There is plenty of blame to go around regarding the state of our contemporary culture as well as the state of the Church. It is easy to point fingers and blame a variety of individuals or political groups for the sin and degradation we see at work in society. We can categorize voting blocks and issue condemnations towards them for the people placed in office because of how that block of people voted. Obviously, we can easily point to many elected officials who have shunned the teachings of Church and consistently vote for legislation which undermines the values to which we hold dear. The same thing can be said for members of the executive and judicial branches of government as well. Does placing blame help us solve the problem?
The somber reality that I took from the public comments was the disdain that some people expressed toward the priests and bishops. Questions such as, "Will there be any good priests willing to come through the priest hole? Why won't they preach from the pulpit about the evils of a particular political party?" On and on the comments flowed one after the other. My heart was heavy for all of the good priests and bishops who minister to their flocks so faithfully.
As in any walk of life, there are priests and bishops who are more effective than others at the work they do. That is simply a reality of life. Members of the clergy each bring their unique gifts into their ministry. Hopefully, these gifts are nurtured and utilized through a life of prayer and humble service to the people in their care. As we all know, sometimes clergy members make bad choices just as anyone else and fall into sin. The last decade has revealed some very grievous sins of a few. However, the comments made after this article were not about those few. It seemed to be a more general critique of the presbyterate and episcopacy at large.
I want to address a few of the issues directly.
1. How much does the average parishioner expect from a 6 to 12 minute homily at a Sunday liturgy?
Do you want every catechetical topic addressed in detail through the Sunday homilies? If so, how do you propose to realistically accomplish that task? Furthermore, if the person preaching goes over 12 minutes in his homily there will likely be complaints about the long-winded preaching. Also, in many churches, there are anywhere from 3 to 6 Masses that need to take place on Sunday. The parking lot needs to be emptied so another group can come in for the next Mass. It may seem like a mundane problem on the surface, but if you have ever attended a parish with limited parking you know what I mean.
2. Does the average parishioner really want the Sunday homily to be a political discourse on a regular basis from week to week?
Politics is a touchy subject in the best of circumstances. Throw it into the pulpit as a mainstay and see where it leads. The Gospel message certainly applies to our daily life in all aspects, including politics. Is it the role of the priest and bishop to preach politics, or is it his role to preach the Gospel and invite the parishioners to apply it to their lives? This would obviously include their politics and voting habits as well.
3. What other opportunities have priests and bishops provided for parishioners to learn about the issues of the culture as well as their faith?
Many parishes provide extra opportunities beyond the Sunday liturgy to learn about the faith and come to a deeper understanding of moral and political issues. Check out the low attendance numbers at the majority of these events and ask yourself who is to blame.
4. Have you noticed any of the good things your priest (or bishop) has done?
I am touched by the pastoral outreach of many of our good and dedicated priests. They come to the hospital quickly when summoned to offer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. They bless us abundantly with their words of forgiveness and encouragement in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They make couples feel like the most important people in the world when they celebrate the Rite of Matrimony bringing the two into one flesh. The Sacraments of Initiation touch the lives of people in extraordinary ways because our priests work with other parish leaders to catechize, plan, and organize these special milestones of life. I can only imagine the number of lives that have been forever impacted because of the presence of a priest in a tragic setting. A priest being present at the Twin Towers on 9/11 makes headlines. A priest being at a car accident scene, Intensive Care Unit at a hospital, or at the bedside in someone's home will most often not make the evening news. However, this pastoral care takes place frequently and changes lives in some profound ways.
5. When was the last time we made an effort to lift up our priests and bishops in a positive way?
Members of the clergy aren't perfect and I realize that some have let us down in pretty dramatic fashion. On the other hand, there are many who are striving to be faithful to their calling and are truly wanting to serve their people with humility and love. That can be a tough task to accomplish when we bombard them with incessant criticism. How does a priest stay happy, healthy, and upbeat if the only thing he ever hears about is what he is doing wrong? When was the last time you prayed intently for your pastor and your bishop?
Finally, I am not dismissing the real needs that should be addressed in our parishes. This comes from the pulpit, in our various councils, in our Catholic schools, in the CCD and Religious Education programs, and through all of the other Church related organizations connected to our parishes. The priest has a huge responsibility to bring all of these entities and initiatives together in servant leadership to effectively build up the Body of Christ. The ministries of preaching, teaching, and healing are much needed in our parish communities. It can certainly be a daunting task.
Thank you to all of our priests and bishops who strive to do these tasks faithfully. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with each of you.