Saturday, February 16, 2008

"Church shopping" because of our broken parish?

I read an article from America magazine called "Our Broken Parish" (by "A Parishioner", Feb. 11, 2008). In it the author states:
In big cities Catholics can parish-shop, looking for a Catholic community that is a good fit for them. Living in a small town, however, can be a difficult proposition for a Catholic. In our town, newcomers can church-shop among the Christian houses of worship, of which there are many. But Catholics have only one choice: our parish. When my husband and I moved here over 20 years ago, that fact made us a bit nervous. We had come from a metropolitan area, where there was a Catholic church every few miles and where we parish-shopped. When we really liked the homilies of a priest who worked at the parish in the next suburb over, we got permission to switch our affiliation to that parish, which was a 10-minute drive rather than a two-minute drive from our house. In our new small-town life, the next closest Catholic parish was 50 miles away....we are now contemplating making that 50-mile-each-way weekly commute to another parish.

Why? Our parish has become for us a place of anger and artifice, of division and dysfunction.... The origin of our crisis may be obvious by now: we have a new pastor. The new pastor has brought new priorities with which we do not agree. He also believes that the parishioners are the sheep and he is the shepherd, which translates to: My way or the highway. He enjoys all the power, without the intuition or skill of leadership....
This whole notion of "parish shopping" is rather strange to me. I see the parish as the extended family God has given to me. Searching for another "parish" family seems as bizarre to me as searching for another mother. If I find the mother I have to be rather difficult to live with, can I just go "mother shopping?"

We all have crazy uncles in our families which we would just as soon hide in the attic and never relate with because of the suffering that it may bring. However, God gave us the good uncles as well as the crazy ones so that we may love them both. How easy it would be to only love the lovable? However, is that really a cross worth bearing, loving only the lovable? Or is there something more difficult planned for us in this life, perhaps something as difficult as loving someone who we think is a "bad pastor?"

Perhaps the pastor is incompetent. If so, we are called to manifest our opinion for the good of the Church (cf. Lumen Gentium, no. 37), but to do so charitably. On the other hand, perhaps those being pastored are stubbornly opposed to a different leadership style, not liking the new personality thrust into their midst as a result of the mind and will of the Bishop who appointed him.

Lousy pastors deserve obedience just as much as good pastors--maybe even more so. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the only reason we can licitly disobey our pastor is when he commands something contrary to higher authority, or when he command something outside his scope of authority. Excepting these two reasons, we are called to give "fraternal correction" while always submitting to our lawful superiors. This may seem strange to a "church shopping" mentality, but it is Catholic ecclesiology nonetheless.

The pastor may certainly be "off course," objectively speaking, as the "captain" of the Ark of Salvation that is the local parish. However, is it my competence to steer the ship better than he? I don't think so. It is likely that the captain has a better grasp than I as to where he is taking us, and it may only seem to me to be off course, when in truth, it's exactly where the Holy Spirit is telling him to go. I'm of the same mind as St. Catherine of Sienna and will leave it to God to do the course corrections. I humbly accept my place among the governed within the Church, not among those that govern.

And when at times, I get a big 'ole chip on my shoulder, and I think I know better than my pastor or deacon, or my bishop or pope, I'm reminded of Heb 13:17, which states: "Obey your prelates, and be subject to them. For they watch as being to render an account of your souls; that they may do this with joy, and not with grief. For this is not expedient for you."

The article from America magazine did nothing but remind me of the following, written by Thomas a' Kempis in his famous text, The Imitation of Christ:


IT IS a very great thing to obey, to live under a superior and not to be one's own master, for it is much safer to be subject than it is to command. Many live in obedience more from necessity than from love. Such become discontented and dejected on the slightest pretext; they will never gain peace of mind unless they subject themselves wholeheartedly for the love of God.

Go where you may, you will find no rest except in humble obedience to the rule of authority. Dreams of happiness expected from change and different places have deceived many.

Everyone, it is true, wishes to do as he pleases and is attracted to those who agree with him. But if God be among us, we must at times give up our opinions for the blessings of peace.

Furthermore, who is so wise that he can have full knowledge of everything? Do not trust too much in your own opinions, but be willing to listen to those of others. If, though your own be good, you accept another's opinion for love of God, you will gain much more merit; for I have often heard that it is safer to listen to advice and take it than to give it. It may happen, too, that while one's own opinion may be good, refusal to agree with others when reason and occasion demand it, is a sign of pride and obstinacy."


God bless,