As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Good Priests and Being Filled

I'm not sure what it's like in your diocese, but in ours it's not uncommon to hear tales of gloom and doom over the uninspired state (for lack of better words) of its clergy.  To be fair when I say this, I don't mean that everyone is that way - we have a number of priests who are indeed living very faith-filled lives, and whose liturgies and homilies reveal this.  But the general impression has been that these priests are few and far between.

Over the past few months the Lord has really been showing me that this viewpoint is simply not true, and that speaking this way or engaging in "doom and gloom" really does nothing but keep it alive in our hearts, so that we never get out of this kind of sense that things are just so much worse here than anywhere else.  I can't tell you how many times recently I've been to Mass at a number of different churches here when I've said, "this is a really good priest."  So many that I've come to see, pleasantly, that we have not just a few but in fact many good priests here.  God does not leave us orphans, He is taking care of us.  This is good news!

So what is the problem then?  I know that not all of our priests are perfect (just as none of us are) but when I look at my own life and what God has been showing me recently - that many more of them are doing things right - I have to ask, why is it so easy for me to sink into despair over our poor little diocese?  And I think the root of it lies in a desire to be fed.  Very often I've felt (and even said) that we are spiritually starving as a diocese.  I think a lot of this comes from the fact that we are a small province that borders much larger ones, so whenever we visit a parish say in Halifax, or Ontario, or Qu├ębec, and we find ourselves at a Mass with a really dynamic priest and an active parish life we think, "Gee, why aren't there there any parishes like this at home?"  Too often the answer to that question brings us down hard on priests and maybe sometimes that's justified.  But I have a feeling that far more often much more of the blame than I care to admit falls on my own shoulders, and those of the other parishioners.

There are two ways for us to be fed - first physically, which happens at every single Mass that takes place in our city.  Regardless of the priest's personality, how holy we think he is, whether he is dynamic or boring - every time he says the words of the consecration he brings Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity, to us.  Through our priests, Jesus comes to us and feeds us - how can we still be starving?

I think it's because we also desire to be spiritually fed, and that's not a bad things.  The problem is, I think, that we start comparing our diocese to much larger ones, who have many more resources and a much larger cross section of people to draw from to make their parish life more dynamic.  I'm willing to bet that if we looked at every parish in every diocese, many (including those we think are doing so much better than ours) would not look much different.  I bet we  end up a good parishes when we're visiting other cities because that's where our friends go (because they're good parishes!) but that there are also some that are not well attended, or where the priest is a bit more dull, or maybe even those where the priest is not completely in line with Church teaching (a valid concern).  We can't get a good sense of the state of a dioceses based on one or two visits a year, and we should not be quick to draw comparisons based on that.  We may leave a parish we're visiting feeling spiritually fed (which is a blessed thing!) but that is more  likely due to a number of things - we are away, which brings a fresh perspective to our worship.  We see the community with visitor's eyes, and not the same way as people who live there.

But what if it is true? What if the entire parish culture is different in one diocese than another, and that causes us to feel like we're missing out, like we want more?  This to me sounds like a family.  And just as within a family there are different personalities, so too I think different geographical areas will have different ways of living parish life - based not only on the priest who serves but the people he serves.  And here, friends, is where we come in.  Because really there is no need for anyone to be spiritually starving - because the same Jesus who nourishes us physically is also ready and willing to feed us spiritually .  And that doesn't just happen on Sunday at Mass when the liturgy is awesome, and the priest sounds like he should have his own show on EWTN.  It happens when a hungry heart asks and receives.

I attended Mass recently where a visiting priest was concelebrating.  He didn't say anything at all, he was just there.  But the smile and the joy on his face was so ministering to me. It reminded me of a time a few weeks ago when he celebrated mass at our parish, and he was indeed very alive, and I left feeling grateful for his priesthood.  And then I thought of the priest who did serve Mass, and how I always enjoy his Masses too, and I thought, "he's a really good priest too."  Here, in our impoverished city at one Mass we had two good priests in the same place.  Sounds like maybe we're better off than we think.

