It is quite clear to La Salette Missionaries that they are called by the Church to be reconcilers of sinners. In this context, to reconcile means to engage actively in the pursuit of those spiritually far-away souls who have abandoned their faith and decided to go it alone, or of any Christian whose sole claim to Christian fame is the name.
Who are Called to be Reconcilers?
It would seem to me that this particular facet of reconciliation has been overemphasized… In point of fact, any priest, whether religious or diocesan, is by the very nature of his baptism and his priesthood, a reconciler. But even further, as Vatican II has reminded us so powerfully, all Christians not only have a right, but also a sacred duty to be reconcilers among their fellow human beings. The conversion of sinners is a universal apostolate, a common concern, proper to every member of Christendom, of whatever persuasion.
We know well that all reconciled or justified Christians remain in constant need of conversion. We cannot halt the process of our own reconciliation after having left the Confessional Room. This need continues until, literally, ten minutes after they die.
Also these same Christians are to be spurred on and taught the missionary role that became theirs on the day of their baptism. The priest, no matter how holy, still remains what Christ made him – an all-too-human instrument. To expect that all Christians would celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation is visional but well-neigh impossible. In the face of such a task, could the Spirit have left the Church without the means to begin it and see it through?
Vatican II is seen as eminently a layperson's Council. By its voice, the Spirit recalled the central importance of the laity and the pivotal role that is theirs by right in the reconciliation of the world to Christ:
“The laity derive the right and duty with respect to the apostolate from their union with Christ their head. Incorporated into Christ's Mystical Body through baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through confirmation, they are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord himself” (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, #3).
If laity are assigned to this task by the Lord himself, they must act on this call. The Council states:
“There are innumerable opportunities open to the laity for exercise of their apostolate of making the gospel known and (helping other to become) holy... However, an apostolate of this kind does not consist only in the witness of one's way of life; a true apostle looks for opportunities to announce Christ by words addressed either to non-believers leading them to faith, or to believers with a view to instructing and strengthening them, and motivating them toward a more fervent life. "For the love of Christ impels us" (2 Cor 5,14), and the words of the Apostle should echo in every Christian heart: "For woe to me if I do not preach the gospel" (1 Cor 9:16). (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, #6).
Unfortunately many Catholics have inherited and conserved a very minimal view of faith: avoid sin, especially mortal sin, and therefore avoid hell.
An Appeal to the “White Sheep” of the Fold
The renewal that is so often written about and spoken of in this post-conciliar time must begin with the human heart of each Christian. The Church should launch a major effort, not in the search of the black sheep, but in the gathering of the so-called good sheep, the ones standing there in the fold, cozy and comfortable, and who do not know what to do with their warm woolen coat. These white sheep observe the commandments faithfully, love Christ dutifully, but perhaps have forgotten their less fortunate sisters and brothers who are standing outside, untended and unprotected.
They should be reminded that the full exercise of their apostolate of reconciliation does not consist solely in celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation for their own salvation. They must also help others to live their own baptismal grace. Isn't this particular grace, in fact, missionary, sacerdotal and prophetic? The importance of their mission vocation is vigorously stressed in chapter 4 of the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity:
“The individual apostolate, flowing generously from the wellspring of a truly Christian life, is the origin and condition of the whole lay apostolate, even in its organized expression, and admits of no substitute.
“Regardless of circumstance, all lay persons… are called to this type of apostolate and obliged to engage in it. Such an apostolate is useful at all times and places, but in certain circumstances it is the only one appropriate and feasible. (#16)”
Our Lady of La Salette gave us a valuable example in this regard. At the time of the La Salette Apparition, there were, in France and in Europe, myriads of bishops, priests, and religious to whom she could have given her message. Instead she chose to confide it to the care of two unimportant cowherds, to children taken from among the common folk. She gave her message to two young laypeople and encouraged them to make her message known to all her people.
During Lent people are always looking for ideals. Here is one ideal looking for people!
(Edited and reprinted from Reconciliare, vol. 2, no. 4, December, 1967, pgs. 60-64)