Pastoral workers share day of faith, reflection at Co-Workers conference

NEWTON -- Lay pastoral workers, clergy, and religious gathered at Our Lady Help of Christians in Newton to participate in the 2017 Co-Workers in the Vineyard Conference, April 7.

Sponsored annually by the Theological Institute for the New Evangelization's Masters of Arts in Ministry (MAM) program of St. John's Seminary in Brighton, this year's conference was themed Catholic Leadership: Responding to God's Call.

The conference began with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley and words of welcome from Father Christopher O'Connor, president of the Theological Institute and vice-rector of St. John's Seminary, and Aldona Lingertat, director of the Master of Arts in Ministry program and vice president of administration for the Theological Institute.

The day's keynote, entitled "Of What Am I a Witness?: Holiness, Vocation, and Mission," was offered by Msgr. Michael Heintz, a priest of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind.

Msgr. Heintz is currently an associate professor of theology and spiritual director at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, and actually completed his own seminary studies at St. John's Seminary.

He began his talk by speaking about vocation, noting that there are five "concentric circles" to vocation. The first circle is existence, "the most fundamental vocation." It's a vocation that we don't often think about, he said, adding that "our very existence is a gift."

The next layer is our holiness, the vocation that we receive at baptism. Next, he continued, is our state of life, "the way we live out that call to holiness." He said could be defined by what we refer to ourselves as, such as a parent, a priest, someone who is married.

The next layer, he said, is our current state of life, or the particulars of that life. For example, said Msgr. Heintz, someone may define themselves as a parent, but what that means changes with time. The life of a parent with young children is likely to change when those children become adults, even though the parents are still parents.

The last layer, the most external one, concerns what is happening in the present, what is happening today, he said.

"Each day we're engaged in a relationship with the Lord," said Msgr. Heintz, and each day brings new opportunities or challenges.

Our vocation, our relationship with God, is dynamic and living, he continued.

"It's a lot of work, it's a lot of energy" to maintain it, but anything that's worth it is worth that effort, he said.

"Our relationship with Jesus Christ touches every aspect of our existence," he continued, saying that it impacts the whole person.

He spoke about the economy of grace, or the economy of gift. In essence, he said, "there is no grace, there is no gift, there is no vocation or blessing bestowed by God that is bestowed exclusively or even primarily for the recipient." Every grace that is given is given "on behalf of the Body," and every grace "is only fruitful if it is paid forward." Grace is meant to be shared and it is meant to benefit the community, not just the individual. We should "be for others," he said.

Msgr. Heintz said that faith should also be shared, and the best way to share it is by simply responding to it "with every fiber of our being."

Faith isn't just a piece of our life, he said, but it dictates everything in our lives.

"The most dangerous thing for a Catholic to think is that the faith is the most important part of his or her life, and it's dangerous because, friends, your faith should not be a part of your life, even the most important part, your faith should be the thing that formats everything in your life and my life," he said.

Following Msgr. Heintz, Sister Pat Boyle, CSJ, associate director of the Office of Pastoral planning and a coordinator of pastoral associates, also offered a talk. The talk centered on Disciples of Mission, the pastoral plan of the archdiocese.

In her talk, Sister Pat spoke about the goals of Disciples of Missions, its progress, and its future.

Lunch was held after the pair of talks before attendees were able to participate in panel discussions: "Overcoming Obstacles, Serving the Greatest Needs," "Empowering Lay Leadership," and "Fostering Young Adult Leadership."

Speaking to The Pilot, attendee Heather Hannaway, pastoral associate and director of faith formation with the Chelmsford Catholic Collaborative, said she was happy to be able to attend the conference.

"A lot of these people are classmates from MAM and they're friends and peers," she said. "It's just to be able to step back and support each other and get the energy of each other."

"There's that agape love that you have when you do this work, so it's a good time to get together."