Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Even The Good Priests Disappoint: holy tears and the gods of exclusivity & bureaucracy

Recently, there have been two good but disappointing priests in the lives of my extended family. They are 'good' because they follow the precepts of the Church, are dedicated to their ministries and are faithfully celibate.  But they are disappointing. There are many readers who say that I have no right to write anything negative about the Church and her priests, but souls are on the line. They say that it does not do to tell stories that might scandalize a non-Catholic. But does it do any good to sweep sin under the rug? We believe that priests can help us, through the sacraments, find our way to God. When they fail in their vocation, it can have serious consequences for us simple lay people. I hope these stories will inspire any clergy reading that they can do better!

One priest got to know a distant family member who became sick with cancer. She was living at home with her parents, and this priest helped them through their frustrations over the 'liberal' parishes in the area. He gave them the Holy Eucharist to adore in their house and told them that he understood that they would be putting their souls in jeopardy if they attended a 'liberal' Mass. He wasn't there when she died of cancer. He wasn't there to bury her; luckily the local priests were liberal enough to anoint and bury a non-parishioner. 

The other priest is worse, in my opinion, because he has bound himself to the god of bureaucracy, not just exclusivity. One of my sisters has become very close to a mother and father of more than five children. They want to become Catholic. They already go to daily Mass frequently, wear scapulars and pray the family Rosary. They get media from EWTN and National Catholic Register. The parents are using the Catechism of the Catholic Church to teach the homeschooled little ones.

This family already knows their Bible; they were Bible-emphasizing, non-liturgical Protestants. Their denomination does not perform baptism of any kind, so even the parents are unbaptized. The parish priest in question did not allow them to take RCIA classes for this Easter's vigil because they missed the first meeting in August. The entire family will have to wait almost two years for any sacraments. The family will remain unbaptized (a sacrament that any person who conforms to the sacrament's form can perform) for another year because they did not realize that the god of bureaucracy sometimes trumps the God of mercy.

The parish priest is a 'solid' priest who has six altar boys bring in hanging lamps to guard the Gospel during its reading at a simple daily Mass. The parish is as traditional as a 'normal' Novus Ordo parish can be. It is a mega-parish with over eight well-attended masses on Sundays. Their weekly collection equals what we collect in a year. But all this is mammon when we refuse to help the least of these. And if we believe in what the sacraments do, the non-baptized are the least of these- even if they have rosaries in their hands.

I understand well that a priest cannot run himself ragged or he will have nothing left to give to his parishioners. But this priest is withholding sanctifying grace from over seven people. Is there no room for compromise with the god of bureaucracy? perhaps he could perform 'just' the baptisms now and wait until they jump through the hoops of classes for the rest of the sacraments next year. But he cannot give special treatment. Or can he? Won't he look to the example of Pope Francis, while Archbishop in Argentina, who baptized seven children of a poor widow? Is there no mercy?

and the 'holy tears portion' of my title? Those would be my husband's...tears of exhaustion and awe...
We went to Mass yesterday morning. It was Roman-rite, so the readings were not for the Annunciation. But it was still a day of obligation for us Byzantine Catholics. 

My husband got choked up when he elevated the Holy Eucharist and had to sniffle his tears back.  Occasionally he gets emotional at this time, thinking of the good God does in our lives and gift that the True Presence is. I just hope that the believers can respect that he loves the Lord in the Eucharist and excuse an infrequent retreat into a bit of emotion. He certainly does not want to be 'that priest' who disappoints the faithful for any reason. It is a difficult task he has set before himself.

So I didn't ask him about his emotion until hours later. He said he got teary for the 'usual' reasons. But he also was disappointed because the Feast of the Annunciation was moved until after Easter in the Roman-rite. If it fell on Holy Thursday or later, I could better understand the move. Yes, dates are arbitrary and God is timeless, but Christmas is December 25th on our calendar. Pray for him!

15 comments:

  1. *rolls eyes* It's like that across the board. The ELCA parish in the town south of us has two pastors... and Jon is still the one who actually goes to see their nursing home patients and commune them. (These are roommates or friends of our parishioners.)

    And refusing to baptize the family because they missed one meeting? That's ridiculous. The family needs to change parishes to get away from a priest like that.

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    1. unfortunately (in my opinion) this family is very into staying with their geographical parish...I wish they would go Byzantine! ;)

      about Jon visiting when others don't- maybe it has to do with an awesome wife

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  2. I don't understand the transference of the Feast either. It's as though the Roman Church, through its Bishops, does not believe the faithful to be able to have a "both/and" approach to the faith.

    Celebrating both Holy Monday and the Annunciation last night, with its long prayers and multiple readings, only made the Divine Liturgy and the preparation for Pascha that much more profound.

