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Listening to the Spirit

“What are we to do, my brothers?” That question comes from the very first day of the Church’s ministry to the world on Pentecost. Hearing Peter’s proclamation of God’s saving work in the death and resurrection of Jesus, those listening to the Gospel message understand that this Good News demands a response: “What are we to do?”

The question expresses the enduring pattern of the Church’s life to this day: to hear the Gospel and ponder what we are to do as individuals and as a Church to live the new life of salvation and grace. In changing places, cultures, historical upheavals, and daily routines, we are called to ask that same question of the Holy Spirit: what are we to do? It is this question that is meant to spur every ecumenical Council, synod, retreat, institution, and planning discussion in Church history. As times, resources, needs, and opportunities change, we continue to seek God’s will with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Listening to the Spirit’s guidance is necessary not only to understand what are to be our goals, but also to know how to proceed practically. “What are we to do?” means not only “Where are we going?” but also “How do we get there?”

In recent years, the term “co-responsibility” has emerged as part of this strategic conversation in the Church. It is also found in business, education, health care, and other segments of common endeavor. But it means something profoundly more in the Christian sense, for we are not simply a human institution with a pragmatic even if noble purpose. We are the living Body of Christ.

This is more than simply a picturesque image. It is our identity, and it begins for each of us with the sacrament of Baptism. All the baptized by that very fact become sharers in the three-fold mission of Jesus as Priest, Prophet, and King. The priestly mission involves sanctification, bringing God’s holiness in the world through prayer, worship, sacrament, and sacrifice. The prophetic mission proclaims the Word of God in evangelization, catechesis, and missionary outreach.

The kingly mission – and this is especially critical for understanding co-responsibility – is exercised in service, both within and beyond the structures of the Church. Jesus models this kind of kingship – “I came not to be served but to serve”; “the greatest among you will be last of all and servant of all” – and in the washing of his disciples’ feet teaches us to imitate him: “As I have done, so you must do.”

Co-responsibility means that each member of the Church has a role in the mission entrusted to us by Christ. The scope and contours of each one’s role are refined by their particular vocation and state of life, their natural gifts, and their specific area of responsibility in the whole. It is the idea St. Paul outlines in the teaching that the Church is the Body of Christ, made up of many different members and functions, but all are necessary for the health and flourishing of the whole body.

A proper understanding of co-responsibility, then, depends on an adequate understanding of the scope of the mission of the Church itself. As Pope Benedict noted, too narrow an idea of this mission identifies it with the visible structures and organization of the Church. Co-responsibility can then be misconstrued as a sharing as equals by all in governance, liturgical and pastoral ministries, and activities at the parish and diocese. Necessary as these things, they are means, not ends. The Church exists in the world as a mission, inviting all to know God’s love through Jesus, whose Body we are. If we focus our energies only inwardly, we are not fulfilling our purpose.

Similarly, a secular idea of “collaboration” can mislead, as it focuses more on doing than being. Instead, co-responsibility is an ordered living out of the complementary roles of all the members of the Body as leaven in the world. What we are to do is grounded in the unique calling Jesus gives to each. Co-responsibility is not important because there are fewer priests, as some kind of strategy to broaden the workforce.

Rather, it acknowledges the Baptismal dignity and responsibility of laypersons who have a vast field of service. The role of lay people is not primarily found within diocesan and parish ministries and volunteer opportunities, necessary as they are. It is found first and foremost in their daily lives and work. This role is the call to transform the whole temporal order of the world we see with the transcendent values of the world we do not yet see in its fullness, the Kingdom of God.

Lay members of the faithful are called, gifted, and sent into politics, business, health care, education, agriculture, communications, and above all into family life, the basic cell of the human community. It is there that they live out the mission as priests, prophets, and kings that was given to them by the same Jesus Christ in Baptism and enriched by the other sacraments and spiritual supports of the Church. We are all working toward the same goal of Christ’s Kingdom, though in complementary ways.

As we ponder the future of the Church in the Diocese of Saint Cloud, we are rightly asking anew the question spoken on Pentecost: “What are we to do?” The question is not confined to how parishes will be arranged and staffed. It is as broad as the world and all its need for the Gospel.

In the end, the true co-responsibility is between Christ the Head and Cornerstone and all the members of his Body, called to share his mission as Priest, Prophet, and King.

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