Sunday, May 10, 2015


Okay, I admit it! I'm conflicted. I am reading a book by a Baltimore priest entitled "Rebuilt." I haven't finished it, but have scanned it and I'm uncomfortable with it.

What I like about the book so far, is the analysis this priest gives of the first several years of his pastorate in a suburban Baltimore parish. He built or rebuilt this parish by treating his parishioners as consumers and giving them the best of what he thought they wanted in terms of programs and meals, music and the like. He thought (as I did) that if you do this, parishioners would become disciples in action, true Catholics and take on the ministry of the Church. He was wrong and I agree that this approach is wrong and I'm guilty as anyone in doing it too.

We expend a lot of energy on all the wrong things, like meetings, reinventing the wheel and involving people in all kinds of activities that take them away from home, the common meal table and relaxation by doing nothing with the family. 

But as I scan the rest of the book he simply repeats his mistakes in what he thinks is the proper way to rebuild his parish but this time making the laity into a kind of clerical clique and working them to death with churchy things that he calls ministry. He has rebuilt the parish on the "mega church, non-denominational approach." Everyone is involved in the life of the parish doing this, that and the other. He's not the locus of the involvement providing for all their needs, but they are. So what he has done is to entrust to the laity the busyness of running in place and going no where but in the institutional, churchy setting.

I'm coming to the conclusion that making the laity do all the clerical things once assigned to bishops, priests and deacons is not what the parish should be doing, although we need some laity to assist us, but we don't need everyone doing something in the institutional setting of the parish. What do I mean by this?

If you look at what a bishop is to do, a sort of mission statement for him and thus by extension for his priests and deacons, it is to "teach, rule (govern) and sanctify." But for what purpose?

The purpose for the laity is so they can bring their Catholic faith, hope and love to the world, the secular world, not the institutional Church.

First and foremost the laity's family life should be centered in the home where husband and wife know what the Sacrament of Marriage is meant to be and live it out creating a Christian home in the process and where knowing, loving and serving Jesus Christ takes place. A Catholic family doesn't have to be at Church every day, although daily Mass is a pious thing. They need to follow Christ everyday at home, at work, at school and in recreation. Just the minimal of Sunday Mass, religious education for their children (home schooling, Catholic schools or CCD) is really all that is required.

Secondly Catholics bring their Catholic understanding or belief in Faith, Hope and Love to the world, no matter their vocation or avocation. And if in the public square of politics or influence, they witness to their faith and use words if they have to do so.

99% of Catholics would fall into the description I describe above and the other 1% or so would be needed for churchy, institutional sorts of things like:

DRE's and cathecists
Music Directors and choir members
Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (especially to the homebound) 
Altar Servers
Assisting with St. Vincent de Paul Societies and other outreaches to the poor and needy
Staffing Catholic hospitals, orphanages, clinics and social outreach agencies
Helping with parish suppers when these occur
volunteering at the school and parish according to need

Just how many people need to exhaust themselves with churchy sorts of things that take them away from their homes?

Shouldn't the parish instead provide spiritual support through the the Catechetical Ministry of the Church and those who are well prepared to teach. Should the pastor and those who assist him help to govern the parish as a Catholic institution following the canons of the Church? Shouldn't he priests and deacons sanctify the parish through the Mass and other sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours and popular devotions and provide Perpetual Adoration and opportunities for spiritual and moral direction?

Do we have to replace the social institutions of secular society? Or shouldn't Catholics who join the worthy ones simply bring their Catholic faith to these and witness to their faith there?

Conflicted in Macon.


Carol H. said...

The problem that I have seen is that when the laity 'do it all', they decide that there is no longer a need for the ordained priesthood. This Baltimore priest is protestantizing his parish, and the next priest who is assigned there will have the same problems that the bishop of San Francisco is having.

George said...

A Faith which is Positive and emanates Divine Light.

