Gerald Darring is an adjunct instructor of theology at Spring Hill College. He has taught elementary, middle, and high school students and has been an instructor in adult ministry formation and certification programs for nearly twenty years. As an author for Ignatius Press, he has written several books especially his youth series: “Six Weeks with the Bible for Catholic Teens: Exploring God’s Word” examining the Gospels as well as other Old- and New Testament books.
The church is ‘a universal sacrament of salvation,’ in other words, all of the people of God are a sign to the whole world announcing its salvation. The priestly function of this people is to mediate salvation by blessing others. Its prophetic function is to announce that salvation to the world through its sanctifying presence in the world.
Bishop Robert Barron, founder of The Word On Fire Catholic Media organization recently spoke about this emphasis on the cooperation between laity and clergy that is mentioned in Vatican II. He said that there are two reasons for this emphasis.
- The universal call to holiness. All Christians—lay and religious—are called equally to holiness. We’re not just talking about people here. We’re talking about everything! The entire world and all of its aspects.
- All Christians—lay and religious—are called equally to mission. We’re all called to be blessed. Then we’re “sent out” – (the Greek word is apostoloi from which we get the word “apostle”) – to “go out” and bless others.
But the mission of the priests and the mission of the laity are distinct The way that I bless others, and the way YOU bless others is different. However, besides being distinctive, they are also complementary and collaborative. Barron calls this “collaborative apostolate” – a kind of cooperative “out-sending”.
This being blessed and blessing others involve three things – TEACHING, SANCTIFYING, GOVERNING. So what does this look like for me as a priest? How do I bless others?
- I read. I do research. I then pass on the richness of the faith and explain how it applies to everyday life. At St. Monica parish, I currently do that in three ways:
- Articles in the parish bulletin and on my website,
- Directing and instructing at Alpha. That’s the teaching part.
- I reinforce what happens in those arenas by infusing them with the Holy Spirit and God’s grace through the sacraments, especially Eucharist and Confession. That’s the sanctifying part.
- I ensure that the resources are available in order that the teaching and sanctifying can occur. That involves acquiring and coordinating things like bread, wine, lights, boilers, technology, books, etc… That’s governance.
What about the laity? How do you get blessed?
- You are first taught the faith at Mass, through homilies, That Man is You, Walking With Purpose, Alpha, Formed… That’s how you receive get blessed by the teaching part.
- You are sanctified and empowered by sacraments. That’s the sanctifying part.
- You have been authorized by God to go out and bless people. You have received authority, permission and a mandate by God because you have been baptized. Then, having been blessed, …you are called to go out and bless your “arena” a unique way. What’s your arena? Government and law, journalism and communication, finance and business, entertainment and sports.
So how do you bless others? What does this look like for you? Let’s take just one area – SANCTIFYING
1. Sanctification – Example 1: You do your job. you do it with integrity. You come to work on time. You work in a responsible manner. You look at people as God’s children. You enhance their workplace by your actions so that they thrive. That’s sanctifying the workplace.
2. Sanctification – Example 2: You’re standing on the sidelines at your kids’ soccer game. You console another parent who is going through a difficult time. You offer to call her and meet with her…. while the girls run around the field kicking a ball. That’s sanctifying leisure.
3. Sanctification – Example 3: On Saturday, both you and your spouse go to Confession. Then go out for dinner on a “date night.” You talk, you re-connect. You find out what is troubling your spouse. You celebrate what is going well in your spouse’s life. That’s sanctifying your vocation.
In each of these cases, you’re not only blessing the world. You are being a witness. People will notice this. They will ask you how you do that. They will ask you why you do that. Jared Zimmerer is the Director of the Word on Fire Institute. In a short video called, “Principle #7, Collaborative Apostolate,” he talks about this when he says, “Your call today is not just about talking about religion. It is framing the Gospel as the great “yes” which leads to freedom from sin and its effects (fear, addictions, anger, depression, hopelessness) and thus leads to human flourishing and true happiness.”
People are struggling. People are looking for a way out – to be rescued or saved – from their difficulties, fears, demons. Christ – the carpenter – is the savior. You’re the tool he has chosen and pulled off of his workbench to build his saving work in the world.
The problem is that too many of God’s people view this within a limited context. They see it as a task of the leadership, of the Pastor, the priests, the sisters, the religious education teachers, the religious professionals. “Let Father do it.” Today’s reading from the Book of Numbers makes it clear that carrying of God’s blessing to the world, is not the special task of only a few people: “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!” If only all Christians felt a commitment “to bring [God’s] blessings to all we meet!” The Gospel takes this point a step further. Not only must God’s truth be spread through all of God’s people; it must also be spread by those who are “not of our company.
In the documents of Vatican II, we read:
[In other words], the whole Church is missionary. Bringing the blessing we have received to others is a basic duty of the People of God. Therefore, all sons of the Church should have a lively awareness of their responsibility to the world. They should foster in themselves a truly catholic spirit. They should spend their energies in the work of evangelization. [Vatican II, Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church, 1965: 35-36].
I suspect that many Catholics-in-the-pews might not understand this, nor understand the implications of this for their lives. They might still not grasp the “distinctive, complementary and collaborative” aspects of being blessed and then blessing others as emphasized by the Second Vatican Council.
Above, I mentioned Bishop Robert Barron (founder of The Word On Fire Catholic Media organization) and the emphasis of the cooperation between laity and clergy that is mentioned in Vatican II. Barron calls this the “Collaborative Apostolate” and feels that it is so important, that he has The “Collaborative Apostolate” as the 7th of 8 principles of the Word on Fire movement. An in-depth discussion of “The Collaborative Apostolate” can be found in a Word On Fire podcast. A description of the topics of this discussion, as well as the times of each topic, are provided here:
- 0:04 – Introduction: Mudslides in Montecito, California
- 3:00 – What does it mean that Word on Fire is a collaborative apostolate?
- 5:30 – What role does the clergy have in evangelization?
- 8:35 – Why is it important that the clergy and the laity assume some different roles?
- 11:00 – Why is it so important for the laity to get involved in evangelization?
- 15:00 – How can we stay inspired to continue to evangelize the culture?
- 21:00 – How has Word On Fire served as an example of an effective collaboration between the laity and clergy?
- 23:15 – Listener Question: How can a teenager discern his vocation?
Finally, if you wish to delve further into this topic, The Catholic Apostolate Center provides further information. The Catholic Apostolate Center, a ministry of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (also known as the “Pallottines”) – Immaculate Conception Province, was founded in 2011 to respond to the needs of the Church through:
- Developing, in collaboration with dioceses and other institutions and organizations, formation programs for the New Evangelization
- Assisting pastoral leaders in deepening collaboration with one another
- Providing formation and apostolic opportunities for members and collaborators of the Union of Catholic Apostolate
The audio version of the homily is here: