Wednesday, 26 September 2007
How can there be a revival in parish visiting ?
After my last posting I received this comment from 'pp':
You seem to have a thing about pastoral visiting. Apart from taking Holy Communion to the sick and housebound etc., in two different parishes over 15 years I've tried several times to systematically visit my parishioners . After a few weeks of mostly fruitless knocking on doors I have given up in frustration. I've offered to visit people and bless their homes - only 5 asked for it. Even my requests to visit to prepare the way for baptisms, funerals etc. are being increasingly shunned.What do you advise?
Well ? I understand your frustration pp.
I've been in the same boat on more than few instances in my various times as a pastoral assistant - weeks on end being drenched through with leaking shoes and aching limbs ; knocking on doors and receiving little reward from any of it - doors slammed in face or worse being told to get lost with a smile or a future promise , kids being told in stage whispers by their parents to tell me they're not in, lectures from ignoramuses about how evil catholicism is, or how defunct, or hypocritical or how rich and corrupt or how perverted... the only doors that are ever opened were usually amongst those whom the church has abandoned - the elderly or housebound who aren't on the 'extraordinary ministers' communion list' - their prayer cards and rosaries and family portraits are in prominent places - they haven't two brass ha'pennies to rub together but they haven't abandoned the church ; yet the physical local church has abandoned them....these holy individuals had to rely on the company of Our lady and the Saints [and Richard Whiteley/Carol Vorderman, Bet lynch and Vera Duckworth and that nice weatherman !!]
I was generally pitied by the Parish Priest ; who usually tried to keep my spirits up with 'you're doing a grand job - things will get better ' [they never did] - but one curate in particular made my life a living nightmare by ridiculing,humiliating and demeaning me for my lack of any success [implying it was my sheer ineptitude, laziness and abject incompetence in every regard that led to it [and letting everyone who'd listen [including the bishop - and he rubbed my failure in the vocations director's face at every opportunity !] know how crap I was]...
The ethos of parish visiting has vanished from the system and will need massive assistance from the top in many ways - One of the best ways is a crack squad of special forces !! the jehovah's witnesses and mormons do it - the jesus army does it - why do we run away from it ?
The Redemptorists used to exert a lot of time and energy revitalising parishes with their parish missions - but sadly now they're making too much money through their inane , uninformative and frankly banal pamphlets and books - so have given up on their main corporal and spiritual works of mercy...The diocesan administration doesn't give two hoots - the deanery is pretty useless as an entity these days...so invariably the priest is left to sink or swim on their own....
Parishes need to become social entities - and this is going to be a long and arduous process - but the major source of this rejuvenation HAS to be from the priest himself - there has to be more interaction - an open door policy - communal buildings for all ages - and slowly, steadily, sensibly the formation of a community... if it was up to me I would have a church hall open 24/7 - for the old folks to gather and chat /watch tv/play cards and board games drink tea and have snacks - for the mums and toddlers to drop in - for the kids to come after school - the bored teens to meet in the evenings - even for the adults to drop in for coffee after chucking out time at the pub - open all night so that anyone who felt lonely could drop in for a coffee , read a book or watch some tv or chat with another human being rather than feeling trapped by four walls at home...sounds crazy and idealistic doesn't it ? Nevertheless that's what I believe a Church hall should be....but you can start in little ways.
But how can a priest do anything about a non-responsive parish ? Well for a start the priest has to become aware of himself and both his limitations in , and requirements for, survival in the priesthood. If a priest knows who he is and what he is about he is just about capable of anything. The history of the church reveals this...[why do you think the first thing the progressive neo-protestantising modernist liberals did to catechesis was to excise the whole history of the saints from our heritage ? because their view of the church and its people was highly contrary to the way the saints lived their lives in and for the church]
The problem is two-fold and both are sourced in priestly formation - The priest is simply incapable and ill-equipped to perform the duties expected of him - because the whole notion of priesthood has been twisted out of all coherent shape...
The seminary system deliberately propagates the ethos of 'pastoral ministry' whereby the priest is no longer a 'fatherly shepherd' but a pseudo social worker/counsellor - there is no space in this ideological perspective for a priest 'living among' his parishioners - No! rather the priest has to 'live for' them - it's a rather nasty distortion and perversion of the notion of priestly sacrifice....the priest is virtually forbidden and precluded from ever considering himself belonging in a community.
Lacordaire said a priest had to be a member of every family but belong to none...the progressive liberal 'marxised' view of priesthood denies this absolute necessity for cordial conviviality from the priest - rather than sharing and easing the burdens of the parish, interacting with them on every level and loving/understanding/LIVING WITH them - the priest is expected to become aloof and non-interactive - to 'deal' with clients and their difficulties/issues/social problems - almost like the way a counsellor/psychiatrist doesn't socially interact with their clients. Like every leader with the burden of responsibility - it must be lonely at the top !!
Secondly comes the intellectual perspective and distortion of the priesthood on a personal level - the crisis of identity. We're all aware of the massive 'intellectual' onslaught on the notion of presbyteral ministry - everyone is the same - nobody is different - we're all just as good and capable and talented as each other ; and "I have a right to be treated in exactly the same way as others; and do exactly what everyone else does"! It's totalitarian and hegelian in outlook - difference is the enemy of conformity and must be dialecticised away - a priest is expected to spend all his time reciting the mental mantra of 'equanimity' - this takes two forms of subtle difference :
a] 'I'm just the same as everyone else....'
b] 'I'm just as good as everyone else'
Now there are real psychological problems with this:
a] The seminarian is usually a devout catholic - in this sensibility there are two aspects :
[i] they are more aware of their sinful character
[ii] they do not adhere to the sinful ideologies of secularism that the majority revel in.
