5/7/23 Homily: Unavoidable Admin
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
Jesus never wrote a manual to guide his apostles. He never distributed a policy binder to them before returning to heaven. Rather, he built his Church, with himself as the cornerstone, as he said he would, by sending them the Holy Spirit from the Father (cf. Jn. 15:26). The Holy Spirit would guide them in their decisions both great and small in the context of their daily ministry. We see an example of this in our first reading today from Acts of the Apostles.
The Twelve were entrusted with the great commission of making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. There was no greater task imaginable. But as we see today from our first reading, some bureaucracy is inevitable. Not even Saint Peter was exempt from the demands of daily management.
Like a newlywed couple that enters into the day-to-day routine of marriage, the Church had to do the same. There comes a point when the honeymoon is over, and more mundane considerations come to the forefront. Even with Sacred Scripture itself, the Bible doesn’t end with the four gospels. It continues with Acts of the Apostles, followed by the apostolic letters from Saints Paul, Peter, James, and John to the early Christian communities, which at times address certain practical considerations directly.
In our reading from Acts today, we hear of an administrative dispute between the Hellenists and the Hebrews regarding the care of widows. The apostles rightly acknowledge their primary task of prayer and the ministry of the word. But they also lament that their time has been occupied by daily affairs, which are more worldly in comparison. This leads them to commission other men into service, and to delegate to them these kinds of daily managerial decisions.
That decision to ordain deacons—that’s what happens in this scene—this was a discernment based on need. The apostles weren’t ordaining deacons simply according to some pre-arranged liturgy schedule. The apostles needed help, particularly with administration, and this first council of deacons were ordained for that purpose. The Holy Spirit inspired both the apostles to this decision and the men who stepped forward to answer the call.
At times today, the Catholic Church can be criticized as being overly administrative, policy driven, or business-like, etc. with the implication of being too worldly and non-spiritual. Yet our reading from Acts today reminds us that administrative responsibility is unavoidable and has been a need in the Church since the very beginning.
Church admin does have its place. It allowed Peter and the apostles to focus on their primary mission. Likewise, it allows us to do the same. We do have staff, councils, ministries, committees, and other institutions that allow us to live our faith amidst the demands of daily routine. They exist because we need them.
But they don’t exist for their own sake. As needs can change at times, some of our institutions can likewise come and go. One of the realities of Holy Family is that many of our families can move from time to time due to military PCS. It can be a challenge when a significant number of our volunteers move away regularly. But with every challenge also comes an opportunity. As our parish demographics change, we’re invited to reassess where we’re at as a parish.
Just last Summer, we started a new ministry called, Vacation Bible School. This started because we had a sufficient number of families with young children who were interested in participating in it, and we had enough volunteers to staff it. This ministry didn’t exist for its own sake. It began in response to a need and will last as long as it’s needed.
This Summer, I intend to again send out another survey to assess where we’re at: to identify present parish needs, and to explore possibilities as to how to fulfill them. Until then, I ask that you prayerfully consider what interests you—what you would participate in?—and to take stock of your own gifts and talents that could be of service to others. Every Summer gives us another chance of beginning again.
Through the grace of the Mass, may God grant us discernment of what is really necessary, and inspire each of us, according to his will, to respond to his summons in generous service.
St. Peter preaching in the presence of St. Mark, by Fra Angelico, c. 1433, tempera on panel, Museum of San Marco [Public domain]