The Role of Clustering and Collaborative Ministry
Diocese of Brooklyn
October 4, 2001
Bishop Howard J. Hubbard
It is great honor and privilege to be invited to address you the leaders of the church in this great Diocese of Brooklyn.
What I would like to do today is offer a few words about the theology of collaborative ministry , the implications of that theology for various categories of ministry within the Church and then cite 10 qualities which I believe are necessary to exercise such.
First, the theology of ministry. Let me preface this reflection on ministry by offering a brief comment on the Church itself because our vision of the Church and its mission influences our understanding of ministry and shapes its development in our parishes and dioceses.
When we speak of the Church, we are dealing with a living mystery. As the Second Vatican Council expressed it, "The Church is a mystery prefigured in creation, prepared in the history of Israel, initiated by the Holy Spirit and reaching its fulfillment only at the end of time" (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Par .2). The church is that mystery in which God's saving presence is made visible in Christ Jesus.
Because the Church is a mystery, therefore, it cannot be totally understood or fully defined. But, from its very beginning, the Church has been revealed to be a community of people formed by the Word of God, animated by the creative power of the Holy Spirit, and sustained by the worship and service of its members. Its mission is both to proclaim the message of Christ for the enlightenment of the hearts and minds of people, and to provide a place where Christ's healing presence can be experienced. As such, the Church must always be understood as existing not for itself but for the world. The Church can never be a mission or ministry unto itself; rather, it is to be a community of ministers charged with the task of bringing the healing presence of Christ to a wounded humanity.
We who belong to the Church today, then, are called to be like that community described in the New Testament where all things were held in common, where Paul urged that the competition should be in giving service, and where Jesus said that those who would be great should be the servants of all people.
I believe that the Second Vatican Council has given us a concept that enables us to be the Church, the community of God's people in our day: the concept of shared responsibility. Put succinctly, shared responsibility means that each member of the Church, by virtue of baptism, has the right and the duty to participate in Christ's mission of praising and worshipping the lord, of teaching God's word, of serving God's people and of building a community here on earth in preparation for the fullness of life together in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Through baptism, in other words, every Christian is brought into an intimate, personal and abiding union with Jesus and with all other Christians. This sacramental dignity unites popes, bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity in the one body of Christ that is the Church. It also serves as a mandate to each of us to use his or her talents so that the mission of Christ and his Church may be fulfilled.
This responsibility of being about the work of Christ's church is ours, regardless of our state in life or the differing roles we may actually exercise. We are all called to be co-creators with God, advancing God's kingdom in our day. Every person's contribution is vitally needed so that together in a rich diversity, we can build up the Christian community by enhancing the sacredness and growth of others.
Shared responsibility, then, is neither a luxury or concession brought about by some American desire to democratize the Church or by the current shortage in vocations to the ordained and vowed life. Rather, it is the inevitable result of the Second Vatican Council's renewed appreciation of the laity not as mere instruments of the hierarchy, but as the People of God who possess personal gifts and charisms that empower them to contribute their part to the mission of the Church and the transfiguration of society. The shared responsibility is a necessary and perennial dimension of the life of the Church, exercised by those who are rooted in the living and loving relationship with Christ Jesus. It demands interdependence and partnership between bishops and priests, between clergy, religious and laity and between parishes and diocese.
This concept of shared responsibility, in other words, emphasizes that the Church is not a stratified or clerically - dominated society but a community of persons, all sharing in the priesthood of Jesus Christ and all called equally to be the People of God.
It stresses, furthermore, that the Church is a community of collaborative ministry, that is, a community in which each member is challenged to see his or her baptism as a call to holiness and ministry; a community which seeks to help its members discern the personal charisms given them by the spirit and to enable them to employ their gifts in the mission of the Church; a community whose ordained and vowed ministers see the fostering of greater participation in the work of the Church as essential to their responsibility as leaders.
If, then, we truly believe with the Second Vatican Council that the Church exists to carry out the priestly ministry of Jesus and if we believe with the Council that the laity are joined with bishops, priests, deacons and vowed religious as enactors of that mission, then what we have is a church of ministers: some of them bishops, some of them priests, some of them deacons, some of them vowed religious, but most of them lay men and women. Such an understanding of the Church allows for the richness of varied ministerial roles and encourages all the members of the Church to contribute the wonderful gifts each has.
This concept of shared responsibility or collaborative ministry put forward by the Second Vatican Council in its dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium has been further developed and enhanced by a rich and coherent body of post-concilliar documents such as the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults in 1973, Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Exhortation on Evangelization in the Modern World issued in 1976 and the teachings of our present Holy Father Pope John Paul II articulated in Christifideles Laici, Catechesi Tradendae, Pastores Dabo Vobis and Redemptoris Missio, as well as in the remarkable General Directory for Catechesis published in 1997 by the Congregation for the Clergy. Also the documents of the American bishops such as Called and Gifted and Called and Gifted for the Third Millennium have reinforced this teaching that all the baptized are given a share in the priestly ministry of Jesus and that one and all are necessary for the fulfillment of the Church's mission.
