Saturday, April 24, 2010

Faith Model or Corporate Model

That will never work! I have been in parish ministry for eighteen years, but during this past year that is the phrase I have heard more than ever before. Despite all the people who have told me that my plans would never work, I kept to my plans and in the end they worked out to the surprise of those watching and even my own surprise. My lesson this year could be called “Don’t be afraid to do the ridiculous”.

At the beginning of the year I was in charge of a religious education program with no records, no teachers, no students, and virtually no preparation time. Two weeks before class was ready to begin, I had only half the number of teachers I needed. I debated postponing the start of classes and even considered combining some grades. Nine days before the start of classes I had one last class without a teacher. I got a call from a woman who was interested in joining the parish. After welcoming and registering her family, she mentioned that she was interested in helping out. She had taught religious education for fifteen years in her previous parish in New York. On impulse I went against the unwritten rules that say new parishioners should not take on parish ministries for several years and I invited her to teach 6th grade. Within a week she had the unruly 6th graders under control and interested in their lessons. Now, she is one of the most talented teachers in the program.

Finally, at the beginning of Lent I planned to stage the Living Stations of the Cross. After inviting the young people in the parish to help, I found myself all along at the first rehearsal. The pastor suggested that I give up because our parish is a small parish and the people aren’t used to this sort of thing. I kept inviting kids and at the second rehearsal I had a full cast. Now, I had a serious problem. My cast consisted of children from grades 3-5. The other religious education directors in the deanery suggested that I cancel because as they said, “You can’t stage living stations with elementary kids. It will turn into a mockery”. I decided to put it in God’s hands and trusted in God and in the kids. The kids came faithfully to rehearsals and I made costumes every chance I had with expensive satin fabric that had been donated from the remnants of a curtain factory. Our production not only was a success, but the church was nearly full. Instead of a mockery, the stations turned out to be a moving spiritual experience for the children and those who came to pray with us.

Part of me was surprised, but another part of me knew this would happen. It was then that I realized that we need to go out on a limb for Christ if we wanted to do our best ministry. Jesus didn’t play it safe. He didn’t choose his apostles by their resumes. In fact, all of the apostles would likely be turned away if they applied for a position in parish ministry. After choosing and teaching this unlikely band, he sent them out two by two without money or supplies and commanded them to rely on the kindness of those they encountered.

If that is our example, what kind of ministers will we be if we fear stepping into the unknown? Mother Angelica, who founded EWTN, often said “We have to do the ridiculous so God can do the miraculous”. Our faith is one of paradox. If God is willing to hang on the limbs of a cross in order to save us, we need to be willing to go out on a limb and put the “rules” aside and follow His will. If we set out without a second tunic or a purse, we put out into the deep, and we have faith that the sycamore tree can be moved we may not always get the results we seek, but we will serve with humility and the recognition that the best made plans can fail and the plans which seem doomed to fail can succeed. We just need to discern whether our plans are ours or God’s.

Time and time I set out on missions that seemed impossible but ended in success. I had faith that God would make it work and I had faith that the parishioners would come through. Finally, I made sure the parishioners knew that the ball was in their court. If they wanted these things to happen, then they needed to step up and make them happen. I am not a parish babysitter or a spoonfeeder. The people knew that their participation was needed and wanted and just as the people who the apostles encountered supplied for their needs, the parishioners at this parish supplied what was needed for the parish to succeed.

So many books on ministry and parish life follow a corporate model. While we do need to be concerned with finances, public relations, and those things they can never take a back seat to faith. I can think of many priests who run their parishes as though they were business entities rather than faith communities. Faith must always come first!

I think that much of the difficulties the Church is facing today is the result of the corporate model of parish and diocesan adminsitration. We have to have the faith that we can do the ridiculous and let God do the miraculous. Had the bishops of years past had more faith that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church, and had they been more concerned with the gross immorality lurking in their dioceses and less concerned with bad press would wouldn't be dealing with this seemingly endless string of horror stories.

To the heirarchy: Please have faith that God will protect His Church despite our own inadequacies! Put down the canned press releases! Be human and honest! The corporate model says cover your self. The faith model says care for the wounded. The corporate model says bad press hurts business. The faith model says justice and caritas must come first. The corporate model says never give them more than you have to. The faith model says to lie down your life.

The Church isn't a business. The world expects and deserves more from us than P.R. strategies. They expect and deserve true repentence for the errors which have occured without posturing.

We need the bishops of the world to lead the Church as a whole in public penance. Yes, as a whole. As part of the Church we each share responsibility. Remember, "If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy" (1 Cor 12:26).

