Posts tagged: Parishes

The Laity – Freedom and Responsibility

By , April 9, 2014 5:07 am

Oh, how blessed is this holy Catholic Church. Just think – we have at least one billion, two hundred million members and for all practical purposes they are all laity. Just think of the reservoir of talent and energy that resides in this enormous mass of faith-filled human beings. They could accomplish wonders if not miracles, but in point of fact they don’t because they are really not able to.

I am proud of the faithful. They do a great job in backing their pastors and bishops in developing the material sides of parishes, schools, hospitals, etc. But ultimately, our system does not give them real freedom and responsibility. Their role is to follow their shepherds and that is not all bad, but the fact is that many of the shepherds among us do not really trust their fellow Catholics who have not been ordained. Father knows best and the old joke about the laity was that they were to “pray, pay and obey.”

Happily, following the Second Vatican Council lay involvement, especially in the liturgy, has increased tremendously but we have a long way to go. Let me tell you about a happy story in my first assignment as a pastor. We had established a first-class St. Vincent de Paul Society and it was doing wonderful work on behalf of the poor in that section of the city. One day the president of the Society came to me and told me that we had a serious storage problem, but not to worry – he had signed a two year lease on an inexpensive warehouse about four blocks from the church. I was thrilled. He saw the problem, he knew we could afford it and he acted. I am not saying that pastors and bishops ought not to provide close supervision but they must avoid being control freaks.

The other day when I visited with you in this space, I talked about the value system that was dominant in the world of my childhood. I then went on to admit that many of the cultural strengths of 75 years ago are now gone, generating the need for yet a greater response from the Church to encourage its members to embrace and live by the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today’s lay people are far better formed or educated than were the adults of my childhood. The Church has still not found a way through clericalism and antique ecclesiology to vest the laity, either in the parishes or in the dioceses, with a real sharing in power and authority. The Second Vatican Council had that as one of its principal agendas – convincing all of the baptized and confirmed on the planet that they had a vested interest and a very real responsibility to teach that “each individual layman must be a witness before the world of the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus and a sign of the living God.” How is that for a job description?

The Council Fathers then went on to say give the laity freedom and opportunities to breathe and act and be responsible. In paragraph 37 of Lumen Gentium, the Council stated that, “

“The pastors indeed should recognize and promote the dignity and responsibility of the laity in the Church. They should willingly use their prudent advice and confidently assign duties to them in the service of the Church LEAVING THEM FREEDOM AND SCOPE FOR ACTING (emphasis added). Indeed they should give them the courage to undertake works on their own initiative. They should attentively in Christ initial moves, suggestions and desires proposed by the laity. Moreover, the pastor must respect and recognize the liberty which belongs to all in the terrestrial city.”

Vatican II called for parish councils in every parish in the world but regretfully only a small percentage have functioned effectively. Why? Because they are deadly dull and do not usually come to grips with what that particular parish should be undertaking. Go check on the agendas of a dozen parish councils and you will see that much more time is allocated to painting the school auditorium than to how we should be advancing the message of Jesus in this neighborhood in this month. The challenge is awesome but sometimes not really heard.

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The Parish Bulletin Vs. The New York Times

By , January 29, 2014 5:31 am

I regret to say that most parish bulletins are deadly dull. For the most part, there is nothing in them except cold statements of dates and times. The easiest way to put one out is to use a commercial company that will let you have an 8 ½X11 sheet when folded that have permanent schedules, Masses, baptisms, etc. on the front and commercial ads are on the back. It leaves only one side of an 8 ½ sheet of paper to describe and announce the limited activities of the upcoming week. This means that there is no room to laugh or complain about the limited activities of the upcoming week. That means that there is no room to laugh or complain about the activities of the past week and last week is still very much a part of the life of the parish.

Happily, there are parishes where someone has the information and the responsibility to produce a very readable document that can be fun and educational. I think especially of Monsignor Richard Shirley, a pastor in Corpus Christi, who every week wrote a one page report on what he had done the preceding seven days and how he was braced for the coming week. He has the wonderful gift of humor and nobody would miss that story. In my opinion, the parish bulletin is a reflection of the parish itself. If the parish is dull, the bulletin is dull. I think that is a measurable pastoral error because in some ways the bulletin outlasts the New York Times.

The Times is out in the recycling bin within a matter of hours and the bulletin will be attached with a little magnet to the front of the refrigerator until Saturday. An example of where we fail in the proper use of the bulletin is in the area of special collections. A dull bulletin merely announces the name of the collection and tells us that they will be taken up on the following Sunday. Very few of them tell of the importance of these collections.

