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Vicar General to Lay Ministers: be other Christs in your parishes

Jesus was criticised by some followers for His “intolerable language” saying He was the living bread come down from Heaven and inviting “whoever eats this bread will live forever”. “Intolerable language” is needed in the Church today, said Vicar General Fr Martin Sirju delivering the homily at the Mass for the commissioning and recommissioning of Lay Ministers at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Port of Spain on Saturday, May 7.

Fr Sirju presided at the Mass for Archbishop Jason Gordon who was in quarantine. The First Reading was Acts 9: 31–42 and the Gospel of John 6: 60–69.

He said Jesus’ whole life generated comments because people thought His words and actions were intolerable. A woman with a bad reputation washes His feet, He had an open table fellowship with sinners and though He was Lord and Master, He washed the feet of His disciples. “Greatest of all intolerability is when this Messiah and King instead of being a political victim ends up crucified on the cross,” Fr Sirju said.

Speaking of Good Shepherd Sunday (May 8) he said priests and the lay ministers, “are all invited by Jesus to behave in such a way such that when people see us writing and speaking, they will say ‘wait a minute, how come priests could talk like this. I find this intolerable language’”.

Fr Sirju commented that there was more room for this in the universal Catholic Church. He said that persons may fall into certain behaviours that the Lord Himself would find intolerable. “One of this has to do with status. We are people who sometimes, as ministers of God’s Word, as ministers of the sacraments, we ourselves get lost in status. We forget that we are called to be servant leaders. We forget we are not the only leader in the parish, we are the presiding leader but you (the lay ministers) are also leaders, you are being commissioned here this morning and sometimes our attitude is not the best.”

He gave the example of priests around the world whose attitude is “what I say goes, if you don’t like it tough luck”. He said this was a temptation anyone can fall into including himself.

Fr Sirju said the “worse” temptation was the culture of entitlement and being influenced by special honours, titles, privilege, and exemptions. “Jesus said this is not to happen among you,” Fr Sirju said.

He admonished lay ministers about the temptation of status, that leads to in-fighting about who becomes a lay minister and who does not. “That is the right of the parish priest.”

Becoming a Lay Minister may be perceived as a “promotion”. Fr Sirju stated the Church is hierarchical, but this position should not cause a feeling of superiority over others.

Fr Martin said lay ministers should not fuss over who distributes the Body or the Blood of Christ. “It is as if those who are more senior in ministry have the right to distribute the Body and others distribute the Blood. Some people say, ‘I don’t like to distribute the Blood’. Well, Jesus comes my dear friends in both kinds; He comes in the Body and comes in the Blood. None is higher than the other.”

He called for lay ministers to serve equally and generously for both. Lay ministers are to be present for special and for “ordinary” Masses. He commented there was a full turnout for special Masses but for the ordinary Sunday Masses, ministers are few. “Those who are commissioned to be present are not present and when there are additional services in parishes it is sometimes difficult to get a lay minister.”

Fr Sirju provided three “remedies” for the temptations mentioned— prayer, self-education and going out.

The lay minister must set the example of prayer. “To pray is to become more like Christ…less judgemental…more welcoming”. Alter Christus – another Christ, is used especially for priests, but can also apply to those serving in the absence of a priest.

Fr Sirju said lay ministers are called to be other Christs in their parishes, a symbol of welcome, love, fellowship. He encouraged them to continue to educate themselves and not just wait on offerings from the Liturgical Commission.

Lay ministers cannot wait for people to come to them— they have to get out and meet the people. Fr Sirju cited Pope Francis’ statement, that two words in scripture often forgotten about Jesus were, “Jesus walked.”

“Get to know your people. Let them know you and most of all, love them and help them to feel welcome and they can contribute something to this synodal Church that we are creating,” he said.

In opening remarks, Fr Sirju gave an update on Archbishop Gordon, saying he “continues to progress by God’s grace and sends his greetings”.

The rite of commissioning followed the homily. Representatives of vicariates across the country attended and there were about 300 lay ministers in attendance, said Fiona Bereaux of the Liturgical Commission.

Lay ministers have a three-year term and are commissioned/recommissioned by the Archbishop of Port of Spain. She said another Mass will be held for the ministers unable to attend.

Deacon Sheldon Narine proclaimed the gospel and clergy and Vicars for the respective vicariates: Southern, Fr David Khan; Northern, Fr Christopher Lumsden; and Eastern and Tobago, Fr Steve Duncan were in attendance.