Just over five years ago, Pope Benedict XVI made a significant address to the International Catholic Action Forum. Affirming the direction set by the Second Vatican Council and elaborated on by Saint John Paul II in his 1988 Apostolic Exhortation on the Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful, Pope Benedict recently challenged all the faithful to take seriously their critical role in the life of the Church, alongside of the Clergy, and to fully participate in her mission to the world. The Holy Father called for ecclesial and social co-responsibility. This is a substantive shift and expansion of previously used Vatican II terms like “consultation” and “collaboration” in both ministry and the universal call to full, active, and conscious participation as Christian disciples. It has great implications for the critical work of our Vision Discernment Process and our community’s mission at UNC and in Chapel Hill. Below are some excerpts from Pope Benedict’s address for your reflection, prayer, and consideration as we begin to ask and answer the question, “What is the next faithful step God is calling our community to take?”
“You are being called upon to reflect on ‘ecclesial and social co-responsibility’. Co-responsibility requires a change in mentality, particularly with regard to the role of the laity in the Church, who should be considered not as ‘collaborators’ with the clergy, but as persons truly ‘co-responsible’ for the being and activity of the Church. It is important, therefore, that a mature and committed laity be united, who are able to make their own specific contribution to the Church’s mission, in accordance with the ministries and tasks each one has in the life of the Church, and always in cordial communion with the bishops.
“In this regard, the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium describes the nature of the relationships between laity and Pastors with the adjective ‘familiar’: A great many wonderful things are to be hoped for from this familiar dialogue between the laity and their spiritual leaders: in the laity, a strengthened sense of personal responsibility; a renewed enthusiasm; a more ready application of their talents to the projects of their spiritual communities. Dear friends, it is important to deepen and to live out this spirit of profound communion in the Church, which characterized the early Christian community, as the book of the Acts of the Apostles attests: ‘Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul’ (4:32).
“Feel the commitment to work for the Church’s mission to be your own: through prayer, through study, through active participation in ecclesial life, through an attentive and positive gaze at the world, in the continual search for the signs of the times.
Never tire of becoming more and more refined, through a serious and daily commitment to formation, through the aspects of your particular vocation as lay faithful, who are called to be courageous and credible witnesses in every sphere of society, so that the Gospel might be the light that brings hope in difficult situations, in troubles and in the darkness that people today so often find along the path of life.
To guide others to an encounter with Christ by announcing his message of salvation with language and ways understandable in our own day marked by rapidly transforming social and cultural advances, this is the great challenge of the new evangelization.
“You are called today to renew your commitment to walk along the path of holiness, by preserving an intense life of prayer, encouraging and respecting personal paths of faith, and by esteeming the riches of each person, with the accompaniment of the priests who assist you and of leaders who are capable of forming you in ecclesial and social co-responsibility.
“May your lives be transparent; may they be guided by the Gospel and enlightened by an encounter with Christ, whom you love and follow without fear. Adopt and share the pastoral decisions of the dioceses and parishes, by promoting occasions to meet and sincere collaboration with the other elements of the ecclesial community, by building relationships of esteem and communion with priests, for the sake of a living, ministerial and missionary community. Cultivate authentic personal relationships with everyone, beginning with families, and offer your availability to participate in, and take responsibility for, all levels of social, cultural, ecclesial, and political life, by always setting your sights on the common good.”