A Three-Legged Stool
WEDNESDAY, Easter week four: April 20, 2016
The Responsorial Psalm celebrates the value of God’s way and the desire to teach it to everyone: “May your way be known among all nations….” This inspires the Response: “O God, let all the nations praise you” (Psalm 67). “May the nations be glad and exult because you rule… and guide” all people as universal Shepherd.
Acts 12:24 to 13:5 describes the missionary spirit inspired in the Church by the Holy Spirit. “The word of God continued to spread and grow” because the whole community — not just those in authority — were filled with zeal. In addition to the Apostles and “elders” (from which our word “presbyter” or “priest” comes), “there were in the Church at Antioch prophets and teachers” — just as there are in every parish today. The impulse to send out Barnabas and Paul to evangelize the Gentiles came to these members of the community “while they were worshiping the Lord and fasting.” The Holy Spirit spoke through them.
This is the “age of the laity.” A recent analysis of the current “Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America” concludes: “The leadership throughout American Catholicism is changing. Nothing can stop that. Leadership by priests and nuns is giving way to leadership by laypeople…. The Church’s future cannot be understood apart from the astonishing emergence of a new category of Catholic leadership that has already quietly transformed much of church life.”1 The laity are beginning to assume their role as prophets.
John 5: 17-30 roots prophetic insight in attention to God’s word. It is not enough to settle for Church teaching as predigested and packaged in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church, or as translated into rules and regulations for general use. We must go to the source, to God’s revealed truth as taught and embodied in Jesus himself: “I came into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.” The Shepherd is Jesus.
It is possible to believe in Jesus and still remain in darkness if we do not seek direct contact with the light shining through his own words. Obviously the Church also guides us as shepherd; but to be guided we have to be under way. God’s word gives us inspiration, motivation, forward motion, and “breadth and length and height and depth” (Ephesians 3:18). The guidance system of the Church, if we know how to use it, keeps us from getting off course. To be prophets we need Scripture, the “magisterium,” and the Holy Spirit. These are a three-legged stool: without any one of them, we topple over.
1A People Adrift…, by Peter Steinfels, (Simon and Schuster, 2003), pages 307, 330. See also the theological basis for lay leadership in the Vatican II documents on the Church and on the Apostolate of the Laity.
Initiative: Be a prophet. Soak in the light of Christ’s words. And listen to him.