Monday, May 30, 2005

Ecclesiology 101

As a committed Anglophile, I've always believed we could learn a lot from the Brits. And some recent events across the Pond have proven that instinct right.

First, there's the story of David Hope, the archbishop of York and primate of the north of England. Upon reaching retirement age from his churchwide office last year, Archbishop Hope gladly left it behind and interviewed to become a simple vicar in a rural church. Here's a great story from the Times I've been meaning to post for a long while on the happiness the reborn "Father David" has found. Other bishops might find it useful -- Hope did not require lavish renovations in the six-figures before he moved into the vicarage.

Speaking of shirking the grandeur, a noteworthy figure in the Catholic ambit of Western Europe is Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the archbishop of Westminster. Hated by conservatives, the man his co-workers call "Father Cormac" has carved out a humble and gentle presence heightened over his five years as head of the church in England and Wales. His archdiocese recently completed an extensive consultation spree on how to best tackle a future of dwindling vocations and the ever-pressing needs of the faithful. The "Green Paper" (full text here) is an excellent read for anyone interested in smart pastoral planning and how to go about it while averting the potential for sit-ins born of top-down missives.

These passages stood out. The first from the consultation phase:

"Without compromising their mission to the world, lay people are asking to be allowed to use their own talents and experience... in partnership with their parish clergy and under their leadership. Respondents described how a priest could be enabled to concentrate on his own specific ministry as a priest, through the administration of the Sacraments, leadership in catechetics and evangelisation, and in offering spiritual guidance to the parish community and its individual members.... It was recognized that the priest exercises his leadership most fully when he encourages and facilitates the charisms of all in the service of the whole community, and in presiding at the Eucharist which was recognised as the spiritual heart of the parish community."

"Many priests expressed frustration that so few people step forward to offer their services in the parish, or assume that they had nothing of value to offer. In a few extreme cases, some priests felt isolated in their ministry to the extent that everything depended on them and there was no room for delegation or collaboration."

And from the section on the vision of the future:

"The Church as Communion is a theological model which has come into prominence since the Council as a new basis for understanding ministries and roles in the Church. All office in the Church is service.... Priests and lay people are increasingly coming to understand their interdependent relationship in the one mission of Christ. The Catechism... speaks of "two participations in the one priesthood of Christ" (1546) shared by all the faithful by virtue of their baptismal call to be priest, prophet and king, and by bishops, priests and deacons specifically through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. While it recognises that [the two] "differ essentially... they are "ordered to one another..." [I]t is one of the tasks of the ordained ministry to develop the graces and gifts which all members of the Church receive at baptism. Ministerial priesthood is ordered to building up the ordinary priesthood... and is in turn built up by it. One cannot exist without the other."

In other words, Father's job is more than screaming at laypeople and booting them from the exercise of their charisms in favor of seminarians. If anything, a priest who ministers that way isn't doing his job. No comment on how many of those I have seen.... Father Cormac is not one among that grouping, obviously.

But it's a double-edged sword -- with the invitation to collaboration comes the need for responsibility and maturity on the part of laypeople. Are our people prepared for the mission?



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