Growing in Holiness through Middle Management: Part II “ The Priestly Ministry of Christ

Photo by Prakhar Amba / flickerCC

(Missed the first part of this series? Start at Part I)

The three-fold ministry of Christ is beautifully summarized in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Christifideles Laici. Of the priestly ministry the pontiff says:

The lay faithful are sharers in the priestly mission, for which Jesus offered himself on the cross and continues to be offered in the celebration of the Eucharist for the glory of God and the salvation of humanity. Incorporated in Jesus Christ, the baptized are united to him and to his sacrifice in the offering they make of themselves and their daily activities (cf. Rom 12:1, 2). Speaking of the lay faithful the Council says: “For their work, prayers and apostolic endeavours, their ordinary married and family life, their daily labour, their mental and physical relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life if patiently borne-all of these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Pt 2:5). During the celebration of the Eucharist these sacrifices are most lovingly offered to the Father along with the Lord’s body. Thus as worshipers whose every deed is holy, the lay faithful consecrate the world itself to God. (14)

So the faithful participate in the priestly ministry through prayer; offering up their work to God; and through their participation in the Holy Eucharist.

I am convinced that, as administrators, the most important thing we can do for those who work under us is to pray “ first, for ourselves! “ that we may be given the wisdom, discernment, and patience to do our jobs well. But we also need to pray for those who work for us, that they may be given those same gifts. (Especially that they will have the patience to deal with us!)

In the Church we also have the privilege and responsibility to pray with our co-workers. Hopefully we all pray before meetings, but time should also be taken for more extended times of prayer, such as days of reflection and retreat. We must also remember to pray together when significant events occur in the lives of our coworkers, such as the births of children or the deaths of spouses.

In addition to prayer we participate in the priestly ministry of Christ when we engage in and encourage others in their formation as disciples of Christ. This, too, is a type of prayer! (Don’t believe me? The Order of Preachers actually has a tradition of study as prayer, such that a Dominican friar may skip communal prayer if in the middle of studying.)

As our bishop said in his homily during Sunday’s Morning Prayer, faith formation is a life-long process. We didn’t graduate at Confirmation! God is mystery, and the depths of that mystery are never plumbed. We grow in our faith by participating in programs of formation, by readings spiritual works, by studying Sacred Scripture “ all for the purpose of our own sanctification and to better enter into communion with God, his Church, and one anther.

Photo: Prakhar Amba / Flickr

Growing in Holiness through Middle Management: Part I “ Introduction

Priest, Prophet, King / photo by Br. Lawrence Lew, OP / Flickr

This past weekend I offered a breakout session at my diocese’s biennial adult enrichment conference entitled “Administration as Service: Practicing Leadership in the Light of Christ.” I had planned to record the talk; unfortunately my laptop zonked out on me the day before and, while dealing with an unfamiliar machine, I forgot to start my audio recorder.

Instead of recording the talk in my office, I’ve decided to offer the major talking points as a series of posts.

I began the presentation by offering a story told to me by Barb Rossman, the first CEO I worked with in Catholic healthcare. Like many other hospital administrators, Barb started as a nurse. She enjoyed having her “hands on patients,” helping them to get better. She eventually became a manager and finally entered administration.

When she became an administrator, however, she had a difficult time understanding how her role fit into the mission of the hospital. As a nurse it was clear: her job was to help treat patients in a very direct way. How did her new role contribute to the health of patients? She no longer had her “hands on patients”; what was her new role about?

What she eventually came to realize is that, while she was no longer a direct caretaker, her role was now to be a “caretaker to the caretakers.” Her role was to ensure that those working for her had the tools, resources, and knowledge to do their jobs well.   This was the spirit that Barb took to her role: to help those who help the patients.

Barb’s story is a perfect example of Christ’s admonition in the tenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel: “[T]hose who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mk 10:42-45)

In fact, this sort of leadership can lead us to holiness! As the Council Fathers stated at the Second Vatican Council:

[I]n the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification.’ However, this holiness of the Church is unceasingly manifested, and must be manifested, in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful; it is expressed in many ways in individuals, who in their walk of life, tend toward the perfection of charity, thus causing the edification of others. (Lumen Gentium 39)

In other words, no matter what your station in life, you are called to live it out in holiness!

As those baptized into Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, we do this by participating in the three-fold ministry of Christ: priest, prophet, and king. In the next three parts I will outline how administrators participate in these ministries through their work as leaders of their organizations.

Photo: Br. Lawrence Lew, OP / Flickr

Evangelical Catholics: The Future of the Church

The indefatigable John Allen’s latest column examines the trend of “evangelical Catholicism” in the Church. He makes a number of points about this movement, which he describes as “a strong reassertion of traditional Catholic identity coupled with an impulse to express that identity in the public realm.”

Perhaps most notably, and counter to the prevailing narrative, he points out that

there’s a tendency in some circles to see evangelical Catholicism, with its strong emphasis on hierarchical authority and traditional doctrine, as a “top-down” project intended to bolster the sagging power of the clerical caste. No doubt, such political calculations can be part of the picture, but sociologists such as Roy confirm that the evangelical wave has much deeper roots in widespread social forces, and is thus a “bottom-up” force too. The hunger for a “thick” sense of Catholic distinctiveness among some Catholic young people these days, basically unsolicited by anyone in authority (and at times seen by church authorities with ambivalence), makes the point.

I’m surprised that this would surprise anyone. While I know a number of younger priests who fit the definition of “evangelical Catholic,” I see them as largely having arisen from the movement as opposed to instigating it. Just this week I was talking to a priest who grew up as a Baptist. One of the things he was looking for when he (re-)joined the Church was a solid foundation on which to base his faith — something he didn’t think his Baptist church, which often fragmented when a new pastor was hired, afforded him.