While carefully drawing the essential distinction between the common priesthood of the faithful, and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood, which is rooted in apostolic succession and vested in the power and responsibility of the ordained to act in the person of Christ, these documents contribute to the developing of communio which makes clear that these modes of participation in the priesthood of Christ are ordered to one another, so that the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood and directed to the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1547).
Now let me try to draw out some practical implications of this vision of collaborative ministry for the different categories of ministers within the Church.
First, priests. There is probably no group within the Church today that is more key to implementing the vision of collaborative ministry then you priests. The Second Vatican Council makes it clear that the role of priest is unique and indispensable for the life of the Church. However, paradoxically, the Council that speaks so positively about priests and priestly ministry has also created ambiguity about the role and identity of the priest. For example, by insisting that the bishop is the primary minister in the Church and that the priest is the helper of the bishop, the Council demoted the priest from an Alter Christus (another Christ) to an alter episcopus (another bishop). And by emphasizing the priesthood of the laity and de-emphasizing the sacred power that sets the priest apart from the laity, the Council deprived the priest of his traditional identity and clear self-image.
In hindsight, as Father Edward Hussey suggested in a conference on "U.S. Catholic Seminaries and Their Future" (and it is only in hindsight), the recent decline in the number of priests is the natural and, perhaps, even inevitable result of the documents of the Second Vatican Council. What is needed today, then is a more fully- developed theology of the priesthood in light of the Second Vatican Council's emphasis on the Church as the entire Christian community, on the priesthood of all the baptized, and on the pastoral ministry of bishops.
As that theology of the priesthood emerges, you as priests are faced with the critical task of contributing from your practical pastoral experience to the development of that theology and, at the same time, of being leaders in fostering a collaborative model of ministry in the Church.
This, I realize is not an easy challenge. Deep down in your hearts, I suspect, you may be haunted by the question, “I'm important?" If, for example, deacons, religious and laity can exercise roles like those of spiritual director, leaders of scripture study groups, liturgical planners or of pastoral administrators, areas which were previously the priest's exclusive domain, is it any wonder that your identity as priests may be blurred and your confidence shaken?
Yet, despite the personal and ministerial ambiguity that you may experience and the natural defensiveness such can engender, as priests you must be in the forefront of facilitating the development of new ministries in the Church, especially on the part of the laity and, in particular, on the part of women. You must seek to learn and to exercise skills of coordination, collaboration and community building; and you must search for creative ways to try to attract, give power to and support others in their various ministries on behalf of God's people.
Hence, you must be willing to shed those roles and responsibilities which are not essential for the presbyter; for example, that of business manager, administrator, maintenance man, doing all the preparation for baptism and marriage, minister of service to the youth, elderly, sick and poor, and you must refocus on those roles which properly belong to the presbyter: teaching, preaching, leading in prayer and worship and empowering or enabling deacons, religious and laity to do what is theirs by virtue of baptism and their particular skills and training.
In this later regard, we bishops must look to you priests especially to help us in the critical task of preparing people for the changes in parish life which must take place in light of the current and projected critical shortage of priests and religious. Our dwindling numbers necessitate that dioceses develop, in the immediate future, different parish configurations and staffing patterns. Your leadership as priests is key to the acceptance of what must occur.
If you deny the problem, if you become defensive because your own particular pastoral role may be threatened, or if you have not helped your people realize the rich ministerial potential they have or can develop, then people will not be ready for the transition which must happen and consequently will suffer needless trauma.
If, on the other hand, you as priests approach this challenge in a positive and constructive manner, and if you are able to assist your people to see the current crisis not so much as a problem but as an opportunity, an opportunity for collaborative ministry , then I am convinced we can develop new models and approaches to parish life and ministry which can be exciting, enriching and future-oriented.
Second, religious sisters and brothers have a major contribution to make toward implementing a theology of collaborative ministry by drawing upon the treasury of spiritual gifts found in the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and in the rich experience of communal living.
Many of you have been in the vanguard of fashioning collaborative models of ministry within your own religious communities. You have developed creative patterns of participatory governance, which rely less upon authoritarian dictates or majority rule and more upon communal discernment and consensus building. You have fashioned patterns of effective communication, which allow maximum grassroots input and which facilitate sharing, understanding, ownership and empowerment. You have also developed personnel placement policies that have allowed your members to explore more fully their particular gifts, talents and charisms.
All of those experiences, both positive and negative, are a rich legacy from which the entire Church can benefit in our pursuit of collaborative ministry. You religious men and women, therefore, need to share your communal experience of governance, communication and placement with the entire church so that we can reap the rich harvest which the seeds of renewal you have sown have made possible.
Third, let me reflect upon the implications of this theology of collaborative ministry for deacons and ecclesial lay ministers.
By ecclesial lay ministers, I am referring to those laity who have been publicly commissioned by the bishop or his delegate for some direct service within the faith community itself. Hence, the ministry of an ecclesial lay minister is distinguished from the ministry of the laity broadly conceived because there has been an assessment of competence to exercise a ministry that is directed to the inner life of the Church and there is a formal commission to do so.
