Edward P. Hahnenberg

Much of the work to be done in the wake of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ new document on lay ecclesiastical ministry is on the practical and pastoral level. The National Association of Lay Ministry raised some tough questions about Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord (November 2005) when they gathered in Cleveland in June. In an era of bankrupt dioceses, how will the church finance the increased formation and training recommended in Co-Workers? How will this training be delivered in rural or remote areas? Should employment on a parish staff require formal certification? Can a system of portable benefits be designed for lay ecclesial ministers who change dioceses? How will the document affect standards already in place?

 

Co-Workers provides a solid theological foundation upon which to face these challenges. In his keynote address in Cleveland, Richard R. Gaillardetz called Co-Workers “the most mature and coherent ecclesiastical document ever produced on a theology of ministry.” He pointed out that Pope John Paul II had issued excellent separate documents on the theology of laity, priests and bishops, but “in no ecclesiastical document, papal or episcopal, has there been a successful theological integration of the various forms of ministry in the church. Until now.”

Co-Workers strives for a total theology of ministry. It locates lay ecclesial ministry in relationship to the triune God and the church community, placing this ministry in the context of a network of ministerial relationships. Drawing on the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, the document avoids casting lay and ordained ministries in the competitive terms of a zero-sum game. On the whole, Co-Workers is both faithful to the church’s doctrinal tradition and responsive to the contemporary pastoral reality.

New Wine, Old Wineskins

But the bishops themselves admit that in the area of theology, there is one issue in particular that needs some work. “The preparation of Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord has already indicated a need for a more thorough study of our theology of vocation” (p. 67).

This concern for the theology of vocation can be traced back to some of the earliest consultations held by the bishops’ Subcommittee on Lay Ministry. At a forum sponsored by the subcommittee in 1996, several lay ministers spontaneously shared their experience of being called. The bishops, clearly moved by the testimony, spent time afterward discussing whether lay ecclesial ministry was a new vocation in the church. Their concern was articulated thus in the subcommittee’s 1999 report Lay Ecclesial Ministry: The State of the Question (p. 27):

Lay ministers speak often and reverently of their call or vocation to ministry, a call that finds its origin in the call of God and its confirmation in the appointment to a specific ministry within the Church.... We conclude that this call or vocation is worthy of respect and sustained attention.

Despite the clearly expressed experience of lay ecclesial ministers, the bishops still struggled with the language of vocation in Co-Workers. In the end, they had to drop the word itself, so problematic had it become. The bishops speak of the “call” to lay ecclesial ministry throughout their final document, but they do not use the word “vocation.”

Why this hesitation? Perhaps, in the minds of many bishops, the word “vocation” carried too much baggage, raised too many questions or seemed to formalize things too soon. Perhaps it was the difficulty that always comes with thinking through a new reality in old categories.

For Catholics, vocation has long been seen as a state of life. This view lies behind any number of Sunday homilies, popular articles and high school textbooks that recognize three kinds of vocation: to priesthood, religious life and marriage (with a few adding vocation to the single life). But lay ecclesial ministers come from among the married and the single, and women religious working in parishes are usually included too. While most lay ecclesial ministers say that they feel called to a lifetime of service (almost three-quarters in the latest study), their ministry is quite dynamic—certainly long-term, but not necessarily lifelong. Lay ecclesial ministry is a genuinely new thing in the church, and the older language does not quite fit. We are trying to put new wine into old wineskins.

The Internalization of Vocation

What seams in the wineskins are starting to give way under the fresh pressure of lay ecclesial ministry? What needs rethinking? What should we consider in a “more thorough study” of the theology of God’s call?

I propose lifting up one key element: the ecclesial dimension of vocation. In many ways, contemporary Roman Catholic thought on vocation is living out the dual legacy of two 16th-century reformers. When Martin Luther translated St. Paul’s admonition, “Let each of you remain in the klesis in which you were called” (1 Cor 7:20), he rendered the Greek klesis by the ordinary German word for an occupation, Beruf. This launched a theological trajectory that equated one’s calling with one’s job. Luther was reacting against the Catholic tendency to limit vocation to the religious and ordained. He argued that every Christian has a calling. The Roman church, in response, distanced itself from this all-inclusive notion. It took four centuries and three ecumenical councils for the church finally to admit the truth of Luther’s claim. When Vatican II stated that all believers, “whether they belong to the hierarchy or are cared for by it,” are called by God to holiness (“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” No. 39), the church officially ceded the point: Everyone has a vocation.

Postconciliar Catholicism was thus left with two distinct views of vocation: a narrow vision that equates God’s call with a static state of life and a vision of vocation so broad that it is practically equivalent to discipleship. The two sit alongside each other, and lay ecclesial ministers are caught in the middle. It was precisely the difficulty of negotiating this middle ground that caused the bishops so many problems.

What might have helped them speak more confidently about the vocation to lay ecclesial ministry is greater attention to the role of the community in the vocational process. What is needed is a more thoroughly ecclesial understanding of call. But getting there means confronting the legacy of that other Reformation giant, John Calvin.

In working out his views on predestination, Calvin distinguished between a “general calling,” which anyone could hear through the preaching of the church, and a “special calling,” heard only in the hearts of the elect. Calvin was the first to separate in a systematic way the inner call of God from the external call of the church. But he was far from the last to promote the interiorization of God’s call.

What Calvin judiciously articulated, the Catholic piety of the Baroque shamelessly celebrated. Vocation became an inward supernatural experience—one deeply felt, heroically embraced and subsequently channeled to some dramatic mission or ministry. The peculiarly modern distinction between internal and external vocation would take the form in papal teaching (particularly Pius XII’s 1956 apostolic constitution Sedes Sapientiae) that God moves first in the heart of an individual and only then through the church’s leadership, which verifies externally the internal call. The role of the church, and of other people in general, thus became secondary to the primary inner experience of the individual.

It is true that God’s call is radically personal. Vocation is, after all, God’s call to me. It is the presence and direction of God to my unique personality, my history and my life. But any experience of call, no matter how powerful in the life of an individual, always comes to that person through other people—parents and mentors, pastors and teachers, prophets and friends. Vocation is God’s call to me through others, and ultimately for others.

The Church Calls

The church does not simply confirm a call already received; the church itself does the calling. John Paul II described the church as a mystery of vocation (mysterium vocationis). Its very name, ecclesia, means the “assembly of those who have been called” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, No. 34). But this assembly is itself an agent of God’s call. John Paul lamented the tendency to view the bond between human beings and God in an individualistic and self-centered way, to imagine God’s call reaching the individual by a direct route, “without in any way passing through the community” (No. 37).

God calls through the church. But there lies the rub. What is meant here by “church”? Some church leaders reduce the ecclesial dimension of vocation to the role of the hierarchy in calling forth ministers. They argue that women expressing an attraction to and aptitude for diaconal ministries have no vocation because they have not been officially called by the church’s pastors. Or they claim that the director of religious education and the lay pastoral associate only truly become ministers when they are commissioned by the pastor or bishop. (As one bishop put it, “Men present themselves to me saying they have a vocation, but they don’t have a vocation until I call them to the priesthood.”) Such assertions of hierarchical authority become distorted when they are separated from a comprehensive ecclesiology that acknowledges the many agents of God’s call. It is here that the lived experiences of lay ecclesial ministers offer some insight.

Lay ecclesial ministers have been called by the church in the best sense. Theirs has not been the traditional vocation, that is, a call discerned in the soul, verified by appropriate hierarchical authority and directed to an established state of life or role in the church. While no particular life tells the whole story, the history of the rise of lay ecclesial ministry illustrates a complex process of call, one in which Christ’s Spirit has been active in various places within the community as a whole. This ecclesial call can be heard in the words of the Second Vatican Council affirming the baptismal dignity of the people of God; it can be heard in the lives of individuals responding to needs and seeking out ways to participate; it can be heard in colleges and schools developing programs for lay ministry formation; it can be heard in pastors and other leaders inviting and encouraging new roles on the parish staff; it can be heard in parishioners and whole communities welcoming lay ecclesial ministers into their midst; and it can be heard in the affirming words and the modest proposals of Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord.

The church in the United States is witnessing not just the birth of a new vocation in ministry. It is witnessing the emergence of a new process for calling people to ministry.

Once we recognize that God calls individuals through the community, we can see in the story of lay ecclesial ministry the community actively calling through the voices of many members. To move forward in our theology of vocation will require imagining a new and active ecclesiology, one in which the church is not just the assembly of those called but the company of those who call.

