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Insufficient Bait - part 2 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 20 November 2007 09:55
This is a continuation of a post I made yesterday about priestly vocations websites.

The Obligations and Rights of Clerics
The Code of Canon Law mentions that priests are to "acknowledge and promote the mission which the laity, each for his or her part, exercise in the Church and in the world." Can. 275 §2.

Several descriptions of the life of the priest that I read on diocesan and archdiocesan vocation pages were drawn from canon law's description of the obligations of a pastor.
Yet when it comes to describing the office of the pastor and how he expresses his priestly, prophetic and royal ministry, it is hard to see the relation between these aspects of his office and the promotion of the mission the laity have in the world. Here's what the Code says:

Can. 528 §1. A pastor is obliged to make provision so that the word of God is proclaimed in its entirety to those living in the parish; for this reason, he is to take care that the lay members of the Christian faithful are instructed in the truths of the faith, especially by giving a homily on Sundays and holy days of obligation and by offering catechetical instruction. He is to foster works through which the spirit of the gospel is promoted, even in what pertains to social justice. He is to have particular care for the Catholic education of children and youth. He is to make every effort, even with the collaboration of the Christian faithful, so that the message of the gospel comes also to those who have ceased the practice of their religion or do not profess the true faith.

§2. The pastor is to see to it that the Most Holy Eucharist is the center of the parish assembly of the faithful. He is to work so that the Christian faithful are nourished through the devout celebration of the sacraments and, in a special way, that they frequently approach the sacraments of the Most Holy Eucharist and penance. He is also to endeavor that they are led to practice prayer even as families and take part consciously and actively in the sacred liturgy …

This canon describes the pastor's prophetic and priestly function for the Christian community. The two paragraphs of canon 529 describe his royal function in an interesting way:
Can. 529 §1. In order to fulfill his office diligently, a pastor is to strive to know the faithful entrusted to his care. Therefore he is to visit families, sharing especially in the cares, anxieties, and griefs of the faithful, strengthening them in the Lord, and prudently correcting them if they are failing in certain areas. With generous love he is to help the sick, particularly those close to death, by refreshing them solicitously with the sacraments and commending their souls to God; with particular diligence he is to seek out the poor, the afflicted, the lonely, those exiled from their country, and similarly those weighed down by special difficulties. He is to work so that spouses and parents are supported in fulfilling their proper duties and is to foster growth of Christian life in the family.
§2. A pastor is to recognize and promote the proper part which the lay members of the Christian faithful have in the mission of the Church, by fostering their associations for the purposes of religion…

The first paragraph emphasizes the need for the pastor to know the lay faithful who have been entrusted to his pastoral care, and that certainly is a beloved image of the priest: one who is with his parishioners in the most significant moments of their lives. But how is one to interpret the job of "prudently correcting them if they are failing in certain areas"? If that correction had to do with matters of doctrine, I would expect it to appear in the section on the pastor's teaching function (Can. 528 §1). Since the second paragraph focuses more specifically on the proper part of the laity in the mission to the world, I would suggest that at least one "area for correction" would be those situations in which the laity are neglecting - or even denying - that mission.

Canon law does not exhaust the Church's instruction on what it means to be a priest. In addition to sharing the lives of his parishioners, a priest is called to acknowledge and discern the spiritual gifts they have been given, and help them recognize them, too. Priests are called, in fact, to recognize, uncover with faith, acknowledge with joy, foster with diligence, appreciate, judge and discern, coordinate and put to good use, and have “heartfelt esteem” for the charisms of all the baptized. (cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 30; Decree on Ministry and Life of Priests, 9; I Will Give You Shepherds, 40, 74; Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People, 32) This is an incredibly important aspect of what it means to exercise pastoral governance, the heart of a priest's royal ministry.

Of course, that's a bit complex to demonstrate in the context of a short video, especially since very few lay people have experienced a priest who has assisted them in discerning their spiritual gifts, much less consciously coordinating them for the mission to the local culture.

As beautiful as "Fishers of Men" is, a vital part of the priest's vocation is absent. We priests are not simply teachers and sacramental ministers. If we are to truly act in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ the Head), we must not only teach and heal as he did, we must also form and prepare (lay) apostles to take the Gospel to the world!

The descriptions of the life of a priest that I read on the internet features the priest as the minister and everyone else as the recipient of ministry. The image of a priest as an animator of a community of fellow disciples preparing for an exciting mission to the world is absent. Pope Paul VI's The Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests and Pope John Paul II's I Will Give You Shepherds describe more of the collaborative relationship between cleric and lay person. These documents call the priest to cooperate with the laity in mission to world, listen to the laity, recognize lay expertise, awaken & deepen lay co-responsibility for the Church's mission, confidently entrust duties to the laity, invite lay initiative, help lay people explore and discern vocation, and form and support secular apostles. Decree on Ministry and Life of Priests, 9; I Will Give You Shepherds, 59; 74

More tomorrow - the implications of all that I've written above in regard to priestly vocations.

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