Vol.7 • No.7 • July 2009
Lay People are Stewards of the Body of Christ
At the annual convention of the Diocese of Rome,
delegates were told by their bishop, Pope Benedict XVI, that lay Catholics
have responsibilities that extend beyond helping their pastors with the
day-to-day operations of their parishes. Speaking at his cathedral church,
the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the pope acknowledged that full
participation in the life of the Church will require "a change of mentality"
on the part of both clergy and laity.
The majority of Catholics are only minimally involved in the Church's
sacramental, educational or social ministries. Those who are involved tend
to see themselves as collaborators with the clergy in their parishes. Pope
Benedict says that neither view — the passive stance of the majority or the
merely collaborative role of those who are active in parish ministry —
accurately represents the Second Vatican Council's vision of a laity that
"fully shares in the responsibility for the existence and action of the
The pope is obviously not minimizing the role of bishops, priests and
deacons in preserving, and carrying forward, the Church's mission. On the
contrary, he says we should not see the Church as "simply a collection of
people" any more than we should diminish the role of lay people in the life
of the Church. His point is that everyone has a role to play in carrying on
Christ's work in the world.
To achieve the change of mentality that the pope believes is necessary,
we must do a better job of helping Catholics understand what it means to be
stewards of the Body of Christ. There are not two classes of membership in
the Church — clergy and laity — in spite of the distinctive roles and
responsibilities. "Christ brought down the wall of separation and unites all
of us into one body," the pope says. "In the Body of Christ, we become one
people, the People of God." As one body, we share equally in the mission
that Christ entrusted to his disciples to proclaim the Gospel, to baptize in
the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and to build up the
"The Church, which has its origins in the triune God, is a mystery of
communion," the pope says. "As a communion, the Church is not only a
spiritual reality, but lives in history - in flesh and blood, so to speak.
The People of God means all of us — from the pope to the baby most recently
baptized." As Pope Benedict sees it, being a Christian means sharing the
Gospel with others, particularly through acts of charity.
Charity, which was the subject of this pope's first
encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), is the great equalizer.
We are all called to proclaim the Gospel, particularly through acts of
charity. And the place, or setting, for the lay Catholic's exercise of full
responsibility for the work of evangelization, and for the ministry of
charity, is much larger than the parish. In fact, it extends to the whole
All baptized Christians share fully in the Church's mission to transform
the world through the power of God’s grace. We do this by living as Christ
lived and by giving witness to him through our thoughts, our words and our
actions. "To live charity is a primary form of mission," the pope told the
delegates at his diocesan convention. "The word proclaimed becomes visible
when it is incarnated in acts of solidarity and sharing and in gestures that
concretely demonstrate the face of Christ, the true friend of humanity."
We accept full responsibility for the Church's mission when we accept the
fact that each of us is called to be Christ for others — and to see Christ
in the face of others. We assume our rightful roles as members of the Body
of Christ when we proclaim Christ in our homes, our workplaces and in the
public square as well as in our parishes. We become leaders in the Church
when we speak out against injustice and evil wherever we find it, and when
we stand firm and live out our Christian beliefs in our everyday lives. Like
the delegates from the Diocese of Rome, each and every one of us represents
the entire People of God wherever we are and whatever we are doing. We are
ambassadors for Christ in our parishes, certainly, but also "at large" in
our neighborhoods, in our civic communities and throughout the world.
Pope Benedict invites, and challenges, us to step up and assume our
rightful places as sons and daughters of God. We have been entrusted with a
sacred mission to "share fully" in the mission and ministries of the Church.
It is time to get involved, in profoundly personal ways, through our prayer,
our personal witness and our active participation in the ministry of
No one is excused from active participation in the work of building up
the Church. There are no second-class citizens among us, and no spectators.
We are all responsible.
bishops' 1992 pastoral letter, Stewardship: A Disciple's Response,
call this "Eucharistic stewardship," or stewardship of the Body of Christ.
Let's pray for the change of mentality Pope Benedict speaks about. May this
change take place in ourselves, first of all, and then in the minds and
heart of all our sisters and brothers in Christ.
Copyright © 2009, Daniel Conway