I was about to post on the exciting arrival in England of St Therese of Lisieux's relics, when I saw what Pope Benedict XVI yesterday told the Brazilian bishops. He said:
"The lay faithful must undertake to give expression in real life - also through political commitment - to the Christian view of anthropology and the social doctrine of the Church."
The Vatican Information Service's headline, 'The role of priests is irreplaceable', is fine: the address is, indeed, mostly concerned to safeguard the priest-lay distinction, to prevent "the secularization of clergy and the clericalization of the laity" as Pope Benedict puts it.
But my headline detects an easily-overlooked bit, which has greater news value because more surprising. Surprising, at least, if you haven't read Caritas in veritate where in para 7 he calls on "every Christian" to practise what he calls "the institutional path -- we might also call it the political path --of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbour directly, outside the institutional mediation of the polis."
Just to make this absurdly clear, the Pope is calling on lay people to practise a politics of the common good in order to promote a Christian view of humanity and the social doctrine of the Church. He's saying: lay folks, this is your job.
That means (a quick summary of 110 years of papal teaching follows): defence of life in the womb as well as outside it -- that is, against abortion laws and the death penalty, and in favour of a pathway to citizenship for long-term undocumented migrants; it means just wages, regulation of the market, curbing usury, intervening to overcome the breach between rich and poor; and it means strengthening civil society to prevent its domination by the state and the economy.
We Catholic lay people believe in papal authority. We do not have the right to pick and choose. Roma locuta, causa finita.
We have been given our orders.