Text of Bishop Leven on Apostolate of the Laity

This is the text of the address delivered Oct. 8 at the ecumenical council by Auxiliary Bishop Stephen A. Leven of San Antonio, Tex.

That there should be a schema on the apostolate of the laity is certainly pleasing. This sacred synod which for the first time in conciliar history has spoken of the laity in a positive way calling them the people of God; which teaches us again to think of the Church not as an organization held together by authority and canon law but as the Body of Christ structured by the sacrament of the episcopacy and living by the charismata given by the Holy Spirit to each member according to His mysterious will; rightly turns its attention to the laity as part in the apostolate.

The schema should therefore say more plainly and forcefully and fully that the apostolate of the laity is of the essential nature of the Church. The apostolate is not something conceded and mandated to the laity by the bishop or the pastor, but the working out in practice of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is the duty of those who receive the charismata of authority and administration to moderate and guide the apostolate of the laity, but they may not suppress it. If Jesus said in the parable of the talents it is a sin to wrap one’s talent in a napkin and bury it, can the bishop or the pastor who by his ineptitude causes the entire body of the laity to keep their charismata fruitless be without fault?

What the schema says of the apostolate, it says too repetitiously and too timidly. It should be streamlined and shortened and given more strength. The schema should emphasize more the necessity of a real and meaningful dialogue between the bishop and the pastor and the laity. This is especially true where there is an educated laity. There is no dialogue if the laity are only invited to listen. Nor is there dialogue if the bishop listens only to individuals, such as his doctor or his housekeeper, rather than to truly representative laymen and laywomen.

If the schema cannot set out a detailed method of dialogue, because it is concerned only with general principles, and specific details are left to a post-conciliar commission, then we, as council Fathers, should instruct such a commission to make adequate plans for a sort of parliament, perhaps on the order of the rumored senate of bishops to assist the pope. Obviously, the laity cannot do in the Church the things that require the power of orders or jurisdiction. Obviously, the bishop cannot engage in conversation with every layman in his diocese. Obviously, there are some fanatic and unbalanced people with whom the bishop should not lose much time. But of all the desires of an intelligent and well-instructed and dedicated laity, the first is for true and meaningful and respectful dialogue. The post-conciliar commission is earnestly asked to include in its directory the setting up of machinery through which every reasonable suggestion from the laity may reach the bishop, receive consideration, and be given an honorable acknowledgment.

Our laity look to us for acceptance as full and mature members in the Body of Christ. They ask only to be allowed to exercise the charismata the Holy Spirit has given them.

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