July 17, 2013
Bishop Terry R. LaValley’s homily for the Solemn Vespers for the Blessing and Commissioning of Lay Pastoral Ministers held June 30 at St. Mary’s Cathedral
For generations, my sisters and brothers, many of us had become slaves to habits, chained to a certain mindset of what it means to be a Catholic Christian. This has contributed to a shackling of our evangelization efforts today. We had become tethered, tied, if you will, to a certain lay consumer mentality. Then came Vatican Council II with its emphasis on the liberating universal call to holiness of the entire People of God.
Whatever acts, whatever ministry in which we are engaged, are empty, they lose their profound soul and are reduced to being mere activism if we are not grounded in disciplined prayer. Without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the so-called “Church work” that we do risks becoming a mere façade of faith, much less the motivating reason for our ministry. Human relationships lead us toward a relationship with God and our relationship with God leads us back to our neighbor.
The Holy Father went on: “In this period of crisis today, it is important not to turn in on ourselves, burying our own talent, our spiritual, intellectual, and material riches, everything that the Lord has given us, but, rather to open ourselves, to be supportive, to be attentive to others…Life is not given to us to be jealously guarded for ourselves, but is given to us so that we may give it in turn.”
Your presence here today, indeed your participation in our Formation for Ministry Program tells me that you have taken seriously these words of the Holy Father.
You refuse to be chained to a death-dealing vision of Church that says just pray, pay, and obey, thank you very much!
You have allowed your God, through His Body, the Church to help equip you for discipleship.
Today, the Church of Ogdensburg and I send you out for active discipleship in Jesus’ Name.
Blessed John Paul II, in the Decree on the Laity, wrote that “It is not permissible for anyone to remain idle.” Dear friends, you have taken to heart these words, as I suspect you have not been idle participants in the Formation for Ministry Program these last couple of years. As you continue to cultivate your relationship with Jesus through prayer, personal and communal, you have come to learn that spending time with God is never wasted time, but enabling time. We win people over to Christ by our genuine witness, not by our arguments.
I am confident that these years of education and formation have provided you with the occasion to reflect on what has kept you tethered and prevented you from authentic discipleship. Perhaps, it was fear of the unknown. Maybe you were shackled by ignorance and a lack of self-confidence. Maybe you were hesitant to step forward because you always thought it was Father, Sister or the Deacon’s job.
Each of us has a role to play as we live out our vocations in following Jesus. First and foremost, it is in the workplace, in our homes, in our places of relaxation and recreation, in our schools and malls, where the lay faithful live out their call to holiness. Additionally, you who are about to be commissioned as lay ministers, will bear the responsibility to help build up the local Church through a focused ministry in your parish in close collaboration with your pastor.
It’s no secret our Church here in the North Country will rely more and more on your active discipleship in the local parish. Pat Donahue’s informative doctrinal research on lay ministry indicates that, according to a survey he took last year, 65% of our commissioned lay ministers, for a variety of reasons, are inactive in our parishes. He concludes, in light of his extensive study, that our commissioned lay ministers suffer from an identity crisis. I hope that this percentage will decrease significantly as you join the ranks of the commissioned lay ministers. May your own authentic discipleship be an encouragement for those not currently active.
The Diocese of Ogdensburg and your home parish are so very proud of your commitment and strong faith. This is not a graduation ceremony, far from it, but a formal, public commitment of your continual discipleship. Never forget, that you are co-missioned—that is, missioned with your sisters and brothers, members of the one Body of Christ. We never serve alone.
Thank you for learning more about your faith and committing to sharing it. The grace you received on the day of your baptism is being embraced and will multiply a hundredfold. This is truly an inspiring and exciting time for the Church of Ogdensburg. We are grateful to your many instructors, to Pat Donahue for his leadership and our Christian Formation staff; we are grateful to your pastors who support your efforts and your family and friends who gather this day to celebrate this milestone in your faith journey. There’s plenty to do. We do it with deep faith, profound joy and unwavering hope in the Lord who beckons each of us: Follow Me.
Photo by Betty Steele