Libraries & Spaces
THE LAYMAN'S CALL. By William R. O'Connor. Preface by Jacques Maritain. New York: P. J. Kenedy and Sons, 1942. Pp. xix + 247. $2.00.
This book has the satisfactory quality proper to one written in answer to a real, and personally felt, problem, by a man competent to furnish an answer. In its general formulation, the problem is capital today: What is the situation of the layman in the Church, and what is the relation of his life and activity, inasmuch as they are specifically lay—and therefore directed to secular and temporal ends—to her total mission? When he dedicates himself to secular tasks—art, statecraft, the professions, soldiering, etc.—is he dedicating himself to something apart from the Kingdom of God, and therefore not answering a call of God, nor acting in alliance with his will, nor employing his baptismal grace of membership in the Church? That the question should be raised at all is eloquent testimony to the fact that "in our day especially a wedge has been driven between the natural and supernatural, the spiritual and temporal" (p. 76). Father O'Connor's book will help to heal those shattered unities. In fact, its finest pages (especially pp. 72–81, 124–28, 198-207) are those inspired by his profoundly Catholic intuition of that unity of nature and grace which is the basic meaning of Christ: “It was human life that Christ came to regenerate and save, and He saved it completely and entirely, in its present stage as well as for the future” (p. 210). This is the Gospel, the good news.
The book has a particular starting-point: the case of the seminarian who leaves the seminary, discouraged that he "has no vocation." Against that falsely narrow view the first chapter asserts that "no one is without a definite call of some kind from the Lord" (p. 18). The next two chapters are an impressive demonstration from Scripture of the reality and diversity of the layman's call. Chapter Four ("The Analogy of Sanctity") specifies the object of the call: it is to sanctity. By clearly distinguishing the universal Christian obligation of sanctity from the particular "counsels of perfection," the way is opened to enforce the high seriousness of the concept of sanctity in its application to the lay life, and to point out its all embracing exigencies: "A Christian is called to super-naturalize the whole secular order by doing full justice to all the requirements of human existence" (p. 79).
Chapter Five starts the discussion of the manner of God's calling by outlining the pertinent doctrines: providence, predestination, nature, grace. Chapter Six is climactic in this part: it developes Lahitton's doctrine on priestly vocation, and applies it brilliantly to lay vocations,
on the principle that "as far as the subject is concerned, all vocations will be found to be a providential meeting of a suitably disposed nature with right opportunities for doing some good" (p. 118). This chapter is highly illuminating and will be of enormous practical help.
The next two chapters deal with "Particular Vocations"; eleven lay states and occupations are studied, to "see how each in its own way is a vocation and means of salvation"; (p. 128). This section is practical, interesting, filled with wisdom and breadth of view. But somehow it falls short. Perhaps the reason is simply that these sketches should have been written by lay persons, who could see the various patterns of life from within.
The ensuing chapter is largely devoted to the universal Christian call to be an agent of peace in all spheres of the world's life, based on an exploitation of St. Thomas' concept of the Mystical Body. (The author prefers to determine the extension of the Mystical Body from the viewpoint of Christ's capital role with respect to all humanity, thus relinquishing Paul's viewpoint, which is that of the native exigences of the analogy itself, the Body of Christ; from the latter viewpoint only those who are "embodied," "organized" in Christ constitute His Body.) The development is forceful; but perhaps the resources of the doctrine would have been more fully utilized by emphasizing it as the basis of that all-important sense of Christian solidarity, which is the zealous layman's safeguard against his greatest temptation—to a sense of isolation in the face of a disordered and hostile world. The concluding chapter sums up the whole argument.
It is true that an entirely complete development of the layman's call would include two further points: first, an appeal to the call latent in the intrinsic dynamism of the grace of Baptism and Confirmation; and secondly, an exact exposition of the papal call, addressed to all, to be the "pontifex" between the temporal and the spiritual—the prophetic, priestly, and kingly instrument of the Reign of Christ in human society—by membership in Catholic Action (the organization—it is not simply an "idea"—which is about as much misunderstood as it is talked about). But these two ideas lay outside Father O'Connor's legitimately adopted perspectives.
When Father O'Connor says: "This is the layman's world; he has made it, and he must save it, if he is to survive at all" (p. 227), he is allocating a tremendous responsibility. But his whole book, by making the layman reflect on the divine power that is his by reason of his call, will generate the confidence to accept the responsibility. Moreover, one should like to see the book read extensively by priests; they need confidence in the laity, an intimate sense of alliance with them, and sym-
pathy with their aspirations, which often soar higher than many of us realize. In fact, the book will be generally valuable. In it the talents of the theologian and the insight of the humanist are put at the service of a genuinely pastoral heart.
JOHN COURTNEY MURRAY, S.J.