Parish priorities


Conflation not Bifurcation: Liturgy, Preaching, and the Church's social Mission            
            Generally speaking, I believe that the two general priorities must complement one another if we are to be true to our identity as Church, remembering the dictum, lex orandi, lex credendi, as well as the mandate of the US Bishops in Communities of Salt and Light that social justice is an integral part of evangelization. 
             In essence, liturgy and preaching are intimately tied to the Church’s mission, and the parish is the ideal stage on which the marriage of these two ideas takes place. It is an environment neither overly cerebral nor popularly contrived, but one where our commitment to the gospel bears fruit in what we believe and how we act…both in the context of the liturgy and as we move forward into our “normal” activity in the world. Thus, the reification of this three-fold reality shows that we are firm in our commitment to believe, as persons who make up a parish, that we are imaged in God’s likeness, a God who is a mysterious community of persons, whose love, when extended outward is creative and redemptive. In other words, the parish, in its commitment to liturgy, preaching, and its social mission makes us true to our dignity as humans who enjoy a special and dynamic friendship with God.
 (Rev.) John J. Slovikovski, Saint Francis University, Loretto, PA

The world/church polarization
            The language of polarized subcultures is found in Vatican II, particularly in Lumen Gentium’s chapter on the laity and Apostlicam Actuositatem. The laity is associated with the secular sphere and the clergy with the ecclesial sphere.
            I teach in a graduate school that prepares lay persons and permanent diaconate candidates for ministry. When I teach my core class Ecclesiology the room is filled with about half lay ecclesial ministers (mostly women) and half soon-to-ordained men. As you can imagine, the topics create heated discussions. The men in my classroom are not yet ordained, and most of them are married. The discussion would be even more intense in an actually seminary setting, in which seminarians are mixed in with lay persons.  The lay/clergy dichotomy still plagues us.
            The classroom experience itself creates a space for communication. If they can communicate and respect each other’s sub-cultures and roles, many of the problems would dissipate. The end result is what both groups should have in mind: serve better the parishioners.
Ella Johnson, St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry

Parish Priorities and clericalism
            Two of the greater obstacles to church affiliation are clericalism on the part of the clergy, and the tendency of church leaders to clericalize the laity.  I base my observations on several parishes in the Greater Toronto area where I serve, some American ones I have visited, as a participant in local clergy meetings, and as chaplain to some Knights of Columbus and Vincent de Paul groups.
            Parishes that thrive are those that contain active lay association, Knights of Columbus, Catholic Women’s League, Vincent de Paul groups, and Legion of Mary.  In those parishes where the pastor pays little attention to lay faith groups, parish zeal and attendance both diminish. Proof of this is evident when pastors change with a listening pastor being replaced by one is weak at delegating or more interested in church law than church support.
            From these observations, I suggest that the first parish priority lies with clergy formation and education. In Toronto clergy receive ongoing formation, and those with psychological issues such as addictions or depression can receive treatment and assistance through a lay-run centre, Southdown. This centre offers advice to bishops and in-house treatment for clergy afflicted with any of addiction, compulsion, depression issue.
            The second, and perhaps the more important priority is educating pastors to listen, discern, and delegate. When pastors do this, the membership and various ministries grow; when they do not, all wane.
            Third: People need to recognize and learn how God speaks to each of us though our comforts and discomforts; through what gives one peace or robs one of it; and through our freedoms. When church groups (diocese, parish, and associations) do this for themselves as corporate persons, they set up works each values and individuals find attractive..
            Parish priorities for me mean ways of internally fostering the sense of self-worth as God’s beloved at the individual, corporate, and world levels. When this does not occur internally, clericalism (under its many guises) is at work.
C. T. Rupert s.j. LaStorta Residence, Pickering, ON, Canada.

No mention of on-going hurricane
            At last weekend’s mass in Pennsylvania, hurricane Harvey was not mentioned either by the priest or in the prayers of the faithful.  So what do I expect? Not much. I don't seek community in my parish; fortunately there are several "places" where I experience community with absolutely wonderful human beings,  and I don't tolerate well clergy who focus on a narrow understanding of liturgy.
            Alice Laffey, College of the Holy Cross

The liturgy as shared worship and fellowship
            The gift and work of liturgy should enliven the People of God, and the gifts and work of the People of God should be brought to every Mass. Over the past few years, my wife and I have experienced a deepening of fellowship with a number of other families in our parish, and much of this is build upon shared worship and prayer (in the Mass, praying vespers together in one another's homes, adoration in the parish, etc.). This has grown into a reliance on each other for fellowship, encouragement, challenge to grow as disciples, help in times of need, and so on.
            Marc Tumeinski, Anna Maria Colleg

