Lay Ministry Commissioning – May 2005

I greet those who will be commissioned today for pastoral ministry in the Diocese of Orlando. I thank you for your generous response to the call of service. I greet your families who accompany today –and indeed they have also accompanied you – walk with you during these past years of discernment and formation. I also – with much gratitude, greet your pastors and those of our lay ministry staff and all those who have in one way or another assisted in your discernment and formation.

As you already know, our Diocese is engaged in its first synod. The purpose of the synod is of course pastoral revitalization – the pastoral revitalization that can occur when we plan, when we take seriously our baptismal call to holiness of life and to mission. As I frequently do, when I talk about the Synod, I remind people that I have drawn my inspiration, my vision – if you will – for the Synod from Pope John Paul II’s post jubilee apostolic letter, Novo Milenio Ineunte (On the Beginning of the New Millennium). In fact, the theme of our synod, “Starting afresh from Christ” comes right out of that letter. In Novo Milenio Ineunte, Pope John Paul II called on us “to put out into the deep” by starting “afresh from Christ”.

After these years marked by scandal within the Church as well as within the corporate and political arenas, in the face of an ongoing and increasingly frustrating war against terrorism, in the midst of a continuing cultural meltdown that has weakened families and made civil discourse ever more difficult among neighbors, who could argue that there is not a need for a fresh start?

Our post-modern world needs a new evangelization. It needs to experience the Word of God as a word of grace and salvation. Your commissioning today represents in a very real way the public expression of your willingness to “put out into the deep” for a good catch. Pastoral ministry is about tending to the sheep entrusted to the care of the Church – but it is also about being good fishers of men (and women). The Church wishes to cast her net widely – for all are called to salvation through the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. As pastoral workers commissioned by the Church you also should see yourselves as participants in this new evangelization that our Holy Father of most happy memory called for.

This new evangelization is not new in its message: Christ remains the same yesterday, today and forever; but, we Catholics must with creativity and confidence discover news ways to present the Truth of Jesus Christ persuasively to our contemporaries in danger of yielding to a purely materialistic and soulless vision of the world. Is not the growth of lay ecclesial ministry in recent years a creative response to the challenge of a new evangelization for our times? Is it not a creative response born of the confidence that is a gift of the Holy Spirit received in Baptism?

I am sure in your formation you studied Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Evangelio Nunciantis. That encyclical was in many respects the “charter of the new evangelization”. In Novo Milenio Ineunte, we have the content of the new evangelization.

In Novo Milenio Ineunte, the Holy Father does not promise us some magic formula for success. Indeed, he points out that we are not save by new programs but by a person, Jesus Christ. And as lay ministers – pastoral workers of the Church – he must be what you are about, less your “ministry” becomes merely uncompensated social work.

I do not wish to disparage social work – it is a noble profession. And social workers do wonderful things. But to do social work requires a professional degree and certification but not necessarily baptism; ecclesia lay ministry, in the context of baptism’s call to holiness, requires a personal friendship with Jesus Christ.

The Jaycees, the United Way do many beautiful things – and offer great outlets for volunteers to “give back” to their communities. And in those organizations, time, talent and treasure are requirements – but not necessarily faith, hope or Christian charity.

As pastoral workers in and of the Church, you need faith, hope and charity; and you need an ever deepening friendship with Jesus Christ. And because you are not social workers, and because you are not just volunteers, don’t expect that outside the Church anybody will necessarily have a clue about what you are about; and don’t expect a whole lot of worldly affirmation –from outside in the world or even within the Church.

I would offer as your patron saint, St. John the Baptist. Indeed, he should be the patron of all who are engaged in any type of pastoral ministry. For when he exercised his mission as the precursor of the Lord, he knew that what he did what not about himself. He didn’t arrive some place and say: “Here I am; look at me.” Rather, he pointed to the Lord: “There he is.” Your ministry is always about pointing to the Lord.

As Peter recognized in lowering his nets, the catch didn’t depend on him – but on the Lord. In whatever you do, remember the primacy of grace – and what who you are as Christians is more important than what you do less you become functionaries, religious bureaucrats. We are God’s imperfect instruments through he chooses to work his graces.

However, in Novo Milenio Ineunte, the Pope offers a plan of action, that certainly must be a part of what we do as a diocese in our response to the Synod, as what you must follow if you as to be fruitful in your own ministries.

The Pope calls for faithfulness to Sunday Mass, for the regular reception of the Sacrament of Penance, for learning from the rich treasury of the Saints the art of prayer and contemplation, and for commitment to the works of charity.

Faithfulness to Sunday Mass and our worthy reception of Holy Communion is a basic first step towards a renewed fidelity among all the baptized. And just as terrorism has reminded us the reality of evil, revival of Confession can reawaken in us a “sense of sin” while at the same time affording us its remedy in sacramental absolution. Prayer and contemplation serve as necessary antidotes to the secularism of our age. And charity –sacrificially given – is a cure for the hedonism of a consumerist culture.

This “Year of the Eucharist” reminds us that the Eucharist feeds and forms the Church. The Mass is the source and the summit of our Christian lives. Whatever you do in your ministries is to bring the people you drink deeply from this source. It is Christ who refreshes us. So, put out into the deep. A great catch awaits you.