I remember hearing a bishop speak on this nearly 15 years ago, and his words still convict me to this day. He said, "People come to Mass and they sit there.  They don't sing, they mumble the Mass parts, they drift off during the readings, and then they say, 'Bishop, Mass is boring.  I never get anything out of your homily.'  So I ask them, 'Well then, do you read the readings before you come to prepare your heart?' And they say, 'no.' And I say, 'and do you sing the songs and engage yourself so you will be present and open?' and they say, 'no I don't.' And I ask, 'do you pray with your family and try to grow closer to God through the week?' And they answer, 'no, I don't.' So they're looking to me to do in one hour what they should have been doing all week, and I can't do it.  So I'm boring."

We've been discussing community in our School of Community readings recently, and it's had me reflecting on how much the Lord has been answering my heart's deepest cries for community recently.  As I listened to the sharings and the yearning for a sense of belonging, of people to walk beside and to follow in faith, recognizing them as prayers I've uttered countless times before, I couldn't help but see God's faithfulness in sending me, in this poor little city, so many things that connect me to the community, and to Him.  I've drafted so many posts about this but have never published them because I don't want to sound judgmental of our priests, or of my friends, or other Catholics in the diocese.  The truth is it's a judgement of myself, and how God continues to show me that I AM connected to a community of believers, that I can be spiritually fed.

It happens when I go to daily Mass and see the same group of people gathering faithfully, who know me by name.

It happens when I visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in an empty church, and realize that the parish priest has brought Him here for me to visit, to talk to, pour my heart out to, and be fed.

It happens when we say family rosary and our children ask questions about who Jesus is, how we know He's real, and why we believe in Him.

It happens when we see a priest full of joy.

And it happens when we walk up to communion to receive Jesus from a tired, overworked and maybe even cynical old priest, who is spent from years of serving in an uninspired diocese with many demands and few resources.

Have you ever considered, friends, that maybe our priests have the same conversations about us?  That when they visit neighboring dioceses and the parishioners are alive, helpful, say all the parts of the Mass like they want to be there, like the Sunday Eucharist is the source and summit of a climb they are engaged in the entire week before they get there, that maybe they ask themselves, "Why are my parishes so dead?"

We all play a roll in feeding each other, and we all have the same food available to us - to consume and to share.  If we spend less time wondering who is going to feed us and more time searching for food, there is a good chance everyone will be better fed. Like the loaves and the fish many will be fed with little, but first we need to say yes. We are all hungry. Let's pick up our baskets, gather the food, and trust God to perform a miracle.

We are hungry, and God does not leave us orphaned.  We have many good priests here, and for that I am eternally grateful. Please remember to pray from them every day.

Litany for Priests

Jesus, meek and humble of heart, 
give all priests Thy spirit of humility; 
Jesus, poor and worn out for souls, 
give all priests Thy spirit of zeal; 
Jesus, full of patience and mercy for sinners, 
give all priests Thy spirit of compassion; 
Jesus, victim for the sins of the world, 
give all priests Thy spirit of sacrifice; 
Jesus, lover of the little and the poor, 
give all priests Thy spirit of charity. 
Mary, Queen of the Clergy, pray for us; 
and obtain for us numerous and holy 
priests and religious. 

1 comment :

  1. This is very good, Natasha! Thank you! We too, are from a small parish, and are struggling to stay afloat. The last four baptisms in our parish have been my husband, and then our own three children (soon to be four!) We are small, and it is not unusual to have less then 20 at our Saturday evening mass (we don't get Sunday mornings, so we drive the kids to the next parish 30 minutes away to attend Catechism with other kids). But, we have always felt warmly welcomed and part of a loving community, so I agree that the people themselves have a lot to do with it.
    By the way, I have been checking in with your blog every now and then, and I just now realized you are Canadian! We are, too. Nice to meet you.
    Keep up the good writing.