Dear sisters and brothers, I am very pleased to be with you this afternoon to celebrate the Eucharist with you on this special day for our Lay Ministry candidates and to celebrate their commissioning. It is a great encouragement to see people from the Archdiocese continuing year after year to give their time and effort to follow the Lay Ministries program and year after year seeing people commissioned to be leaders of lay ministry in our diocesan Church.
St Paul, in his letter to the Galatians which we heard today, reminds us of a fundamental characteristic of the Church which Jesus founded: that we are one in Christ Jesus. There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female. We are all one because we have been incorporated into the Body of Jesus at our baptism.
Also, there is only one Mission which has been given by Jesus to his Church. That mission is described in the Constitution on the Laity of the Second Vatican Council. It is our belief as Catholics that“The Church was founded for the purpose of spreading the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth for the glory of God the Father, to enable all to share in His saving redemption, and that through them the whole world might enter into a relationship with Christ.”(AA 2)
The Church also teaches us that because of our baptism and our vocation to be followers of Jesus in our world, that vocation by its very nature is also a vocation to carrying out this mission. (ibid) There is one mission, but there are many ministries which are dedicated to carrying out that mission. There is one mission, but there are many different gifts in many different people. We are here today to celebrate one of these ministries, that of the lay person in the Church, or as we call it in the diocese: Lay Ministry.
Lay ministry, as you know, is different from Ordained ministry. As I mentioned at the Chrism Mass a couple of months ago: As an ordained priest, my mission is to you the priestly people of God. My mission is to bring to you the healing and strengthening work of Jesus. My mission is to make you strong through the sacraments so that you can carry out the Mission which Jesus the Christ gives to you. My ministry is directed to you, the Church.
But you have a different ministry, even though a part of Lay Ministry is directed towards the Church. Your ministry as lay people, your ministry in Lay Ministry, is directed, not primarily towards the Church, but rather primarily towards the world in which we live. We can ask, then: “What is a lay person in the Church?” In the Catechism of the Catholic Church(871) the laity are described asthe faithful, who by Baptism are incorporated into Christ and integrated into the People of God, are made sharers in their particular way in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ, and have their own part to play in the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the World.”
What I believe is very important here are the words: “have their own part to play...” I think that in some ways there has been considerable confusion around this question of what is the part that the laity plays in the mission of the Church.
During this time of year when I am travelling to different parts of the Archdiocese to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation, I ask to meet with the Parish Pastoral Council whenever that is possible to talk about the Church and the concerns people in our parishes have about the Church and parish life.
During one discussion, one of the people raised the question of Lay ministry. The comment was this: what is the future of Lay Ministry? In our dioceses there used to be a good number of who has lay people as parish ministers but now that has been greatly diminished. Is there no need any more for lay ministry?
Lay ministry certainly can be exercised as a parish minister. But that really is assisting the Ordained Minister in his ministry to the Church. If all our parishes had parish ministers to administer, that would involve 160 people. But we have 110,000 people in our diocese who are called to lay ministry, who have their own part to play in carrying out the mission of the Church. Every person who has been confirmed and received first Communion has a ministry to carry out.
That ministry needs to be carried out, not only in the Sanctuary of the Church or the parish office, but in the world and especially in the world. Here the need is immense. As you know, and as I hear almost everywhere I go, the Church is losing members all over the place. Our society is becoming very anti religious and promotes life without God. People are worried and concerned about these things.
It is in this world that lay ministry must be carried out. We have limited our notion of lay ministry too much. The ordained ministry needs to strengthen the laity and give them sound teaching and leadership. But you, the lay people, need to change the world through your involvement in the world: where you work , where you play, where you socialize.
It is the ordained minister’s responsibility to sanctify the church; it is the lay person’s ministry to sanctify the world and to give the world life in Christ to bring the whole world into a relationship with Jesus Christ. The Church teaches us that what we need especially in ourtimesis the testimony of the whole lay life arising from faith, hope, and charity. It manifests Christ living in those who believe in Him. Then by the apostolate of the spoken and written word, which is utterly necessary under certain circumstances, lay people announce Christ, explain and spread His teaching in accordance with one's status and ability, and faithfully profess it.(AA 16)
This, everybody is called to do, regardless on one’s status in life, regardless of one’s ability, regardless of one’s education, regardless of one’s age. Every member of the baptized has this ministry that is directed to the world.
Your ministry as baptized and confirmed lay Christians is to bring to the world around you the healing that Jesus has worked in your lives; to bring to the world around you the good news that God saves us, that Christ binds up broken hearts, and frees suffering people from the imprisonment of fear and sin and darkness. When your forehead was marked with the oil of Chrism at your Confirmation, Jesus consecrated you to this work and gave you this mission.
I know that this mission is daunting, perhaps even overwhelming. But it is done one piece at a time, where you live your normal life from day to day.
As you receive the Eucharist today, as you are fed with the body and blood of the Risen Christ, you are nourished and strengthened by the Bread of Heaven to carry out the mission God has given you. In the Gospel today Jesus tells his followers not to worry about things. Just do what God asks of you and God will take care of the rest. Work for God’s kingdom, let people sees Christ who lives in you by how you live.
And we remember St. Paul’s words, when we think that we can’t do what God asks us: I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.