Monday, January 29, 2007

Stop Recruiting Volunteers

The following article by Diana Macalintal originally appeared in Parish Life, 256, July, 2005.

What makes being Catholic different from being part of any other organization that does good works?

In essence, we don’t have a choice. Everything Christians do is a response to God who first began that good work in us. Those who seek to be baptized are simply responding to God who “sought and summoned them in many ways” (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, 53). By being baptized, we are essentially changed from being an isolated body moving by our own will to being a part of the Body of Christ, in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Preface for Ordinary Time VI). With St. Paul we say, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:19-20). The life we live is the life of Christ who continues his work on earth through the mission of the Church.

Vatican II’s Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity describes this right and duty of the faithful in this way:
The Church was founded for the purpose of spreading the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth for the glory of God the Father…. All activity of the Mystical Body directed to the attainment of this goal is called the apostolate, which the Church carries on in various ways through all her members. For the Christian vocation by its very nature is also a vocation to the apostolate. No part of the structure of a living body is merely passive but has a share in the functions as well as life of the body: so, too, in the body of Christ, which is the Church. (2)
It even goes on to say that “the organic union in this body and the structure of the members are so compact that the member who fails to make his proper contribution to the development of the Church must be said to be useful neither to the Church nor to himself” (2).

Therefore, no one in the Church is ever really a “volunteer” who, as the dictionary says, is one who does a service or participates in a transaction without any legal concern or interest in the matter. By baptism, all Christians are obligated to participate in the work of the Church according to each one’s gifts and abilities.

Does this mean we can’t have volunteer fairs and sign-up sheets? Of course not. But we do need to cultivate better the sense of “right and duty” of discipleship that our baptism brings.

Here are six ways to move from recruiting volunteers to growing disciples.

Uphold the dignity of baptism.
Infants, the sick and elderly—any who are “useless” by the world’s standards are integral to the Church. Each in their unique way builds up the Body.

Train catechumens in the work of the apostolate.
Easter or Pentecost is not the time to get the newly-baptized to “sign up” for ministry. Their Christian work began when they became catechumens. Apprentice them throughout their catechumenate in the activities of the Church.

Match talents to needs.
We’re not simply filling empty slots with warm bodies. Help people discern their God-given gifts and how they can be best put to use in the work of the Church.

Don’t use sacraments as “reward” for service.
Service hour quotas for sacramental preparation create a consumerist mentality about discipleship. Instead, teach full participation in all the Church’s works as a lifelong commitment.

Stop asking people to “help Father.”
Ministry is about exercising one’s baptismal right and duty, not about helping Father. The lay apostolate and the ordained work together to accomplish the Church’s mission. Without either, the Church cannot function.

Honor the work of the faithful in the world.
Don’t denigrate those who never “sign up.” Discipleship is lived primarily at home and in the workplace.