Also, although I appreciate the distinction between deacons as ordained ministers in the Church and ecclesial lay ministers as non-ordained, nonetheless I address you jointly in this particular context today because I believe that both the diaconate and ecclesial lay ministry are emerging ministries within the Church and, in that sense, facing similar challenges and also similar opportunities for contributing to the concept of a universally ministering church.
First, it is important that you deacons and ecclesial lay ministers be sensitive to the growing pains priests and religious may experience in coming to grips with the Church's expanded concept of ministry. Priests and religious can tend to resent the intrusion of both deacons and laity in those roles that traditionally and historically have been reserved exclusively to them. In light of these new developments, it may seem that their role in the Church is blurred and that their ministry has been downgraded or has lost some of its luster.
You deacons and ecclesial lay ministers, I believe, because of your unique relationship with the clergy and religious on the one hand, and with the laity on the other, can help bridge this gap by enabling priests and religious to see these new ministerial opportunities for laity not as a competition, not as a usurpation of their power and not as a threat to their authority, but as an opportunity to explore how all the gifts and ministries God has shared with people interrelate and as a chance to facilitate their development.
Specifically, as deacons and ecclesial lay ministers you can discuss with priests and religious ways in which you might free them from some of the responsibilities which are not essential to their specific ministry, but with which they have become burdened historically. In that way, their time for prayer, study, planning and direct pastoral ministry can be maximized.
Furthermore, as deacons and ecclesial lay ministers you can discuss with the laity the reluctance they often manifest in assuming new roles in the parish or in the diocese because "that's not my place;" and you can interpret for the laity and help them appreciate the true sense of the call, empowerment and responsibility they have as baptized Christians so that their gifts might be fully galvanized and utilized.
In this latter regard, let me note that ecclesial lay ministers especially must be careful not to foster a new clericalism within the Church, one that relegates the laity who do not exercise a ministry within the Church community itself to the status of second class citizenship or of persons having a lesser call within the faith community.
Historically, this tendency has been evidenced by the sharp distinction we have made between the clergy and religious on the one hand, and the laity on the other. In this dichotomy, the clergy and religious have been perceived as the doers and actors in the Church, and ordination and religious profession have been looked upon as elevating persons to a status of spiritual superiority. The laity, in turn, have been viewed as exercising a more modest, more passive role in the church community, helping out on kind of a temporary, standby basis when the father, brother, sister, or deacon needs assistance in fulfilling those roles that are essentially theirs --- but in no way seen as competing with the clergy and religious in holiness, prayerfulness, and spirituality.
It is essential, then, that those exercising ecclesial lay ministry or liturgical or catechetical roles in the Church not be defined or presented as having a better or more noble role than other laity who do not exercise ministries geared to serving the faith community as such.
Akin to this concern is the tendency we have had since the Second Vatican Council to focus on the development of ecclesial lay ministries and liturgical or catechetical roles almost to the detriment or exclusion of the laity's primary call to transform the world. This pitfall was cited in Christifideles Laici and I quote: "The Synod has pointed out that the post-conciliar path of the lay faithful has not been without its difficulties and dangers. In particular ...[the laity experience] the temptation of being so strongly interested in Church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in the responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world.
This issue was addressed strongly and clearly by the U.S. bishops in our pastoral statement Called and Gifted. In the section entitled"Christian Service Ministry in the World," we bishops speak first about the laity's role and responsibility to bring Christian values and practices to bear upon "complex questions such as those of business ethics, political choice, economic security, quality of life, [and] cultural development" and to be an "extension of the Church's redeeming presence in the world." It is only after we affirm the laity's normative secular ministry that we speak about the call of the laity to ecclesial or church ministry. Hence, Called and Gifted offers an inclusive view of lay ministry in which the laity's church service is affirmed as ministry but wherein their service to family, work, and the world is held to be their primary and preeminent ministry.
Indeed, in an address on the vocations of the laity, entitled "Linking Church and World," delivered to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops at Collegeville, Minn., in June 1986, Bishop Raymond Lucker pointed out that "we have reversed [the] order. We have tended to call [lay] people first to ministries within the Church community and secondarily (or at least with far less emphasis) to ministries for the transformation of society."
It is important, therefore, that we correct this imbalance while not discouraging or downplaying in any way the creative new Church or the ecclesial ministries that have emerged; for these have been vitally enriching and must continue to flourish and expand. We must give equal attention, however, to supporting and encouraging lay people in their ministries to the world; in the marketplace; in the areas of work, family, and leisure; and in all their ministries for the transformation of society. It is especially in the family and society, in marriage and work, in human sexuality, and in economics that this transformation takes place.
Consequently, it is the task of the Church to help the laity appreciate the call they have in the home, on the job, and in the neighborhood or community: a call to transform society and to make the message of the Gospel real in the family, social life, business transactions, and the world of politics.
In the past, in other words, we encouraged, or seem to have encouraged, lay people to find holiness by leaving the world instead of finding holiness in the world. Now we must recapture and develop practical ways to foster that sterling insight of the Council that the laity's unique role is to make Christ present in society and to transform political, economic, and social institutions in light of the Gospel."
