Diversity of ministry, unity in mission


Cunningham_formal_robesIn November 1965 towards the end of the fourth session of the Second Vatican Council, a decree on the Apostolate of the Laity was promulgated.  In that decree, we read about the special and indispensable role that lay people have in the mission of the Church.  Every activity of the Mystical Body of Christ is an apostolate which the Church exercises through all her members though in various ways.  Although there is a diversity of ministry, there is a unity of mission.

I carried these thoughts with me during the past weekend. It began with Confirmation on Thursday evening at Holy Family in Fairmount when I confirmed members of our special religious education program. There were also Confirmations this weekend at St. Patrick’s in Chittenango and St. Vincent de Paul in Syracuse where a number of eager young men and women indicated their readiness to complete the sacraments of Christian initiation and assume adult responsibilities in the Church.

On such occasions, I always remind those who are being confirmed about their new role and responsibility. I invite them to be faithful disciples and true witnesses of Christ in their own homes, at school, among their friends and in their neighborhoods.

All who have been baptized and confirmed have a special responsibility to share in the mission of the Church. In their own way, they are called to exercise an apostolate. By word and example, they need to teach the truth and beauty of our faith. Since the time of Christ, His dedicated followers have worked to build up the Kingdom of God.

Throughout the centuries, the Church has been enriched by the dedication of countless individuals who took their baptismal calling seriously. Let me tell you a few of the ways that I noticed people exercising their apostolate this past weekend.

On Friday morning, business administrators and trustees from a number of parishes met to listen to and discuss various aspects of the temporal affairs that concern the Church. These dedicated women and men work on a daily basis in parish offices applying good business practices and Christian ethics in our ever more complex society.

On Saturday, more than 700 women gathered at the OnCenter for our first women’s conference. These dedicated women spent the day discussing the conference theme, Through the Heart. The purpose of the conference was to assist them in their daily efforts to grow in the knowledge and love of God and to help them be authentic witnesses of the Lord in all that they say and do.

On Sunday afternoon at the Cathedral, I commissioned 30 new lay ministers. These men and women have completed two years of study and prayer to prepare them to minister in a variety of ways. The majority of them will work in their respective parishes through the pastoral care of the sick, youth work, catechetical ministry, family life and liturgy and parish business administration. Through all their activities, they will exercise their baptismal call to witness to Christ through their words and actions.

In all of these events of the past weekend, I saw faithful members of the laity stepping forward, recognizing their vocation and their call to holiness and willing to share their faith with the wider Catholic community. In various ways, they bring the message of Christ to others. Living in the midst of the world and its concerns they exercise “their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardour of the spirit of Christ. (cf The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, #2) Truly there is a diversity of ministry but a unity of mission.

Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI invites us to participate with him in the work of the New Evangelization. All of us have a share in this mission. We may participate in different ways, but we must all participate. Just as each part of the body has its special function, each of us as members of the Mystical Body of Christ has a particular purpose. There are innumerable opportunities open to the laity for the exercise of the apostolate of evangelization and sanctification. The testimony of their Christian life and the good works performed by them  in cooperation with divine grace have the power to draw others to belief in God and to the acceptance of  salvation offered in Jesus Christ. (cf The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, #6)

In St. Matthew’s Gospel, we read “your light must shine so brightly before people that they can see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). This is our daily challenge. It is our common vocation. It is what we are called to do according to our particular vocation and the circumstances of our life. May we answer with enthusiasm and zeal the Lord’s invitation to participate in His saving mission.

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