Friday, February 15, 2008


One of the many problems we face as Christians in the world is that we can get too comfortable with things. We go along our daily routine, accepting the little rubs along the way, and figuring that if the boat is still holding its course there's no particular need to rock it. In the main, this is a good trait for Christians to have: we are not supposed to be creating strife, or stirring up trouble among each other for no good reason.

But what happens when we have, or think we have, a good reason to complain about something? What happens when a situation that we've been putting up with starts edging closer and closer to intolerable, causing us stress or making us wonder whether we should, in fact, keep putting up with things as they are, instead of taking some kind of action to foster change?

Worse, what happens when the situation itself involves the Church, or some aspect of our lives as Christians or as Catholics?

Take, for instance, a parent who is involved in religious education at her parish. She enjoys being able to assist in her children's classes, likes helping other children learn about their faith and be prepared for the sacraments, and gets along well with the other volunteer instructors and the pastor, as well as the director of religious education.

But then one day something changes. Maybe Father has appointed one parent to be in charge of all the volunteers, and this person constantly rubs her the wrong way, and has even corrected her in front of the children for an honest mistake or two. Maybe a new DRE is hired who dislikes the materials being used and talks the pastor into allowing her to purchase new books, which are not as sound theologically and are harder to use in the classroom. Maybe the pastor makes a plea from the altar for more volunteers--and does so in such a way that makes it obvious that he thinks the present set are barely competent.

Whatever the case, the volunteer's feelings are terribly hurt. She finds out that several of the other volunteers are upset, too, and are talking about quitting. There's a lot of anger and negative emotions--after all, they're volunteers! They're generously offering their time to the Church! They even went through the whole humiliating process of undergoing criminal background checks and attending child safety classes! And now this!

But other volunteers are less worried. Sure, there are changes. Sure, Father was tactless--but if priests were required to be tactful, we wouldn't have any priests in this diocese! Maybe the new books are less than we hoped for, but the children still need us to present the material to them. This is a ministry, after all, and our feelings aren't all that important.

It doesn't take very much of this sort of thing to rise to the level of real discord among people who ought to be motivated by Christian charity toward each other. What started out as a need, whether real or perceived, for some changes devolved into a fight among several factions: the pastor and/or the DRE, a set of volunteers who disagrees with them, and a further set who might not agree but who are willing to give the changes a chance. Often, at this point, angry words get exchanged, people start to stand on their authority (whether they actually have any or not) and sooner or later it's more than likely that a group of people will quit in a self-righteous huff over something that may not be as drastic as it seems.

Substitute just about any ministry at the parish level here: the nursery, the choir, the lectors or altar server trainers or extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and you will see similar sorts of situations arising again and again. "That's not how we do things around here," starts to contend with "That's not how we ought to do things," as competing visions, and whichever vision prevails one group or another is going to feel left out in the cold.

The reality is that discord will arise whenever two or more people have the responsibility to do something, so it's hardly surprising that discord will arise within the Church, among lay people who are contributing in some way to the ministries of the parish. But there are, I think, two very important things to remember.

The first is that we must always be aware of the role of pride in these situations. It's not prideful to have one's feelings hurt; nor is it prideful to disagree respectfully with the people in charge of a ministry. But once a decision has been made, whether we like that decision or not, we need to be honest with ourselves about our inwardly prideful thoughts, and how these might be contributing to our feelings. If we are upset because some real injustice or harm has been done, that is one thing; but if we are upset because things didn't go "our way" or resolve themselves to our total satisfaction, that is another thing altogether. Compromise may sometimes be possible, but when it is not someone other than ourselves usually has to make a decision; if we know that we can't abide by that decision then quietly moving on and out of that ministry may be the most mature and Christian decision we can make.

The second thing to remember is that we don't always get the leaders we'd like to have, and this is as true in a parish as it is in our nation. If we are blessed with a wise and holy pastor, he may be able to keep the peace even in situations where discord is possible, but it is a sad truth that even wise and holy pastors are not always good at defusing these sorts of situations, and sometimes their very wisdom and holiness seems to keep them unaware that an episode of strife is brewing under their very noses.

Christians may not be able to avoid discord, but we can avoid gratuitously contributing to or prolonging a discordant situation. Prayer, communication, and a commitment to the principles of Christian fellowship may help foster a resolution when discord has entered into our lives, especially when it's happening at our parish.


Leanna said...

Well said. I've been struggling for years with the anti-Vatican activites at my parish. I just tell myself to keep praying, someday things will be different.

Tausign said...

I see you're having a great lent...seriously these are tough issues for concerned folk to grapple with. This is truly a cross to bear.

This kind of issue makes me look to Francis of Assisi for guidance. (Of course, I'm biased as a lay franciscan.) But Francis had to deal with this issue in spades. He was often having his 'vision' of 'his' Order being overruled or contended with by ecclesial authorities. To Francis' credit he realized that it wasn't 'his order' at all.

Ultimately, it's less a matter of 'pride' and more a issue of 'power'. And that's the key for me: because the real 'power' in these situations is 'un-grasping' what makes us feel tense and tight and begining to trust in God to handle the situation.

Most people roll their eyes when I say such 'nonsense' because they feel their in a battle with someone or something 'evil' and they want to fight (unfortunately we're really not that fussy about what weapons to use so we just let it all rip; and so the situation 'devolves'). But often we need to drop our stare and realize that we are contending with someone who has 'the Divine seed' in them, even if hard to envision. And nothing makes that 'seed' grow more than the real transforming POWER of love and pardon.

In the end, the contention that's witnessed to patiently (and perhaps silently), with Christlike action overcomes the dilema. It may not be the solution we sought, but when Christ is witnessed to it's a sure guarantee that 'Christ's Body' is being built up: if for no other reason than the witnessing itself.

Marilena said...

excellent post!!!!