Edward P. Hahnenberg, assistant professor of theology at Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio, is the author of Ministries: A Relational Approach (Crossroad, 2003) and a past consultant to the Subcommitee on Lay Ministry of the

Comments

Paula Tusiani-Eng, M.Div. | 10/18/2006 - 3:18pm
Dear Editor:

I was delighted by Edward P. Hahnesberg’s article (“When the Church Calls,” America, Oct. 9, 2006), asserting the important distinction in the U.S. Bishops language in Co-Workers in the Vineyard that lay ecclesial ministers are “called” to ministry, rather than embracing a formal vocation. While I agree that the Church, the people of God, does call lay people to ministry, the fact that the church leadership does not accept our calls as legitimate vocations, has a significant and far-reaching impact on our ministerial formation and on the future growth of lay ecclesial ministry in the United States.

As a lay person who has worked in full time campus ministry and pastoral ministry at the parish, I ministered along side ordained clergy and women religious who had systems supported by church structures in place to nurture their vocational development. Because the vocations of those who choose religious life are considered vital and essential to the Church, they are encouraged by the hierarchy to foster their vocations at all costs. For example, my ordained and religious colleagues always went on retreat at least once a year, participated in regular spiritual direction, and pilgrimages at the expense and time of their communities or the parish. They had regular community meetings, with religious colleagues to discuss pastoral and professional concerns, as well as annual supervision with religious superiors to discuss their vocational discernment. They received financial and emotional support for professional development when needed from their communities, and were encouraged to take sabbaticals every few years. These commitments were not optional; they were understood as mandatory and essential to their spiritual and vocational development.

As lay people, because our vocations are not legitimized by Church structures, we have to pay for our own retreats and attendance at professional conferences (if we do not have to use our vacation or personal time to attend). We have to go to spiritual direction on our days off, and seek professional and emotional support for the demands of ministry issues in other ways outside of the office (at our own financial cost). We do not have structures for lay ministry councils, where lay people in ministry convene at a diocesan level to discuss pastoral issues. Nor do we have the opportunity to discern our futures with a lay supervisor, who cares about our vocational discernment, or go on sabbaticals after years of ministry. Because our vocations, rooted in baptism, our relationship with God, and affirmed by the people we serve, are not formally accepted by the Church, the same level of support for our vocational development does not exist.

The assumption in the language of “call” as opposed to “vocation” in Co-Workers in the Vineyard is that the vocations of the ordained and religious are more important and valued by the Church than that of lay ecclesial ministers. This is not healthy for the future growth of lay ecclesial ministry, which our Church will depend on in years to come in the wake of the shortage of vocations to religious life. If we are truly “Co-Workers in the Vineyard,” then church leaders need to examine more than their language. They need to create permanent structures within dioceses, equipped with funding and dedicated staff, to support the growth of lay ecclesial ministry, which will ensure its longevity and continued vitality for years to come.

Paula Tusiani-Eng, M.Div. Garden City, New York

Margaret Margeton | 2/26/2007 - 1:11pm
I read with interest the article entitled “When the Church Calls,” by Edward P. Hahnenberg (10/9). But I must respectfully disagree with the statement that “it took four centuries and three ecumenical councils for the church finally to admit the truth of Luther’s claim” that “every Christian has a calling.”

One of the greatest saints of the counter-Reformation period, St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), bishop of Geneva and a doctor of the church, published in 1609 a classic work of spirituality, specifically written for the laity. In Part 1, Chapter 3, of the Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote:

It is an error, or rather a heresy, to wish to banish the devout life from the regiment of soldiers, the mechanic’s shop, the court of princes, or the home of married people. It is true...that purely contemplative, monastic, and religious devotion cannot be exercised in such states of life. However, besides those three kinds of devotion there are several others adapted to bring perfection to those living in the secular state.... Wherever we may be, we can and should aspire to a perfect life. The Introduction to the Devout Life has been a bestseller ever since it was published. It has been translated into numerous languages and has influenced the lives of countless lay people, including mine, throughout the past four centuries. Since St. Francis de Sales was a bishop, a canonized saint and a doctor of the church, I do not think it is possible to say that it took the church until Vatican II to respond to Luther and recognize that all are called to holiness. If I am not mistaken, Pope Paul VI stated that St. Francis de Sales was, in fact, a precursor of Vatican II.

I would encourage anyone who wishes to learn more about holiness for the laity to read the life and works of St. Francis de Sales. (Ironically, a few pages after Mr. Hahnenberg’s article, your magazine advertises a forthcoming book entitled Adrien Gambart’s Emblem Book (1664): The Life of St. Francis de Sales in Symbols.)

