NaBloPoMo (11/2016) – Day 17: How to make a Catholic priest come close to tears

The pastor at my church called a meeting of all the Liturgical Ministers this evening. Since I am a Liturgical Minister, I went to the meeting.

I could have done without it, to be honest.

The first 30 minutes was spent going over logistics – put the Gospel book higher on the altar; get to the ambo quickly when it’s time to do your readings; bow when  you do this, but not when  you do that; etc., etc., etc. Basically, we were going over blocking, making sure all of the actors were hitting their marks. Because, after all, the Catholic Mass is nothing if not theatrical.

But then we spent another 30 minutes or so listening to all of the ways we were lacking as Liturgical Ministers. Now, he didn’t use those words, but that’s exactly what we were all hearing. I could feel the tension building up within the group. Then he started talking about Renew My Church – a new program in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Basically, the Archbishop is looking at all of the churches in the archdiocese and there will be a long-term plan put in place based on the research. This could include consolidating parishes, which would mean some parishes would close. But it’s all up in the air. No one knows what is happening, really.

The tension thickened.

Finally, the former principal of the school spoke up. When she started with, “I don’t mean any disrespect, but…” I knew that this meeting had just taken an interesting turn.

She continued to say, in essence, that she’s heard from some of the people who have left our church. They can’t handle the “gloom and doom” anymore. You see, we hear about this stuff nearly every Sunday during the homily. Now, my understanding is that the purpose of the homily is to provide a spiritual connection. What do the readings and gospel for the week mean? Why were these particular readings grouped together for this church service? How do the teachings in the scripture relate to our lives?  What is our “take-away” for the week? Instead, we’ve been hearing about Renew My Church and the ways in which we all need to be better parishioners. Not homilies that provides us with spiritual guidance.

During this meeting, we were told that we’re Liturgical Ministers not just for the mass we’re scheduled for, but for the entire parish. That because we don’t go to a bible study or give to our St. Vincent de Paul fund or show up at social events, we’re not fully giving to our ministries. I’m pretty sure that my “resting bitch face” was making the pastor uncomfortable. The others were seated in the pews in front of me, so I couldn’t really see other faces. Except for the ex-principal who was sitting in the row next to me. She was looking down a lot. I could see her twitching. So, when she spoke up, I knew it was because she just couldn’t hold it in any longer.

As she spoke, I saw a lot of nodding heads. Of course, this opened it up for the rest of us. Including me.

I agreed with the ex-principal and added to it. I expressed my concern about the homilies – that I wasn’t getting the connection to the scripture that so many of us long for. And while I may not be a person who puts money in the St. Vincent de Paul collection box, I am a person who brings donations to the St. Vincent de Paul clothing bin in the back of the school. And while I’m sure he’d love to see more people from our families (“You coming to church is great, but you need to bring your families with you on Sunday.”), there’s got to be a realization that we don’t all have those families to bring. Because, guess what?  I’M IT! The names of my mother and grandmother are written in the parish “Book of the Dead.” My aunt and my cousins all have their own parishes and take their own families.

Okay, I may not go to bible study. I may not talk with the kids about scripture (because, well, they attend a Catholic school and there are nuns and a priest and teachers who are better suited for that). But I’m out in the world, doing my best to put a more tolerant, loving face on the Catholic Church. I said, “honestly, I feel like I’m being reprimanded and may face detention.” Others agreed.

I told the group that I am a Recovering Recovering Catholic. That I’d left the church for a number of years. But Father Peter (may he rest in peace), brought me back. Because he showed me that it’s about my Faith – not about the (C)hurch.

I actually said the following:  “I’m saying this in a church, so I’m probably going to be condemned. But I’m here because of my Faith, because of my personal relationship with God and Jesus. That’s what it’s about to me. I believe in the Catholic Faith – not the Catholic (C)hurch. I do not believe in the political organization that is the (C)hurch. And you can try until you are blue in the face, but you will never convince me that the (C)hurch and the Faith are the same thing. The (C)hurch is a political body. It’s a business. And THAT has nothing to do with Faith or scriptures.”

Needless to say, the pastor looked a little stunned. I was relieved, however, to see others nodding in agreement and hear them say, “You won’t be condemned.”

Other people chimed in as well, agreeing with things that had been said, adding their own points of view. Basically, we let him know that he was “preaching to the choir” because we were the ones that showed up and took our ministries seriously. It goes without saying (and, yet, I’m saying it) that the pastor got quite the earful.

By the end of the meeting, the pastor took up the reins again and apologized to us – telling us that his intention was not to imply that we weren’t doing well or were lacking. He was nearly in tears. I don’t know if anyone from our parish had ever spoken honestly to him before. And, yes, I did feel sorry that it went down that way. But, I really think it was needed.

Hopefully, we’ll see some things reflected in our future masses.

2 thoughts on “NaBloPoMo (11/2016) – Day 17: How to make a Catholic priest come close to tears

  1. Very interesting blog, Carleen. I really liked the way you separated church from faith. My second novel, Devoted, which is coming out in the spring is about a woman who is torn between her faith and her sexuality. Separation of faith and church is one of the the issues she deals with (though less eloquently than you have here.)

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  2. Great post. My personal belief is that our faith is always separate from the (c)hurch (my church uses a small c) and yet tied to a community of faith. I loved what you had to say and I hope your Pastor did, too. Sometimes it is hard to give clergy feedback but most of the time, I have found they are glad to get it as people don’t give them enough. Knowing the difference between your Faith and your (C)hurch is a great deal more than some people ever know and a great gift to give to your faith, in my opinion. Thanks for sharing this with us.

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