That this should be true for the laity — even absent any prodding from the clergy — really shouldn’t surprise us. When I have conversations with other catechetical leaders the talk often turns to the so-called “lost generations” who received incomplete catechesis in their parishes. It is only natural that, lacking a solid foundation of understanding in their faith, they should be drawn to a more robust and (to borrow a phrase) “caffeinated” Christianity.

The challenge for the Church, I believe, is to welcome evangelical Catholics and create space for their energy to act as leaven in the Church. They are the heir-apparent of the Boomers and the future movers and shakers in the Church (indeed, they are already making their presence known in many organizations). Coupled with their deft use of social media and other communication technologies, anyone who dismisses their efforts will soon find themselves left in the dust as evangelical Catholics create their own structures to carry out their work in the Church.

On Changing My Mind (and my theology)

A couple weeks ago I received a note from a friend from college, asking about my current pursuits and whether I had “changed” since college. It’s helps to know that, in college, I fell to the left of where I would currently plot myself on the proverbial spectrum. In fact, I’ve taken to calling myself a “recovering liberal,” in so far as I’ve stepped back from some of my unexamined assumptions but not quite gotten to where I would describe myself as conservative.

Back then I was still “fresh” to theology and, like a lot of people my age, found myself poorly catechized to the teachings of the Church. As I’ve deepened my studies I’ve been exposed to a wider variety of thought (both Catholic and otherwise) that I’ve had to wrestle with and account for. I’m unsatisfied with the stock answers of both the right and the left and, for myself, prefer to steer a middle path (which is making decisions of a political nature increasingly difficult).

In the last few years I have been (quite by surprise!) energized by Benedict XVI’s papacy. Maybe it’s my own academic inclinations, but I’m drawn to his clarity of thought and “back to basics” approach. Jesus of Nazareth was a sort of watershed read for me, because it skilfully navigates both rigorous study and fidelity to the Tradition. This was one of my main struggles in college — how to reconcile the head with the heart without losing the strengths of both. (In fact, it’s still one of the main sticking points in my spiritual journey.)

As I reflect on my own developing approach to theology I find that it is informed by the four characteristics that form the basis for this blog:

  • Openness to insights from a variety of sources;
  • A fierce loyalty to the faith of the Church;
  • Approaching the faith as an answer to Christ’s call in hope and love;
  • An “evangelical” faith that is technologically savvy.

To summarize this approach I’ve appropriated John Allen’s term “affirmative orthodoxy,” which he defines as “a tenacious defense of the core elements of classic Catholic doctrine, but presented in a relentlessly positive key.” I find this approach extremely attractive and vital to the Church at this particular moment in time, especially as someone working in the catechetical ministry.

In grad school I heard a story (most likely apocryphal), that when brought before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to defend some of his writings, Edward Schillebeeckx just shrugged his shoulders and said something to the effect of: “That’s what I wrote then, it’s not how I would write it now, and who knows what I’ll write tomorrow?” Schillebeeckx was never censored, and it’s that spirit of inquiry and humility that I’m trying to cultivate in myself.

What is “affirmative orthodoxy”?

The phrase was originally coined by John Allen to describe the particular theological trajectory of Pope Benedict XVI:

By “affirmative orthodoxy,” I mean a tenacious defense of the core elements of classic Catholic doctrine, but presented in a relentlessly positive key. Benedict appears convinced that the gap between the faith and contemporary secular culture, which Paul VI called “the drama of our time,” has its roots in Europe dating from the Reformation, the Wars of Religion, and the Enlightenment, with a resulting tendency to see Christianity as a largely negative system of prohibitions and controls. In effect, Benedict’s project is to reintroduce Christianity from the ground up, in terms of what it’s for rather than what it’s against.

This spirit of “affirmative orthodoxy” was clear in Benedict’s first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, in which the pope laid out a philosophical and spiritual basis for the church’s teaching on human love. His encouragement for the International Theological Commission to set aside the hypothesis of limbo offers another example. Without softening the traditional teaching that Christ’s grace, normally mediated through baptism, remains essential for salvation, Benedict nevertheless put the accent on hope.

In the Holy Father’s own words:

Christianity, Catholicism, isn’t a collection of prohibitions: it’s a positive option. It’s very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today. We’ve heard so much about what is not allowed that now it’s time to say: we have a positive idea to offer, that man and woman are made for each other, that the scale of sexuality, eros, agape, indicates the level of love and it’s in this way that marriage develops, first of all, as a joyful and blessing-filled encounter between a man and a woman, and then the family, that guarantees continuity among generations and through which generations are reconciled to each other and even cultures can meet. So, firstly it’s important to stress what we want. Secondly, we can also see why we don’t want something. I believe we need to see and reflect on the fact that it’s not a Catholic invention that man and woman are made for each other, so that humanity can go on living: all cultures know this. As far as abortion is concerned, it’s part of the fifth, not the sixth, commandment: “Thou shalt not kill!” We have to presume this is obvious and always stress that the human person begins in the mother’s womb and remains a human person until his or her last breath. The human person must always be respected as a human person. But all this is clearer if you say it first in a positive way.

Affirmative orthodoxy, then, is a particular way of approaching the Christian faith. Rather than being defensive or defining itself by what it isn’t, AO proposes that which is true and invites others to follow that truth in their lives. This starts with a recognition that this invitation is open to all — including (especially!) those who already follow Christ — in order that they may be made perfect, “just as [our] heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). In this way AO is connected to the New Evangelism preached by Pope John Paul II, which called for a renewed emphasis on transforming both individuals and cultures through the preaching of the Gospel.