From the Pastor: The Priest Convocation
Last week I and most of the priests of the diocese spent a few days at the Bethany Center. This annual convocation of priests is not a retreat, where prayer, silence and perhaps spiritual talks would be the focus. No, this is a gathering of priests where “practical application” talks are the main focus. This year we had two men from Dynamic Catholic come to encourage us to make our parishioners “missionary disciples” and “dynamic Catholics” and a couple of other nifty terms. I must say that they were very good at presenting their material and they did give some good pointers and interesting statistics about average Catholics in the pews, but it was really all Catholic Lite. That was their stated purpose, so I don’t say that as a put-down. The focus of their company is on getting the nominal Catholics to become more involved in their parish and, once involved, become better Catholics. It is a bit odd once you see it in writing, I think, but it happens quite often nowadays. A new parishioner, perhaps after just coming into the Church through the RCIA or a fallen-away Catholic who just started coming back to church, is asked to get involved in teaching CCD (or Faith Formation or Religious Education or whatever it is called) because, number one, there is a lack of teachers volunteering to do so and, number two, to make them feel more a part of the parish. It is this second point which was being pushed as priority number one for a dynamic parish. But what it does in practical reality is put those who have little or no knowledge of the Faith in charge of passing on (what exactly?) that little knowledge to our kids. Now, the best way to learn is to teach, so some might do a spectacular job. But more likely, they will just pass on what they know from their previous protestant or secular humanist background or what they think they know after going through a pretty pathetic RCIA program run by, you guessed it, the last convert. These guys were really good at making that sound wonderful! Get the people involved! Sign them up! After a year or two of activity, they will be ready to learn something about the Catholic Faith! Just don’t teach too soon or you will run them off! I exaggerate only a little.
Meanwhile, back at the parish, we had the opposite going on. A mission was being preached. Catholic teaching was being imparted. “Hard” sayings were being boldly stated, like a light not hidden under a bushel basket but set out for all to clearly see. Quite a different approach to helping Catholics become more fully, faithfully, and joyfully Catholic! At the convocation, we were given a sneak peek at the message which will come to us in the next couple of years, too, for several priests whose books they highly recommended are coming to give priests retreats for us and to give the presentations at next year’s convocation. Here is a snippet of wisdom which we were given that comes from one of the highly recommended priest’s books. “Music is probably the most controversial topic in the parish. But if you want a dynamic parish, you must have praise and worship music.” I wonder... no, I better not go there! Anyway, they were sincere in their beliefs, they really believe in their message, and, given the state of things in the Church today, perhaps they are correct in thinking that even someone with little to no knowledge of the Faith can still teach the average pew sitter more than they know. But I don’t think so little of you who sit in Epiphany’s pews.
That being said, some of the statistics they quoted for us might apply to Epiphany, though I hope not. Approximately 7 percent of the parishioners do any volunteer work at the parish. Approximately 7 percent of the parishioners contribute approximately 80 percent of the total collection. The overlap between those two groups is over 80 percent, so it seems that those who do the work also pay the bills and the rest are freeloaders on both accounts, having a consumerist mentality. “I only pay for things I enjoy and I don’t enjoy Church so I don’t contribute much in the way of money or time or labor. And the weeks I don’t attend, I don’t contribute anything at all.” Now, I have never looked to see who contributes what so I can neither verify nor deny that stat. But it is something worth thinking about. Does it apply to you? By the way, it was about here that we were told to play praise and worship music in order to make people happier, so that they would bring friends to church, so that they would volunteer at church, and so that they would give more in the collection plate. I wonder... no, I still better not go there!
But, lest you think that I did not enjoy the convocation, let me assure you that I most certainly did! Getting together with fellow priests in a setting where we ate meals together, watched the Rays win a baseball playoff game, had a few drinks, smoked a few cigars, and told a whole bunch of stories on one another, is a once a year pleasure. Plus, one more priest asked me to teach him how to celebrate the TLM, which I celebrated (privately) daily for your dynamic Catholicism.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka