Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Father Shaun O'Connor, Pastor of Saint Mary's Church in Orange, Massachusetts and the Evangelical Counsels...

During his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI emphasized that the laity are co-responsible for the Church. In other words, the laity are not "second-class" citizens within the Church.

"Since, like all the faithful, lay Christians are entrusted by God with the apostolate by virtue of their Baptism and Confirmation, they have the right and duty, individually or grouped in associations, to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth. This duty is the more pressing when it is only through them that men can hear the Gospel and know Christ. Their activity in ecclesial communities is so necessary that, for the most part, the apostolate of the pastors cannot be fully effective without it." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 900).

In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (The Lay Members of Christ's Faithful People), Pope John Paul II reminded us that, "The voice of the Lord clearly resounds in the depths of each of Christ's followers who, through faith and the sacraments of Christian initiation is made like to Jesus Christ, is incorporated as a living member in the Church and has an active part in her mission of salvation." (No. 3).

Sadly, there are all too many clerics who haven't really embraced this authentic teaching of the Magisterium. For such clerics, the laity are second-class citizens who are tolerated but not really embraced fully as collaborators in the life and mission of the Church.

This is most unfortunate. It was Pope Pius XII who said that, "The Faithful, more precisely the lay faithful, find themselves on the front lines of the Church's life; for them the Church is the animating principle for human society. Therefore, they in particular, ought to have an ever-clearer consciousness not only of belonging the Church, but of being the Church, that is to say, the community of the faithful on earth under the leadership of the Pope, the head of all, and of the Bishops in communion with him. These are the Church..." (Pius XII, Discourse to the New Cardinals, February 20, 1946: AAS 38 (1946), 149).

The truth of lay participation in the priesthood of Christ follows logically from the doctrine of the Mystical Body. Everyone who is incorporated into the Mystical Body participates in the dignities, honors, and offices of the Mystical Head (Jesus). "Because Christ is our head," says St. Thomas Aquinas, "that which was conferred upon him, was also in him conferred upon us" (Summa Theologica, III, q. 58, a.4, ad 1).

Or, as Pope John Paul II put it: "Referring to the baptized as 'new born babes', the apostle Peter writes: 'Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ ... you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light' (1 Pt 2:4-5, 9).

A new aspect to the grace and dignity coming from Baptism is here introduced: the lay faithful participate, for their part, in the threefold mission of Christ as Priest, Prophet and King. This aspect has never been forgotten in the living tradition of the Church, as exemplified in the explanation which St. Augustine offers for Psalm 26: 'David was anointed king. In those days only a king and a priest were anointed. These two persons prefigured the one and only priest and king who was to come, Christ (the name "Christ" means "anointed"). Not only has our head been anointed but we, his body, have also been anointed ... therefore anointing comes to all Christians, even though in Old Testament times it belonged only to two persons. Clearly we are the Body of Christ because we are all "anointed" and in him are "christs", that is, "anointed ones", as well as Christ himself, "The Anointed One". In a certain way, then, it thus happens that with head and body the whole Christ is formed..'

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, at the beginning of my pastoral ministry, my aim was to emphasize forcefully the priestly, prophetic and kingly dignity of the entire People of God..." (Christifideles Laici, No. 14).

Lay Catholics, called to be co-responsible for the Church, must embrace the Evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience.  As Monsignor Owen Campion has reminded us:

"These virtues [Poverty, Chastity and Obedience], called the 'Evangelical Counsels,' apply not just to women Religious. They apply not just to men Religious. Actually, they apply to every baptized Catholic. They are the ideals we all should honor and seek to put into our lives and lifestyles.

The Catholic Church calls these ideals Evangelical Counsels because no less a source than the Gospels themselves recommends them to us, advising us to embrace them if we wish truly to follow Christ."

Father Shaun O'Connor, Pastor of Saint Mary's Church in Orange, Massachusetts, reminded parishioners of this fact in his homily this past weekend.  It is always encouraging when pastors encourage the lay apostolate and that spiritual formation which is rooted in the Evangelical Counsels.

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