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Dominican sisters, Archbishop Wester host talk on mission of laity

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‘There are legitimate ways of talking about how lay ministers are formed and authorized and commissioned and missioned. But ultimately, it is Jesus Christ who does that.’ – Archbishop John C. Wester

January 26, 2017
Christina Gray

About 100 people ventured out in a downpour on Jan. 6 to hear Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester talk about the vocation and mission of the laity as a guest of the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael.

The free, 90-minute event was a part of the Dominican Sisters’ regular “Gather at Grand” Friday evening event series at their Marin County convent.

Archbishop Wester was on the subcommittee of U.S. bishops that produced “Coworkers in the Vineyard of the Lord” in 2005, a resource for the development of the lay ecclesial ministry. In his 90-minute presentation, he presented some observations about the role of the laity, the progress that has been made in lay ministry and continuing challenges.

“Very often the laity find their roles very challenging,” he said. There are practical, financial and sociological challenges, he said, as well as theological ones, such as the lingering view by some clergy that the laity is not defined by a sense of vocation.

“When I was first ordained, I can still distinctly remember being told not to refer to the laity as ministers,” the archbishop said. “We’ve come a long way,” he said, “but that attitude is not not-existent even today.”

The visit was a homecoming of sorts for Archbishop Wester, who was born and raised in the Archdiocese of San Francisco and educated by Dominican sisters. He served as associate pastor of St. Raphael Parish, then served as a teacher, director of campus ministry and finally the president of Marin Catholic High School. He was appointed as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1998, named Bishop of Salt Lake City in 2007 and was installed as archbishop of Santa Fe in 2015.

The archbishop said that on this night, he wanted to focus on “the main thing” about lay ministry.

“In the midst of all those difficulties in which I just glossed over, it is something very personal,” he said.

Lay ministry is not simply a functional role, he said; it is who we are by virtue of our baptism.

“There are legitimate ways of talking about how lay ministers are formed and authorized and commissioned and missioned,” he said. “But ultimately, it is Jesus Christ who does that.”

“How many here know the date of their baptism?” he asked. A sprinkling of hands shot up from the crowd. “When we really grasp what the sacrament of baptism is really about, in our lived experience, lay ecclesial ministry will really be blessed and take on new life.”

Christ calls each of us by name for a particular purpose, to be somebody who makes his presence known in the world, he said, and our baptism “unites us with Christ in an incredibly intimate way.”

The love helps us give of ourselves despite the challenges of our ministry.

“Ministry is always related to the cross,” said the archbishop. “We need to sacrifice ourselves and recognize the cross and not run away from it.”


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