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Christ's spirit is life source that includes ministry, theologian says
By Albert de Zutter
Catholic Key Editor

Albert de Zutter/Key photo
Richard Miller, a speaker at the Institute, and his wife, Mariana, discuss changing theologies with Franciscan Father Osborne, professor emeritus of systematic theology at Franciscan School of Theology, Berkeley, Cal.
KANSAS CITY - Baptism confers the right and duty to ministry, speakers at an Institute on Lay Ministry agreed June 5.

A person entering the church community through baptism receives the spirit of Christ, a source of life that includes ministry, Dominican Father Thomas F. O'Meara said at an Institute on Lay Ministry sponsored by the Catholic Community Foundation here.

That spirit is not "insurance for heaven," but a source of activity, said Father O'Meara, professor emeritus of theology at Notre Dame University.

Father O'Meara was one of six speakers at the day-long institute, held in conjunction with the annual conventioin of the National Association for Lay Ministry. The institute was attended by more than 660 people, many of them delegates to the annual convention.

In the 19th century, the religious life and the priesthood took the place of baptism as the source of ministry, creating a first-class citizenship for priests and religious, with lay people as a proletariat, "like natives in a colony," Father O'Meara said.

The life of the spirit was occluded by individualistic theologies, he said. One saw baptism merely as preparation for the next life. Another arranged church structure into a medieval feudal pyramid, with the lower layers unable to contribute anything to the upper layers. A theology of the priesthood drawn from the French spirituality of the 17th century freed the priesthood from servitude to the nobility, but made priesthood the only ministry, Father O'Meara said.

"The third theology stands behind" the recent sexual scandal, he said. "The priest was retained apart from his public life."

"The indwelling of the spirit is the most basic element in the teaching of Jesus," Father O'Meara said. "The spirit's life always brings an inclination to ministry."

Repressing the spirit leads to anger and frustration and people leaving the church, he said.

"The non-practice of faith has to do with the baptized being ignored or silenced," he said.

Father Michael Himes, professor of theology at Boston College, said the 1983 Code of Canon Law advanced the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the rights of the Christian faithful in the church. The code speaks of "a true equality with regard to dignity and the activity whereby all cooperate in the building up of the Body of Christ in accord with each one's own condition and function." The faithful "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the church, and they have a right to make their opinion known to other Christian faithful."

The language of the new code is "not surprising," Father Himes said. "But I would be surprised if it were acted on."

Only 150 years ago, he said, in the wake of Cardinal John Henry Newman's "On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine," a Msgr. Talbot dismissed the notion as absurd. "What is the province of the laity?" he asked. "To hunt, to shoot and to entertain."

Vatican II still spoke in terms of a division of labor, "the clergy in their church and the laity out there in the secular world where, heaven knows, we (priests) never venture," he said to appreciative laughter. "That division of labor now seems to be theologically inadequate and practically unworkable."

The shortage of priests is endangering the faithful's right to the Eucharist laid down in Canon 13, he said, but the ecclesial lay ministry is a primary factor in staving off a crisis.

"It would be impossible for the church to function without a large number of lay women and men," he said.

The role of the priest and bishop is best explained by sacramental principle, Father Himes said.

"A sacrament gets you to notice the omnipresence of God."

Members of the church always have at least three responsibilities "at every level of the church's life," he said:

  • To hold the community together. To unite each community and all the communities to one another. "If an organization does not care about the other communities, it is not the church of Jesus Christ."

  • To respond to and proclaim the Word of God, carrying on the gospel tradition.

  • To give service to people in need, both within and outside the church community. "If it is not our business to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the afflicted, etc., then we could not claim to be the church of Jesus Christ."

    There are other responsibilities, but those three are always present.

    Maintaining unity is the primary responsibility of the episcopacy, he said. The presbyterate has the primary responsibility for proclaiming and celebrating and handing on the tradition of worship and prayer. Direct service to all those in need is the primary responsibility of the diaconate.

    "But everybody, by baptism, is charged with all of these responsibilities," he said.

    These responsibilities, while they belong to everybody, must be sacramentalized in particular persons, he said.

    "If everybody is called to be a priest, then somebody sometime has got to embody that responsibility in order to witness to Christ in that responsibility. Ordination makes us (priests) sacrament.

    "The bishop is ordained to be the community of the church on two feet, a corporate being, the link that unites us with all those other churches. The diaconate is to make it more real that we serve those in need."

    Ordained ministry exists for service to the ministry of the baptized, Father Himes said.

    "If you strengthen the ministry of baptism, you strengthen the ministry of the ordained. To revitalize the priesthood, center attention on the ministry of the baptized. It is not a zero-sum game."

