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If you are visiting my blog, expecting to see 'Toward a Progressive Catholic Church,' I have changed my title to reflect my wide assortment of interests. Having retired from my secular job, I hope to devote the rest of my life to my hobbies, ministries and perhaps a part-time job that makes good use of my communications skills. This blog will be designed to address my multi-faceted interests.

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I have an M.A. in Theology and an M.Div (Master of Divinity) from St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry. I am currently a media consultant and promoter of classical music. I am also certified as an officiant by the Federation of Christian Ministries for baptisms, weddings and funerals and minister independently of the Rochester Diocese. My life has encompassed many interesting paths: broadcasting, free-lance writing, video-production, music, ministry and a secular job in government. In addition to this blog, I have a YouTube site at www.youtube.com/priestray and I have a Facebook page.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Concerning Church Structures and the Faithful

As I reflected on the word 'structures', it has traditionally come to have two meanings in the context of Roman Catholicism: 1.) It can obviously refer to the buildings that house our worship communities; 2.) It can also refer to the hierarchical pyramid that is responsible for the leadership of our Church. Both types of structures have their benefits and liabilities. For example, we take great pride in our places of worship, while at the same time, cringe when expensive repairs are needed. We can also take pride in our structural leadership when we are moving in a positive direction, or we can become quite angry when one of our bishops or cardinals takes action that may be perceived as an abuse of power.

I have a strong sense that our priests and laity occasionally feel lost amongst our immense structures, whether they be our buildings or a large contingency of bishops and cardinals. We are then faced with the question: Is the Church about structures or people?

When considering the buildings that house our worship, we can find grand structures throughout the world, many of which have been standing for several centuries. Since these holy places were built by our ancestors, we tend to take great pride in maintaining them for as many years as possible. When new places of worship need to be built, as in the case of our ancestors, we tend to shop for the best materials and construct worship spaces that reflect our current theological/environmental/pastoral realities.

I am the first to admit that I stand in awe when I am in the midst of a beautiful worship space, whether it reflects either an earlier era or a contemporary design. Yet, at the same time, I find that I often reflect back to the humbleness of Jesus and the leaders of our earliest church communities. I then have to wonder what Jesus would think of the immense cathedrals and worship spaces we have constructed over many centuries. Would he be impressed, or would he scold us for paying more attention to structures than the needs of believers? Perhaps this is a stretch of the imagination, but I truly believe that Jesus would tell us: "The simpler, the better." In many respects, it is perhaps the small faith communities that best reflect the house churches that were commonplace in the first century. Yet, even in large communities, perhaps we need to pay more attention to our ministries than grand architectural designs that cost us millions of dollars. If we are building massive granite or marble structures at the expense of the poor, the sick and the needy, there is much wisdom that can be gained by reflecting on the Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor..........................."

As we discuss structures in terms of our hierarchy, we can clearly see the potential for the misuse of power. To the credit of Vatican II, priests and laity are only beginning to find their rightful voices. One only needs to read textbooks printed prior to the 1970s to notice the familiar pattern in which church history was written. Generally, we would read about the long succession of popes, cardinals and bishops who made significant contributions to the development of our church. Vatican II finally recognized that our priests, women religious and laity have contributed much to our history, although they were deliberately kept out of written accounts. This is beginning to change, thanks be to God!

By focusing on church structures, whether they be buildings or members of our hierarchy, we do a great disservice to the faithful priests, nuns and lay men and women who have been the cornerstone of Roman Catholicism since its inception. Without the people, there would be no hierarchy, and there would be no buildings. Yet, at the risk of sounding disobedient, we have somehow allowed ourselves to be subservient to our bishops and cardinals. Our clergy and people in the pews have much to offer, in terms of gifts, time and spirituality. Yet, as long as we are led to believe we are only good Catholics if we continue to support our structures, there is only going to be friction between ourselves and the powers-that-be.

If the Roman Catholic Church is to become a better place, it must become more inclusive. In order for this to happen, we must become a community that cares more about people than structures. In this regard, our hierarchy needs to pay attention to recent polls conducted amongst our clergy and laity, rather than dismissing them.

In the final analysis, we will still need our structures. However, when they overshadow the basic needs of believers, the Kingdom of God remains an unfulfilled dream. I therefore continue to pray each day for a Roman Catholic Church that is more inclusive, and for a Roman Catholic Church that puts more worth in the faithful as its cornerstone, as opposed to a piece of granite.

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