I’m not sure I understand the role of the lay ecclesial minister in the modern (or should I say post-modern) Catholic Church. I get these…
Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium – Second Vatican Council, 1964.
The constitution presents the role of the laity in a renewed understanding and vision of the Church (esp. 30-38).
Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity – Second Vatican Council, 1965.
The decree takes note of ” the unmistakable work being done today by the Holy Spirit in making the laity ever more conscious of their own responsibility and encouraging them to serve Christ and the Church in all circumstances. . . . the Christian laity exercise their apostolate both in the Church and in the world, in both the spiritual and the temporal orders.”
Christifideles Laici – Pope John Paul II – 1988.
Apostolic Exhortation following the 1987 Synod of Bishops on the Laity.
“The call of the Lord Jesus ‘You go into my vineyard too’ . . . is addressed to everyone: lay people are personally called by the Lord, from whom they receive a mission.” John Paul addresses the dignity of the lay faithful, their participation in the communion of the Church, their co-responsibility for the Church’s mission, the variety of lay vocations, and the formation of the laity.
The Lay Faithful in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1992.
Called and Gifted for the Third Millennium – National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1995.
Reflections of the U.S. Catholic Bishops on the 30th Anniversary of the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity and the 15th Anniversary of Called and Gifted.
Ecclesia in America – Pope John Paul II – 1999.
“The presence and mission of the Church in the world is realized in a special way in the variety of charisms and ministries which belong to the laity. Secularity is the true and distinctive mark of the lay person and of lay spirituality, which means that the laity strive to evangelize the various sectors of family, social, professional, cultural and political life. . . . There is a second area in which many lay faithful are called to work, and this can be called ‘intra-ecclesial’. A good number of lay people in America legitimately aspire to contribute their talents and charisms ‘to the building of the ecclesial community as delegates of the word, catechists, visitors to the sick and the imprisoned, group leaders, etc.’ . . . There is a need to promote positive cooperation by properly trained lay men and women in different activities within the Church.”
Everyday Christianity: To Hunger and Thirst for Justice – National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1999.
Pastoral Reflection on Lay Discipleship for Justice in a New Millennium.
Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: A Resource for Guiding the Development of Lay Ecclesial Ministry – United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005.
The US Bishops “offer this document as a pastoral and theological reflection on the reality of lay ecclesial ministry, as an affirmation of those who serve in this way, and as a synthesis of best thinking and practice.” The document addresses: theological foundations, discernment and suitability for lay ecclesial ministry, formation of lay ecclesial ministers, authorization, and policies and practices in the ministerial workplace.
So given all that…why aren’t we more vocal? See what I did there? Cmon lay people. Know your stuff and change the world. Now.
My friend Scott used to love to climb trees. He was a bit of an eccentric daredevil. Scott would climb sixty foot Ponderosa pines and love to feel the wind move the upper branches side to side. The very thought of this terrified me. For Scott, it was liberating.
It gets better.
Scott would climb out on a branch on the top of the tree as far as he could go. As the weight from his body caused the branch to bend, Scott would grab a hold of the bending limb and climb down the tree. In a sort of controlled free fall, branch after branch would bend as he would catch and release from the tree’s slippery pine needle grip. As soon as he was within ten feet or so, Scott would let go, fall to the ground and howl in manly accomplishment. “I am awesome!,” he would scream. I would watch from below contemplating the value of critical thought and then thank God for the progress of evolution in the human species.
I mean, who thinks that way!
Disciples do and they don’t.
In Luke 19:1-10 a short guy named Zacchaeus climbs a tree to see Jesus. The guy was a tax collector and had done some bad stuff. Jesus sees him, tells him to get down and lets him know he would be dining at his house. Zacchaeus lunges down the tree. Before dinner has even taken place, Zacchaeus declares, “Ahhhhhhhhh! You are awesome! I am an idiot! I will repay everybody that I have hurt…ever…and give them more than I have taken from them! Ahhhhhhhhh!” This is, of course, a direct translation of the Greek.
But seriously, Zacchaeus is blown away. He is literally converted on the spot. Remember, the meal at his house hasn’t even happened yet. People are staring at him, judging Jesus and gossiping. Zacchaeus doesn’t care. His messiah is in his midst and that is enough.
Consider the beauty and simplicity in this story. An adventuresome spirit and willingness to encounter Christ is great. Going to lengths just to be with him is life giving. The transformation we experience from the encounter is the real story. Zacchaeus takes a risk in putting himself out there. But when it is time to land, he puts himself before his master.
Place yourself in God’s midst first. Just be with him (in prayer, in silence, in outreach, in relationship). Let the reality of that situation own you. Then, encounter him at the banquet. Engage the meal with him. Consume the Eucharist. Invite the sacraments. The Disciple wants the best view of their king. They also want conversion. Take risks to be closer to your king. But, do it for him…not for you. Be with him for the sake of the union, not for your own sake. Let change happen.
My 2 ½ year old is slowly learning how to use a toilet. This is a gift to her parents and landfills everywhere. I have five daughters and have changed the diapers of all of them. My understanding of baby diaper changing is not as extensive as my beautiful wife’s, but I am writing the blog so it will have to do.
Yesterday I rushed my squatting daughter to the bathroom to use her midget toilet. She was successful! A bit of number one was in the bottom of the bowl and I lifted her up, praising her disciplined skill set and affirming to all the family that a great accomplishment had been executed. After the celebration subsided, I placed little Gwendolyn in the tub for her evening bath.
