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Lay ministers called upon to be priests, prophets and kings of Christ

 101420Liturgical Conference

Father Richard Fragomeni,  a Catholic Theological and DePaul University professor, discusses baptism as leading Catholics to ministry as priests, prophets and kings during a Diocese of Gary Conference '20 spiritual renewal for liturgical ministers. Hosted by St. Patrick in Chesterton on Oct. 10, the annual liturgical conference was offered in English and Spanish, as well as by livestream. (Bob Wellinski photo)

 

BY MARLENE A. ZLOZA

Northwest Indiana Catholic

 

“Priestly people, Kingly people, Holy people, God’s chosen people, sing praise to the Lord.”

- hymn “Priestly People,” Lucien Deiss, CSSp

-        

      CHESTERTON – “In baptism, we are initiated into a pattern of prayer and belief and life and this is a pattern that becomes a habitus of our lives so that we become indistinguishable from the Body of Christ that we are meant to be,” is the way Father Richard Fragomeni summarized his English-language presentation at Conference ’20, the annual liturgical conference hosted by the Diocese of Gary Offices of Worship and Intercultural Ministry on Oct. 10 at St. Patrick.

      More than 30 liturgical ministers listened to Father Fragomeni’s message in person, another 42 turned in virtually, and nine participated in a Spanish-language translation by Father Andres Beltran Arias as the diocese adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions by offering a Saturday morning renewal program coupled with a Morning Prayer Service.

      Bishop Robert J. McClory briefly addressed the lay liturgical ministers after the prayer service, encouraging them to “ask for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be used within you,” wishing the group “a day of refreshment, renewal and reflection.”

      Using baptism as his touchstone, Father Fragomeni, a priest of the Diocese of Albany, professor for 30 years at Catholic Theological in Chicago and a current instructor at DePaul University, spoke of two kinds of priesthood: the baptismal and the ministerial. All baptized Catholics are initiated into a priesthood that historically connected baptism to “being buried with Christ” symbolized by plunging the elect into water to the point of “being immersed until drowning in the spirit, anointed as priests, prophets and kings to become the Body of Christ in a Holy Comm for the life of the world,” he explained.

      That is the earliest metaphor for baptism from Romans 6, but another, from John 3, is “being born again,” recalling the story of Nicodemus.

      Father Fragomeni added that the death metaphor “basically says to us, ‘Unless you lose yourself, you will never find yourself, unless you take up your cross every day and be crucified with me, you will never become my disciple.’”

      The version of this death metaphor that Father Fragomeni explains in a class he is teaching to young people – many of whom have no religious faith at all – is, “Die before you die, so that when you die, there’s not much left of you to die, so that you can then truly live until they bury or cremate you, and then eye has not seen nor ear has heard what God has ready, for everything is possible for God.”

      The death of the ego is what St. Paul is talking about, Father Fragomeni noted, with “the old self” buried with Christ in the process of baptism. . .and renewed in Holy Comm.

      “This is why we celebrate Eucharist over and over and over again, because it is the repeatable baptismal sacrament where God summons us and slowly transforms us into the Body of Christ,” he said.

      This topic is essential to liturgical ministers “not to just understand with our heads, but to feel in our bones that what happens to us in God’s initiative process. . . we have been plunged into the waters to ‘Die before we die…’ and then we truly can become the priests and the prophets and the royalty not in some egocentric way, but in the humble way of the master who shows us what it means to be initiated and whose death seals us with the Cross so we may truly live before they bury us.”

      “We are initiated into a pattern of prayer, belief and life, so that our lives become habituated, so that we become indistinguishable from prayer,” Father Fragomeni said. “We become a living sacrifice of praise, and that beliefs are no longer simply things we’ve memorized from our catechism, but become the very essence of our identity.

      “Life becomes not our life, but the life of God within us,” he said.

      Always the professor, Father Fragomeni gave his conference “class” some homework. Stemming from the importance of baptism, he urged each liturgical minister to research the date of their own baptism. “That really gave me something to think about,” admitted Jeffery Wozniak, a lector and Extraordinary Minister of Holy Comm at St. Patrick.

      Father Fragomeni also asked his audience to meditate on what gifts they bring to the community by virtue of their baptism, given by the Holy Spirit, “so that the community can become a living sacrifice of praise.”

      Elizabeth Rodriguez, a lector from Our Lady of Guadalupe in East Chicago, found the speaker inspiring. “My mother, Olga Martinez, and I actually try to attend each year, but I think it’s even more needed with all that has been going on,” said “We needed a push. Father Fragomeni has been a great speaker, always leaving a strong impression.”

      Agreeing with that assessment was Norma Dvorscak, a St. Patrick parishioner, Extraordinary Minister of Holy Comm and RCIA leader. “I’ve heard him many times, and I even took the day off work to be here,” she said. “He’s so practical, not beyond our realm of understanding, and it’s a shot in the arm.”

      Addressing the uncertain times people have been living through this year, Father Fragomeni shared his own story of renewal.

      Sheltering in his apartment alone, he admitted, “the loneliness was difficult. I’m a teacher, and I couldn’t even be touched by the (mere) glare of a student.

      “I started asking questions about death, and is it even worthwhile to believe (in God),” he said. “What happens after we die? Is there resurrection at the end? Is there life after death?

      “My beliefs were shaken because of the loneliness. Then it dawned on me that baptism is all about faith, not beliefs. During this time of COVID, this interior time, it is all about faith.

      “But faith is ultimately a gift that we are asked to receive, like all gifts, based upon its worth, and you have to choose to accept it,” Father Fragomeni explained.

      “While I knew that here, in my head, the pandemic caused me to realize that maybe it had not been receive in my heart, my gut, and I was able to say it, ‘I do.’ Faith is actually a bet – because eye cannot see, and ear cannot hear. We make a wager, just like when you get married.”

      These past few months, he said, “in this pandemic, this time of confusion to me. . .was an opportunity, and still is. . .but the point is that it’s wager, and we continue to make it. . . through our prayer, surrendering to God, through these beliefs that point us to something extraordinarily powerful, through the interaction that we make, even on the phone or through Zoom. We do our best to have some experience of human touch, so that our lives truly can become a sacrament of Christ for those who have no faith, for those make no wager, for those who in this time of pandemic have been isolated to the point of despair, or suicide, or drug abuse, or alcoholism or mental illness.”

      In baptism, added Father Fragomeni, “Christ reincarnates in us, for we become the body of Christ. Christ takes on a new body in us, and to the degree that we make our wager, and I’m learning to go deeper and deeper, the more beautiful life becomes.

      “Underneath all of the material reality,” he added, “there is a profound presence of what we call the divine. . .and we are invited to tap into that depth of God and it makes life beautiful.”

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