Laity Series III

This is a continuation of the last post with the same title but III.

The Laity

I see two groups of the laity: the players and the spectators. The players are those aware that they are really part of the Church and have a unique task to fulfill for the good of the Church, hence, they participate in the work of the Church individually and as a group. The active involvement in groups in the Church promote fellowship among them, growth in faith, and apostolic works. Using my parish as an example, it is only a small fraction of the parishioners that are players whereas everyone should be. The spectators are the Sunday Sunday medicine group. They come to Church only on Sundays and many are not practicing Catholics. There are occasions when a subset of this group becomes parasitic. They hardly make contributions to the Church but they run to the Church when a need arises. This need may be spiritual (sacraments) or temporal (necessities). Some parasites feel it is their right to be catered for by the Church when they run into a temporal need even when they do not make any meaningful contribution to the Church. Even though the Church assists her members in one way or another, she can never take the place of the government in terms of the welfare of the people. Parts of the body work together for the proper functioning of the body. So also should every member of the Church work for the development of the Mystical Body of Christ.

I was at a leadership seminar organized for officers of groups in my former parish. During the Question and Answer segment, a participant asked the speaker if it was alright for a Christian to go into politics. The speaker outrightly discouraged it by citing late Dora Akunyili as an example. According to him, she did well as the head of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC. He said she was advised not to go into politics and so to decline taking up the position of Minister of Information. But she went ahead to take it and that was the beginning of her downfall. He said she lied to cover up for the government. I did not have the opportunity to express my opinion at the seminar but I disagreed with his answer. I do not know if the speaker was knowledgeable about the apostolate of the laity. The laity is to direct the affairs of the temporal order according to the will of God. They are candidates for heaven and they are also citizens of a country. Spiritually they work so that at the end of life on earth, they may enjoy the vision of God. And having being created as man and placed here on earth, the lay person has work to do. The world is not just in a state but in an evolutionary process and every man has a role to play as his contribution to the process. The flourishing of the human person is the purpose of human work. The work we do which contributes to the evolution and the work we do to inherit heaven have a relationship and are not in conflict. Our actions here determine where we end up after life on earth.

Dora may not have been a perfect Minister of Information but that is not a reason to discourage Christians generally from taking up positions of power in the political space. The fact that politics has been dominated in the country for a long time by selfish and greedy men who go for office primarily for what they intend to get is a call for well meaning, competent, and responsible people (including Christians) to go into politics to properly conduct affairs there.

Many Christians frown at politics and would not even think of getting into it. They have seen the ugly character of many people who have gone into politics. Christians see the lies, deception, cheating, and the desperate struggle for power. Most believe that you cannot live a Christian when you go into politics. As a citizen I perceive that the way politics is played in Nigeria is mostly dishonourable. This is why a man who joins a political party in order to find ways to be of service to the country is disturbed when meetings are dominated by talks about money sharing. We see some youths used by some evil-minded politicians to ferment trouble especially when elections are around the corner. The struggle for power is fierce. The campaign for the 2015 general elections for instance was marked with mudslinging, hate speeches, and even pockets of violence – all for power.

Christians should see that Nigeria is in a suffering state because successive leaders failed to use the power they had for the good of the people. Power has been abused. However, for Nigeria to occupy the position she should in the world, servants are needed to go for power. People who understand that power should be used for the good of the people in order to better their lives should go for political offices. When people who are noble and understand how to serve totally avoid politics, they leave power for the wrong set of people who end up making bad decisions that we all pay for.

In the bible, kings like David had power and they used it for the good of their people. People who are competent should go into politics to use power for good. Politics or power is not evil in itself. Nigeria will move forward when competent and credible people with the right intention proceed to serve at the centre at national, state, and local government levels.

Today it is difficult to see a political party with a clear positive ideology. Call ten serving governors of a political party and ask them to write down their party’s policy for education. You will get ten different answers. Now you ask what it is that holds them together as party members. The challenge then is for competent people including Christians with the intention to serve to get creative in going for power through noble means. This challenge deserves to be confronted head-on for the good of the country and the citizens. Every lay person has a vocation and politics is a vocation. It may not be actively played by everybody, but it can actually be played for good by the right people. Whoever is called to politics should respond to the call.

A Catholic who is well formed and hence understands what the apostolate is all about would not discourage all Christians from participating in politics. But on that day of the seminar, many Catholics would have gone home with the notion that they are never to go into politics. And I believe the notion was reinforced when the parish priest mentioned that the speaker said so because going into politics may mean one has to do some things that are not acceptable to one’s Christians beliefs. I think the laity has come a long way from pay, pray, and obey for I do not think that Christians have exhausted creative ways to go for power without sacrificing the faith.

There is a need to rediscover our baptismal vocation. Through the sacrament of Christian initiation, a person becomes a member of the Church and is challenged to live out the responsibilities presented by his baptism. So the task today is not just to specify our ministry but to be educated on who we are as a result of our baptism. We are at the same time people of the Church at the heart of the world and people of the world at the heart of the Church. Called to one life, we are to live as a community with one another. The passive approach to faith should be done away with. Our responsibilities to the Church, family, and work, should be actively carried out with a sense of baptismal responsibility. It is like a new Pentecost when our baptismal vocation is rediscovered.

Godwin Nwaokike is the author of Growing Through Life and Live The Mission.

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