We all have a tendency to surround ourselves with people that are similar to ourselves. There are plenty of reasons this facilitates relationships and can be beneficial. In fact, searching for things in common is often how many friendships begin. This is a normal part of the process of getting to know new people, but it can become problematic when we intentionally separate ourselves too much from people that are different.
In an increasingly polarizing world, we hear plenty of conversation that separates and creates opposition. American tensions and dichotomies today have seeped into the mentality of the Church as well. We live in such a defensive state that we are trained to approach people as either friend or foe. It is assumed that if they don’t agree with us, then they must be against us.
The work of the church requires that we see that no one is past the mercy of God. We have to be willing to introduce anyone to Jesus Christ, no matter how different they may seem. To take it even further, we need a Church that ministers not only to everyone, but a Church that also ministers through diversity with all of its members.
What Kind of Diversity?
Diversity in ministry is essential part of how the Church should live out the work of the Gospel. While much of the country’s conversation about diversity is more about race, I want to save that for a different conversation. For now, I would like to focus on a diversity of gifts and experiences.
For the majority of the Church, our priests are seen as the ones that should be most active in the work of the Church. We do need to recognize the unique role that priests have as a our liturgical and spiritual leaders, but it would be wrong to see them as the only ones that need to take action. The Lord has been generous in His gifts to allow all baptized Christians to have a role in the work of the Gospel.
“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.”
– 1 Peter 4:10
The Church teaches that the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts to each baptized Christian that go beyond a person’s natural abilities. These gifts are sustained and allow the person to be an effective agent of God’s grace in a particular role. Renewal Ministries has a downloadable file that explains this well (PDF). John Paull II shared that this openness to the Spirit’s movements would be essential to fulfil God’s will as best as possible.
“The Church’s self-awareness (is) based on the certainty that Jesus Christ is alive, is working in the present and changes life…With the Second Vatican Council, the Comforter recently gave the Church …a renewed Pentecost, instilling a new and unforeseen dynamism. Whenever the Spirit intervenes, he leaves people astonished. He brings about events of amazing newness; he radically changes persons and history. This was the unforgettable experience of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council during which, under the guidance of the same Spirit, the Church rediscovered the charismatic dimension as one of her constitutive elements: ‘It is not only through the sacraments and the ministrations of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes holy the people, leads them and enriches them with his virtues. Allotting his gifts according as he wills (cf. 1 Cor 12:11), he also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank…He makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church” (Lumen gentium, n.12).”
John Paul II
These gifts are present in the members of the Church still today, but unfortunately, there is very little discussion about the Charisms and the ways in which we can use them to serve the mission of Christ.
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”
-1 Corinthians 12:7-11
One of the greatest tragedies that happens in work of the Church today is that only a small percentage of the mass attending Catholics participate in ministries of our local parishes. In some parishes, it’s often only a small group of people that attend and lead all the events that happen outside of mass. This is very unhealthy.
The Lord always provides. He provides for all communities to have the many gifts they need to do His work, and it likely doesn’t require that a single person takes on more than they were gifted to do. When people do more than was assigned to them, they end up using their own abilities instead of the ones that were gifted for them to serve. This isn’t fruitful and leaves them over extended and burnt out.
“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life. More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).”
-Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 49
If we truly believe that we are not serving ourselves, but rather doing the work of the Lord, then we must trust in Him completely. We can trust that different people can handle the workload of ministry, and that He is sending the people needed to serve. Furthermore, we must trust that we were made to do our work, and others were made to do their work. Each of us finding our place will be what gives us the most satisfaction.
It’s always easy to work with people that are already friends, but our co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord aren’t always the first ones we would choose. God can use even the ones that we wouldn’t expect to fill in gaps we didn’t even know we had. Sometimes, first impressions can hurt initial relationships that could lead to wonderful teamwork in the future, but God’s mercy is able to mend anything if we are willing to be open and welcoming to the new people in our life.
There are also occasions when members have become so used to being the only ones working, the regulars have stopped even asking for help. Automatic service isn’t the default mode for most in the Church, people need to be invited and encouraged to join and serve. We also have to be intentional about who serves where to make sure we have the best people in their most appropriate role.
We need to first educate and promote a conversation about charisms to encourage all Christians to find how they are being called to serve. The Catherine of Siena Institute has created a whole curriculum (Called and Gifted) that is very effective in this cause.
We need to get all members currently serving in ministry to do an honest self assessment of their work to see if they are where they are being called to serve. There are many times when people serve in Catholic organizations simply because they needed help and have stayed because they grew used to it instead of discerning if it is where God is calling them.
Honestly testing the fruits of someone’s ministry can seem rude or exclusive, but we have to do it. It can be damaging to the ministry and even the Church if we don’t. The beauty is that if one ministry doesn’t work out, there are plenty to try. If none of those fit, then the Lord could be asking them to make another. When we find our place, we no longer risks being overburdened or becoming bitter from so much labor without fruit.
“One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, “sourpusses”. Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle and we bury our talents. While painfully aware of our own frailties, we have to march on without giving in, keeping in mind what the Lord said to Saint Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner borne with aggressive tenderness against the assaults of evil. The evil spirit of defeatism is brother to the temptation to separate, before its time, the wheat from the weeds; it is the fruit of an anxious and self-centred lack of trust.”
– Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium – 85
I understand this can sound overly demanding of ministries that are often struggling just to handle what they do. Maintaining the status quo of an organization rarely allows for the Spirit to breathe new life into it. Diversity of gifts will fill our needs and strengthen the effectiveness of a ministry. If we’re open to it, we can open our work to see it find a new fire renew the hearts of those serving and spread to even more to be served.