Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Pope Francis gets it; new pastor doesn't

Back in March, when we were awaiting the election of a new Pope, I said that it was all rather exciting, but not particularly important.

Far more important, in my opinion, was the sort of new pastor we'd get at my home parish in Chicago. We've just become an Archdiocesan parish; the order of priests that served our parish for over a century has abandoned us because of the increasing age and infirmity of its dwindling membership.

Although I'm a Curmudgeon, I was not reflexively predisposed to dislike the new man; there would be changes, I knew, but I was ready to welcome the new priest. I wanted him to succeed. I was worried not just about him, but for him, too, when the rumor circulated that he would be the only priest assigned to our large parish, a parish that had been served by three priests until just a few years ago. Then we went to two priests. Last year, with the departure of the religious order imminent, we had our long-time pastor, Fr. Ed, and an octogenarian who volunteered to help out as much as he could. Even so, between them, we had our three weekday Masses almost all the time (four on Holy Days) and six weekend Masses, including an increasingly popular 6:00 p.m. Sunday Mass that brought people in from around the area.

Well, the rumor was that the new man would want to cut back on the Mass schedule. And, much as most of the parishioners thought that would be a shame, there was, I think, an understanding that one man alone could not keep up that schedule and do all the other things that the pastor of a modern Catholic parish must do.

Then came the good news! We'd get a curate -- a younger man, fresh out of Mundelein, newly ordained.

Things were looking up.

But the new pastor is still looking to cut back the Mass schedule, even though the cumulative age of the new man and his newer assistant probably don't add up to the age of the senior citizen priest who helped Fr. Ed maintain the supposedly 'grueling' schedule this past year.

The parish bulletin has been running some self-serving gibberish about why we need to cancel Masses. Some examples (rather freely translated):
  • It's all the Cardinal's fault (the new guy manages to blame both Cardinal George and the late Cardinal Bernadin -- unless the church is 50% full, the Mass should be axed);
  • Fewer Masses = better, even 'inspired' homilies (actually, if a priest would prepare a sermon just once it could be repeated two or three times that same day -- it's not as if the readings have changed);
  • People sit too far apart -- they should gather 'round the altar (but have you ever seen how people 'fill in' seats on buses, trains, anywhere, really, where people gather? -- they leave as much space as possible) -- and, besides, wasn't it the Pharisees who crowded down front, beating their breasts, while the truly devout widow stayed in the shadows? God could see her, too.
  • They should all sing (that sounds suspiciously Lutheran, but I'm willing to let that one slide since my wife likes to sing in church).
Now that the new pastor has had his say in the Bulletin our feedback will allegedly be appreciated -- but the word on the street is the new schedule, which is already set, goes into effect on the First Sunday of Advent regardless.

We have a big church -- not too big on Christmas or Easter, of course, when the joint is filled to overflowing -- but, according to the new pastor's statistics, there is no normal weekend Mass that even comes close to meeting the 50% "requirement" he has repurposed for his own selfish ends.

He can cut the weekend Masses down to one or two -- and he still won't fill the church. Most of the parish (yes, the ones who come out on Christmas and Easter) won't notice anything until Christmas anyway. That's when they'll show up and find the doors locked. Then they won't come back at all.

In the movies, Fr. O'Malley sang,
"I hope you're going my way, too."
In my parish, the new pastor
has quite a different approach.
The only thing our new pastor is going to accomplish by this wrong-headed scheme is to drive his regular parishioners away. My wife and I are already looking around.

But isn't that the exact opposite of what the Church says it wants to do?

Pope Francis, God bless him, has likened the Church to a field hospital, treating the spiritually wounded. He gets it; our new pastor doesn't. Do we close hospital ERs because the Chief Resident would like to get a couple hours more sleep on Saturday nights?

Fr. Robert Barron, now the Rector of the Archdiocesan seminary at Mundelein, is launching a new video series on evangelization this month. What would Fr. Barron say about our new pastor?

Evangelization involves filling empty seats, not cutting back on the opportunities to fill the seats. And how do we fill up the seats?

One thing we should do is welcome people -- and provide as many opportunities as we can for that purpose.

Frankly, the offering of the Mass, while it is something that only a priest can do, is among the less demanding tasks that a Catholic pastor is called upon to perform.

When the new guy sends up clear signals that he is hell-bent (and I use the term advisedly) on messing up the easy part, how can we expect anything but disaster from him on the tough stuff?

Our new pastor is a control freak that makes me -- a lawyer, and therefore a control freak myself, by definition -- look tame.

He's decided people reach too far with their Sign of Peace (a greeting ritual, usually a handshake, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist). The new pastor decrees that this should be only be given to the person immediately next to, or in front of, or behind. Don't wave at someone across the aisle, or nod across the church (you should be sitting next to each other anyway!) and, whatever you do, don't stretch across a pew to shake hands with someone. Oh, and those Eucharistic Ministers, the ones who help distribute Communion? Don't come up to the altar until the priest has concluded leading the prayer immediately before Communion ("Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof...) and, for God's sake, don't greet your fellow ministers! And no more Eucharistic Ministers may be dispatched to the back of the church (we have a central aisle which my church architect son-in-law may or may not consider a modern transept), even if Mass is crowded. (You don't want those people coming back anyway! We only want people who want to sit down in front.)

I could go on, but I think I've conveyed the gist: Rules, Rules and more Rules! Bing Crosby's fictional Fr. Charles O'Malley asked if we were going his way; our new pastor says 'Go My Way or Hit the Highway.' Compare this attitude to the one conveyed by Fr. Barron in the video below.

Which Church would you rather belong to?

And it's all the same Church!

Readers will have to indulge me for one more post about this new pastor, which I'll hopefully get out of my system tomorrow. I told you that I wanted to give this guy the benefit of the doubt -- so I really wanted to listen to his Homily last Sunday. What he said outraged me, as a Catholic, yes, but also as an American. But that's tomorrow, real world permitting.

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