Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Parish Inertia

If you have tried to volunteer, maybe help bring your parish back to life and promote the ancient faith, you have probably learned a simple lesson: the Church isn't designed to foster initiative by pewsitters.

It all depends on the priest. What Father wants, Father gets. What Father doesn't want doesn't happen. The Bear does not know where these parishes are where priests have been reduced to lackeys of the parish council, but it sure isn't his parish.

It seems like the new, name-brand evangelical outfits have a lot going on. They have "ministries" that people are involved in. They appear, from the outside, at least, to be pretty successful at forming an evangelical identity and being busy. Why can't Catholics do the same thing?

Someone got boxes full of Matthew Kelley's "Rediscovering Catholicism." Everyone in the parish was encouraged to take one. It wasn't bad, sort of like a Catholic motivational book. But where's the follow-up? Sometimes we go to the Newman Center on a holy day of obligation. There was an excellent book on the Bible, free for the taking, from Lighthouse Media. It was a great book, but unless it is a springboard to a small group Bible study, what's the point?

People used to be joiners. Kiwanis. Knights of Columbus, the Altar and Rosary Society (until it was changed to "The Women's Club"').

The objections vary: "nobody wants to volunteer," or "there aren't enough young people," or "parents with kids all drive over to the parish with the Catholic school and do stuff." The parish does skew alarmingly old, but that doesn't mean there are no younger people. The Bear supposes you can't expect much when people are stampeding toward the door right after receiving Holy Communion.

There are few problems he is not confident of solving with his Bearish cunning, terrible claws or fearsome jaws. Changing things for the better in his parish, though, seems impossible.

18 comments:

  1. I took my Central American pastor aside and suggested he learn the Latin Mass, thus we and the Spanish speakers could all worship together (and the parish wouldn't be fractured)--didn't say that to him however. I told him I would pay his airfare and tuition for a weeklong Latin mass workshop for priests at Our Lady of Guadelupe seminary in Nebraska. He declined. He is beholden to the "worship committee" whose latest innovation is that we all turn to each other at the beginning of Mass, shake hands and introduce ourselves. Ugh. Been there, done that at another parish about 20 years ago.

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    1. Hey, we do that, too. It's great to have to do the sign of peace twice, first as a pre-interruption of your prayers until someone can go up to the lectern and read the announcements right before Mass. It's like they're scared to death someone might actually pray before Mass.

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    2. My current parish is similarly divided in worship. I wish it wasn't. I went to one Spanish Mass recently just for the experience of listening; I'm trying to re-learn Spanish of late.

      I would like to hope that the youth program integrates Hispanic with non-Hispanic youth, but I fear not, based on the programs marketed to Hispanic parents. We haven't got our youngest son involved yet.

      It seems a terrible shame that the vernacular Mass means we cannot worship side by side with immigrants, in the premier place that is outside of commercial interest or government control, and approach the Cross in equal dignity. At a time when our country really, really, really needs to break through the walls being erected for the purposes of leftist identity politics.

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  2. I am considering putting my name in for parish council. I must be crazy. People volunteer like protestants at our parish. We get the Matt Kelley Christmas and Easter offerings. I had a post around Christmas time explaining the scheme by M Kelly to get his books out at parishes for $2 per and hope for follow up sales or events.

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    1. Bear's mate is on the Parish Council. She finds it time-wasting and difficult dealing with Father's rule by dikat. She ends up doing a lot of things with cookies.

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    2. I'm mad about how PSR is going.

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    3. Both my H and I have 'taken turns' on Parish Counsel in our Parish. Ours is a '3 Churches in 1' combined Parish, 90% Hispanic. I served two different terms on the Counsel and H just finished his (early) as he said he just couldn't stand it anymore. Fr. called the shots and he said he really didn't know what they were all there for, and besides that, the members are all the 'church of nice' variety, so he really didn't fit in. And the Parish is so large combining 3 different Churches that they run it like a fortune 500 company. You are so limited that if a ministry wants to schedule the Parish Center for a function, you have to schedule it a year ahead of time. So yes, Bear, I can SURELY relate. It's a tad frustrating and not so much spiritually nurturing. I think a lot of us are in the same boat.

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    4. Added thought: Although I didn't click in, I recently spotted an article with the title: 'Help, Fr., your children are starving to death!' Boy, they got that right!

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    5. I haven't fully determined whether it's just the stupid lay committees that come up w/dumb ideas (to ruin mass) or they are Fr's ideas. He does seem to go along with them in any case. I'd like to suggest we fire the liturgical committee. One thing at a time, however. If Fr runs the show and the lay committees are just for show to make people feel involved, then so be it. I'd rather that, even if wrong, than Fr be weak and give in to idiot lay people.

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  3. We all tried it, a couple of years ago--getting the parish out of its moribund routines, I mean. We got as far as putting a couch and two chairs in the narthex for people to sit on while having coffee and donuts before we halted the whole project for fear that global conflict might break out.

    Perhaps in your parish, Bear, Father gets what he wants, but in ours he apparently quavers in reverential fear of the petty kings (of either gender) who are really running the show. If you try to do anything--put up a picture or an announcement board, start a group, establish a little book shelf--you find that you can't because "So-and-So might get upset."

