Lay minister retreat for St. Bavo's 3/14/10:
This is a retreat for Lay Ministers. What does that mean exactly? Vatican II defines the laity as: These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world. 31 The first thing to remember is that as lay faithful you gain your identity from baptism. In the sacrament of baptism you received a certain character making you children of God and united with Christ. This union with Christ is brought to completion in the Holy Eucharist. When we gather together to celebrate the Mass we see an image of the unity of the Church: the people of God gathered together to be one with Christ and to receive Christ in the Holy Communion.
I'm sure you have heard it a hundred times, let me make it a hundred and one: through baptism you have entered into the priestly, prophetic, and kingly mission of Jesus Christ. Priest, prophet, and king are three ways in which Christ is present to us. As priest, Jesus laid his life down in sacrifice for the salvation of the world; as prophet, Jesus Christ passed on to us the saving truth of God; as king, Jesus Christ is seated on the throne of heaven, where he rules forever. Yet, as baptized faithful, we are called to share in this mission in the world. This is what is truly distinctive about the laity. The documents of the Church say it over and over. Here is a quote from the Catechism: 900 Since, like all the faithful, lay Christians are entrusted by God with the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they have the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth. This duty is the more pressing when it is only through them that men can hear the Gospel and know Christ. Their activity in ecclesial communities is so necessary that, for the most part, the apostolate of the pastors cannot be fully effective without it. This is the job of the laity. As faithful members of Christ's body, it is your specific task in life to bring this message to the whole world. This makes a lot of sense if you stop to think about it. How many people can I reach in my lifetime as a priest? Probably a large number, to be sure. But, there are many places where I cannot reach. The easiest place for me to reach is the Church. People come to Mass and I have an opportunity to preach the good news to them. Further, anywhere I go, I can give witness to Christ by what I say and do. But, I am still limited. I am only one man and only have a limited amount of time on this earth. It is not simply the job of the priest to be the evangelizers of the world; rather, it is the job of the laity. You have access to factories, banks, malls, schools, and homes that I can never reach. You may not realize it, but your job as Christians is to make the whole world Christian. Your faith should be so firm that you are able to share it with the whole world. If the gospel is to reach the corners of the world, it will be up to you.
I don't mean to put you on the spot here, but the Church is expecting great things from her members. Along with the promise of everlasting life comes the responsibility of sharing the good news, of Christianizing culture. If we were more assertive as Christians, I am convinced that America would be a much different place, a much better place. Yet, we tend to think of our faith as something secondary, or as something private. I cannot say this starkly enough: this is certainly not the teaching of the Church, not the teaching of Jesus Christ. Your faith is something public, something primary. It absolutely must affect every aspect of your lives. If it doesn't, pray to Christ for the strength. Ask Christ to inspire within you a deep and powerful faith. Ask Christ to give you the power to evangelize the whole world. For this is your mission in life: to bring Jesus Christ to the whole world. Yet, this outward motion, this evangelizing impulse would ring empty if your faith is not firmly grounded on our savior Jesus Christ.
This ties in quite well with the universal vocation we all receive through our baptism. We know that we are all called to holiness. Vatican II says: Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification". Your first job is to draw close to Christ, to become holy. By moving away from sin and drawing closer to Christ you will fan to a powerful flame the spark of God dwelling within you. Jesus Christ suffered and died for each of you, and in your baptism you received the Holy Spirit. Dwelling on these mysteries: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, helps us to grow in holiness.
The word holy means set apart, or consecrated. Think about our chalices and patens here at Church. When we buy these things they are mere cups and dishes. Yet, when we bless them and use them for the Holy Eucharist they become holy and consecrated. No longer can we use them as simple table ware: could you imagine the scandal of walking into a rectory and seeing a priest drink coffee from a chalice? (I hope that has never been done!). Those things are holy, and they are meant for holy things. The same is true of all of us. We were made holy at our baptism, we have been set apart by God, we are meant for holy things. Drawing close to Christ enables us live lives of holiness.
Here is where we return to the three-fold mission of the Christian person: priest, prophet, and king. Holiness prepares us and sends us out into the world as other Christs to the world. As priests, you are to work for the sanctification of the world. Through your prayers and sacrifices you are meant to take the world and offer it to God. You should offer your life, your family, your job, your friends, your whole life becomes a life of worship.
As a prophet, you are called to spread the message of salvation. Tell people who Jesus is. Tell people about the salvation possible with Christ. You do this by what you say, to be sure, but also by what you do. You will exercise your prophetic calling by living a Christian life in the midst of the world.
Finally, as a king, you govern and rule as Christians. This starts in your own person. Do you reign over sin and temptation? Do you allow yourself to wander off? You first rule in yourself, with the help of Christ, then turn to rule the world. Being Christian affects how you live, it affects the jobs you take, the things you say, the way you vote, the taxes you pay. Being Christian, and exercising your regal role, means that your faith has an important effect in your interaction with the world, hopefully for the sanctification of the world.
All of this is meant to speak to your vocation as lay faithful. Yet, all of this is all the more heightened when we talk about lay ministers. By taking a visible role in the Church your are first, and foremost, expected to be putting these things into practice in your lives… right now. We all fall short, to be sure, but we must constantly be striving for holiness. You should be examples of holiness meant to inspire holiness in the lives of the others in the parish.
Further, as ministers, you help this along. When you read the Scriptures or give out Holy Communion you are helping others live lives of holiness. You are helping them grow closer to Christ through your participation in the sacraments of the Church. This is no small task. Rather, the Scriptures and the Eucharist are two of the most important ways that God helps us become holy. When you read the scriptures and receive holy Communion, you grow closer to Christ. Even more, when you proclaim the scriptures and give out Holy Communion you are helping others grow closer to Christ as well.
This is why you should take your liturgical ministry quite seriously. You are trying to effect holiness in the lives of St. Bavo's parish! That should make you a little nervous. Not only that, but you are trying to effect the sanctification of the whole world. Because your activity here at the parish is meant to inspire holiness in others, which in turn should inspire them to carry the Christian message beyond these walls. You are helping others fulfill the vocation of the laity, first toward holiness and second towards the salvation of the world.