Thursday, April 20, 2006
Parish Revival  

Although I have only been a Catholic for five years, I think that, similar to many other Catholics, my experience of Catholic parish life has been quite mixed. The parish where my wife and I attended RCIA classes was a growing parish that provided many opportunities for people to express and live out their faith. At the heart of the parish was liturgy and devotion. The Sunday masses were well-attended and they were faithful to the rubrics of worship. The parish had for some time, even before we attended, been supporting a perpetual adoration chapel. There was also a very good adult formation session on Sundays. And the midweek RCIA classes we took were not only full of candidates and catechumens, they were also attended by many parishoners who simply came to deepen their understanding of their Catholic faith.

On the other hand, I have also experienced Catholic parish life which is struggling. In one of these parishes, the parishoners attend, but they all seem to be going through the motions in order to meet their Sunday obligation. The life of the parish is centered around social programs and fun activities. No one seems particularly proud to be a Catholic, and you suspect, if questioned, that they would be hard pressed to really explain their faith, let alone express why it is important to believe.

From my experience, the unsurprising driving force behind parish life is the pastor. In the first parish, the pastor was faithful to the teaching of the Church in his homilies, his administering of the sacraments, and his efforts to energize the parishoners. My understanding is that the parish was a success story because when the pastor arrived, the parish was just the opposite of where he left it after 12 years of service. On the other hand, in the other parishes I have experienced, the pastors have not been particularly concerned about being faithful to the doctrines of the Church. Instead of giving the people solid, healthy food, they have fed them fast food homilies on Sundays and virtually starved them during the rest of the week. They have eschewed devotion, and the celebration of the liturgy and the administration of the sacraments have been left open to interpretation at the whim of the priest.

How is it possible to revive a parish? Certainly, change must be based on the priest. Because of John Paul the Great's influence, I suspect that there a number of new priests who are being assigned to parishes which are in tremendous need of a revival. The spirit of these young, enthusiastic priests is willing to make the changes, but where should they begin? Father Peter Grover, Director of St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine in Boston's Back Bay thinks that the answer is to provide means for the parishoners to express their faith. In an article on GodSpy, Harold Fickett speaks with Fr. Grover about his success in reviving two different parishes through his efforts to give the laity voices to express their faith.
Catholics are starving for a deeper spiritual life. The order to which he belongs, The Oblates of the Virgin Mary, is devoted to feeding that desperate hunger. He's seen two parishes, St. Clement, and St. Andrew's in Avenel, New Jersey, revive under his direction. How did it happen? He made it possible for his parishioners to study the Scriptures and talk about their faith.
"We can't just tell people about Christ's life," Fr. Peter says. "We have to inspire our people to want Christ's life inside them. You can only have joy by living God's life. You've got to fall in love. The Lord asks Peter: 'Do you love me?' You've got to answer that question. Then the good works follow."
That's what's going on at St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine under Fr. Peter Grover's direction. "You've got to give people environments where they can talk about their faith," Fr. Peter says. "Normally, the priest does all the talking. He gets all the fun because he gets to talk about the faith, which is the greatest thing. But a lay person, he never gets to talk about the faith. You go to work, you can't talk about the faith—there you talk about the football game, politics. Maybe you go home and your wife and kids aren't interested. Where can you talk about the faith? It's the best thing in your life and you can't talk about it to anybody."
St. Andrew's and St. Clement were renewed by putting worship and catechesis first. Fr. Peter minimized the "happy get-togethers," parish dinners and the like, and took his parish leadership on retreats instead. By giving lay leaders opportunities to talk about their faith, he inspired them to claim that faith as their own and prepared them to lead others in doing the same.
Then he introduced a truly radical and hopeful notion: he thinks that the religious vocation crisis in the Western European Church today is being used by the Holy Spirit to correct the clericalism of the past. The clergy and the laity must now join in a true evangelistic partnership in which the clergy and religious focus on feeding the people and the people bring the world to Christ. "God's running the Church, hang in there," he told me, gently chiding my pessimism. "God's doing a good job, He's directing the Church to where it's going."

In this new partnership priests are being directed to concentrate on the essence of the priestly vocation. "I can do three things that you can't do," Fr. Peter tells me. "Say Mass, anoint the sick, and hear confessions. Preaching as well—those four things, although the laity can preach in certain instances. I have to stay on mission in these things. To sacrifice hearing confessions to go to meetings, planning boards, or being a builder, that gets me further and further away from my mission."
As we concluded our talk, Fr. Peter emphasized that the laity can undertake its role in the new evangelization by virtue of their experience. He used the example of Jesus healing the Gerasene demoniac. After the demoniac was healed, and his demons were dispersed to a herd of swine who plunged over a cliff, the man asked Jesus if he could come with him and be his disciple. Jesus told the man to remain in his home territory. He was simply to tell his neighbors what God had done for him. The next time Jesus visited the area, Gennesaret, everyone knew him. They brought all their sick and afflicted to him to be healed. That's how powerful the testimony of the former demoniac had been. "You don't have to complicate it with theology," Fr. Peter says. "Just tell what God has done for you."
It's not hard—in fact, it's a lot less time-consuming than the usual activities that consume so much of local parish life at present. The clergy need to stay on mission—to do what only they can do—while the laity must assume its diverse and multifaceted role in bringing Christ to the world. Source
I can only add an "Amen" to the ideas that Fr. Grover is implementing. He understands that if the shepherd feeds his flock with solid, healthy food, the sheep will grow and mature. In turn, they will help one another grow in their faith. It is not a difficult concept, but it requires faithful priests and faithful lay people. The priests, as Fr. Grover indicates, need to be faithful to their vocation as ordained ministers, and the lay people need to be faithful to their vocation as the laity who are reaching out to one another and to those outside the parish. The key does seem to be the priest. The lay people can only do so much without a good pastor. And the parish can do so much more with a faithful pastor.

Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Matthew 9:38

H/T: La Nouvelle Théologie

Posted by David at 5:55 AM  |  Comments (0)  | Link


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