    Now, So-and-So could be anybody--an ordinary pewsitter like yourself; a parish employee who feels that their legitimate authority in one area somehow extends to many others; a person from a remote part of the deanery whose connection to the whole situation in the first place stubbornly refuses to reveal itself. The main point is that these people must not, at any price, be provoked. When you ask why the use of parish space and time is up to them at all, you are told that it isn't, but that the moribund routines have to be maintained just the same.

    Going to Father himself, who actually is in charge, is of little use. He will tell you:"I think that is a GREAT idea! Wonderful! The new evangelization in action! But, sorry--So-and-So wouldn't like it."

    "But Father, I'm pretty sure So-and-So doesn't even use that room on Tuesday nights!"

    "No, but what you are suggesting is not So-and-So's project, and So-and-So is bound to complain if that room is used by anybody else." And Father, who would rush to your hospital bedside at midnight in a medical emergency, somehow won't even entertain the notion of handling a single complaint from the self-appointed Ruler of the Rooms--So-and-So.

    So, you ask--hy not go to So-and-So personally? Appeal to their sense of parish solidarity by making an amicable and reasonable request? Find out when the room is actually in use, and when it isn't?

    You might as well assasinate an archduke.

    So, in my experience, Bear, I actually wish Father would get his way once in a while. A parish shouldn't be paralyzed by the de facto kings (of either gender) and their petty kingdoms. Whether they realize it or not, they are opposing themselves to The Kingdom of Christ.

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    1. Well said Justina, my experience exactly.

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  4. The issue is, Catholic culture has always been different. In the past, the faith centred around devotions and community life and because Catholics tended to only associate with Catholics and go to Catholic schools and volunteer for local Catholic groups, and everyone spoke the same language and even if they didn't they could pray in the common language of Latin, community life was strong. Things changed in North America. Catholics were now the minority and distrusted, so they were ghettoised. While they stayed in the ghetto, things were fine. The moment they left the ghetto and tried to be accepted by the rest of the world, and Catholic descent became the norm, Catholic culture collapsed.

    You can't fix the Catholic church in North America through protestant solutions. They simply will not work since people go to Mass to worship not to socialize (which unfortunately has become a common reason Catholics now go to mass). And even if they did, most parishes don't have large meeting rooms that could house regular in-church bible studies and social groups as Protestants do or have the funds do host it (Protestants tend to tithe more than the $1 bills you usually see in Catholic collections). Remember also that a typical Catholic parish would likely qualify as a Protestant megachurch due to the number of families.

    So how could this be fixed? IMO, you need a two part strategy.

    The first and most important part has to come from the priest. The priest has to be committed to catechetics as the early Church Fathers were. If knowing the faith pushed off to the side as an optional parish course or restricted to confirmation, the faith will not be taken serious even if it is known (which unfortunately it isn't for many Cathoics). Regular homilies are 10 minutes long and tend to focus on the scripture reading and immediate application. By all means keep that, since Catholics are used to it and it is useful. But that can't be enough. Pastors need to add on another 10 minutes where they can do sermon series to watch through various aspects of the faith.

    The second part starts with you. The parish doesn't likely have the resources to host Bible studies, Catechism studies, Lives of the Saints studies, etc. Start one up in your own home or park or restaurant and ask for the priest to regularly announce it in the parish announcements. If your group gets too big then ask someone in your group to become a leader of half the group and coordinate between yourselves. If it again gets too big, then go back to the pastor and ask for help in coordinating and/or formalizing it as a standard part of parish life.

    Because of the size of Catholic parishes, such an approach cannot fail to succeed because even if only 1% of the people are interested and only half continue, you still have at least 10 people and that's enough to start. But you need commitment.

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  5. My wife and I tried to get involved with the local men's religious groups shrine. We went to several meetings but felt a very odd vibe. The whole thing seemed very cliquish with a great deal of underlying historical tension among the lay members.

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    1. That may not be unusual with groups, though. But if it's bugging you, there's no reason to be there.

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  6. The pastor of my former Latin Mass parish is a magnificent priest in so many ways, but with just one problem: he hasn't made his first mistake yet. Yes, that's my former parish.

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    1. Ask him to tell you what it's like to be perfect. I've derailed many an arrogant jerk with that question. :D

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  7. Around Advent of last year, our parish foisted "Rediscover Jesus," another Mutt Kelley gem on us. It was free, but we had to sign for the book. What an enlightening blippet on page 99, where it says that James was the once-skeptical half-brother of Jesus. Guess we can throw out that Perpetual Divinity dogma, and save thousands of reams of paper in the process. Of course, now we have to shift from the Holy Trinity to a holy tetrahedron. Perhaps St. Joseph is busy right now building a double-chair so that both Jesus and James can sit at the right hand of the Father. Since I signed for the book and they know who I am, I have been approached twice to join the parish council. In my magnificent humility, I stated that I could not possibly be worthy enough until I exhaustively read every word of Rahner's writings.

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    1. Perhaps he meant step brother, the son of Joseph from his previous marriage. That is a forgotten western Catholic tradition that still lives in the east and old schematics like the copts.

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