Monday, 23 December 2013

Professionalism, Service and Holiness of Life

Pope Francis' recent address during the annual exchange of Christmas greetings with the members of the Roman Curia was very different in character to the one delivered at this time last year by Pope Benedict. Where the latter offered a survey, and analysis, of the key themes of the preceding year in the life of the Church, Pope Francis instead recognised and affirmed the nature of the tasks undertaken by those who work in the Curia.

My immediate thought as I read the text of Pope Francis' address was that it could apply just as much to the lay faithful in their working lives as it does to the officials of the Roman Curia. For the lay person, professionalism is about being able to do your job effectively - just as it is for the Curia. Carrying out the tasks of one's employment as a service can be very readily seen in jobs such as teaching or nursing, but perhaps less so in jobs such as engineering or managing a factory. Pope Francis' words encourage those who work for businesses, or run businesses that employ workers, to see that business as in some way a shared enterprise; the contribution of each to the success of the business represents a service to the community of all who have a stake in that business. Pope Francis' advocacy of a "conscientious objection to gossip" has ready application in any work place.

Pope Francis' words prompted two further reflections on my part. In the light of the recent consideration in the Church of the mission of the "new evangelisation", I have been considering for some time now the relationship between the professional competence of the layperson and their effectiveness as an evangeliser. In the workplace, or among peers, it is the effective carrying out of a day-to-day job that gives one a "way in", a credibility with colleagues. It is possible to be assertive in offering a Catholic point of view ... but that is not going to be taken seriously if you are someone who cannot do their job properly. So I think we should not underestimate the significance for evangelical effectiveness of professional training and competence.

The second reflection is related to the thought that many of the tasks undertaken in the Roman Curia do not require the dignity conferred by the Sacrament of Holy Orders. They might require a certain professional expertise that a priest, bishop or religious might gain during their formation; but there is no reason why a lay person with the same training should not be appointed to at least some of those roles. Ordination and religious profession might confer an office on its subject; but that can be distinguished from an exercise of authority or power (ordered towards service) that might go with a job in the Curia. Pope Francis' consideration of holiness of life can certainly apply just as much to the lay faithful in their day-to-day work as it does to those working for the Curia; but it indicates also an ecclesial orientation or sense in the manner of professionalism and service that applies particularly to working in the Curia. It is possible, then, to see in this consideration of holiness of life a kind of preferring of the priest, bishop or religious, though not an exclusion of the lay faithful, to carry out jobs in the Curia. The lay faithful who might share this ecclesial sense in a sufficient way are those who have been formed within one or other of the new ecclesial movements.

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