The situation of more parishes than priests speeds towards us.
The shift from the current parish priest model of sole decision-maker to joint leadership with laity will require simultaneously that we “unlearn” that Baptism is the “done” sacrament when we were babies, and that it’s not clergy first and laity second.
“The baptismal life is the fundamental human vocation, and all must exercise the priesthood received at baptism. Ministry is at the service of this”, says Cardinal Marc Quellet, chief organiser of the upcoming theological conference titled “toward a fundamental theology of the priesthood”, initiated by Pope Francis for February, 2022. “The ordained ministry isn’t about belonging to the ‘ecclesiastical power’”, the cardinal stated.
Going back to baptism and the priesthood of all believers “isn’t just a fashion, it’s the basis for all Christian life”, said Michelina Tenance, organising assistant to this conference.
These years ahead will be of huge change. But not dissimilar to those unexpected times when we receive traumatic news. Suddenly our lives are turned upside down. Hindsight can reveal that, in amongst the anxiety and chaos, we were, in fact, taken out from our comfort zones to see the bigger picture of God’s involving presence.
This has been the maturing story of the Church as well.
Not even 100 years old, the early Church was forced to make a decision in amongst mayhem. Can non-Jews become Christians? Yes, said the leaders. “God does not have favourites. But that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10:35)
Putting aside the arguments on both sides of the issue associated with the Lutheran Reformation, the Church returned to the fact that she must be a living experience and that Scripture is essential for spiritual growth.
The Second Vatican Council was to cut back the externals to realise once again that she is a grain planted in the world, and not a diamond to be admired in a high-end jewellery shop.
We are capable of being reshaped by life’s circumstances.
Working towards shared leadership will require parishioners coming together over and over with their priest and bishop or apostolic administrators. Not so much to make a decision, but to enable God’s Holy Spirit to open the way forward from within.
Jesus’ presence amongst us is a constant. We are not abandoned.
When an ordained says “Your sins are forgiven” (John 20:23-24), and “this is my Body, this is my Blood”, (1 Corinthians 11:24), it is Jesus who speaks.
Spiritual gifts – charisms of God’s Holy Spirit – enable us to minister and build up our faith communities to be full of life and joy. And not just for ourselves, but inclusive to those desiring to belong to us.
Recognising spiritual gifts requires us to look at each other in deeper ways, since often gifts are gifted to those without the skills we usually look for. Gifted beyond those go-to people and obvious choices.
Post-menopausal Sarah being told by God that she will become pregnant with Isaac. (Genesis 18: 9-15)
Moses’ (Exodus 2:11-32) stutter wasn’t an obstacle for him to negotiate with the mighty narcissistic Pharoah.
Samuel (1 Samuel 3) was just a kid, but led the successful defence against the attacking Philistines.
Jesus selecting Peter to head the Church, when weeks prior he disassociated himself from the Lord. (Matthew 16:18)
Lydia (Acts 16) who believed in many gods, professed that Jesus is Lord, and she went onto become an effective evangelist.
Susanna (Luke 8:2) who was healed of an evil spirit ended up boldly proclaiming Jesus Risen!
Why ask a parishioner to proclaim the Scriptures when they get tongue-tied? But I am. Why ask a parishioner to write articles with a poor grip of the basic English grammar? But I am. Why ask a parishioner to pray with another when they’re hopeless at impromptu prayer? But I am.
Pope Francis, in his document titled Antiquum Ministerium (Institution of the Ministry of Catechist), released in Rome in May, 2021, says developing lay ministry isn’t an effort to clericalise laypeople.
As I see it, if an ordained man believes himself to be superior to lay people and it’s called clericalisation, then lay people can use spiritual gifts to gain self-importance as well. Both ordained people and lay people can be tempted into using spiritual gifts as if they were their own possession. Ministry is about service! – mature service that is!
“The New Zealand Catholic Bishops have endorsed the concepts of co-responsibility and lay leadership,” wrote Bishop Stephen Lowe, the vice-president and secretary of the New Zealand Bishops Conference – Te Huinga a nga Pikopa Katorika o Aotearoa to me on June 3, 2021.
- Sue Seconi is a parishioner at The Catholic Parish of Whanganui – Te Parihi Katorika Ki Whanganui