I think about the recent meeting that Pope Benedict had with the sexual abuse victims in Malta and his meeting 2 years ago with victims in the United States. The most profound part of the meeting seems to have been the Holy Father's tears. In was in those tears that he expresssed genuine sorrow. That is worth more than any P.R. expert's finely crafted script. Jesus is the Good Shepherd not the Good CEO. If Jesus was the Good CEO, he would have never chosen a brash fisherman to be the first Pope. In fact, I wonder if any of the Apostles could he hired today. I doubt they would pass the background investigations.

In the Catholic Church the only corporate model we need is The Corporate Model, the Corpus Christi.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

So, Where Have I Been

Ok, I disappear for a year and a half and then return without any sort of, I didn't think that would be acceptable.

So, here is a little update on what I have been up to. Well, for one I spent a year on three television shows. The first one was called "Desperate Lay Ministers", the second was called "Who Wants to be a Liturgical Abuser", and finally the third was called "Extreme Makeover: Liturgical Edition".

Well, maybe they weren't tv shows, but they would have made for entertaining viewing.

On "Desperate Lay Ministers" aging hippie Catholic tried their best to develop banal activities for children and teens which were sure to waste their time while teaching absolutely nothing about the faith. Bonus points were given if these activities took place during Mass. Most of our time was spent in long meetings where the aging hippies would try to create loopholes in Canon Law and the GIRM. Popular activities including gossipping about the daily activites of parishioners, heirarchy bashing, extolling the beauty of the L.A. Cathedral, and plotting to hold VOTF meetings in the church hall. All of this was done while looking down their noses at the poor schlubs who couldn't afford multi-million dollar raised ranches on tiny postage stamp lots all for the privledge of living on Heresy Lane.

On the spinnoff Who Wants to be a Liturgical Abuser, brought in the new characters such as the pastoral associate, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame deNamur with an allergy to religious habits and orthodoxy, the pastor with a checkered past of dissention, a organist with traditional tastes in music, and a cantor who moonlights as Mother Superior in Nunsense and loves to make a spectacle of herself during Mass, and a famous Social Justice/Political Commentator priest living in the top floor of the rectory.

Combined with the cast of Desperate Lay Ministers this group developed ideas such as at the Easter Sunday procession of Butterfly Kites, the banner waving parish minister love fest, sorry, they called it Appreciation Sunday, and the Kiddie Mass. Their attempt to pressure the new Youth Ministry Coordinator to be one of homilists at Mass and the falsified parish visitiation makes for must see viewing.

Eventually, the liturgical police decided enough was enough and Extreme Makeover: Liturgical Edition made a visit to the parish. While the pastor was away and the anniversary celebration for another dissenter a young priest was summoned to fill in at the Masses. Gasps were heard when Fr. Faithful arrived wearing cassock. He entered the sacristy carrying a chalice made of a material which was completely unfamiliar to Sister Pastoral Associate. Upon teaching her that the strange material was gold, Sister said "Oh, just like my earrings!" Ok, so maybe that didn't really happen. Fr. faithful laid down the law right away and told Sister Pastoral Associate that the proper set up for Mass included a chalice pall and veil. Sister didn't know where any chalice palls were so Father Faithful went into his suitcase and took out his own stuff. He then went into the church and set up the altar complete with chalice veil. Sister Pastoral Associate couldn't handle it and left immediately before she melted.

Father then confronted the musicians and informed them that "Keep in Mind" was not an appropriate Memorial Acclamation. The parishioners were totally disoriented by the lack of liturgical abuse and the homily in which Father spoke about passe things such as sin.

Even though at the end of the episode, the parish looked orthodox it didn't take long before the rest of the cast returned and destroyed the renovations.

Needless to say, it wasn't long before the producers decided that I wasn't the person for the job and I was let go.

I am now a cast member of Extreme Makeover: Religious Education Edition where I try to turn a parish Cut Color and Draw program into a place where children learn about the Catholic faith. I am assisted by a traditional Catholic school teacher, and two fans of EWTN who serve as teachers and an orthodox but timid priest who tries to keep up with me.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ad Multos Annos

Five years ago I heard the words I, and most of the world, had been greatly anticipating for a little over 2 weeks.
Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum;
habemus Papam:

Yay, we have a Pope, but who??? My anticipation and nervousness grew to levels I could not imagine. There was so much promise! As long as the right pope was chosen. I didn't know who I wanted, but I knew who I didn't want.

The announcement continued as I prayed. The cardinal announced:

Eminentissimum ac Reverendissimum Dominum,
Dominum Josephum

My prayers changed to fervent pleading! No, no, no! Please let it be a different Joseph.

Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem Ratzinger

I screamed "No!" so loudly the neighbors must have wondered what had happened. I sank into the chair in disbelief. This was the man who would destroy everything!

qui sibi nomen imposuit Benedictum XVI
Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church
There was nothing left for me to do but cry so that was what I did. I cried for days and I feared until I came to the point, several months later, that if I was stuck with this guy I should at least read something that he wrote.

