In the Diocese of Pittsburgh, as in many other dioceses’, there will be changes, some welcomed, but many leaving the congregants confused, hurt, and living with hope of a future church that will continue to feed all of us with God’s Grace.
“On Mission for the Church Alive”, is the program in Pittsburgh’s five counties that is tackling a problem not foreign to the Church world-wide. A growing diminishment of parishioners’ attendance at Mass, a shrinking pool of newly ordained priests, and a search by many to find meaning for their faith in areas beyond the pews of the Catholic Church.
One of the very prominent experiences in this vast change is the moving of clergy to other parishes and has caused pain of separation for a lot of parishioners. A parish (left un-named) moved its pastor before the actual date of clergy change and you can see by the drop of attendance at his old parish the attachment his flock have for him. This could be a sign great admiration for one priest, comparable to the trade of a popular sports figure that might upset the viewing public. We all like to think there may be one or two persons that have become as heroes to us. In sports that is fine and many times expected. Sometimes one sports great might appear as the leader and instigator of a winning team’s success, but in the end we see that the team will go on without that figure.
On the other hand, the Church, in her wisdom usually sets a time limit to a priest’s assignment at a particular parish. The wisdom avoids a problem of familiarity. What are we attending church for? To raise one person to a pinnacle of praise as if we could not go on without him? I remember one priest, who was the clergy leader of a charismatic group in one parish and being reassigned, responding to the comments that if he leaves we will leave as well. He continued with, “if the followers of this group were here because of me then they were not here because of Jesus Christ and that is too bad.”
In the case of this priest who was moved earlier than the rest, my wife and I were at Mass at his older parish and we could see by the small attendance that normally was greater, the result of following one personality rather than the reason for attending Mass at the parish they were once dedicated to.
A parish that I was assigned to, but short-lived in Midland, TX, had many important parishioners asking me, “deacon Ralph should we look for another church in town to attend, as they were upset over the reasons of my departure”. I told them no, since Fr. …… and Sr……. were their shepherds and they owed their allegiance to their parish and not to me. I did not want to become a pied piper and lead them away because of my change. That is what this particular priest should have done. But, he bemoaned his change and has taken a number of parishioners with him. This is not what the Church is about.
Contagion is a disease that can do nothing but destroy the faith of people who may be led by self-pity of those in charge to raise themselves to a level of following the leader, even if it means following off a bridge because of hero worship. The Church will survive, no matter what disillusionments may come, and we must remember the Holy Spirit is still in charge. I feel bad if one feels it necessary to be like a pied-piper instead of directing the hearts and minds of those he leaves behind to accept and find Christ in their original lair and not run after a promise of the hero’s ego-centric attitude.