Diana and I have just returned from the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, which is a four-day event sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles but actually held at the Anaheim Convention Center, right next to Disneyland. The RE Congress regularly attracts upwards of 40,000 people from all over the world. The participants represent multiple language groups and cultures. Most of the participants are Catholic, and most of them are involved in some form of paid or volunteer ministry in their parishes.
To me, this event is a vibrant expression of church. The dizzying variety of prayer experiences, ministry focuses, musical events, booksellers, artists, and speakers really puts the “catholic” in Catholic Church. The RE Congress is also, for me, a wonderful expression of thousands of ordinary, everyday Catholics who take their baptism seriously.
Baptism – a vocation to ministry
Diana was one of the speakers at this year’s RE Congress. One of her topics was on the role of women in ministry in the church. Some people came expecting to hear something about women’s ordination. At least one person came expecting to hear about vocations to religious life. Diana came to talk about our common vocation of baptism and how baptism initiates us into a royal priesthood.
All of us are called to mission and ministry by our baptism. Ordination and religious vocations are particular expressions of our common vocation. Too often, we tend to leave the work of mission to those few who serve as ordained priests or religious sisters and brothers. This places too great a burden on too few of us and can also be a failure to live up to our baptismal promises.
As members of the royal priesthood, all of the baptized are called to a life of sacrifice for the sake of those in the world who most need to experience the love of Jesus. We all have a ministerial role in the Body of Christ.
What the catechumens are signing up for
As we all know, this initiation into the mission of the royal priesthood is at the core of what the catechumens and candidates must come to grips with before they can be baptized or received into full communion. They have to understand that they are signing up for much more than just “becoming Catholic.” They are becoming missionaries – ministers to those who are on the peripheries and who most need a healing touch and a saving light.
As I jostled through the throngs of 40,000 Catholics trying to get to their next workshop, I was awestruck at just how seriously so many of our brothers and sisters have committed themselves to the mission of the royal priesthood. You could literally feel the passion, joy, and dedication in every event and gathering. I’m sure many people went away having learned some new teaching technique or a deeper theological insight. But what we all learned, just by being there, among and with each other, is that baptism matters. That’s what we have to teach our catechumens and candidates.
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