Saturday, July 27

Thanks to Bill Cork for finding this nice article on saints from the Houston paper
I think there's a bit of misunderstanding here regarding the whole "professional Catholic" angle of this thread. My statement about the number of bloggers who are already involved in church work was intended to point out that these are people who are in positions to influence things in both directions ("up" and "down" - by trying to influence the hierarchy and by teaching, and so on), and so their day-to-day ministry already involves "doing something." I wasn't suggesting that somehow, what they do is in any way "superior" to what any other part of the Body is about, but was in response to Maureen's specific critique of this group of people (the St. Blog's folks) as being nothing more than critics. I was simply trying to point out that such is not the case. St. Blog's people aren't doing all that can be done, and are just laboring in one tiny corner of the vineyard, but it's not fair to say that they're doing "nothing." Their day-to-day ministry involves a great deal of "something" - ministering as priests, writing, evangelizing, ministering to families bringing their children for the sacraments in parishes, contributing to the music during worship, working in Crisis Pregnancy Centers, teaching kids in Catholic schools - it's not the whole answer, but it's not nothing.

So I hate to think of anyone coming away from any post of mine thinking that I disparage "ordinary parishioners." For that is the exact opposite of my view of Church. First, I am sure that VOTF is people with many, many "professional Catholics", both paid and volunteer. Most advocacy groups within the Church are. Secondly, I have consistently tried to point out that the greatest strength of the Church lies, not in the professionals, but, just to take one example, the older people who attend daily Mass and then spend the rest of their days, when they're not caring for their grandkids, working down at the St. Vincent de Paul Society or some other church ministry. They are the backbone of every parish and, ultimately the Church. Next to them are the people at the other end - the families with kids who may not have time to do much extra in the parish, but who fill up the pews and the desks in Catholic schools and who are preparing the next generations. The church would survive just fine if every diocesan and parish employee was suddenly...uh...raptured off the face of the earth. But that wouldn't be the case if the other two groups disappeared. At all. Think about it. Think about the good those first two groups are doing. Think of the heaps of trouble the latter are responsible for. Take yer pick.

The only caution I have is about seeing "lay involvement" as a panacea, and that caution is not related to snobbery about who knows better or is more familiar with the documents of Vatican II. That's not my song, and I'm sorry if I've given the impression that it is. No, most of the time, when I say express caution, I am thinking of two things. I am thinking of the uselessness of 90% of the professionals drawing paychecks from the church and 99% of the volunteer-staffed commissions, committees and boards, and I'm wondering what is to be gained from adding to their number. Secondly, I am thinking of the enablers among us, some of whom are, professionals - most chancery staffs, for example, some are not - big diocesan donors, for example, who get warm feeling when they're in contact with bishops - as well as sometimes misguided parishioners who have replaced an authentic sense of what church leadership should be all about with some sort of near-celebrity worship. Hey, folks - I thought Vatican II was supposed to take the priests off those pedestals, not keep them there.

So, no, I'm all about the Church as the Body of Christ, and I'm also of the view that professionalization of ministry, both clerical and lay, paid and volunteers, has been of dubious value to the Church, and I see tendency of the VOTF wing to go in that direction - to claim that the solution is to make even more of us professional Catholics than already are, and that is trouble. Don't you think? Don't you think we need more people at Holy Hours and at the bedsides of the sick and fewer at meetings brainstorming with big sheets of paper and differently- colored stickers as they prioritize? Where would you rather be? Where should you be?

I gues what all of this is working up to is my admission that I'm not so sure that VOTF is - that it is the "voice of the faithful" and not just one more well-meaning group that is quickly becoming just as "professionally Catholic" as the chancery, with simply plainer offices, a smaller budget, a slightly different ideological angle. But, as is always the case, my eyes and ears are open, waiting for enlightenment and correction.

Let me clarify the post below. I am all for change. I think it's necessary. I simply think that the kind of change we're talking about involves, first of all, attitudes - that is, not allowing bishops and other clerics to pull the wool over our eyes and misuse their power. Some of that can be affected by the addition of laity to structures - in vetting the names of potential bishops and in regard to finances and dealing with priests who have abused. Whatever way that can happen, I'm for it. But my point is this - I don't necessarily see VOTF's way of doing it as effective, especially considering the problems that have already emerged in relation to the group, and I don't necessarily see writing and talking about it as useless. It's raising awareness and helping form a new way of thinking about these things. But the rest of it is up to us and can't be organized. Let's put it this way: as long as the parishioners of St. Celestine's are spending their summers fighting for their admitted abuser pastor and as long as folks in Milwaukee continue to weep over Weakland, we are fighting an uphill battle. And that has nothing directly to do with the hierarchy and everything to do with lay attitudes, Difficult ones, not covered by VOTF's agenda.

Besides, long-time readers of this blog know what I think is an important way to breaking the destructive impact of clerical entitlement and self-protection that lead to all of this, a way that brings plenty of brimstone down on my head when I mention it: the expansion of the married clergy beyond the converts from other Christian denominations. Yeah, yeah, it brings other problems, and it's not a panacea. But...well, we've been through that before and I don't want it to be a distraction.

My point is related to St. Blogg's. I'm convinced the parishioners and staff of St. Blog's are doing something, not only in their writing, but in what they're doing in their ministries outside the internet.

It's not the end of the story, though. I'm interested in what some of you might term "more concrete" suggestions. Is there an alternative way to impact more change without dithering with self-absorbed agendas and other pitfalls of "alternative" organizations?

4 from Zenit:

WYD pilgrims build Habitat for Humanity houses, do other social service

Jean Vanier speaks to WYD pilgrims

(You know those Catholics - only concerned about babies until they're born and all)

Peruvian health minister asks forgiveness for forced sterilizations


A ballet based on the life of Mother Theresa is being created


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