As Catholics, ours is a positive faith, one of optimism grounded in the hope of our salvation, won for us by the Blood which poured forth from Christ, and in the pains and travails of the Suffering and Death of His Passion. It is the world and its message which is negative and which if embraced, engenders despair and despondency. Darkness abounds, and we are to be the light which drives away the darkness-the positive which repels the negative. This light, and it positive effect, whose source is Christ,should shine forth from us in our prayers and good works and in the countenance we display to others.
Christ filled the Divine Treasury with the merits of His Passion and Death. Does not what this Divine Treasury contains emanate light, since it's source is Christ? Is what fills this treasury to just sit there and not be applied so as to cast light upon the darkness which engulfs our world? Is ours not a participatory Faith? We are to participate in the Life of Christ. In the application of this light-filled and positive grace by which we benefit, we participate in its application to others by which they likewise benefit.
The Light of Christ enlightens us to His Divine Truth. It illuminates to us those negative things which we are to avoid and shows us the positive path we are to take. It is the positive application of prayer and good works which repels the evil in the world and overcomes the negative influences and effects by which the Prince of Darkness seeks to corrupt and destroy the Faith.
Just as the wind drives away the clouds so that the beneficial rays of the sun can shine through in their fulness, so also should we invoke the wind of the Spirit so that the Light of the True Faith can shine through to others.

Anonymous 2 said...


Perhaps it is a question of finding the right balance, which of course may be different for different people or different even for the same person at different stages of life according to changes in life circumstances. People have differing vocations, and the focus of vocation may shift over the course of a life. This said I am very gratified to see the emphasis on the laity’s role in leavening the world. I must admit that some people may have had the impression (I know I did) that there used to be an over-emphasis on churchy things in the understanding of “stewardship” that was promoted at St. Josephs; and I for one was very pleased when that noticeably began to change. It is a mark of wisdom to be open to change in light of greater understanding and experience. Of course, this also means that what we think today may also be revised tomorrow, but hopefully we can have some confidence that we are at least advancing in the right general direction.

Dialogue said...

I and the PPC in my parish read the book a couple of years ago, and it provided a good starting point for reexamining the parish facilities, activities and policies, especially for the purpose of making these more welcoming to strangers.

The follow-up book is a disaster, and shows that the priest and his lay minister have become over-confident in their innovations.

Anyway, I recommend that every pastor and PPC read (don't just scan) the first book.

And yes, the proper role of the laity is the Gospel enlightenment of secular affairs. Just as, for example, priests should not run grocery stores, laymen should not distribute Holy Communion. There is, however, a clear need for some professionally trained lay ministers (e.g. organists) and administrative staff (e.g. bookkeepers).

George said...

Fr McDonald:

From what I have seen and experienced, the good intentions of the people involved are there. It would not surprise me that this is ot always the case. I can understand how you can be conflicted. Carol makes a good point. Anonymous 2 makes a good observation also, and Dialogue makes a good suggestion.

The 99% should not feel that they have nothing to do and that the ministries cover whatever needs to be done. As you state "The purpose for the laity is so they can bring their Catholic faith, hope and love to the world, the secular world, not the institutional Church." Even though there are consecrated religious in the world who have devoted their life to prayer and sacrifice, which in an important way sustains the Church in her mission, the laity have their role which also involves prayer and sacrifice.

Anonymous said...

You sound like a saint..
St Josemaira Escriva

Paul said...

Reveal The Truth to the people. They can can accept or reject Truth -- it is their Free Will Choice to decide whether or not to live The Truth.

Sugar-coated Lies may be "appealing" but those are ultimately hollow, fruitless and wrong.

As for myself, I want to hear homilies that are challenging, that end with a question to answer. If I leave Mass feeling completely comfortable then something's not right. I can be joyful about the Celebration and be thankful for a priest and The Eucharist but I also know that snowflakes are falling into Hell. I don't want to be a snowflake and I hope there are other people who do not have that desire as well.

Teach me how not to be a snowflake.