  "There oughtta be a law." 
            The parish belongs to the parishioners as well as to the diocese.  The priest is there to administer and act as a servant leader.   The people expect that they will hear relevant sermons and be otherwise involved in liturgy.  As far as other parish activities, there should be a law  that for the first year a new pastor may not make any structural changes in the parish without the consent of the majority of parishioners.  Structures would include buildings, programs, appointments, etc.  It has happened so often that a parish is running smoothly, but a new pastor feels that he has to immediately put his mark on the place.  This angers and upsets the staff and parishioners, so much so that many will leave the church.   In general, the priest should not do anything in the parish without the consent of the majority of parishioners unless there is a mandate from above that by law has to be carried out. 
            I agree with Chris Rupert, "Perhaps the more important priority is educating pastors to listen, discern, and delegate. When pastors do this, the membership and various ministries grow; when they do not, all wane."
            Winifred Whelan, Emerita, DePaul University

The meaning of being church
            The ecclesia is not the building or the religious education or even the soup kitchen.  It is the coming together to be the Christ present.  For Catholics the "sacred object" is the body and blood of Christ; but we are that body and blood. Then our movement is to share and support that reality–being the Christ– in the ever growing concentric circles of those with whom we worship and beyond that: family, friends, strangers, world--in so far as grace and the existential reality of our limited lives allows.
            Some friends gathered last evening to pray and discuss this Sunday's gospel. The text emphasizes the responsibility to call out community members for their fault..  We wrestled with the "treat those who won't listen like the gentiles or tax collectors" part. One wonders if this–which we usually take as a call to shun–isn't really a tongue in cheek comment.  Think how Jesus treated the gentiles and tax collectors.  He went to where they lived and cured them; he ate with "sinners" and "tax collectors," he did not shun those who offended or baited him. Isn't that what parishes are about?
Dee Christie,

What brings people together?
            I am not sure that we need to discuss about "priorities." If the purpose of the parish life is to build fellowship among Christians then we should ask the deeper question: what bring people together? Liturgy? Bible-study? Prayer services? Social services? Activism? Catechetics?  Our view/model/definition of the Church will shape our priorities.
            Anh Tran, Santa Clara University

An Evangelical Lutheran experience
            In my denomination (ELCA), parishioners and clergy often have different views and agendas regarding the church. Pastors tend to focus more on outreach to the community and world, while parishioners tend to focus on the survival of their congregation. Along those same lines, pastors tend to have a theological/liturgical focus while parishioners see themselves as "practical," dealing with the nuts and bolts of life. Of course both pastors and parishioners care about liturgy and nuts and bolts. The differences are ones of emphasis, not exclusion.
            Another issue is that parishioners frequently regard the church as optional, while pastors regard the church as essential. Clergy consider the sacraments and worship as necessary, while parishioners are more like to regard these things as options that you embrace if they work for you but ignore if they don't.
            I don't want to suggest the superiority of clergy over laity. Far from it! I learned many valuable, humbling lessons from my parishioners. Both groups have much to learn from each other and need each other. Together we are the Church.
            David VonSchlichten, Seton Hill University

Speculation centeredness
            Several months ago a colleague belonging to the International Theological Commission met Pope Francis in the corridors of St. Martha. They greeted each other and had a brief exchange. The pope asked the theologian what the meeting he was attending was about, and he answered. “The concept of person inside the Trinitarian relationships.”  To which the Pope answered, “Well, in that case I wish you have fun!”  This was very ironic and indeed my colleague was quite disturbed, but the Pope is right: we cannot speak about speculative issues while neglecting the most urgent ones!
           Lluis Oviedo, Pontificia Universita Antonianum, Rome

The lay-clergy distinction
            How does clericalism effect the parish structure?  Much like the Hebrew Levite priests of the pre-Christian era who were a tribe set apart, so too are these New Testament Christian priests.  Their primary role is sacramental or cultic, much like the various Roman, Greek, or other worship temples priests.  They are set aside to take care of the souls in the parish and the holy things of the Roman Catholic Church.   For better or for worse, these celibate priests are the pastors with clear lines of authority.
            If we want to change the parish structure, we have to change cultic clerical priesthood.  The non-clerical, the non-ordained, the non-celibate, the non-male Roman Catholic will always be a second-class citizen compared to those who are specifically called by the Holy Spirit, specially trained, spiritually superior, ordained male celibates
Eugene Finnegan, Calumet College of St. Joseph

