ROCHESTER — Structure is necessary in any organized religion — yet too much of it can impede spiritual growth, asserted Father Timothy Radcliffe, OP, and Father Richard Rohr, OFM.
The two priests, both world-famous speakers, were the keynoters for the third-annual diocesan Gathering of the Ministerium, which took place April 18 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. It was attended by approximately 550 people who serve in various leadership positions across the diocese.
The day’s theme was “Spiritual Renewal of Those in Church Leadership.” Father Radcliffe, who led the morning session, asserted that despite what many believe, giving up control can actually be a sign of strong leadership.
“The more we try to control things, the less we are able to do,” he explained. “I’m afraid, in the church, we’re often seduced by that model of leadership — control.” He added that he isn’t comfortable using the term “leader” because in Christianity “there is one leader, Jesus Christ,” he said. “We’re all followers, we’re all disciples.”
Father Radcliffe said a leader isn’t so much a control freak as “the person who responds to whatever needs to be done. … I think the essence of Christian leadership is the one who takes the first step. And this is the first step into vulnerability.” He added that a leader shouldn’t be overwrought with striving for perfection, pointing out that two early giants of the Catholic Church were a man who had denied Christ (St. Peter) and another who had killed Christians (St. Paul).
“No other human institution would have been as brave, as daring, as crazy as to have founded its leadership in Peter and Paul,” Father Radcliffe said.
Father Radcliffe is a priest and friar in the English Province of the Dominican Order, also known as the Order of Preachers. He teaches at Oxford University in England, and from 1992 to 2001 served as Master of the Dominicans worldwide.
The ministerium’s afternoon speaker, Father Rohr, is a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province. He is the founding director of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, and has served as a retreat master for more than 30 years.
Father Rohr bluntly told his Rochester audience that “Religion is the best thing in the world, and it can be the worst thing in the world.” He said that prayer and ritual alone, such as attending extra Masses, is not enough in fulfilling our call as Catholics: “The ritual becomes more important than the reality.”
He also warned of becoming overly attached to saints, mystics and spiritual directors.
“We worship these figures instead of becoming like them. Jesus never said, ‘Worship me,’ he said, ‘Become like me,'” Father Rohr remarked.
Father Rohr offered six stages of consciousness that must occur in order to become spiritually transformed. These steps begin with gathering information and knowledge, and end with the acquisition of understanding, wisdom and transformation. He noted that when suffering is involved, “God speeds up the process in a significant way.”
However he noted that “in this country we can largely escape suffering — but not so in much of the rest of the world. So, in that regard, there is greater spirituality there.”
The ministerium was presented in conjunction with the annual diocesan priests’ convocation, which took place at the Crowne Plaza April 16-17. Ministerium participants were invited by Bishop Matthew H. Clark, who had introduced the term “ministerium” — Latin for “body of ministers” — in 2001 to define those in the local church who exercise an official ecclesial ministry, whether or not they are ordained.
Examples of such people are pastors, deacons, pastoral administrators, pastoral associates, religious-education coordinators, youth ministers, hospital chaplains, campus ministers, prison chaplains, Catholic-school principals, parish volunteers with significant ministerial responsibilities and diocesan employees.