“Not another second collection!” growls the disinterested pastor. If such a pastor exists in fact, he is a man who really has a very limited understanding of how the Church operates.

Special collections are the vehicle or the instrument that the Church uses to provide lay people with an opportunity to participate in the work of the Church, not just in their own parish but at the diocesan, national and international levels as well. The Austin Diocese has 12 special collections and they break down almost evenly into special needs within the Diocese that cannot be resolved by individual parishes, needs of the Church in the United States and the needs of the Church Universal. Our people are wonderfully intelligent and they know that just that one check in the parish envelope doesn’t fulfill all of their responsibilities to building the Kingdom. We all work together to educate our priests. We all work together to provide at least some support to our colleges. We come together to support our home missions and our international missions. We come together to support the needs of the Universal Church centered in Rome.

If parishes would do a better job in giving all of us an understanding of the multiple levels of responsibility, the results in those special collections would be fantastic. When we look at the total of these collections sometimes it looks impressive but when they are measured in terms of the numbers of Catholics within a diocese, whether it be the Archdiocese of New York or the Diocese of Lubbock, it turns out that the average breaks down to about 25¢ per Catholic. Not a reflection of mature responsibility.

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Your Parish – It’s A Great Story – Let’s Don’t Lose It!

By , July 15, 2013 4:58 am

Ever since I was a young priest I have had an avid interest in Church history. I am not a scholar, certainly not a historian, but I have learned a great deal of history of the Universal Church, an exciting story that mirrors reality of the struggles that the Church has gone through for 2,000 years, struggles that were often marked by victory and triumphant progress and, at other time, by disgraceful failure and an inability to effectively present the message of Christ correctly.

When I became the Bishop of Austin I was thrilled to find that other people shared my interests and Holy Cross priests at St. Edward’s and Sister Dolores Kasner, OP, a dedicated Dominican historian, had pulled together something that was unique in the whole United States, an archival deposit for the whole State of Texas. Since Texas has such an interesting history flowing from its Spanish roots, the Archives are really a phenomenal blessing to the Church in the whole state and especially to the Diocese of Austin where they are located.

Today I want to congratulate the Diocese of Fort Worth whose archivist has been on the job for two years and has done a wonderful job of pulling together the story of the Church in Fort Worth. Fort Worth is still a fairly young diocese having only been established in 1969 but its history doesn’t really begin there. It goes all the way back to 1836 when Texas won its independence from the Republic of Mexico. It then goes more than 200 years earlier since Fort Worth’s story is also rooted in the heroic history of faith which was deposited in Texas by Spanish missionaries. That faith was strong then and is even stronger today.
The Vatican keeps wonderful records. You can go in and ask to see correspondence between the Archbishop of Hamburg in 845 and the man who was pope at that time. It is all there!

I am glad to see that the modern dioceses of the United States are almost all doing a good job as far as historical records are concerned.

So historically speaking we are doing fairly well world-wide and at the diocesan level. Regretfully, it is at the parish level that our histories break down. There are many reasons for this. One is that pastors come and go and have varying interests, many parishes have virtually no organized way of maintaining their history. There are a few that are beginning to do that and I hope that diocesan archivists, such as Kay Fialho, and Susan Eason, Director of the Texas Catholic Archives, will come together to lead the way to develop good histories for all the parishes of the state.

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Contraction – Contraction

By , October 17, 2012 4:12 am

Last week, I was saddened to see that the Archdiocese of Liverpool in England was commissioning a large number of deacons to undertake the responsibility of witnessing marriages throughout that large archdiocese. The primary reason given for this adaptation was the fact of the continuing declining number of priests and the need to have their workload lightened. That is a good reason and it is one of the reasons that the Church was able to reactivate the diaconate after the Second Vatican Council, but is it not a reflection of a deeper problem?

Now discouraging news from the Archdiocese of Vienna, Austria. The Cardinal held a press conference in late September in which he announced a startling restructuring of parish life in this enormous archdiocese. For the next ten years, he will reduce the 660 parishes down to 150. Once again, the main reasons given for these measures was the increasing shortage of priests and the steady decline in the number of Catholics, especially those who regularly attended Mass and were involved in their local parishes. The program the Archbishop is introducing is far more complex than I can mention here, but think about the basic reality; 650 parishes cut back to 150 in one jurisdiction. Once again, the overriding issue is the shortage of priests. Is this a real solution? Is cutting back hundreds of small faith communities into enormous “mega-churches” really going to solve the basic problem?

My prayers are with the Archbishop. I suggest that we all pray for him and beleaguered shepherds across Europe and North America.

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