    Regarding disappointing priests, there is one that immediately comes to mind but I can look back and say that God was working through his apparent indifference and refusals at the time.

    God bless you and your family; our Byzantine priest is very active in the Roman community and I sense it must get stressful at times, given some of the differences in perspective, Liturgy, etc.

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    1. we Eastern types are VERY 'both/and'....we don't stop singing Alleluia during Lent, but we also always have tinges of Christ's death even during Eastertide

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  3. That stinks about the priest not allowing that particular family to be admitted to RCIA because of a missed meeting. No secondary date if you missed the first one?

    As we go through Holy Week, I'd like wish to wish readers with Jewish family and friends a blessed Passover!

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    1. he is a very 'rules are rules' kind of person...which can be a good thing

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  4. I understand the frustration of the second case - it sounds as though the priest a somewhat precious. there is another solution: the family should approach an Eastern Rite parish and be admitted into the Church. There is nothing to say that they should be admitted into the Roman Rite or that other Rites can not receive converts.

    I understand the desire to be part of the greater Church and that Eastern Rites often have ethnic overtones, but we are one Church. For some Byzantine Catholics, Pascha is 5th May this year, so there is still time.

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    1. There is sometimes a great advantage to being small- we are able to meet people where they are without much bureaucracy

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    2. AMEN to that, Matushka... Next person up is the mantra, at St. Irene. Paul and Michelle's son(s) hasn't/haven't been available for presanctified liturgy, throughout, except for one, I think. Either way, Michelle and Father Frank had the bright idea of my helping at the altar; now, I'm helping father prep for liturgy on Sundays. Kind of like how Ray, before then, just approached me to read for them, which I've done for months, now.

      By stroke of providence, I was actually called back and "interviewed" for being a youth ministry at the roman rite parish; and that was the only response I'd get from them about anything. I had to reissue my ministry sign up sheet, for the parish, and I haven't gotten a response, regarding Lector training.

      By another stroke of providence, I had been shotgun trained to be a eucharistic minister in about 15-20 minutes. But, I can totally relate to the obscene bureaucracy, at Roman rite parishes.

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  5. The second case is nearly where we are with my own children... I'm a convert, but I got lucky five years ago with my RCIA at another parish. Several year after that my Protestant husband agreed to having our unbaptized children enter the Church, but we had nothing but procedural roadblocks put up in their way until this fall when a two-year class was finally arranged. It was so disheartening to be attempting to bring my children to the Sacraments...and then have the Church's representatives make it all as difficult as it could possibly be for us. My oldest son started out quite eager, but after three years and counting, is now rather jaundiced over the whole thing.

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    1. I'm so sorry you are going through this- I can understand the need for classes and stuff for people not that involved in their faith...but...sometimes it doesn't seem fair. NONE of us deserve grace...so give it to those who want it!

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    2. I'm reminded of Father Evan Armatas, of Orthodoxy Live, responding to a person's question about immediate baptism into the church: "a consultation with the bishop, depending on the situation, with plenty of prayer." But, more importantly, erring on the side of mercy.

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  6. I am a little bummed since i Had to work that night, and couldn't attend liturgy for the Annunciation, at either Orthodox, or Catholic parish

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  7. This is why I like the eastern approach of having mercy as the ultimate benchmark. We know the justice part is going to be there, in the end; and other spots of our lives, but I appreciate the idea of erring on the side of mercy.

    My favorite saying these days: Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I think I sent my Roman rite brother into a tailspin who couldn't make sense of the phrase, for some reason.

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  8. My husband and I have both been very lucky and blessed with good but merciful and understanding priests in our lives. We've both always been very involved in our parishes and our pastors know us well. It can be hard to achieve that in large Roman parishes, but it's wonderful when we manage it. Neither of us have ever been obliged to take drawn-out sacramental preparation courses, just a couple of one-on-one interviews with the priest.

    It is truly unfortunate that some pastors (and other parish staff!) are so rigid about rules. My friend and her husband wanted to convert and were in RCIA for more than a year. They were supposed to be baptized at Christmas but the person running the RCIA class neglected to submit some paperwork to the diocese and they were told at the last minute to wait until Easter. The husband was in the military and received orders that he would be deployed in February. Finally the paperwork was rushed through and they said that he could be baptized before he left...but his wife and children would still have to wait until the Easter Vigil, meaning that they couldn't be sacramentally married before he left for Iraq. They were beside themselves with grief and didn't know what to do. Fortunately, one of their other friends knew the bishop very well and told the bishop about the family's plight. The bishop sent a very clear message to the parish. Even then, only the husband and wife were allowed to receive the sacraments in February, and the kids still had to wait for Easter.

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