Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Soul Searching

Those who know me best would probably say I'm not much of a fighter. I go out of my way to avoid conflict. My co-workers would probably say I get along with everybody. The boss often assigns me to work with those who have problems working with others. Some of my best acquaintances would be considered obstinate by many. I have always admired people who aren’t afraid to speak their minds, even though I have difficulty doing this myself.

When a serious issue demands my response, I often find it easier to do so in writing. I have difficulty speaking off the cuff, especially when I am emotionally charged. Putting my ideas on paper allows me to organize my thoughts and edited them precisely. In doing so, words must be chosen carefully. The written word lacks emotional clarity. It can be easily misconstrued. (No, this is not the beginning of another diatribe against Sola Scriptura!) A polite reprimand may across as harsh criticism when transmitted black on white.

I can think of two times when written responses have gotten me in hot water. Both events involved my parish priests. The first time involved our pastor's decision to replace a pipe organ that had been in our parish for many years. It had fallen into disrepair, but was easily fixable. I had done some work on the organ for a previous pastor and was very familiar with the condition of the instrument and what it needed. The decision to replace was made without my input. After writing a rather terse letter to our pastor and the parish council, they reluctantly gave me a chance to make repairs. I did so successfully at no cost to the parish. That was about ten years ago and the old organ is still functioning today.

While the incident temporarily strained the relationship between me and the pastor for awhile, I think he was somewhat relieved that the expenditure of the new organ could be postponed. We got along fine after that little bump in the road. My latest episode with our current pastor has not healed quite so smoothly.

As I noted in my September 26, 2005 entry, I wrote a three page letter in response to our pastor's criticism of an architect our church renovation committee scheduled for a visit. Later, after our pastor made an unscheduled private visit to the architect's office, the visit was rescheduled. When the visit took place, the entire committee and our pastor seemed to be impressed by this architect and the project appeared to be on track again. A fee for preliminary drawings was eventually approved by the Pastoral Council according to minutes published in our Sunday bulletin.

Our committee was invited to present the status of the renovation to the Parish Finance Committee. Another member and I attended the special meeting, but were never given much of an opportunity to speak. Our pastor made the presentation which was permeated with misinformation and errors. He began with an explanation of EACW (Environment and Art in Catholic Worship), an obsolete 1975 document on church renovation which was replaced some five years ago. He then misstated the architect's fee commands. Attempts to correct him went unheeded. Before the meeting was over, my fellow committeeman and I both realized the futility of our participation in this project.

Here in the 21st Century Church, we find ourselves in the midst of a priest shortage where more and more responsibilities are falling on the shoulders of the laity. While having more control of the church is probably welcomed by most Catholics today, it can also create problems. The Church is not a democracy, but we now run our parishes as though it were. We elect pastoral councils and committees. We have lay ministers and ministries. As our pastor likes to say, we are all priests, only most of us are not ordained.

With active participation in the day to day activities of the parish, a certain amount of political baggage becomes a part of the package. There are personalities, opinions, policies, and conflicts with which to deal. In the old days, the pastor was the only one in power. Now there are many, not all of which are pulling in the same direction. The influence of the laity can find its way into the liturgies through extraordinary ministers, cantors, and music ministries. The pastor has the final say, as he should. But, when his wishes differ from those of the lay officers, resentment can easily arise. Worse yet is a weak pastor allowing or encouraging improperly trained lay persons to take control.

Harboring resentment or hard feelings toward a particular person can adversely affect one's participation at Mass, especially when that person takes an active role in the liturgy. In proper disposition, those feelings should be set aside in deference to the Lord's Real Presence on the altar, but our frail humanity does not always allow that to happen. Maintaining concentration during Mass can be difficult for even the most faithful Catholic. When these little distractions start to mount, the spiritual disposition suffers.

With all that has transpired in the past couple of years, I find my own spiritual disposition lacking these days. Rather than being fixated on the Mass, I sometimes find myself distracted by little abuses in the liturgy, the altered wording, the unusual Eucharistic prayer, the candy-coated homilies, and so forth. I get annoyed when the pastor changes a Mass time so he can go to the casino, and I let all of these things bother me when I am in church. It's not a conscious choice. I wish these thoughts would vanish, but they will not quietly go away. They bother me to the extent that I have allowed them to decrease my attendance at weekday Mass.

I suppose everyone goes through spiritual highs and lows. I hope to emerge from my funk soon. One thing I have learned. I miss the spiritual nourishment of the Eucharist. When I was receiving four or five times a week, I did not realize how much stronger I was. Now that I receive the Eucharist about twice a week, I can feel the loss. I am trying to fill the void with prayer. I pray for our pastor, our bishop, and our parish. I pray for unity, that we may all come together, that we may be united in opinion as Paul said we should be.