Lastly, in regard to grasping, accepting and fostering a concept of collaborative ministry, I think all of us in the Church, clergy, religious and laity alike, must understand and seek to balance two fundamental principles that coexist in our post-Vatican II Church.
On the one hand, the Second Vatican Council emphasizes the common dignity and equality that exists among all the members of God's people. All, therefore, are called to the same holiness of life, and all are entitled to become engaged actively in exercising the Church's mission to the world. On the other hand, the Council also highlights the hierarchical nature of the Church. We live as believers within a Church that has an appointed structure with predetermined ranks of authority.
These two notions --- so evident. in the conciliar documents and in the revised Code of Canon Law --- are not contradictory, but they do create tension when it comes to such practical questions as how decisions get made in the Church, or to whom and how one is accountable. This tension is real at the level of the universal Church, and it also affects our local churches and our parish communities.
For the immediate future, then, we are faced with the challenge of living with this tension, with these two differing notions. One side stresses our fundamental equality as members of the Body of Christ; the other side stresses the structure and organization that the Body must have if we are to remain one in Christ. One side acknowledges the gifts of God that exist within individual believers; the other side stresses the diversity of functions and roles that must be lived out within the Christian community. Somewhere in between, we are expected to govern and to be governed, to minister and to be ministered to. The challenge, then, is to recognize the authority of those who hold pastoral office within the Church without diminishing the value of those laity who recognize their call to share leadership responsibility arising from Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist.
The style of interaction between clergy, religious and laity must, therefore, be seen within the context of this creative tension. It must flow from an understanding of the fact that we are one family of the baptized and that is the exercise of the collaborative priesthood of the baptized that most fully continues the sacramental presence of Christ in the world.
This understanding of ministry does not negate the unique and distinctive role of the ordained minister, the evangelical charism of the vowed, or the sterling gifts of the laity; but it underscores, as Archbishop William Borders points out so well in his pastoral letter You Are a Royal Priesthood, that "before any distinction of roles or offices in the Church, we stand as one family of the baptized. It is the community as a whole to whom is given the primary responsibility for the mission of the Church, and it is the whole community that stand as the first minister of the kingdom. "
Finally, let me conclude my presentations by citing 10 qualities which I believe we all, bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity must evidence if collaborative ministry is to become a vibrant reality within the Church:
First, it is important, I believe, that as ministers in the Church you be people of vision, people who are open to the renovative and creative power of God's Holy Spirit, who constantly challenges us to risk the unpredictable, to believe the heretofore unseen and then to have the courage to make such realities. To be a person of vision, in other words, means to be liberated from calculated programs, plans and patterns which promise us security and pat solutions to life's problems so that we might allow the Holy Spirit to lead us where the Spirit wills, that Holy Spirit who ever leads us into the uncharted courses of our unpredictable God, who is predictable only in the call to lead us from where we may have comfortably settled.
This need for us to be people of vision was brought home to me very powerfully by a book of essays I read by Robert Greenleaf, entitled Servant Leadership. In one of the essays, Greenleaf, himself a non-Catholic, offers an assessment of the Catholic Church in the United States. He writes:
"The Catholic Church in the United States is a minority religion, but I regard it as potentially the largest single force for good within our society However, the Catholic Church fails to realize its potential for good in today's society because I believe it is seen predominately as a negative force The issues on which the Church is in opposition, such as abortion, euthanasia and divorce are specific and precisely defined, and the actions of the Church in this regard are vigorous and sustained The issues, however, on which the Church is affirmative, such as, peace, justice and charity are broad idealistic generalities and the Church's actions in this regard are sporadic and imprecise" Greenleaf continues, "I respect the Church for opposing those social practices which it believes to be wrong even though 1 don't always agree with its judgment; but, unfortunately, all one can do with opposition is to stop or prevent something, one must oppose those things that one believes to be wrong, but one cannot lead from a predominately negative posture One can lead an institution or total society only by strong sharply aimed affirmative action As a non-Catholic I was lifted up by Pope John XXIII's regime because an affirming building leadership seemed to be emerging and this gave new hope to the world"
I think that Greenleaf’s assessment is right on target, because so often, we as a community of faith present to a world starved for hope not so much, as St Paul proclaims, the image of a people sure of who we are and what we stand for, but rather the image of a people who are more cowed by fear than borne up by hope. That is why I would hope that you as contemporary ministers would truly be people of vision, willing to take risks and to explore new frontiers. Otherwise, you leave the leadership in our Church and society to others or, unfortunately, as is more likely to be the case, our Church and society will become leaderless.
