Tired Priests, Tired Parishioners and the Quest for Catholic Community Life
A glimpse of how Catholic community life could be so much better.
Monday morning at Ladies’ Bible Study, Father told us how hard Sundays can be. He’s young and devoted and determined to do what his parishioners need. “I know that people can’t all meet during the week. That’s why we have to meet on Sundays,” he said. “It’s just hard. I want to be totally focused during the Mass, and it’s hard to do that when I’ve got meetings before and after.”
It was good for us to hear that. That one brief admission of his human frailty before gamely launching into the week’s lesson gave us a glimpse of what it is to live in persona Christi. At Mass the priest makes present the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. When he processes toward the altar, he’s processing toward Calvary. Father wants to do that. He’s given his life to doing that, and when he prays the Mass, he wants to be doing it completely, totally, without distraction.
And we ladies who are all old enough to be his mother know exactly what he’s talking about.
We want to do that too.
We’ve spent all our Christian adult lives trying to be fully present to our families, to God — to whatever vocations we’ve received. And mostly it’s a slog. Mostly it involves shifting gears, trying to pay attention, trying to do what needs to be done even though the timing isn’t so great.
Jesus was tired. We little images of Christ are gonna be tired too.
So there’s that. But also: There’s something else.
Does it have to be this way?
When we talk about suffering, half the picture is the inevitability of suffering. The other half, though, is all the things we can do to alleviate that suffering.
Perhaps some portion of the homeless mentally ill won’t ever “get it together” no matter how much help you can offer. But we know for a fact it is not necessary for those members of our community to go around dirty and ragged and alone. We know this because by offering places for the homeless to shower and do laundry, and other places to receive clothing and meals, we have seen that things can be different. We have seen that you can be overwhelmed by miserable problems, but still be a part of the community, cared for, and conversed with, and wanted.
And thus at the edges of our mind we wonder if there might be ways to mitigate other intractable problems as well.
Is it possible for the Tired Priest Problem to be helped? At all?
Could we have a Christian community?
A community is a group of people who live together. The more of your living you do together, the more you are a community.
That is why the shower and laundry ministry is so pivotal to civil life: Good hygiene makes it easier to live together.
How much do American Catholics live together?
Typically, not very much. My husband might work with one other practicing Catholic in his huge corporate workplace. Most years there has been one other Catholic on my daughter’s volleyball team, but this year it came up empty. There are two or three other practicing Catholics at my kids’ public high school. These are common experiences for American Catholics.
Less common is my youngest daughter’s excellent experience at our parish school – most of the kids in our parish aren’t part of that. Less common is the group of Catholic friends our family has been able to build up over the years, whom we get together with for faith-filled social events in our homes. Less common is the privilege I have of meeting regularly with other Catholic women who want to talk about their on-going efforts to live the faith more profoundly.
So if I were to peg my family’s score on the Catholic Community Meter, I’d put us at about the 50 percent mark at the moment, but unfortunately, I see that score dropping in the near future. It’s not because we don’t love Catholic. It’s because we have physical and intellectual and social needs that our Catholic community isn’t going to meet.
About that Mega Church Gym
On my key ring is a bar-coded membership tag for Faith & Grace Mega Church’s Family Life Center. I’m not a member of that congregation, but I have a guest membership at their gym. I have it because my kids need exercise.
It’s easy for Catholics to be dismissive of these sorts of church-perks. “People go to Mega Church because they just want to be entertained!” Or: “That’s not Catholic! We need to be out in the world, being missionaries!”
There is of a hint of truth in these comments. I wouldn’t leave the Catholic Church, because we have the fullness of faith, including the very Presence of the King of the Universe, in the flesh, every Mass. And we do need to be out in the world. We do need to be meeting non-Catholics and evangelizing them and bringing them into our parish community.
But still: People are human. We have to live somewhere. I can choose a gym for my kid that is over-priced and full of profanity, or I can choose one of the several Christian-not-Catholic options scattered around town. We have some area Catholic parishes which have gyms, but they aren’t available for my family to use.
The gym is just one tiny example. The bigger picture is this: We have all these things that are important to ordinary human life. We can either do those things in our parish or not-in-our-parish, but we are going to do them.
When we can’t do them within our Catholic community, we have to stretch our lives out more.
In contrast, when I can bring my daughter to church for music lessons and use that same hour in that same place for edifying conversation with another Catholic disciple, it’s just plain easier on us.
We can meet an intellectual need and a spiritual need, times two, all in the same hour. My daughter gets both music training and an opportunity to grow in her faith, because she’s learning sacred music; I get to satisfy both my need for intellectual conversation and my need for spiritual accountability, because my friend I’m talking to is both intelligent and a fellow disciple.
That example is a glimpse of how Catholic community life could be so much better.
One More Thing to Pile on the Priests?
I don’t write all this as an argument in favor of Father Must Fix My Life Now.
Not at all.
Our priests work like crazy. They give themselves completely. They, too, are human.
And mostly what we can realistically hope for is that patience and charity and fortitude will help us all slog through our vocations and find joy amid the unrelenting work of it all.
But we need to know is that it doesn’t have to be only a slog. Our lives as Catholics don’t have to be quite so scattered. It is possible to find little ways to consolidate community life, so that parishioners can spend more time living together.
And the more we can live together, the less we’ll have to cram our schedules with one more meeting in the marathon.