After a few moments of returning to after dinner clean up I checked in on my daughter only to find she had completely desecrated her bathing environment! Poop in the tub. Long story short…drained, cleaned, re-bathed, diapered, pajamas, bedtime. Ugh.
So what is the deal here? This is where I insert some theological posturing.
My two year old embodies my spirituality in more ways than one. I am a sinner. I repent. I cling to grace and mercy like a fallen rock climber. I ascend. I sin again. Repeat.
I have a feeling I am not alone in this behavior. As a father, I was disgusted by my daughter’s innocent biological actions. I thought we had covered the needed formation for healthy expulsion of number two. I thought she understood the basic premise. I was mistaken.
God is not mistaken about his will for us or the environments that he places us in. In fact, how we were made and how we make do with our social nurturing is exactly what it was supposed to be…for better or for worse. I never harbored ill will toward my daughter. I really just wanted…in a very “I will rescue you!” kind of way…to remove her from her filthy environment and let her try again. See what I did there?
We crap on God’s perfection…a lot. Yes, I just wrote that because it is true. We stain our own environments with our own decisions and then wallow in it. Unlike a two year old, we cannot claim inexperience and ignorance when it comes to defiance.
Sit with that image for just a moment.
Let’s move on. Sin is a detestable part of the modern human condition. It is putrid and filthy and a lot of other nasty adjectives. It is not acceptable but it is real. This is where mercy becomes so beautiful.
Cry out from your environment if you are living in sin. Confess and repent to a rescuing God who wants nothing more for you than heavenly perfection in an environment of peace. Do not wallow in your own guilt or sin. Be cleansed. Own your misfortune. And as the next day dawns, try not to poop in the tub.
When I was a kid I love to swim. I got my first snorkel, face mask and fins when I was about seven years old. Like many small children I was surprised that I did not possess the ability to grow gills. Darn evolution. I use to take heavy rocks and hold them to my chest so I could sink quicker to the murky bottom of whatever lake we visited.
This was a phenomenal experience. Defying buoyancy and the natural order, I could walk along the muddy floor and encounter a new world! Dark, slimy and cold was somehow super inviting.
I couldn’t help but muster up these memories when I read the gospel for today. In Luke 17:1-6, Jesus tells his disciples…sin happens…don’t make other people sin, especially children…”it would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin”…forgive others a lot when they repent. Good advice. What does drowning have to do with sharing your sinful behavior? A lot, as the case may be. Sort of brings a whole new meaning to the idea of getting “stoned.”
Sinking into cold black darkness is the path of sin. Now, I love that Jesus is clear on the fact that we are all sinners. This means we all know at least a little bit of the reality of this darkness. The catch in this passage is the tendency to drag others with us. Some of us cling to the heavy stone of sin as if it were an adventure. Not good.
Upon hearing the warning from their savior, the disciples respond immediately with…”Increase our faith!” Great line.
If you fumble in sin and sink a bit, watch who you invite to go with you. Don’t invite anyone at all. The will to let go of the rock comes from a heartfelt desire/belief in the idea that at the surface is redemption. Both air and life are healing. Treading water is a lot better than sinking and swimming is not that far off. Our sin must be just that…ours.
This all being said…a prayer for more faith is a beautiful ask for those of us who get stuck in sin. Our faith heals us. It guides us. It holds us accountable and demands a change of direction when we feel ourselves begin to …sink.
Sin is not an adventure. It is dark and murky and cold. Choose a life of faith and engage a spirituality whereupon that faith can grow and expand. Always.
There was a time in youth ministry where the most important thing we could say to a young person is, “…You are loved!” This is nice. It is true. It is an eternal gratitude expressed through the lens of ministry in church and it still echoes today.
But is it relevant?
Here is why I ask…my good friend Patrick Donnovan (Director of the Office of Youth Ministry in the Diocese of Wilmington, DE) recently told me of an engaging conversation he had with youth and adults. The task for the day was to discover the core message the church ought to have for the young. I am sure that “you are loved” was mentioned. The adults, however, settled on, “You belong.” This is a great statement. It is an invitation and a sign of welcome. It is a declaration and a comprehensive investment into relationship. It rings true.
The youth in the room thought differently.
“You belong,” sounded like a demand to them. You own me? For the young heart, perhaps there was a sense of control blended with a bit of an institutional shield. A young person responded…”you don’t know me.” Patrick acknowledged the gravity of the statement and paused the discussion. This is it. This is the question.
Does the church know those whom it claims? Is this important?
If the young hearts of the largest faith vision on earth feel like their 2000 plus year institutional church does not know them, then how on earth is there any realistic expectation of future leadership?
Our ministries are called to be laden with feedback loops. Our efforts as adults must be radically connected to a firm sense of relational investment and relevant expectation. We need to know hearts for hearts to be effectively invited and empowered.
The young heart longs to be known. Not, “known of” or “known for”…but known. The youth in today’s church is a worldly person with tremendous unique gifts and overwhelming modern communication tools.
Let’s get to know young people again.
Let’s create ministry opportunities whereupon young hearts are at the core of prayerful reflection. Dedicate time to leadership empowerment identifying the uniqueness of strengths and the challenge of diversity. Know the person and not just the personality. Know their name and their family. Know their hobbies and their talents. Know the demands of every relationship in ministry and never sell short the value of the investment.
A church that knows it is loved and belongs is a beautiful thing. A church whose generations are relationally valued and drawn into its core will be a kingdom of heaven on earth.