[this gives a massive tension and interior contradiction of the person feeling on the one hand much worse and on the other much better than the average human being]
b] the seminarian is not treated in the same way as everyone else. Yet again there is the dichotomy of the exclusivity of the priesthood 'having a special unique character' and this affords reactions from others - some of respect due to their position , others of abject hostility and antagonism because of their unusual position and in others either an avidity or a reticence to interact because of their role - no matter what way this comes across a seminarian is never treated 'just like everyone else'.
c] This equanimity mantra is narcissistically charged with the sin of spiritual pride in its two forms :
[i] presumption - I'm the same as everyone else but I'm not really - I'm better, I have superiority and spiritual extraordinary powers that others do not - I have authority and greater responsibility - I am so so so much better - I give up sex for this, I have to live in virtual poverty spending al my time on these people - I am with people when they are at their lowest - i comfort the mourning - I hear their secret inner lives in the confessional -I speak from the pulpit and people have to listen to me - I am superior to these people.
[ii] Despair - I don't really live a life - I don't have to work for a living, I don't have the problems/struggles of family life - I don't have a life partner - how can I even be considered a real man as I'm a sexless inexperienced hollow shell of a man - I don't have real responsibilities - when I say I'm just as good as these people I know it's not really true - they have to live their lives in the outside world - I don't. When I encounter the bereaved or distressed I am an outsider - a looker on - I never really live life - these people do - I'm less than they are....I envy them - I want to have what they have - kids to love and care for , a partner to hold and share every sexual and social intimacy, a job where I have to earn my living -deserve what I get , I want mates to eat and drink and share my life with - that's real living - my life is lifeless...
See how this psychological outlook can lead to all manner of problems ? I've repeated them in earlier postings but when it comes to being a capable , efficacious priest this outlook is deadly !
another side-effect of it is the way it contaminates every other aspect of the priest - but none moreso than within his prayer life - they come together in a toxic mix to infect the fundamental aspects of everything the priest believes in - his catholicism - and his belief in/relationship with the church and all it teaches...
It can take many forms - it could begin with compromises on the moral teachings - nothing wrong with a bit of rubber ,why shouldn't a divorcee remarry if her first husband was a bastard , why should that gay parishioner be deprived of sexual intimacy he's doing nobody any harm ?
Seminary with its specious educational programmes laden with heretical historicist revisionist versions of theology, scripture, morality etc is a hothouse for germinating the seeds of crisis in faith - and it teaches it all so badly in virtual soundbite form that it is very easy to misconstrue the relationships between 'facts' - and the biggest source of loss of faith is not really understanding the article of faith in the first place - A few of the ordained seminarians from my old seminary got together a few years ago - during the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol a lot was revealed - not about their private lives of course - but what they really believed in [now bear in mind some of these priests are in high up catechetical/educational positions in their respective dioceses] - most didn't believe in the assumption or immaculate conception or most of the gospel miracles - some of them no longer believed in the virgin birth or the 'real incarnation' or the existence of the holy spirit or the real presence in the eucharist or the efficacy of the sacraments or the resurrection - and a couple were having severe doubts about the 'actual' interventional existence of God !!!!
You think this is an isolated case ? That maybe the clerics were being a little too dishonestly dismissive of their faith for mere shock value and it was more the alcohol talking than anything else ? possibly ? we can but hope....but we must be aware that there are many priests out there with an identity crisis - they have no idea who they are, what they believe in , what they stand for, and what in the name of all sanity they should be doing about it !!!???
Now you're asking me why I consider parish visiting important - let's make this clear - I don't - It's what it reveals which is important . I know that a priest knowing, understanding and loving his parishioners is absolutely imperative ! I am also aware that a church environment can be highly deceptive...
Sometimes the scruffy couple who put 50p in the plate can be multi-millionaires living in the big mansion, sometimes the family arriving en-masse in their suits and ties and posh frocks putting £20 in the plate might live in a grotty dive in abject poverty - the young couple all sweetness and smiles on the sunday morning , might be the abusive alcoholic or the suicidal manic depressive on the monday morning.... the joking mother with not a care in the world in the front pew might be a nervous wreck at home worried about her teenager kids' lifestyles or her younger kids being bullied or being badly taught , or her dying mother, her father with alzheimer's or the lump in her breast or her husband 'working late in the office 'with the young secretary. The shy people who never say a word by the church door might have wonderful lives , capabilities or talents they wish to share , but their self-effacing reticence could prevent that from ever happening unless the priest personally goes out of his way to directly get to know that individual....get my point ? People need to feel wanted, to feel special, to feel loved. Every innovation the church has come out with recently just seems to concentrate the negligence and neglect and isolation the ordinary parishioner feels...We're always spouting on about how much we care and how we should all love our neighbour...but these days how many of us even know our next door neighbour's name ? let alone talk to them ?
Priests need a life of prayer in order to survive and thrive - for most of them to pray they need to live their life as a long prayer - which requires interacting with their parishioners in order to fulfil their vocation and ministry.
You ask me how ? I say the how is easy enough once enough understand the 'why' ; and are able to support each other in actuating the how ...