Strong feelings and convictions
           Having been a cleric for twenty five years, I'm not short on feelings and convictions on the matter. I love many priests but no longer admire or support the priesthood (and the episcopacy, etc.) as an institution. The priesthood as a sacramental class and its restriction to male celibates is the historical matrix of something we now call clericalism which in its turn bends the mind and soul of clerics toward self-protection and protection of the caste.
            As far as parish life and liturgy are concerned, now (and for centuries really) the bishop owns the diocese. He controls the brand and the land, and entrusts a portion of it to the local pastor who in his turn may or may not share the ownership burdens and powers with chosen members of the laity. The laity doesn't hire or fire the pastor, and the pastor can be good guy or a tyrant as he sees fit. I have had the happiness of listening to good preaching and participating in good liturgy throughout my life.  Even the priests whom I didn't cotton to personally did a responsible job of preaching and celebrating (yet not many of them seemed to be on fire in the pulpit or at the table. What I experience is that the majority of Catholics are struggling to live decent lives, including their clergy.
            The pope is the exception to the rule of mediocracy in the church.  He is one of the few clerics who have transcended his clerical status.
William M. Shea, College of the Holy Cross

My response to Bill Shea's comments and those of others who are rightly critical of clericalism in today's Church would be to read (or reread) The Unfinished Church by Bernard Prusak at Villanova. Prusak notes very early there was a need for institutional authority to guarantee the integrity of the message. Fortunately, the key documents of Vatican II have sought to recover the early understanding of the Church as primarily a religious movement rather than a fixed institution.  For me, Prusak's book was eminently well-balanced. There has to be a suitable middle ground between the two extremes of "creeping infallibility" and "consumer Catholicism."  Joe Bracken, Xavier University

Clericalism and Latino Catholics
            In her book on Puerto Rican Catholics in the New York Archdiocese from the 1940s through to the 1980s, Ana María Díaz-Stevens clearly outlined the issue of clericalism for Latino Catholics. The book won the Cushwa Prize from Notre Dame as the best book on Catholicism that year.
            The thesis was straightforward. Puerto Rican popular Catholicism was run by lay leaders who visited the sick, recited meaningful prayers, instructed children in catechism and preparation for the sacraments, and engaged in direct social justice by neighborhood cooperation for those in need.  The Cursillo Movement was of great importance in developing the idea of pastoral responsibility for the laity.
            As  Ana María stressed, the conciliar agenda was not new for the Latino Catholics. Swiftly, the Hispanics around the nation were able to leap-frog an English-speaking US Catholicism into a  model for what a renewed Church must become.   They did this through the Hispanic Pastoral Encounters which were modeled on the Medellín Conference.  Native Spanish-speaking deacons often gave the best sermons in the parish.
            All of this represented a challenge to clerical authority and led to the co-optation of the movement under JP II.  One example: shutting down the diaconate training program in Spanish and merging it with the English-speaking program dominated by highly conservative professionals. The first drop-outs were the grass-root Spanish-speaking leaders who disliked the clericalization of the permanent diaconate.
            The message is clear: the strength of the laity is in a combination of fervor (popular Catholicism sans clerical control) and pastoral training that is based on cultural and social context.
 Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo, Professor Emeritus,

How transparent are the appointments of pastors?
            Does anyone know the process by which bishops and their advisers appoint pastors? Is there any "open and transparent” process for discerning the potential of a faith community/parish and recognizing the kind of leadership that will help the parish move to recognizing its role in interpreting the signs of the times?
            One element in the discontent of many parishioners is the failure to take seriously the vocation of the community of faithful in the selection of a parish priest, even when a bishop seriously tries to understand the vocation of the priest to be assigned. A certain clericalism (laity-exclusion) which may not be domineering or insensitive is inevitable in a process of allotting parishes to particular priest, and it would be a step forward if lay people were let in on the process of selecting and assigning priests to parishes.
Richard Shields, Toronto School of Theology

Questioning clericalism
            The question of "clericalism" and its impact on the faithful is of great importance and cannot be denied.  First, I would caution every respondent to avoid over generalization.  To say that the priesthood of the ordained exhibits clericalism universally would be just as damaging as the proposed degrading of the priesthood of all the baptized, in particular the laity.  I would like to examine this question/accusation from three distinct points of view:  experiential, ecclesial, and theological.
            First, my own experience is not one of an attitude of superiority over the laity, rather I have spent more than 20 years of priesthood building collaborative relationships with all the faithful.
            Unfortunately, some, not all, and I would be so bold as to say not the majority of the clergy, present themselves apart from and superior to their lay sisters and bothers.  Unfortunately, the greatest of offenders seem to arise from the younger ranks of the clergy.
            The Church itself does not see the distinction between the ordained and laity in terms of superiority/inferiority.  Lumen Gentium clearly states that the difference between clergy, religious, and laity is not ontological but vocational, and inspired by the Spirit.  If clergy present themselves as separate from and better than, that is their distinction, not that of the Church.
            In short, classifying the ordained priesthood in general as "clerical" is unfair, unjust, unfounded, and lacking a sense of charity and truth.
Rev. John J. Slovikovski, Saint Francis University, PA