What Catholic clergy and laity have in common: a Gospel mission  

South Bend, Ind., Mar 7, 2020 / 12:00 pm (CNA).- Catholic clergy and laity have a shared responsibility to proclaim the Gospel, speakers at a conference sponsored by the University of Notre Dame have said.

“We’re all in the same boat. We’re all here to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, that is, to bring salvation, God’s salvation to the world, so that’s what I want to share with you,” Bishop Bill Wack, C.S.C. of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida said March 6.

Wack spoke at the conclusion of the “Called and Co-Responsible” conference held March 4-6 in South Bend, Indiana and sponsored by the University of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Public Life. The academic and pastoral conference aimed to understand shared responsibility that the Catholic laity and the ordained have for the Church.

The conference is part of the Notre Dame Forum series “‘Rebuild My Church:’ Crisis and Response,” which examines the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church

Wack reflected on the Second Vatican Council’s emphasis on how to bring the Gospel and the Church into the modern world.

Vatican II documents like Lumen gentium declared that every single person in the Church is called to holiness, and to preach the good news in the world today: laypeople, priests, and religious.

The bishop suggested that before the ecumenical council of the 1960s, the Church was less conscious of that call.

“Many of us were involved in missionary activity, but at least in the West and the North, our main concern was ministering to our own, especially immigrants and new children being born,” he said. “So we opened parishes and schools like crazy and they all followed basically the same model: we have to look out for our own because sadly no one else will.”

Phrases like “new evangelization” and “missionary discipleship” were novel for Catholics 50 years ago, Bishop Wack said.

Wack stressed the importance of the lay apostolate and holiness that is active in the world.

Citing the Second Vatican Council’s document on the lay apostolate, Apostolicam actuositatem, Wack said the Church can “never be without” the lay apostolate. This apostolate is “a call to action, a call to evangelization, in every home every workplace and every neighborhood.”

“We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case,” he said. “We are all called to be holy, by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.”

Another conference speaker was theology professor John C. Cavadini, Director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

In March 5 remarks, he said the theology of the Church in Lumen gentium and other documents of the Second Vatican Council is one that has never fully been implemented.

In Cavadini’s view, Pope Benedict XVI sees the Second Vatican Council as kept in “arrested development” and “a vision never fulfilled.”

Cavadini drew on Pope Benedict’s speech given May 26, 2009 at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

“The reawakening of spiritual and pastoral energies that has been happening in recent years has not always produced the desired growth and development,” Benedict said. “In certain ecclesial communities, the period of fervor and initiative has given way to a time of weakening commitment, a times of situational weariness, at times even a stalemate.”

Pope Benedict lamented a persistent tendency to identify the Church unilaterally with the church hierarchy, “forgetting the common responsibility, the common mission of the People of God, which, in Christ we all share.”

He also critiqued a tendency to identify the People of God “in accordance with a merely sociological or political concept, forgetting the newness and specificity of that people, which becomes a people solely through communion with Christ.”

Cavadini said the Church is not merely a secular organization in history, like the Amtrak passenger railroad service. Rather, the Church is “a mystery of communion” that is, like Amtrak, visibly in history, but it is also something transcends history.

“That’s why the Church is an article of faith, and not simply one of empirical observation,” he said.

There are also important distinctions in the priesthood of all baptized Christians and those who are priests and bishops by virtue of sacramental ordination. The hierarchical priesthood is not simply “more of the same priesthood that the baptized have,” he added. “It’s not a super priesthood somehow completing, displacing or superseding the common priesthood.”

At the same time, there is a “priesthood which marks the whole Church as a priestly people.” This does not imply “that there is an ‘inner Church’ of ‘super Christians’ and that that is the hierarchy,” because that falls into the error of clericalism.

“if baptism confers a priesthood, it means it confers a participation in the sacrifice of Christ which, made present in the Eucharist, makes the Church,” Cavadini said.

“The exercise of this priesthood, then is ordered towards communion, and evangelization, if it is truly an exercise of the baptismal priesthood, is intended to bring people to the encounter with the Risen Lord, which is the incorporation into the eucharistic body, through configuration to Christ’s sacrifice.”

Alongside the Second Vatican Council, Cavadini and Wack drew on the words of Pope Francis.

Wack said Pope Francis “is not afraid to challenge us to be the people God calls us to be.” The bishop found the Pope’s critique of a “self-referential” Church to be especially valuable. He welcomed the Pope’s call for priests and bishops to “get out of their comfortable homes and parishes and rectories to preach the good news.”

In the bishop’s view, Catholics have been and still are “somewhat focused on what the laity are allowed to do within the church.”

He pointed to the prophet Nehemiah who had “a burning love for God.” The prophet saw the need to rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile and discerned how that need could be met. He worked with some religious leaders and rallied people to action.

“He encouraged everyone to rebuild the temple, and more importantly, the faith of the people of God,” said Bishop Wack. “If you’re ever doubtful that we regular people can do something great, read Nehemiah. You see the church coming together to do something great.”

Wack said the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee is working towards a “model of shared leadership” like that envisioned in the Amazing Parish program. A leadership team in parishes or at the diocesan level meets with the pastor or bishop once a week, examines problems or areas for improvement, and leaves the meeting with a clear set of responsibilities and actions for each member.

“It’s really helping me to be a good leader as well,” the bishop said of his diocesan team. “They’re there to help me be the best leader I can be, the best shepherd I can be… They are really helping to direct me.”


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