Through the sacraments (mysteries) of the Church, God pours out His grace into our hearts and gives us spiritual gifts (charisms) for our salvation and the salvation of the world. As the Apostle Paul reminds Timothy, this happens at ordination. In and through the sacrament of holy orders, a man is set aside to serve God and the Church as a deacon, priest or bishop through prayer and the laying on of hands. It’s noteworthy that this happens not as a result of merely human reason but through “prophetic utterance.”
As the Apostle Paul reminds Timothy, these are given at ordination. In and through the sacrament of holy orders, a man is set aside to serve God and the Church as a deacon, priest or bishop. This happens through prayer and the laying on of hands. It’s important to keep in mind that this ordination is not a merely human action or the fruit of human reason but the result “prophetic utterance.”
The bestowal of charisms, however, isn’t exclusive to the priesthood. In all of the sacraments, God pours out His grace we need so that, like St Timothy, we are able to live as disciples of Christ. As part of our discipleship, and again like Timothy, we are given spiritual gifts. These gifts enable us to be “an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” of the Gospel. Just as much as the clergy, the laity as well are called and equipped by God as to be His witnesses to the Gospel of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. All of us, each in our own way and in the circumstance of our everyday lives, have been set aside by God to “preach Christ and Him crucified” (see 1 Corinthians 2:2) through the example of our words and deeds.
Whether we are clergy or laity, male or female, young or old, we are all of us called to be disciples of Christ and His witnesses “to all creation” (see Mark 16:15). We should speak in such a way that when others hear our words, they hear the Word of God and they see our deeds, they see the works of God. And all this is so they will become disciples and witnesses of Christ and join us in going out to all the world and inviting others to become disciples and to be “baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (see Matthew 28:1-20).
All of this, taken in its totality, reflects the prophetic nature of the Church.
In the Old Testament, prophets didn’t so much predict the future—though frequently they did—rather they declared with power and authority the will of God for His People. Christians are a prophetic people; we are called to declare—with the same power and authority as the prophets of old—the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of Him crucified, buried, risen and ascended. In different, though complementary, ways, the laity by virtue of their baptism and clergy by virtue of their ordination are both called by God to a prophetic office exercised for the life of the world.
While the distinction is not hard and fast (God can do as He wills), it belongs to the laity to preach the Gospel to the world. They do this primary by shaping the world according to the Gospel. In the ebb and flow of daily life, the grace of baptism enables the Christian to bring the world into an ever greater harmony with the Gospel.
As I said a moment ago, to accomplish this God gives each of us a unique constellation of spiritual gifts. Some might have the gift of hospitality, others prayer. Some might be easy to talk to and have the gift of wise counsel. Some will exercise their gifts as artists, others in the trades or professions. Above all, these gifts are exercised in and through marriage and family life. Husband and wife together are called to offer their lives to God and make their home, in St John Chrysostom’s phrase, a “domestic church.”
But in whatever arena they struggle, and make no mistake this a real (though joyful!) ascetical struggle (podvig), the vocation of the laity is to bring the order and beauty of the Gospel to the material world and human society.
So if the laity are prophets for “the life of the world,” what about the clergy? What is their role? Especially as part of their obligation to govern the Church, the clergy are called to be prophets
Especially as part of their obligation to govern the Church, the clergy are called to be prophetswithin the Church. All the clergy, but especially the bishop, are called by God to be witnesses to the Church. It belongs to them to help discern and foster the gifts God has poured out on His Church. Above all, it is the responsibility of the clergy to guard, strengthen, deepen and expand the bonds of charity that hold the Church together.
Too frequently, let me say just in passing, clergy are tempted to impose our own vision on the community entrusted to our care. Typically, we do this not out of malice but because we are unaware of the true character of what it means to govern the Church. Too frequently, we substitute secular models of authority because we don’t have a lively, lived sense of the grace we’ve been given in holy orders.
In any case, where then do we as laity and clergy begin? This morning’s Gospel points the way.
Like Zacchaeus, I must desire to draw close to Jesus. No matter what the obstacle, no matter how foolish I look in the eyes of the world, I must lay aside any obstacle that keeps me from committing my whole life to the Lord Jesus Christ. I must, in other words, first desire to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Having made this commitment personally, I can find assistance in the ascetical and liturgical life of the Church. From the former I will learn to purify my desires. A life centered around prayer, fasting, almsgiving and manual labor will help me come to know myself. As I clear away the accumulated consequences of sin, the liturgical tradition of the Church will help me see myself as God sees me.
And as I begin to lay aside all the small acts of selfishness and indifference to others I will come to experience God’s love for me. I will hear in my heart the words Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus: “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Secure in His love for me I will, again like Zacchaeus, begin to live sacrificially. “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” While I may not have formally defrauded anyone, as I grow in my understanding of God’s love for me, I will begin to recognize all the ways in which I have cheated others (and myself) by my indifference to loving sacrificially.
My brothers and sisters, let us like Timothy have confidence in the gifts God has given us. And let us, like Zacchaeus, desire nothing more than to draw close to Jesus and to serve Him as His disciples!