Monday, May 07, 2007

On vocations and parish life

Yesterday was a very, well, interesting day. Sufficiently interesting, in fact, that it has taken me until today to write about it because I've been trying to digest everything since then. In fact, I still haven't fully processed everything even now, but if I don't write anything now I never will.

The morning started, per the norm for our Sundays, with our RCIA session - this weekend's topic was Holy Orders. Since we're still using "Come and See", and the article on Holy Orders was frankly morbidly obtuse. Not a single defense or explanation of the apostolic origin of the structure of the Church but rather four pages of Fr. Richstatter stammering about how the priesthood of today (this was 1997) is "different" than the priesthood of yesterday and a predictable over-emphasis on the common priesthood of the Baptised. Don't get me wrong - that was one of the most important aspects of the documents of VCII, the common call to holiness, but to place it as opposite to the ordained priesthood in what is supposed to be an article about the ordained priesthood, well, that disqualifies it as a valuable teaching tool in my book. You want to have a theological argument about the relative positions, values and strengths of the common and ordained priesthood? Fine, but not in a teaching tool for those who don't have any depth of knowledge in the field, and certainly not without providing counter-arguments.

Enough about that. Suffice it to say I'm very glad our Deacon was the leader for the session - he is a very wise man (he's currently pursuing his Doctorates, a D.Div, I believe) and has an amazing capacity for personable and soft but yet exuberant and intellectual discussion. I have much to learn from him when it comes to "keeping it simple" (note to self: if you use the word "ontological" you've just lost your audience).

It turns out he is also on the Diocesan task force assigned to formulate the formation program for the next Diaconal class. As a part of describing that some very interesting, very difficult, numbers came out. Our diocese expects to ordain one priest this year and none - nada, zero, zilch - next year (although the understanding is there is an uptick in years after that). Those are hard numbers to overcome. Even if we, tomorrow, had twenty folks enter the seminary it would still be between four and six years before they would be ordained and anywhere from five to nine years before they would be appointed as pastor. Sometimes people forget that it isn't just a case of "opening the spigot" where priests will just magically appear shortly at the end of some hose - these things take extraordinary amounts of time. Pray for Fr. Jason Jalbert and his vocations staff - they need all the help they can get.

Now... if that's where the "interesting" part ended it would be a fairly normal day, but that's not how things go. Later in the afternoon there was a listening session for the Cluster Task Force of which my parish is a part. (IYDK: our Diocese is broken up into Deaneries and then each Deanery is further delineated into Clusters - how this is all done is beyond me.) Our particular Cluster is composed of St. Catherine of Siena in Manchester, Holy Rosary in Hooksett and St. John the Baptist in Suncook; of the three, St. Catherine's is by far the largest, St. John the Baptist is in the middle and Holy Rosary is the smallest by a large margin. As it stands now, and due to the above-mentioned ordination figures is likely to stay for the near future, those three parishes have two priests between them: Fr. Paul Montminy at St. Catherine's, and Fr. Ed Crowley is split between Holy Rosary and St. John the Baptist. Further exacerbating the issue is the projected large growth in population in the area served by these three parishes over the next several years - this area has become an extended bedroom community for both southern NH and metro-Boston thanks to its proximity to two major highways. I think that should suffice for background.

How can I put this without coming across as unnecessarily blunt? I feel terrible for those who sit on the Task Force. Over an hour of the allotted hour and a half was spent with people asserting in tones ranging from a timorous plea to aggressive how-dare-you that the only acceptable solution was to do nothing. This was, of course, capped by a man who virtually shouted his feeling that the Diocese is being, in his word, "disingenuous" and that effectively the decision had already been made. His proof, naturally, was "a priest who knows people at the Diocese" - yes, we're dealing with insulting our priests and our Bishop via third-hand information in the Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Of course, Rome was also blamed - they apparently don't care about the United States any more according to one. I shouldn't even mention the complaint that there were only men on the Task Force (someone in the combox please explain to me how one gender or the other empirically cannot understand the ramifications of parish realignments on members of the opposite gender because I just don't get it). It was all very hard to listen to.

There were, happily, a few bright spots. One man reminded everyone that the real solution to the problem is to work and pray for greater vocations or more correctly a greater response to those vocations. While absolutely true and I am truly grateful that the gentleman made that point, it sadly does nothing to address the five year problem which is the core driver for the Task Force. Another man made a rather rambling but well-informed speech about how, as Pope John Paul II said, the restoration of the Church can only come through the Eucharist. He didn't do much to tie that point to the question of parish re-alignment but I can only hope the pure faith he portrayed gave those sharpening their knives some pause for reflection. I was impressed the members of the Task Force took the sometimes harsh words in as well as they did and did not respond to some of the more slanderous statements which would have risked turning a listening session into a debate or worse. Their calm and cool was commendable.

I, for my part, decided for an as-yet indeterminate reason to remain purely an observer, listening and people-watching. What I wanted to do was to ask those who would accept nothing than the retention of their own current comfort, if necessary at the expense of others, if they had forgotten that the Church has been built upon self-giving sacrifice. "Amen, amen I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. (Jn 13:16)" As happened to the true Master, so shall it be for His disciples.

Have we forgotten how to sacrifice, with our ready-made lives and shrink-wrapped entertainment, with our "relevant" liturgies and our anything-you-want-any-time-you-want amenities? I ask because I did not hear, other than one person, the suggestion that "not my will, but yours be done. (Lk 22:42b)" Father, if I must sacrifice my convenience for the good of your Church and the greater Glory of your name I only count myself as unworthy of such a privilege. What I have is Yours for it comes from You from the beginning; do with me as you will. Not my will, but yours be done. Lord of the Harvest, send laborers, for the harvest is great and the laborers few.