    The call to lay ministry is not a call to make up for the shortage of priests and religious, but a call from Christ himself, Richard Miller said in opening the day-long institute.

    Miller, a doctoral candidate in theology at Boston College, emphasized the importance of recognizing that the church has changed.

    "Many say that the church has not changed or developed. It is tempting to condemn the present age and to yearn for a return to a golden age when moral norms were established and truth was clear and unchanging," he said. "The temptation to immortalize a past era is a temptation to unbelief and idolatry. It is a temptation to lose faith in the spirit working through all things."

    He reminded the participants in the institute that the first commandment forbids idolatry.

    "Every form of living out our faith is limited, and none of them exhausts the way God manifests himself to us," he said. "Idolatry is to make something finite infinite."

    The Second Vatican Council provided theological reasons for the growth of lay ministry, which would have taken place regardless of the shortage of priests and religious, he said. The council said that it is by the Lord himself that people are assigned to the lay apostolate. He quoted Bishop Anthony Pilla as saying that the growth of the role of the laity is not merely pragmatic, but springs from the very meaning of the church.

    Sacred Heart Sister Carolyn Osiek of the Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University, speaking on the first generation church through the late 2nd century, said ministry was always evolving. During the time of Jesus it consisted of itinerant preaching and teaching, exorcizing and healing. Two kinds of ministry developed, leadership and pastoral care.

    Initially, small groups of Christ's followers met weekly in houses or rented rooms. Then a network of visitation, instruction and social services developed, with those who presided and admonished. The gift of prophecy was available to all, "with all kinds of problems about discerning true prophecy."

    Early on, sacrificial language about the death of Jesus developed, with his death understood as a sacrifice connected to the communion meal, Sister Osiek said. Society and the budding church were organized around patrons.

    Around the year 80, resident leadership arose. Liturgy was still in flux, but solidifying. There was already a looking back on the "good old days," and a rising sense of continuity, as the Gospels were being written.

    Diversity of beliefs developed, and much emphasis was placed on correct teaching. Leaders who had the faith of the community were sought out. Larger houses of worship appeared.

    Around 110, Ignatius of Antioch proposes a new form of leadership, a bishop and council of presbyters and deacons. Pastoral care moves from patrons to the community. People were urged to contribute financially to a central organization.

    In the late 2nd century more theological pluralism appeared. Assurance of right teaching assumed greater importance.

    "There have always been designated leaders," Sister Osiek concluded, but leadership was always evolving. The early society was status conscious (hierarchical), with power and privilege openly recognized. However, there was also always tension between the movement of the spirit and the need for ordering the community.

    "We need to keep developing new ways of meeting needs," she concluded. "History helps us imagine what will be. But it will never be the same."

    Francine Cardman, associate professor of historical theology and church history at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, Cambridge, Mass., said, "We focus too much on juridical prerogative and exclusions, as well as liturgical sacramental ministry. These are the wrong categories to think about," she said. Cardman also said we "confuse doctrine and discipline with divine will and divine law. We forget to locate ministry in the context of mission. Our calling is to make present the Kingdom of God."

    Speaking of the 3rd century to the millennium, she said tension between the prophetic and charismatic and the establishment was always present. The reign of Constantine ended the persecution of Christians and brought about the Christianization of the Roman empire and the imperialization of the church. The elaboration of hierarchical structures meant that bishops became authorities in the social and political spheres as well as in the church.

    The Council of Nicea in 325 was the outstanding early example of decisions meant to apply to the entire church. It was the time of the rise of asceticism and monasticism.

    The disintegration of the Roman empire in the 5th to 8th centuries was a factor in Rome taking on greater importance, although there are still five apostolic sees in the world today.

    Kings and princes were influential forces in the affairs of the church. Saints, shrines and relics were sources of power and prestige. Throughout the period, there was widespread participation in the selection of leadership.

    Franciscan Father Kennan Osborne, professor emeritus of systematic theology at Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, said that by the time of the Crusades, it was thought that salvation depended on living a dedicated, monastic life. The Crusades changed that, with the church promising salvation to anyone who took part in them, including the camp followers.

    Throughout the period, reform was a felt need. People yearned for spirituality and a return to the gospel. The Counter Reform of the 16th century brought about Jansenism and the suppression of the laity. Subsequent lay movements were also put down because clerics were not in charge of them. It was not until Pope Pius XII that the status of the laity began to be restored, Father Osborne said.

    The 20th century brought on "a period of reform and renewal for spirituality with the focus on the Gospel," he said. "The Gospel gives the mission of the church. We as baptized people must listen to the Gospel to find out what the mission of the church is all about."


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