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The Priestly Office, the Laity, and Charisms PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 14 January 2007 08:03

Keith posted yesterday from a Called & Gifted workshop in Houston. He was referring to our standard parish workshop for lay-Catholics-in-the-pews that introduces them to the discernment of charisms in light of the Church's teaching about the mission of the laity.

Fr. Mike and I will be giving a quite different C & G to the students and faculty of a major west coast seminary on Thursday. Naturally, we've had to modify the content significantly. Charisms color and shape how a priest goes about his ministry and where he is most fruitful so discernment is enormously helpful for the individual priest. But the issue of discernment is also central to the priestly task of governance or as it has been known traditionally in Latin, the "munus regendi".

The three basic tasks of clergy in the service of the Christian community are to teach, to sanctify, and to govern. But governance, in Catholic understanding, is not primarily about administration. Governance is focused on two priorities: communion and mission as Pope John Paul II made clear in his 2004 ad limina address to the Bishops of Pennsylvania and New Jersey:

"The exercise of the munus regendi is directed both to gathering the flock in the unity of a single profession of faith lived in the sacramental communion of the Church and to guiding that flock, in the diversity of its gifts and callings, towards a common goal: the proclamation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Every act of ecclesiastical governance, consequently, must be aimed at fostering communion and mission."

(Pastores Gregis 9; cf. Lumen Gentium, 20, 27).

Governance includes some pretty startling responsibilities:

Priests are called to
o Cooperate with laity in mission to world
o Listen to laity
o Recognize lay expertise
o Awaken & deepen lay co-responsibility
o Confidently entrust duties to laity
o Invite lay initiative
o Help all explore and discern vocation
o Form and support secular apostles

Decree on Ministry and Life of Priests, 9; I Will Give You Shepherds, 59; 74


Priests are called to
o Recognize
o Uncover with faith
o Acknowledge with joy
o Foster with diligence
o Appreciate
o Judge and discern
o Coordinate and put to good use
o Have “heartfelt esteem” for

the charisms of all the baptized.

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

Why? Because the primary mission of the Church, evangelization, depends upon the calls and charisms of lay people who are intentional disciples. In our experience, intentional disciples clamor to discern! The spiritual forces unleashed by conversion naturally demand governance. The mission of the laity naturally calls out the office of the clergy which exists, after all, for their sake.

The problem is, as Fr. Mike has noted, the Church teaches a very high view of governance but priests are not formed to govern. I once asked Fr. Michael Sweeney if he had heard about charisms during his years of formation. "Yes." he said, " We spent about 10 minutes on the fact that St. Thomas wrote about the charisms." And that from a Dominincan who got a highly Thomistic formation! I have yet to run into a diocesan priest who even heard the word "charism" during his formation. Much less taught to discern his own and foster the discernment of his parishioners for the sake of our common mission.

I try to think of it as job security . . .


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