The first point that really struck me was the idea that the Church has been gifted with both office and charism. Office is what ensures right order within the Church, offering stability through the three-fold ministry of leading, teaching, and sanctifying, a participation in Christ's own ministry as priest, prophet, and king. While we talk about office in reference to those holding positions in the institutional Church, do not forget that each of us were also anointed priest, prophet, and king at our baptisms, marking our own vocation and participation in Christ's ministry. In terms of charism, Johnson explains that
the role of charism, freely given in unpredictable ways by the Spirit, is to break through routine, apathy, and even corruption with a renewed sense of the gospel for different times and places. This impulse has historically led to the rise of religious orders, new forms of spirituality, and movements for reform, among other events. To use Hildegard of Bingen's image, these help to keep the sap flowing strong and green in the branches, refreshing the institutional church grown gray with bureaucracy, meanness, or fear.Johnson reminds us that both of these, office and charism, are gifts in the Church, but that they also exist in a certain tension with each other. I would like to suggest that this dynamic plays out not only on a global level in the Church, but also on a local level in our own parishes. Certain individuals in the parish are gifted with the ability to bring a sense of stability and continuity to the parish. Certainly the parish staff is typically focused more on the leading, teaching, and sanctyifying ministries within the parish in the day to day life of the parish. There is also a need and a place, however, for charism in the parish. Hopefully the staff is open to this gift as well as the gift of office, but ultimately I believe this gift must come from the community itself. We need individuals in the parish who are open to the Spirit and renew us in our sense of mission and inspire us as a community to breathe new life into our ministries. We need individuals who, in Johnson's words, break us out of our apathy and call us to read the gospel in a new way. Each of us has that potential, if we are open to the calling of the spirit.
The second point Johnson makes in her talk is her definition of what it means to be a friend of God and a prophet--in short, a saint! She reminds us that we are all saints (literally holy ones) and that the word was initially used in Christianity to describe the living community, not those who have died. She also reminds us that to be a saint is not a matter of being a good and moral person, but is simply a statment of the fact that we participate in God's holiness. She emphasizes this fact, stating
let me underscore a key point: this holiness is not primarily an ethical matter, being holy as being innocent of sin or morally perfect or engaged in pious practices or something earned by one's own merits. Rather, it is a consecration of the very being of this people due to God's free initiative. They participate in God's own holiness, a deep identity that flows out into responsibility to bear witness in the world, in accord with the loving kindness and faithfulness of God that now marks their own being.The fact that we ARE holy hopefully leads us to be better people, to be a friend of God and a prophet through the grace of the Holy Spirit dwelling within each of us. Johnson explains that
to be a friend means to be freely joined in a mutual relationship marked by deep affection, joy, trust, and support in adversity; knowing and letting oneself be known in an intimacy that flows into common activities; as in Abraham, "friend of God"(Jas 2:23); as in Jesus' pledge, "No longer do I call you servants, but ... friends" (Jn 15:15).What an incredible image of our relationship with God! She goes on to add that
to be a prophet means to be called to comfort and to criticize in God's name because, being a friend, your heart loves what God loves, namely this world, and you want it to flourish. When harm comes to what you love, prophets speak truth to power about injustice, thus creating possibilities of resistance and resurrection.The line that actually caught my attention and my imagination was the idea that being a prophet means being called to comfort. I am very familiar with the idea of being a prophetic voice in the sense of speaking for those who have no voice or being called to challenge the systems of oppression in the world in which we live. I have never given any thought to the idea that to be a prophet is also to be called to comfort. Yet isn't one of the most famous lines (thanks to Handel) in Isaiah, "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God" (Is. 40:1)? Certainly there is a tradition of the prophets railing against all that is wrong in the world and in their communities, but there is an equally strong tradition of the prophets offering the people reassurance of God's love, mercy, and faithfulness and reassurance that the community would survive and ultimately prevail against adversity. How do we fulfil our prophetic role in the world in terms of being a voice of hope?
The headlines on the webpage of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel once again delve into the issues of sexual abuse and lawsuits in the archdiocese. Immediately below that story is a story on the rather grim financial future of the archdiocese. We are in a time in our Church and our world where we need prophets who will criticize, but who will also comfort. We need the gift of charism, calling us to "break through routine, apathy, and even corruption with a renewed sense of the gospel" so that we can "help to keep the sap flowing strong and green in the branches, refreshing the institutional church grown gray with bureaucracy, meanness, or fear." More than ever it seems we are being called to be the community of saints right now, our hearts loving what God loves, fulfilling our vocation as friends of God and prophets.