Second, it is important that as ministers in the Church you have a deep and abiding trust in God' s Providence, in a God who never promised us instant success and who frequently writes our history with crooked lines. There's no question about the fact that in the past thirty-five years since the close of the Second Vatican Council, we've been experiencing a period of turmoil and upheaval in our church. It's been a time for building and rebuilding. In the face of such, there may well arise the temptation to become discouraged, disillusioned or impatient --- to lose sight of the fact that the renewal of our Church or that the renewal of our world and society is not a romp or a few years of intensive work but a long, hard, arduous process that, undoubtedly, will extend beyond the lifetime of anyone of us here present. That is why we need patient endurance to carry us through the many winters that it takes to change attitudes and structures. That is why we must avoid the pitfall of what I would call "instant antiquity," the pitfall of thinking of the problems, challenges and crises with which we are confronted today are the most serious of all time. This is simply because we have never experienced the pain of other crises and other challenges of other periods of history. If, therefore, we are going to avoid discouragement and disillusionment in our life and ministry then we need a vision of life that is rooted in trust in God's Providence and in the cleansing discipline of historical perspective, a vision of life that recognizes that we live in a Church and world and society where few areas are all black or all white but where various shades of grey predominate. If we are committed to ministering in such a Church and world and society, then, we must be prepared to accept the confusion, the agitation and the turmoil that abound therein and to tolerate imperfection while seeking to change it. This is not to lose one's values or to compromise one's ideals, but rather it is to live like a human being in a world where the full force of Christ's Resurrection and the work of the Holy Spirit as yet have not been told. Yes, we constantly live in that balance between the cross and the resurrection. On the one hand, weeping over the plight of Jerusalem, and on the other, joyful because of Easter victory that assures us of the possibilities of tomorrow and that challenges us to celebrate a future that shapes our present moment in human history.
Third, as ministers in the Church you must have a strong sense of ecclesial perspective. By that I mean you must have a sound historical, philosophical, and theological understanding of where the Church as a community has been, is presently, and will be in the future. This sense of ecclesial perspective is important for two reasons. First, it will help you better understand those who come from a model or perspective of the Church different from the one you have, so that you can accept these persons where they are, just as Jesus accepted people where they were, and then as he did strive to lead them gently and sensitively to a renewed understanding of what it means to be God's people.
I mention this because, at times, I have observed ministers who have become so caught up with the newest theological and scriptural insights or with the latest liturgical innovations that they trample upon or become hypercritical of people who are as yet unaware of or not ready for such advances. Or they become intolerant of a diversity of ecclesiologies, spiritualities, and ministerial viewpoints within the Church. Therefore, you must develop a sense of ecclesial perspective that enables you to be patient with people and institutions that seem to change only slowly.
A second important reason for an ecclesial perspective is that you be aware of the corporate character of the Church and the collective mission you have as ministers in the Church. I point this out because as a bishop I have observed firsthand what Father Phillip Murnion, the priest-sociologist from the archdiocese of New York, has documented by his research, namely, a tendency on the part of some to look upon the ministry they exercise as a license for private practice, a license to do one's own thing, to carve out a particular work or apostolate that is personally satisfying and to resist or neglect aspects of ministry that do not fit within their personal framework.
You must recognize that you are part of the universal church, of a diocesan community and of a parish family, you must be responsive to the needs, priorities, and policies of that wider church beyond your own personal vision.
You, in other words, must see your particular ministry as part of the overall ministry of the universal and diocesan church, not as a separate isolated entity.
Fourth, as ministers in the Church you must be flexible and open to change. Ministry in the Church of today is not all that different than it was in apostolic times, namely proclaiming the Good News, celebrating Eucharist and sacraments, building up authentic Christian community, and serving humankind. It can never remain the same. It can never become frozen because ministry in the Church is a function of the Church's mission. And thr mission of the Church is not to some abstract humanity, but to the concrete world to these pulsing people with changing needs and changing life situations, with different colors and smells, different problems and pressures, different hopes, expectations and frustrations than those experienced by previous generations Given this reality, then, as contemporary ministers you must have the ability to learn, to grow, and to adapt The capacity to turn a comer, to change an attitude and to move on.
In celebrating the sacrament of Confirmation, I am frequently struck by the words of the prayer recited over the candidates. "Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage the spirit of knowledge and reverence and fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence." What we need in our church today, I believe, are more people who are filled with wonder and awe because people who have this sense of wonder and awe cannot limit themselves to maintenance or to the status quo because the mysteries they encounter are so vast and so beautiful. There's always the opportunity to develop new insights and fresh perspectives. There are always new colors and shades to be added to the landscape.
I hope that you as servants of God's people will truly be filled with the sense of wonder and awe, ever open to ongoing education or formation in the Christian life. You must be willing to make a time for reading, listening to tapes, attending retreats, workshops or institutes that will enable you to keep abreast of what's happening in theology, Scripture, liturgy and contemporary pastoral practice By keeping abreast, I mean having a well balanced understanding of contemporary theological and pastoral issues, one that is fully in accord with the mind and heart of the Church, not just following the sayings of your favorite guru or latching on to the latest fad. If you fail to continue to grow in your faith, then quite frankly you will stunt your own personal growth, you be become prime candidates for dropout and burn-out and worst of all you'll short change the people that you've been trying to serve
Fifth, as ministers in the Church you must be prepared to embrace the cross in your life. I emphasize this because we are living in an age of instant gratification. We in the United States in the latter half of this twentieth century have been sold and to a large extent have bought a bill of goods, a bill of goods that tells us that pain and suffering, tension and anxiety or uncomfortability of any sort need not exist; that life at all times, and under every circumstance is meant to be pleasant, pleasurable and comfortable. In other words, we've been convinced that for every pain there is an antidote, for every depression there is a mood reverser, for every bit of uncomfortability there is some new magic formula that's going to alter our life situation. But our Christian teaching tells us that there will always be the cross in our life: the cross of living in a church wherein age old moorings have been set adrift and where we are still experiencing the pain and stress of birthing new ministerial models and approaches; the cross of giving up ideas which once seemed unchangeable or of shedding attitudes that used to provide security; the cross of being misunderstood and misjudged but also the cross of not seeing clearly and, consequently, of misunderstanding and misjudging others. The cross of being patient and kind when humanly speaking you want to strike back. The cross of showing compassion to others when precious little compassion is shown in return.
