In the past two weeks, Bishop Denis with the vicars of the diocese of Ferns have been meeting with priests and lay parish leaders regarding the future of the Church in the diocese that will see far fewer priests. This will mean, inevitably, that more lay people will need to assume more responsibility for the maintenance and mission of their local Churches. But as they do this are they collaborators of the clergy or are they co-responsible?
In his address at the Opening of a Pastoral Convention in Rome on 26th May 2009, Pope Benedict XVI said that: ‘it is necessary to improve pastoral structures in such a way that the co-responsibility of all the members of the People of God in their entirety is gradually promoted…This demands a change in mindset, particularly concerning lay people. They must no longer be viewed as "collaborators" of the clergy but truly recognized as "co-responsible", for the Church's being and action’.
The significance of these words for the whole Church are immense. Up to that point, the development of understanding of the role of the laity in the Church had moved from being overly passive to being collaborators with the clergy in parish communities. These words of Pope Benedict advanced the laity’s role beyond being ‘collaborators’ to being ‘co-responsible’ with the bishops and clergy for the mission of the Church.
As the Pope acknowledged, this change from ‘collaboration’ to ‘co-responsibility’ involves a change of mindset and inevitably takes time. In what ways can it be advanced in our own parishes and diocese?
The answer lies in both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of being co-responsible. In the vertical dimension, the laity, like the whole Church, are inserted into the life of God through grace and baptism. This new relationship of intimacy with God is the source of the lay vocation being ‘co-responsible’ for the Church’s being and action. Through our baptism, God invites us to be co-responsible with him for his kingdom breaking into the world.
In the horizontal dimension, being co-responsible makes us ask ‘what can I/we do to contribute’ rather than waiting to be asked or blaming others for nothing being done. It attunes us to the pastoral needs of the parish – the sick, the elderly, the isolated and those on the edges, asking ourselves how and in what way can I serve those needs. Looking at things this way, co-responsibility leads to initiative, creativity and new life.
So in the family of the Church, let us be co-responsible and not just collaborators. It’s much more exciting!