Renee Healy | 2/26/2007 - 12:47pm
I read the excellent article “When The Church Calls,” by Edward P. Hahnenberg (10/9); but I was disappointed in the accompanying photograph. While the photo depicts lay Communion ministers, an example of those referred to in the article, it also depicts liturgical gestures and practices that are far from renewed in accordance with more developed theology of Eucharist and more recent church liturgical guidelines. The photo only reinforces those who fail to form their church assemblies in renewed liturgical practices.

The photo shows that the bread used for the consecrated body of Christ does not look like bread. There is no knowing eye contact between minister and recipient acknowledging the fuller understanding of the communal relationship of Eucharist. One minister is holding up the body of Christ to view rather than giving the gift directly into the hand of the recipients while hearing an affirming “Amen.”

The other recipient is still receiving communion on the tongue. While legitimate and pious, it is a practice that shows a lack of formation in the dignity of our baptismal stature, the adulthood of our Christianity or the longer traditions of the church. St. Cyril described how to receive our Lord in the hand back in the second century. It is lackadaisical, if not negligent, to be forming and catechizing today’s assemblies—especially young people—to the limited understanding receiving on the tongue reflects. It reinforces the wrong tradition and deprives us of full consciousness of our actions.

The boys are receiving with eyes closed. The assembly in the background is clearly still kneeling in private prayer before the Communion procession is complete. Both gestures say communion is private between God and me. Again, the understanding of the communal relationship of Eucharist, the gathered body of Christ, our unity in Christ, is not made visible. Private prayer is called for after communion, after the entire body of Christ has received. Standing and singing throughout the Communion procession is a better gesture of reality. Silent thanksgiving comes after completed Communion.

Renewed liturgy makes visible in form, gesture, words and actions, the best theology and understanding of the reality of our celebration. I hope you will choose photographs in the future that reinforce more appropriately.

Paula Tusiani-Eng, M.Div. | 10/18/2006 - 3:18pm
Dear Editor:

I was delighted by Edward P. Hahnesberg’s article (“When the Church Calls,” America, Oct. 9, 2006), asserting the important distinction in the U.S. Bishops language in Co-Workers in the Vineyard that lay ecclesial ministers are “called” to ministry, rather than embracing a formal vocation. While I agree that the Church, the people of God, does call lay people to ministry, the fact that the church leadership does not accept our calls as legitimate vocations, has a significant and far-reaching impact on our ministerial formation and on the future growth of lay ecclesial ministry in the United States.

As a lay person who has worked in full time campus ministry and pastoral ministry at the parish, I ministered along side ordained clergy and women religious who had systems supported by church structures in place to nurture their vocational development. Because the vocations of those who choose religious life are considered vital and essential to the Church, they are encouraged by the hierarchy to foster their vocations at all costs. For example, my ordained and religious colleagues always went on retreat at least once a year, participated in regular spiritual direction, and pilgrimages at the expense and time of their communities or the parish. They had regular community meetings, with religious colleagues to discuss pastoral and professional concerns, as well as annual supervision with religious superiors to discuss their vocational discernment. They received financial and emotional support for professional development when needed from their communities, and were encouraged to take sabbaticals every few years. These commitments were not optional; they were understood as mandatory and essential to their spiritual and vocational development.

As lay people, because our vocations are not legitimized by Church structures, we have to pay for our own retreats and attendance at professional conferences (if we do not have to use our vacation or personal time to attend). We have to go to spiritual direction on our days off, and seek professional and emotional support for the demands of ministry issues in other ways outside of the office (at our own financial cost). We do not have structures for lay ministry councils, where lay people in ministry convene at a diocesan level to discuss pastoral issues. Nor do we have the opportunity to discern our futures with a lay supervisor, who cares about our vocational discernment, or go on sabbaticals after years of ministry. Because our vocations, rooted in baptism, our relationship with God, and affirmed by the people we serve, are not formally accepted by the Church, the same level of support for our vocational development does not exist.

The assumption in the language of “call” as opposed to “vocation” in Co-Workers in the Vineyard is that the vocations of the ordained and religious are more important and valued by the Church than that of lay ecclesial ministers. This is not healthy for the future growth of lay ecclesial ministry, which our Church will depend on in years to come in the wake of the shortage of vocations to religious life. If we are truly “Co-Workers in the Vineyard,” then church leaders need to examine more than their language. They need to create permanent structures within dioceses, equipped with funding and dedicated staff, to support the growth of lay ecclesial ministry, which will ensure its longevity and continued vitality for years to come.

Paula Tusiani-Eng, M.Div. Garden City, New York