October 3, 2012 by eneubauer
As an ex-Protestant Pastor and avowed Catholic pilgrim I have been amazed at what I have learned after reading the encyclicals, homilies, and statements from the Popes of the Catholic Church. They not only have an amazing grasp on theology, philosophy and the other subjects pertaining to their work as the Vicar of Christ but they also have a unique understanding of the “signs of our times” with keen insights as to the consequences of certain actions or inaction. What I have deduced from reading past encyclicals is that OFTEN what they predict and prescribe are dead-on. God is obviously with them both in their preparation as Pastor of the Universal Church but also active in their daily work. For this leadership I have become eternally grateful.
This leads me to my thought on the Prophetic Voice of the Pope:
I do a ton of reading – because I am geeky that way. I love www.vatican.va, www.catholicnews.com, and www.news.va. In addition, I am constantly looking at sites like New Advent and CatholicHerald.co.uk to get a wider understanding of what is being said and reported. That being said I stumbled upon an article titled, “Benedict XVI: Church Needs Change of Mentality – Calls on Laity to Recognize Pastoral Responsibility.” The opening salvo within this larger article about “co-responsibility” is quite telling, “Laypeople are not merely the clergy’s collaborators, but rather share in the responsibility of the Church’s ministry, says Benedict XVI.”
What is the ministry / mission of the Church:
In speaking about the origin & purpose of mission the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Lord’s missionary MANDATE is ultimately grounded in the eternal love of the Most Holy Trinity: ‘The Church on earth is by her nature missionary since, according to the plan of the Father, she has as her origin the mission of the Son & the Holy Spirit.’ The ultimate purpose of mission is none other than to make men share in the communion between the Father & the Son in their Spirit of love.” (CCC: 850) [emphasis mine]
The mandate is clear, to make disciples, of all people and encourage those followers to develop an intimate, love relationship with Jesus similar to that love which is shared between the Father & Son through the Holy Spirit.
So let me explain why the Pope Benedict XVI’s statement was so significant:
“Lay individuals within the Catholic Church are not just collaborators in the Church’s mission and ministry but responsible for it.”
This statement from Pope Benedict XVI is a call for a deepening of the communion between priests, religious and the laity. Why, because in increasing numbers the laity or lay leaders are being called into service within the context of the Universal Church in general and the parish community in particular. It is in the deepening of this communal relationship between priests, religious and lay leaders that a new level of mutual respect is developed and the possibility for new fruit emerges. I believe this “communal relationship” based in the fulfillment of the Popes statement is a key to the successful implementation of the New Evangelization and the survival of the Church in the 21 century and beyond.
Historical Analysis: From a laymen’s perspective
Lets be honest about the statement,
“Laypeople are not merely the clergy’s collaborators, but rather share in the responsibility of the Church’s ministry” – PBXVI.
I believe this statement indicates the importance of two groups of people. First, the committed Catholic has to recognize their role within the Church and its collective stewardship of its Mission and Ministry. In addition, I believe the idea of responsibility speaks to the fact that lay leaders are taking an ever-increasing role within the structure of the Church (@ every level). I believe this fact expresses another shift within the local parish, how it has been run and how it will run in the future.
Remember, lay leadership within the Church is not new. However, what is new for the local Catholic parish is the number of roles being assumed by lay leaders is increasing. In the early years of the American Church the abundance of parish priests and religious made it unnecessary for many if any lay leaders to take significant roles within the day-to-day operation of the local parish. Outside of building projects and the material development of the local parish building – most positions of “governance” or “pastoral ministry” were left to the ordained and religious. Once America entered a post-WWII culture, society changed and the numbers of priests and religious began decreasing. At this time the women of the parish rose up and filled the roles left by decreasing numbers within the clerical / religious class. Now, in the 21 century we have the rise of what I term the, “lay professional minister” – a person who is called, educated (often with an advanced degree), bringing years of diverse experience and fresh insight to Church management.
What does this mean?
It means that while times have changed in this post-Christian / Modern environment we find a new community forming to fulfill the Mission and Ministry of the Church. A union, a communion of priests, deacons, religious and lay ministers all working together to carry out and fulfill the mission of the Church. Together, if we listen to the words and admonitions of our Pope, we will make a tremendous impact within our parish communities, reaching disaffected Catholics, as well as those who identify themselves as non-churched / un-churched individuals. May God strengthen and unify us for the work ahead.