Yes, these and other crosses too personal, too numerous and too unpredictable to mention, like a job loss, the death of a loved one, a terminal illness, an alcoholic family member, or a child gone wrong will be an inevitable part of your lives. Not that you have to become morbid or masochistic; not that you have to indulge in suffering for the sake of suffering but you must recognize that when God asks you to carry the cross, you must be willing to accept these crosses freely and to bear with them patiently, knowing full well that they will help you grow as a person, contribute to the benefit of others and be part of God's loving plan of salvation for humankind.
Sixth, it is important that you be people of joy. One of the things that has been noticeably absent in our post conciliar Church is a positive, upbeat, optimistic spirit. So often in the process of implementing the norms and reforms of the Second Vatican Council, of combating the secularization which engulfs us, of dealing with issues like abortion, homosexuality, and the nature of authority in the Church, or of coping with the fallout from clergy sexual misconduct, the decline of vocations to the priesthood and religious life or the closing, mergers, and consolidations of schools and parishes, we have lost or perhaps never found that sense of joy that should be the hallmark of Christian living.
Therefore, it is imperative that you as ministers in the Church be joyful heralds of the Good News. Gloomy Guses and Sorrowpuss Sals have no place in contemporary ministry. Your words, your deeds, your gestures, your presence should communicate to those whom you serve, " I'm delighted to be here, I'm delighted to be with you, I'm delighted to be a herald of the Good News." Indeed, it is Good News that you are called and sent to proclaim. Therefore, smile and be happy and show that there is joy in what you are doing because the effectiveness and the credibility of your ministry depend on it.
Note well that the humor of which I speak has nothing to do with laughing and telling jokes because our world is filled with people who laugh and tell jokes but who have no sense of humor. And the humor about which I speak has nothing to do with poking fun at another's foibles or ridiculing another's stupidity. Rather genuine humor, like a true sense of humility, involves a ruthless honesty concerning oneself without any pretense or show. It deals with those surprises that upset the way we think things ought to be and it lightens the heaviness associated with hurting. Humor doesn't deny hurt, but it becomes the vehicle through which anger, defiance and pain can be handled constructively. I hope, then, that you will seek to cultivate within yourself and in your organization a sense of humor, which enables you to laugh at yourselves and with others, so that you can avoid that anxiety which can impede your ministerial effectiveness and which makes it much more difficult for others to recognize God' s presence in your life and ministry.
You know very often we can find humor in the day-to-day events of life. Not so long ago I was running late for a Confirmation. As I was cruising along an interstate highway trying to get there as fast as I could, all of a sudden through the rearview mirror I caught sight of the famous flashing lights. So I pulled off to side of the road and behind me pulled another car and behind that car was a state police vehicle. When the state trooper got out of his car and went to give his greetings to the driver behind me, I started rummaging through my glove compartment looking for my license and registration, getting prepared for the worst. When the trooper finished with the first driver, he came over to my car, bent over, peered into the window and asked: "And what's wrong with you, you got a guilty conscience?" He wasn't after me at all; he was after the other guy! But so like Pavlov's dogs, when I saw the red light, I just assumed it had to be me.
Just a few weeks ago, I was celebrating Mass with our Black Apostolate. It was a very upbeat lively celebration. Actually it ran for three hours, a lot of singing and clapping and hugging. At the end of the celebration as I was standing in the rear of the Church, greeting the people as they came out, one of the gentlemen came up to me and said: "You know, Bishop, I was watching you all during the liturgy today; and after celebrating with you, I think we ought to entitle today's liturgy "Why white men can't clap,"
Seventh, it's important that you as ministers in the Church be instruments of tenderness and mercy. Both Bishop John McCarthy of Austin, Texas and Bishop Kenneth Untener of Saginaw Michigan have written articles in which they lamented the trend in the Church today toward severity and away from gentleness. So often the image that the Church projects, at least the institutional Church is that of the scolding parent or the stern, rigid disciplinarian, rather than that of the caring parent, the sensitive friend, the consoling counselor. You, therefore, must be an effective antidote to this projection of society by being people who are approachable, people who assume more a posture of listening than that of lecturing, people who are loyal and faithful to the teachings and traditions of our Church, who realize that this is a living teaching and a living tradition which must be adopted to meet concrete needs and circumstances of those to whom we are sent to serve.
