Posts tagged: responsibility

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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Vatican II Unveiled Again

By , January 27, 2014 4:04 am

I was only 35 years old when Vatican II came to an end. That four year meeting of the world’s bishops generated extraordinary hope, optimism and confidence for the renewal of the Church. In the course of those years, the world’s 2,500 bishops looked at almost every aspect of the Church’s structure, called for deeper thought and came up with many directives as to how this or that aspect of the Church could be more effective in fulfilling its mission. There were hundreds of issues involved and thousands of gentle directives, but there was one underlying theme. Advancing the message of Jesus Christ was the responsibility of every baptized person and every confirmed person was encouraged to find a way to make his or her own contribution.

Responsibility was to be shared by all the bishops of the world and every nation was directed to establish a working conference of its bishops, and the conferences were to work closely with the Bishop of Rome. It was a new idea. Not everything was worked out in detail but there was no doubt that it was a movement towards a real collegial church and the bishops of the world would share in a meaningful and effective way with leadership and decisiveness in the Universal Church.

One of the new entities brought into existence was the World Synod drawing bishops from across the world to meet every four years on major issues faced by the Universal Church and work with the Bishop of Rome to implement new approaches. It was a good idea but it was not allowed to work itself out. The Holy Father chose the topics. He also chose many of the bishops who were to attend, edited the final document and released what he chose to release of materials developed!

I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when I saw last month that Pope Francis expressed the hope that the collegial spirit of the council would now be fully realized and he acknowledged that the “juridical status” and genuine “doctrinal authority” of episcopal conferences “has not been sufficiently elaborated.” In other words, my friends, real episcopal conferences, the hope and dream of the council, are now going to be developed. This is one of the many reasons for the hope and optimism present in the Church today. Thanks be to God.

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It Is A Better World

By , December 3, 2013 5:11 am

While the spirit of thankfulness flowing from our celebration of Thanksgiving Day is still in the air (and of course it always should be there), I would like to mention one that doesn’t sound very warm and cuddly but is an issue of tremendous importance. I am referring to international aid that flows across boundaries from country to country when terrible tragedies occur. The most recent, of course, is the monster typhoon that flowed across the central Philippines and went on to work havoc in Vietnam. Tens of thousands of citizens were suddenly deprived of everything – food, clothing, shelter and, worse of all short-term, water.

The response around the world was wonderful and virtually every country attempted to help, some more quickly than others. However, within three days you began to hear sharp complaints about the slowness of the aid efforts. That is a great compliment to modern governments and improving human solidarity. The storm hits on day one and by day 3, 4 or 5 the most needed supplies are beginning to arrive, admittedly not everywhere and not adequately, but just think about it. The nations have a sense of responsibility to each other and are able to move vast quantities of tonnage across the Pacific Ocean or wherever. We should all be thankful for this modern development.

Stop for a minute and consider the fact that storms, earthquakes, forest fires, plagues and every other conceivable disaster have been going on since the dawn of time. Until recent times everyone was just on their own. We are all conscious of our everyday problems but we ought to take pride and joy in this modern accomplishment.
Onward through the fog. And don’t forget Haiti.

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When Religious Formation is Absent

By , May 25, 2012 5:08 am

Have you noticed that there is a widespread view that the country is “on the wrong track.” Political candidates, TV commentators, newspaper pundits and preachers in various churches seem to be of a common mind on that. The Secret Service scandal, Walmart’s bribery in Mexico and beyond, “flash mobs” in department stores, the Navy captain providing pornographic movies to his crew, an $800,000 weekend meeting of the General Service Administration, an agency that is supposed to shepherd our financial resources, violation of corpses in Afghanistan, etc., etc., etc. None of these problems are new; none of them particularly original for this period. What is different is that these very discouraging modes of operation are more easily tolerated than was ever the case in the past. Most of us are saddened by it, most of us regret these activities but most of us feel that there is little that we can do about it. Is that the case?

Our culture, if you can call it that, is the first one in human history that has denied itself the right to pass on responsibility to the next generation its own set of values.

Not only does that lack of religious values add to the criminal activity I mentioned above, but it is one of the underlying causes of so many other agonizing human problems from which we are suffering in this country. Shattered marriages, all too many immature, irresponsible adults, alcoholism and drug addiction, lack of commitment to education and a host of other tragic let downs that mark our society, our families and our individual lives.

Why not try something new? Religious formation. Some of the churches have sizable school systems and most churches have Sunday school, but they tend to concentrate on the religious teachings of that particular church. The U.S. Supreme Court continues to feel that any religious formation in the public school system is a violation of the Constitution. What a tragic mistake.

Not only are the American people blocked from using its enormous educational system from transferring moral values in any realistic way, but the court has actually worked against outside groups, such as churches and synagogues to reach its students. Several decades ago, serious efforts were made in areas such as “released time” and other efforts to provide religious instruction to public school students, but it was always rejected by the Court. The vast majority of American people hold that religious values are extraordinarily important and they ought to be imported to each new generation as effectively as possible. Can anybody imagine teaching math and science one hour a week after school? If only half our students attended those voluntary classes, can you imagine the destructive effects on their education? Well, that is what we are doing with religious values and we are paying for it.

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Jesus Started Young

By , March 23, 2012 4:36 am

Never in its 2,000 history have Catholic leaders in the Church had so much information at their fingertips about the condition of the Church in this part of the country, in that economic strata, in that age group, in that nationality. One aspect of the modern world is we do have statistics on everything and for the most part that is very good. However, statistics can also be frightening! That is especially true if these numbers unmask serious problems within the Church that in the past we have had a tendency to ignore.

One of those problems is the massive defection of people from the Catholic Church in the United States and in Western Europe over the last half century. There are many reasons for it, but I am not sure that our leaders are really grappling with those reasons. Among those departed, a very high percentage are today’s young people. Since we are such a big Church, it is hard to see at first glance how many have left us. Our churches in most parts of the country continue to be full. New parishes are being built every year, especially in the Southwest and West. But yet, departing, they are.

The loss of young people is both dramatic and tragic. At 82 years old, I am not in any position to tell people how to effectively reach this new generation, how to involve them, to motivate them, to instill in them a sense of pride in this awesome reality which is the Catholic Church. I do know one thing. They have to be much more involved than they are today.

It is good that we have youth organizations and youth activity but most of them are, in a sense, set aside. They are not in the main structure and flow of the life of the Church. I think that should be changed as quickly as possible. Our young people need to be given real responsibility in the life of the Church, and be made to feel that their views and ideas are listened to seriously and when documented with good reason acted upon.

Jesus started his public life at an age that, in the United States, he would have been blocked from running for the presidency. But start his public life, he did.

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