Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Thoughts of a Parish Priest

As is true for most of us, a priest, writing for priests, expresses dissatisfaction with the situation he finds himself in. After 13 years in the priesthood, he finds himself in a rut, doing what he has always done and probably always will do. In his own life he has made, he feels, some improvements, but wonders whether living within the present structures caused him to lose his creativity and become  passive.

Yearly baptisms continue, but the total number of Christians doesn't increase, and fewer persons are going to the sacraments and attending Sunday Mass. He compares his situation to a frog in the water; each time the temperature increases the frog becomes more languid. Having become accustomed to the gradual increase in heat, the frog fails to realize what is happening.

Although he attempts to meet the guidelines that have been set, there is little progress. For five years he has felt that his efforts were like trying to grab hold of the passing clouds. Catholics are proud of being Catholic, he said, but they don't have great loyalty to the parish. When he compares this with what his Protestant clergy friends are experiencing, he finds this all the more disturbing.

When a priest is moved out of a parish and another arrives to take his place, we have a tendency to expect changes in the parish. The parishioners are prepared for something different from what they have been used to. Catholics experience pastoral care as the receiving objects of the care and do not, for the most part, participate as subjects of the care. In parishes we also have much moving of families because of finances or the educational needs of the children; this moving to another parish community can be difficult for both the families and the parish community.

We seldom stop to consider, he said, if this might also be true of the priest who has a stay of three to five years as a pastor of a parish. Is that sufficient time to make plans, become devoted and focused on the work? he asks.  He has serious doubts about the wisdom of these Church regulations.

Overcoming the temptation of being just a functionary within the Church can be achieved, the priest believes, with more and better education both for the parishioners and for the priests. How can they learn together? How can the Catholics  become the subjects of the faith life--not the passive objects of the faith life--enabling them to see  the  world with the eyes of the Gospel? How can what they learn help change the community?  If we continue doing as in the past, he concludes  the needed changes will not come and things will remain the same. Change, if it is to come has to come from the community, be accepted and understood by the community. Guidelines and regulations that served well the needs of the Church in the past must be overhauled to meet the present needs of the people and of the priests who minister to them. 

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