There is one particular category of persons that should be the beneficiaries of your tenderness and mercy, namely those with whom you minister in the Church, lay, religious, and ordained. For ministry in the Church is a shared venture, shared not only in terms of the roles and responsibilities to be exercised but in terms of being affirming of and supportive to one another in our common task of bringing the Good News to God's people.
Yet, unfortunately, too often we who minister in the Church are at odds with one another ---polarized around labels like ordained and non-ordained, men and women, liberal and conservative --- and instead of helping each other, we become pitted against one another. And this antagonism we have for one another in ministry is often the source of great pain and hurt and can be the basis of much deep-rooted hostility, anger, and resentment.
In particular, we in ministry must be attentive to that sin which Monsignor Andrew Cusack calls "lusting of the tongue." By that, he means the terrible violence we do to others by our cruel and cutting remarks.
As ministers in the Church we can be hypercritical of one another, especially in talking about one another. I am not referring here to good-natured kidding or poking fun at our human foibles. Indeed, we need to laugh at ourselves and with one another. Perhaps there has been too little of this in our post-conciliar church. What I am talking about is the type of gossip and snide remarks that cut, hurt, alienate, ridicule, and isolate — for example, spreading rumors about another's drinking habits or sexual behavior; impugning motives concerning another's actions or decisions; scapegoating and stereotyping others.
At times such information or such rumors bandied about are blatantly unfounded. Then we are guilty of slander or calumny. At other times the information may be accurate or semi-accurate, but really none of our business or discussed not in a constructive, loving, and caring way but in a way that tears down, that destroys, that debases and demeans someone with whom we share ministry .In any case, such "lusting of the tongue" is not consonant with the example of Jesus who refused to condemn the woman caught in the act of adultery; who refused to label the motives of Zaccheus; who, in his own moment of deep personal agony, refused to ignore the convicted thief who hung beside him on the cross of Calvary .
The old Indian proverb, "You should not judge unless you have walked in another's moccasins," is a piece of advice that needs to be borne in mind. Most times we have no idea of another's pain, of another's struggle, or another's battle with personal demons or human faults and failures.
I have found from both my work on our priests personnel board and now as bishop in a diocese that what frequently appears cut and dried on the surface, in the external forum, may be viewed far differently when people have the opportunity to share candidly from their perspective their quest for wholeness and integrity.
This is certainly not to suggest that we should condone or take lightly behavior that is unbecoming one who ministers in the Church, or that we should be unconcerned about another minister who is having a problem. Indeed, we should be concerned, and we have a grave responsibility in this regard. This concern, however, must be constructive rather then destructive. It must involve confronting the person with the apparent problem or confidentially bringing the matter to someone who has the responsibility for addressing such issues. But it should never be handled by rumor-mongering, witch-hunts, or taking glee in another's misfortune.
Eighth, as ministers in the Church we must be healers and reconcilers. Today we are living in a Church characterized by pluralism and diversity, a Church that hears the voices of Mother Angelica and Cardinal Mahoney; of Cardinal Ratzinger and Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, of the Legionnaries of Christ and Called to Action, of Opus Dei and the members of Corpus. It is a church where some foster liberation, feminist and ecological theology, whereas others promote Marian apparitions, magisterial maximalism and neo- conservatism. It is a church where as Charles Morris writes in his book American Catholic: "The vast majority are not radical feminists, cultus earth goddess worshipers or reckless hedonists who want to abandon all rules; nor, however, are they convinced that the ancient structures of our church will collapse if we stand for the Eucharistic prayer, employ inclusive language in our liturgies and accept our gay and lesbian children."
In such a Church we must seek to be healers and reconcilers, recognizing that Catholicism is open to all truth and various expressions of the truth. That it contains within itself a wide variety of ecclesiologies, spiritualities and expressions of Christian life. That it prefers to say not either/or but both/and, not Scripture alone but Scripture and tradition, not faith alone but faith and works, not grace alone but grace and nature."
In such a church you must seek to bring about unity in parishes and dioceses composed of liberals, radicals, traditionalists and charismatics. We cannot afford to write off any individual, group or movement because they may have a different ecclesiogy or spirituality than we do, because those we serve are not objects to be used or adversaries to be defeated but persons worthy of our reverence and respect.
As Cardinal Bernardin pointed out in his renowned Common Ground movement, "No individual or group within the Church," he says, "has a monopoly on the truth and neither can any group function as a saving remnant where members seek to spurn other Catholics as unenlightened; rather, we must put the best possible face on the position of our opponents and never impugn their motives nor accuse them of disloyalty to the Church.
"If we are to do this, then, this will require of us a certain theological humility, recognizing that not every problem with which we are confronted today can be answered by citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the National Catholic Reporter. We today in the Church are being faced with many difficult and complex problems that do not readily admit of facile solutions but which require genuine searching and honest dialogue. Therefore, we must not talk at each other but with each other. We need prayer, discernment and the freedom to be led by the Spirit. I hope that you as servants of God's people will seek to facilitate this type of open and honest quest for answers in our contemporary Church, all the time celebrating and recognizing the gifts and contributions that each person has to offer.
