Monday, May 16, 2011

Vocations Sunday

I hear that the Priestly Fraternity of St Peter are building thirty new rooms for their seminary at Wigratzbad in Bavaria. Meanwhile we await the news as to what will become of the buildings at Ushaw which is due to close its doors next month.

In this month`s Northern Cross there is a letter from Fr Gary Dickson on the question of priestly identity. I reproduce it here with Father`s permission:

I rely heavily upon laity undertaking Catechesis, Baptism Preparation, Accounts, Health & Safety, Pastoral Planning via the Pastoral Council etc., and hoped to see Deaneries co-operating by each parish taking responsibility for one such task (presuming the laity engaged were formed in the Catechism rather than theological opinion of dubious merit). Sadly, by forming clergy as coordinators of such lay engagement, we failed to promote a right understanding of presbyters as sacrificing priests who teach, sanctify and govern in the person of Christ and fellow workers with the Order of Bishops as taught by Vatican II’s Presbyterorum Ordinis, and a right understanding of the laity with their authentic, irreplaceable vocation of mission in the world as taught by Vatican II’s Apostolicam Actuositatem. We therefore all but eliminated the splendour of the priesthood as well as the striking apostolic witness of the Legion of Mary in their door-to-door evangelisation and the inspiring active charity of SVP. These failed to attract because they were not ‘power-sharing’. Now, and unsurprisingly, seminaries are closing –after all, why spend one’s life as a celibate facilitator (priest) when one can be married and a community (lay) ‘leader’?

Of particular concern is the idea that we must retain parishes without a resident priest as ‘Eucharistic communities’ by promoting lay-led Services of the Word with Distribution of Holy Communion. This implies the community is more important than the Eucharistic Action, yet the community springs from that Action as the source and summit of all that we are, so it is essential to be part of that Action rather than simply hear the word and receive Holy Communion –which does not, in fact, fulfil our Sunday Obligation. Perhaps we need to amalgamate parishes to help re-dignify the lay and priestly vocations –and restore the Mass to central importance.

Fr G Dickson

It does bother me that we are told as priests that we should be delegating all we can to lay people. It seems to deny the priest a pastoral role except as a sacrament machine. And what does the priest do when he has delegated all responsibility for the pastoral and financial life of the parish to committees? Parish councils occasionally pop up who have the idea that they have an executive role whereas it is very clear in the church`s law a parish council exists to advise the priest.


Seeker said...

Father, you would delegate a task, but never the responsibility. Without delegation you would never achieve all you need to, it is a very good thing to harness the potential of a parish in the skills and talents of it's parishioners. Howver, a delegated task is to be answered for, to be reported upon and its success or not noted and logged for future reference. At all times the PP is in charge. It's rather like the MD of a company, you need to delegate but the leadership and responsibility is his at all times. I would probably add that I would never delegate to a committee, always to an individual (who may be head of a committee) since accountability must always go along with delegation.

Fr Michael Brown said...

Seeker maybe I`ve not expressed it clearly but the problem I find is sometimes laity who think they are in charge and seek to pursue their own agenda independent of the priest. I do delegate tasks quite happily but it is this idea that I should necessarily delegate everything I can and that this is a right of the laity to run things as they want with the priest tagging along behind that I`m not so keen on.

1569 Rising said...

I would agree with Seeker who seems to have a jaundiced view of the effectiveness oc committees. Having had many years experience of trying to get committees to actually do anything - in my case politically - I long ago reached the conclusion that they were devices for procrastrination and "back burner" actions.

Frs Dickson and Brown bring their own experiences to bear on the discussion, and many of us would, of course, agree with them. However, it has to be said that some (many?) priests are more than happy to allow Mrs Cannybody to run everything, including liturgy. We have seen the result all over the Diocese, to the great detriment of the Church.

Seeker said...

With your clarification Father, I would describe the problem more as one of managing difficult people rather than of delegation itself. I can think of a few examples myself, including one at diocesan level. Handling such cases taxes the best leaders.

1569 Rising - committees can be extremely useful, but again they have to be handled properly. I've frequently been grateful to focused sub-committes who can take on a task and quickly produce results. Again it's a combination of the type of people involved and the managing of those people. These are skills which I suspect are rarely trained for in the clergy, but really should be. We have some extremely capable leaders in the priesthood, but we need to help them with the right tools too.

Fr Michael Brown said...

Seeker, I think it is more than a case of difficult people.There is definitely a strand of thought which makes the priest marginal which is picked up sometimes in good faith by Catholics and which says the priest should have little influence in the life of the parish. All I ask is that we use such documents as the Congregation of Clergy`s 2002 document on the Priest, Pastor and Leader of the Parish Community as a frame of reference but I`ve never heard it mentioned at any meeting I`ve been to.

Seeker said...

Frankly Father, I'm astonished; I can't see how anyone can even consider such a position. How would they then regard the position of a Bishop with regard to his Diocese? No wonder I could not grasp your point, I just find that incomprehensible. I suggest hitting them over the head with the document (and not necessarily metaphorically!)