Reflections on Lumen Gentium, Part 32

32. By divine institution Holy Church is ordered and governed with a wonderful diversity. “For just as in one body we have many members, yet all the members have not the same function, so we, the many, are one body in Christ, but severally members one of another”.(191) Therefore, the chosen People of God is one: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism”(192); sharing a common dignity as members from their regeneration in Christ, having the same filial grace and the same vocation to perfection; possessing in common one salvation, one hope and one undivided charity. There is, therefore, in Christ and in the Church no inequality on the basis of race or nationality, social condition or sex, because “there is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all ‘one’ in Christ Jesus”.(193)

If therefore in the Church everyone does not proceed by the same path, nevertheless all are called to sanctity and have received an equal privilege of faith through the justice of God.(194) And if by the will of Christ some are made teachers, pastors and dispensers of mysteries on behalf of others, yet all share a true equality with regard to the dignity and to the activity common to all the faithful for the building up of the Body of Christ. For the distinction which the Lord made between sacred ministers and the rest of the People of God bears within it a certain union, since pastors and the other faithful are bound to each other by a mutual need. Pastors of the Church, following the example of the Lord, should minister to one another and to the other faithful. These in their turn should enthusiastically lend their joint assistance to their pastors and teachers. Thus in their diversity all bear witness to the wonderful unity in the Body of Christ. This very diversity of graces, ministries and works gathers the children of God into one, because “all these things are the work of one and the same Spirit”.(195)

Therefore, from divine choice the laity have Christ for their brothers who though He is the Lord of all, came not to be served but to serve.(196) They also have for their brothers those in the sacred ministry who by teaching, by sanctifying and by ruling with the authority of Christ feed the family of God so that the new commandment of charity may be fulfilled by all. St. Augustine puts this very beautifully when he says: “What I am for you terrifies me; what I am with you consoles me. For you I am a bishop; but with you I am a Christian. The former is a duty; the latter a grace. The former is a danger; the latter, salvation” (1*).

191 1 Rom. 12:4-5

192 Cf. Eph. 4:5.

193 Gal. 3:28; cf. Col. 3.11.

194 Cf. 2 Pt. 1:1.

195 1 Cor. 12:11.

196 Cf. Mt. 20:28.

(1) S. Augustinus, Serm. 340, 1: PL 38, 1483.

 

The Church is one. The many members of the Church possess varying gifts and talents that they may use in the service of the Body of Christ. Some are pastors, some administrators, some teachers, some healers, some builders, some work in finance, some in construction, some write, some provide resources for the poor, some visit the imprisoned, some serve as lectors, some as Eucharistic ministers, others as ushers, some in maintenance, some provide counsel to bishops and pastors, some serve at the altar, some sing in the choir or cant at Mass. The various services provided to the People of God by the various members of the People of God are uncountable. It is less important the specific service one provides as it is that one is providing some service, according to one’s gifts.

Our good Lord recognizes the service each provides. Unlike we broken humans, our Lord does not weigh the service one provides against the service another provides. He recognizes what each is able to give and pours out the grace of His gratitude on all based not on their ability to give more, but on their willingness to give all that they can. We humans are the ones who assign value to gifts rather than value to the giver. The temptation is always there, and so often surrendered to, to recognize those who are able to give great quantities of wealth over those who are able to give great quantities of time or talent or prayer. And, while there is no male or female, no race or nationality in the eyes of the Lord, there is too often such in the eyes of those who claim His glorious Name.

I recall the story of Ven. Pierre Toussaint, born into slavery in Haiti and brought to the New York City, he was given his freedom at the death of his mistress and became well known and wealthy as a hairdresser to the upper class. He used his money to help fund the building of Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral. On the day the church was to be consecrated, Toussaint approached to enter but was stopped by a porter from entering the Church because he was black. Such is the blindness of so many who claim Christ as their own and who look to Him for mercy; they are so often unwilling to extend that mercy to others because they are sufficiently different from them.

While it’s hard to imagine such a blatant act of racism taking place today in this country, we’re remain afflicted by our absurd sense of who is worthy and who is unworthy, of who merits recognition and who doesn’t. We remain afflicted by the need to be recognized, as well, and are hurt when our efforts, supposedly extended unselfishly in service to the Body of Christ, are not recognized.

But, this reflection is not to focus on our failures, but on the grace of Christ given to us. We each fail in our own way to live up to perfection, which is why we are called to continue to strive for perfection, our hope for reaching perfection itself dependent on the grace of Christ. It is Christ Who calls us and Christ Who makes it possible for us to respond to His call.

Each of us have been gifted by Christ with a talent or skill or charism that we may put at the service of the Church. By holding back our service we risk putting under a bushel basket the light Christ has given to each of us. Jesus did not give us this talent or gift to keep to ourselves, but to share with others. This is cause for rejoicing! No, we ought not use whatever gift we have to laud it over others, or to nurture a false sense of superiority, for what do we have that has not been given to us? At the same time, we ought to embrace the gift God has given us and eagerly offer it back to Him in service to His Body.

Pastors are in a unique position to encourage the laity to reflect on what gifts or talents they may have and to offer such in service to the Church. This is an essential role played by pastors, for unless they plan on providing for the upkeep of the church, keeping the church clean, doing all the laundry, serving as priest, deacon, lector, alter server, choirmaster, cantor, etc… in short, taking upon themselves every role in the liturgy and in the community, pastors need the talents, time and gifts of the laity to keep the parish running and to make it an effective and meaningful witness to the gospel to the world.

Here is a link from the website for the Archdiocese of San Antonio that they, in turn, adapted from the Diocese of Honolulu, on spiritual gifts and how to use them. Read it over and give some thought and prayer to what your gift may be and how you can use it in service to the Body of Christ. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy are also a good tool for discerning the talents, gifts, and charisms one possesses. We are given these gifts and talents by God and empowered to use them by the Holy Spirit. Don’t put your light under a basket!

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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