As we continue to explore the Aparecida Document’s insights on “The Communion of the Missionary Disciples in the Church,” today we pause to consider the section on “Missionary Disciples with Specific Vocations.”
c. Missionary Disciples with Specific Vocations
i. Bishops, missionary disciples of Jesus High Priest
ii. Priests, missionary disciples of Jesus Good Shepherd
1. Identity and mission of priests
2. Pastors, inspirers of a community of missionary disciples
iii. Permanent deacons, missionary disciples of Jesus the Servant
iv. Faithful laymen and laywomen, disciples and missionaries of Jesus, Light of the World
v. Consecrated men and women, missionary disciples of Jesus, the Father’s Witness
This beautiful section brings together a general insight with several specific insights.
The general insight is that the communion of the Church (and our formation as holy members of the Church, the ultimate goal of Part Two of the document) is built up by the diversity of vocations.
This is, of course, the great insight of St. Paul, one of his central insights: “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and everyone members, one of another” (Rom 12:4-5; see also 1 Cor 12 and 14, etc.).
The communion of the Church is not built up by treating everyone the same, but by recognizing the distinct tasks we each fulfill in the one Body.
Thus Aparecida leads us in celebrating the distinct vocations, and encouraging each to live their vocation more fully. It further emphasizes this by underlining what is common in the distinct vocations. All are missionary disciples, called to follow Jesus as disciples and be sent out in his name as missionaries.
And so Aparecida, taking this insight a step further, considers each vocation under distinct aspects of the mission of Jesus. Each vocation is a way of making present a particular aspect of Jesus Christ.
Bishops, then, are called to think of themselves as “missionary disciples of Jesus High Priest.” They must first think of themselves as priests, consecrated above all to offering the sacrifice of the Mass and bringing the people into union with Christ.
They must think of themselves always, also, as High Priests, that is, the leaders among the priests, the ones given “highest” responsibility. A bishop who loses his priestly identity, or forgets his call to leadership, loses his way of holiness and of conformity to Christ.
He also loses his sense of communion. The bishop is not merely called to be an individual Christian. He is called to live a vocation in and for the Church. Already, this section underlines the main theme of Aparecida: we cannot be true disciples without being missionaries, giving our life to bring Christ to others.
But let us note, too, that we who are not bishops ourselves lose sight of the communion of the Church, and our call to service within it, if we make ourselves High Priest. It is the job of the bishop to lead. It is not the job of anyone else to scold the bishop for the way he leads. To do so is precisely to lose our sense that he is high priest, not I. It is to place ourselves outside of the communion of the Church.
Priests, says Aparecida, are called to be conformed to Christ as Good Shepherd. Again note the emphasis on service. Priestly holiness is not focused on the self, but on care for the sheep.
Christ’s image of shepherd wonderfully underlines this call: the priest can never complain that his sheep wander in the wrong direction. He should expect that! But he is nonetheless called to shepherd them back: to follow them wherever they wander, to gently guide them, to give his whole life to their sanctification.
Aparecida quotes a priest: “My mass is my life and my life is a prolonged mass!” But it takes that aspiration deeper by showing that a truly priestly identity views these profound words precisely in relation to the sheep they are called to shepherd, the Church gathered at the mass.
Deacons make present “Jesus the Servant.” Ah, if only we had space to lament the loss of this essential vocation of serving the material needs of the Church!
Lay people are called to be “Light of the World,” to go out into all of creation and “show” the true and glorious nature that God has created. Lay holiness reveals reality.
And consecrated people are called to be “the Father’s Witness,” always leading us more deeply into the gentle embrace of the God who created and redeemed us.
The more we live our own vocations, and love the vocations of others, the more deeply we enter into the communion of the Church.
Are there ways we think of ourselves in leadership vocations that are not ours?