Ninth, as ministers in the Church you must bring to your ministry that dimension which Archbishop John Quinn, the retired Archbishop of San Francisco, calls evangelical daring. Paul wrote in his letter to Timothy: "The spirit God has given us is not a cowardly spirit." Evangelical daring, then, is not defiance but it is the prudence of the Holy Spirit. Daring is not calculation; it is simplicity of heart and reliance upon the wisdom and providence of God. Daring is not a clenched fist, it is open arms.
Daring is vulnerability, not power. Daring is what Archbishop Oscar Romero showed when he tenaciously proclaimed the Good News without rancor or bitterness in the face of deadly hostility. Daring is what Mother Theresa showed when she left the security of her religious order and began to care for the unwanted paupers dying in the streets and garbage dumps of Calcutta. Daring is what Cardinal Bernardin showed when he visited and forgave the one who had accused him falsely. And daring is what Jesus showed by freely accepting and steadfastly embracing our human condition, transforming the scandal of the cross into the throne of glory. And evangelical daring is what you must evidence if you are to be successful ministers in the Church.
Tenth, and, finally, as ministers in the Church you must be people of prayer. It has been suggested that the crisis of our age is a crisis of spirituality. We have lost a sense of the transcendent; we have lost the art of contemplation; we have failed in our efforts to integrate liturgy and word, prayer and service, faith and action. To be sure we've moved away from that monastic approach to spirituality that dominated the life of our Church for many centuries. But we are still struggling in our efforts to develop an authentic, apostolic spirituality, one which enables us to harmonize our work and our prayer, one which enables us to be doers who contemplate, one which enables us to reflect upon the wonder of Father's creation, the beauty of the Redeemer's love, and the presence of God's spirit within ourselves and others, and then, to translate this reflection into words and deeds that speak to contemporary realities. But we can only do this if we are people of prayer.
Karl Rahner, arguably the most renowned Catholic theologian in the 20th Century said, "There is only one road that leads to God, it is prayer. If someone shows you another, you are being deceived." The secret of all secrets, then, is that prayer must be at the heart of your ministry .The quicker you learn this, the more successful and effective your ministry will be.
While there are many ways in which we can pray, I think there is one form of prayer that always must be pre- eminent for us as Catholic Christians, namely the Eucharist. For it is at Eucharist that the Church comes together as Church. It is at Eucharist that we gain fresh insights as to who it is that we are and what it is we are called to be. It is at Eucharist that we are energized to change our wants, our wills, our loves and our desires. If that ongoing conversion which is at the very heart of the Christian life does not take place at Eucharist, then it will not take place at all.
John Haughey, the Jesuit theologian, has suggested there is a phrase that we memorialize at Eucharist, which can help bring about this conversion: the phrase "This is my Body, which is for you." On the night before He suffered and died, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, gave it to His disciples and said: This is my Body which is for you, do this.." What does this mean? It means that the style and disposition of each person who comes to the Eucharistic table must be that of the Lord Jesus who said: "I am bread, I am bread broken, I am bread broken for others. Do this." A Eucharist, then, that does not evoke within its participants a real identification with the other members of Christ's body, others who are suffering, others who are in need, is a Eucharist which is celebrated in accord with our own mind set, but not in accord with the mind of Jesus. If we would celebrate Eucharist in the radical sense of Eucharist, if we would prepare ourselves at Eucharist to become bread broken and bread given for others, then this would dramatically alter our understanding of who we are and our relationship with others. It would lead us to change our priorities and move us to work tirelessly to advance God's Kingdom of peace and justice.
Every generation in the Church faces its own unique challenges. We today are faced with the task of birthing the vision of collaborative ministry that the Second Vatican Council articulated. We do so in a time of great social upheaval when the forces of secularization are eroding and eclipsing the Christian vision of life that has prevailed in western civilization for centuries.
In the face of this challenge and the tension and pain it produces, some have become discouraged and disillusioned. They experience only the confusion and turmoil borne of renewal and change; when age-old moorings have been cut off and set adrift, they conclude, consequently, that the situation is hopeless or impossible.
Quite frankly, I do not share this bleak outlook. I am convinced that we are living in one of the greatest periods of renaissance in the long history of Christianity. There are certain times in the life of the world and our church when the Holy Spirit has been poured forth abundantly, creating a new vision and a new horizon that give shape and direction to humankind and civilization for generations to come. We, I believe, are living in precisely such an age, in a new Pentecost; and as ministers in the Church we have a golden opportunity to become involved at the heart of this reawakening, of being forerunners of the Church of tomorrow, of being molders and builders of new theological language and ecclesial structures which speak to our contemporary society and which insure a fresh hearing for the Christian message. It will take all of the zeal, talent, maturity, vision and love we possess if we are to respond to this call as God desires and as the challenge itself so urgently demands.
At the outset of the new millennium, then, I hope that we will accept, embrace and fulfill this challenge for the honor and glory of God, for the sanctification of our brothers and sisters in the community around us and for the transformation of the world and society in which we live.