The first book I read was "Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church". I remember I was sitting in the waiting room of the local garage getting an oil change and an inspection sticker when I came across words that have become burned into my mind.
One is Church and one is member therof, not through sociological
adherance, but precisely through incorporation in the Body of the Lord through
baptism and the Eucharist.

The Church is not our Church, which we could dispose of as we
please. She is, rather, his Church. All that is only our Church is not Church in
the deep sense; it belongs to her human - hence secondary, transitory -

If the Church, in fact, is our Church, if we alone are the
Church, if her structures are not willed by Christ, then it is no longer
possible to concieve of the existance of a hierarchy as a service to the
baptized established by the Lord himself. It is a rejection of the authority
willed by God...the Church of Christ is not a party, not an association, not a
club. Her deep and permanent structure is not democratic but sacramental,
consequently hierarchical. For the hierarchy based on apostolic succession is
the indispensible condition to arrive at the strength, the reality of the
Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977Suddenly, it was as though questions I had asked for decades were suddenly being answered, but not from the source I wanted. How dare he answer my questions and make sense! I read more and more and I loved it all. Finally, I decided that since I couldn't argue against the writings I had to go after the man. I read his memoirs "Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977" hoping to find something I could take issue with. Instead, I was deeply touched by this depiction of a man with great faith who had extraordinary experiences.

I kept reading and rereading these books when I had the opportunity to visit Rome and Vatican City for the 2006 consistory for the creation of new cardinals. Four of my 7 days in Rome would be spent in the presence of the Holy Father. Oddly enough, I could not bring myself to see the joy and honor in that. I read the books on the plane still searching for something I could take issue with. I had convinced myself that if I liked the message the problem had to be with the implementation or even with the man himself. I imagined an ogre-like man with a cold hard look about him. Someone whose meanness would exude from his very pores.

Upon arriving at our lodgings which were in the extra-territorial zone of Vatican City and directly across St. Peter's Square from the Apostolic Palace I was told that two tickets to the Papal Audience had been reserved for us. My actual thoughts were, "Ugh, I guess we have to go, but do I really want to see the Pope another time!" I decided to make the best of it and we went to the audience.

Pope Benedict came out in the popemobile and rode slowly around the square. I took pictures mainly for posterity and for this blog (although I don't think I ever posted my feelings here). He approached where I was standing along the barricade when someone threw something into the path of the popemobile. Suddenly, I found that he was stopped directly in front of me. People were reaching out to him, and I was one of the few with a camera aimed directly at him and he stopped and looked directly at me as I took a picture. Then he continued greeting the crowds. He took the hand of the woman to my right and reached for mine as well, but I was completly frozen. In the split second, he saw my dazed expression and chuckled softly to himself. It was as though he was wondering what it was about him that made me freeze like that. Before I realized what had happened, the obstruction was cleared and the popemobile was moving again.

It was at that moment that I knew what the expression "hardened heart" and "heart of stone" meant as I felt my heart crack and bleed and the tears streamed down my face. What I saw wasn't the ogre, but a gentle, humble, kind, grandfatherly sort of man who seemed to be in awe of all the attention which was focused on him. I saw him 4 more times that week and each time I was amazed by his gentleness and humility. He never placed any attention on himself, but always directed the attention to Christ. In fact, he looked totally embarassed by the attention given to him.

Throughout that week, I desired his presence as I never expected. I found great comfort in looking out in the evening at the glowing windows of the Papal apartment and I loved sitting on the balcony and watching the lights go out as the Holy Father retired for the night. I remembered those weeks after Pope John Paul's death and the emptiness in the shuttered apartment. Seeing those windows I could say, "Everything is fine, Papa is home and we are in good hands".

Unbelievably for me, I wished I could have told him about my experience. Partially so he wouldn't think I had been some crazy lady, but also so I could tell him of my conversion. I prayed that he would grow comfortable in his new role and accept that the attention given to him shouldn't be a source of embarassment, but is the result of the dignity of his office. He is the successor of St. Peter and the Vicar of Christ. That is no small order! He deserves the trappings and honors and attention which is office brings not because of who he is as a man, but because of his office, who he represents, and our union with Christ to whom all these honors are ultimately directed.

I haven't stopped reading his writings and I haven't been disappointed. Instead, each book I read and reread brings to closer to Christ and deepens my understanding of Christ and His Church.

God, thank you for our Holy Father, Benedict. Thank you for opening my heart which had been hardened by the words of those around me and my own prideful refusal to accept your wisdom.

My dear Holy Father, I love you! May God protect you as you lead His Church. Thank you for showing me Christ and His Church in it's fullness as I had never understood it before. Thank you for showing me the errors of my understanding and for opening my heart to true Catholic teaching. May you have many more years in service of Christ!
Photos by: Domini Sumus