way,” Weigel said.

Ten years after the fall of the Communist bloc, an erroneous idea of liberty is endangering the present democracies, he warned. “The free society will only remain free if the virtues necessary for freedom are alive and well, in and among political communities.”

Weigel pointed to what he says are obvious symptoms of democracy’s problems: “the judicial usurpation of politics” that lead to acceptance of anti-life policies such as abortion and euthanasia, and the “redefinition of marriage.” In the future, he warned, the great menace to democracy might come from biogenetics, if it is not guided by ethics — hence, his fears of a future “Brave New World.”

Ecclesial Community Pat Jones, of Caritas-England and Wales (CAFOD), and member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, closed the talks by referring to one of the novelties resulting from Vatican II: the greater presence of the laity in the internal life of the Church.

She said the laity must bring “newness to Church life, building its future,” thanks to the experience they have attained with their own education and professional journey. Pastors need lay people’s expertise in sectors where the clergy themselves cannot be present, she added. ZE00112920


“What’s a Layman to do in the Brave New World.” Zenit (Nov. 29, 2000).

Reprinted with permission of Zenit.

Zenit is an International News Agency based in Rome whose mission is to provide objective and professional coverage of events, documents and issues emanating from or concerning the Catholic Church for a worldwide audience, especially the media.

Copyright © 2000 Zenit

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