Monday, August 6, 2012

On Preaching Community and Closing Parishes

One of the parishes that I have been assigned to as a priest was selected (way before I arrived) to close in October.  Some of the parishioners have been raising money for a planned appeal, which, as Canon Law notes, the parishioners have every right to do.  The parish has been very kind to me and it has not been adversarial in nature whatsoever, for which I am very grateful. 

Obviously, there is a lot of pain and hurt over being selected to close, and I wonder if it doesn't go back to a theme that has been in Catholic thought for at least my lifetime, and probably going back into the 70's as well, but I wasn't around so I don't know for sure. 

The root of this frustration likely stems from a phrase that has dominated Catholic discourse in our country for decades - the theme that "it's all about community".

I have heard that "it's all about community" in homilies my entire life.  I've read "it's all about community" in all kinds of Catholic literature and newspapers.  I've heard in Catholic schools that "it's all about community."  That "theology" has infused itself into every form of Catholic discourse.

The problem with saying "it's all about community" (as most readers of this blog surely know) is that it isn't ALL about community.  It's about the Eucharist and the sacraments, it is about care for the poor and marginalized, it is about the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, it is about prayer, it is about Apostolic Succession going back to Saint Peter, it is about conversion, it is about penance and fasting, it is about love, it's about papal infallibility, it's about the universal Church, it is about the Blessed Mother, it is about the Mass...the list could go on indefinitely.

Is "community" a VERY important thing in the Catholic Church?  Absolutely.  However, as with all things, a little more moderation in using the phrase, a little more balanced preaching over the past few decades, a few more homilies on the nature of the Church and who a bishop is, a few more homilies on the Eucharist (and not just saying that "the Eucharist is community"), a little more balance might have helped people more easily come to grips with a parish community being closed. 

My home parish of Nativity is where I spent most of my life.  I went to school there.  Some of my best friends still to this day were classmates back in the day and are now raising their kids and sending them to Nativity.  My brothers and sisters were baptized there.  I used to read at Mass and serve there.  I went to coffee and donuts every Sunday if Dad let us.  I played sports there, at least a few years ago I knew everyone in the parish.  I had my first Mass there as a priest.  Nativity is about as tight-knit a community as you'll ever find.  And yet if word came down that Nativity were to be closed at some point in the future, I would be EXTREMELY sad, but I wouldn't be upset at the Church or the Bishop.  I would stay Catholic and I would mourn the end of an era with my fellow parishioners.  But I think that my relative ease with a decision like that would come from the fact that I have been blessed to hear from other places that while community is great, Church is about more than community.

But as it is, we can't be surprised when, after people have been hearing it's ALL about community for so long, that people would be upset when the community is threatened to be merged with another parish and a community made to change or adapt. 

As the famous phrase goes, "ideas have consequences", and so spreading the idea far and wide for the last 40 years that it is "all about community", when it ought to be quite clear to any priest who has had the chance to learn the faith and is asked to care for people, that saying it is "all about community" has consequences that are playing out in the lives of people whom I care for right now, and very sadly, for some, it may even lead to them leaving the Faith as a whole.  I don't think anyone would leave the Catholic Church if they had been taught what the Faith is as an entirety, but when the vast majority of what has been preached for a long time in our Catholic Church is NOT the whole picture, then I guess when that faulty vision of Church abruptly comes to a halt, there is always going to be serious repercussions. 

Please pray for me during this time that I may be a good and holy shepherd of souls through this difficult process, and please pray for all of my parishioners who are a bunch of good and holy people who have been disoriented and are still trying to figure out how to move forward through difficult and trying times.