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Lay People and Stewardship

 

The Good Steward Newsletter by Dan Conway

Vol.7 • No.7 • July 2009 


Lay People are Stewards of the Body of Christ

     At the annual convention of the Diocese of Rome, delegates were told by their bishop, Pope Benedict XVI, that lay Catholics have responsibilities that extend beyond helping their pastors with the day-to-day operations of their parishes. Speaking at his cathedral church, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the pope acknowledged that full participation in the life of the Church will require "a change of mentality" on the part of both clergy and laity.

     The majority of Catholics are only minimally involved in the Church's sacramental, educational or social ministries. Those who are involved tend to see themselves as collaborators with the clergy in their parishes. Pope Benedict says that neither view — the passive stance of the majority or the merely collaborative role of those who are active in parish ministry — accurately represents the Second Vatican Council's vision of a laity that "fully shares in the responsibility for the existence and action of the Church."  

     The pope is obviously not minimizing the role of bishops, priests and deacons in preserving, and carrying forward, the Church's mission. On the contrary, he says we should not see the Church as "simply a collection of people" any more than we should diminish the role of lay people in the life of the Church. His point is that everyone has a role to play in carrying on Christ's work in the world.

     To achieve the change of mentality that the pope believes is necessary, we must do a better job of helping Catholics understand what it means to be stewards of the Body of Christ. There are not two classes of membership in the Church — clergy and laity — in spite of the distinctive roles and responsibilities. "Christ brought down the wall of separation and unites all of us into one body," the pope says. "In the Body of Christ, we become one people, the People of God." As one body, we share equally in the mission that Christ entrusted to his disciples to proclaim the Gospel, to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and to build up the Kingdom of God.

       "The Church, which has its origins in the triune God, is a mystery of communion," the pope says. "As a communion, the Church is not only a spiritual reality, but lives in history - in flesh and blood, so to speak. The People of God means all of us — from the pope to the baby most recently baptized." As Pope Benedict sees it, being a Christian means sharing the Gospel with others, particularly through acts of charity.

       Charity, which was the subject of this pope's first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est  (God is Love), is the great equalizer. We are all called to proclaim the Gospel, particularly through acts of charity. And the place, or setting, for the lay Catholic's exercise of full responsibility for the work of evangelization, and for the ministry of charity, is much larger than the parish. In fact, it extends to the whole world. .

     All baptized Christians share fully in the Church's mission to transform the world through the power of God’s grace. We do this by living as Christ lived and by giving witness to him through our thoughts, our words and our actions. "To live charity is a primary form of mission," the pope told the delegates at his diocesan convention. "The word proclaimed becomes visible when it is incarnated in acts of solidarity and sharing and in gestures that concretely demonstrate the face of Christ, the true friend of humanity."  

     We accept full responsibility for the Church's mission when we accept the fact that each of us is called to be Christ for others — and to see Christ in the face of others. We assume our rightful roles as members of the Body of Christ when we proclaim Christ in our homes, our workplaces and in the public square as well as in our parishes. We become leaders in the Church when we speak out against injustice and evil wherever we find it, and when we stand firm and live out our Christian beliefs in our everyday lives. Like the delegates from the Diocese of Rome, each and every one of us represents the entire People of God wherever we are and whatever we are doing. We are ambassadors for Christ in our parishes, certainly, but also "at large" in our neighborhoods, in our civic communities and throughout the world. 

     Pope Benedict invites, and challenges, us to step up and assume our rightful places as sons and daughters of God. We have been entrusted with a sacred mission to "share fully" in the mission and ministries of the Church. It is time to get involved, in profoundly personal ways, through our prayer, our personal witness and our active participation in the ministry of charity.   

     No one is excused from active participation in the work of building up the Church. There are no second-class citizens among us, and no spectators. We are all responsible.  

     The U.S. bishops' 1992 pastoral letter, Stewardship: A Disciple's Response, call this "Eucharistic stewardship," or stewardship of the Body of Christ. Let's pray for the change of mentality Pope Benedict speaks about. May this change take place in ourselves, first of all, and then in the minds and heart of all our sisters and brothers in Christ.    .

Copyright © 2009, Daniel Conway