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November 2, 2007

Special Report on Priests Serving Multiple Parishes
PLUS: How Understanding of the Liturgy Grows; Characteristics of Adult Faith-Formation Participants; Health Care Among Priests; Acting in the Spirit of the Apostle Paul Today; Franz Jagerstatter, Man of Conscience - and more

In This Edition:
-- Health care among priests.
-- Special report: The voices of priests serving multiple parishes.
-- Current quotes to ponder.
-- The message a wedding liturgy can convey.
-- How understanding of liturgy grows.
-- Characteristics of adult faith-formation participants.
-- Acting in the spirit of the Apostle Paul today.
-- Blessed conscience: Franz Jagerstatter

Health Care Among Priests

When Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta announced Oct 29 that he would undergo surgery Nov. 4 for early-stage prostate cancer, he took the opportunity to encourage all priests to obtain the health care they need. "I have urged our priests to take care of their health on several different occasions over the years. I renew that admonition now with the witness of my personal experience," the archbishop said.

Archbishop Gregory said, "We men (I hope that doesn't sound absolutely chauvinistic) often neglect regular attention to our health -- and priests may be near the top of the list in that category." In announcing his surgery, he wrote:

"I urge all of my brothers to attend to your health. I urge any man who may be in a high-risk category to be screened for prostate cancer or any other illness that can be detected by simple testing." He added, "Ladies, you know that you also have your own list of medical concerns that need similar proactive attention."

Special Report: Listening to Priests Who Serve Multiple Parishes

The number of priests who serve more than one parish in the U.S. is larger than many people realize. Of course, the number of parishes they serve also is growing rapidly. Franciscan Sister Katarina Schuth, a noted church researcher and seminary educator in St. Paul, Minn., turns attention to this rapidly expanding form of ministry in her important and very interesting book-length study titled "Priestly Ministry in Multiple Parishes" (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn., 2006; wwwlitpress.org).

What do priests who serve multiple parishes want to tell us about their ministry? Sister Schuth's study, reflecting the voices of some 1,000 priests, found, for example, that:

-- These priests tend to find their work highly rewarding and to feel appreciated, but at the same time find their work fraught with difficulties.

-- These priests spend a great deal of time traveling from parish to parish. Travel time, an "inescapable" factor of their lives, takes time away from ministry. "More than a few priests mention how much time they could save if they had a pilot's license and a good plane or a helicopter."

-- These priests need to obtain more help, either "lay or ordained."

-- The duplication of services from one parish to the next needs to be addressed.

-- These priests want their voices to be heard.

Sister Schuth says that the priests in her study "have learned to wrestle with difficulties, and they are able to articulate clearly what is effective for them and what problems need to be alleviated." She says: "For the most part, priests do not look to the diocese and diocesan officials 'to fix' the challenges. They know, however, that new structures, more realistic policies and better planning are critical if cluster ministry is to be more than a fallback position."

How many parishes and priests in the U.S. are involved in multiple-parish ministry? Sister Schuth says a review of data from the nation's dioceses showed that by 2005:

-- "Some 44 percent (9,109) of the parishes and missions" in the U.S. were "served by a priest who ministers to more than one parish."

-- "Some 20 percent (4,408) of priests" serving in parish ministry were "involved in what have come to be known as clustered parishes."

For the most part, these parishes are small; very often they are rural. Sister Schuth notes that "43 percent of them have 100 or fewer families, and 69 percent have 250 or fewer families, while only 6 percent have 1,000 or more families."

The small size of these parishes makes it difficult to have paid staff members. In fact, 34 percent of the parishes Sister Schuth studied "employ no paid staff." The author observes, "When identifying the most difficult aspects of their role, lack of staff and inability to focus on priestly ministry come to the fore for many priests."

What sort of priest "most closely represents the whole group" of those Sister Schuth studied? She names this representative priest "Father Peter" and notes that he is 56 years old, ordained almost 30 years. He ministers in three parishes and travels about 500 miles each week among them. Father Peter is quite positive, works well with staff and volunteers; he wishes he had more relief when it comes to sacramental ministry.

Another priest, named "Father Paul," represents about one-fourth of the priests in the study. He finds ministry in multiple parishes "not quite so satisfying and life not quite so enjoyable." He is bothered, for example, that it is so difficult to find a substitute for weekend Masses and by "the lack of interest on the part of the diocese about almost anything he was doing."

According to this study, "the qualities of the priest and the approach he takes in fulfilling his role as pastor have even greater significance in clustered parishes than in a large single parish with many resources." Since the parishes are small and have few paid staff members, "the pastor becomes the central figure in determining the spirit and direction of the congregation."

PLEASE NOTE: Elsewhere on this very Web site - at www.jknirp.com/schuth.htm -- you will find additional information about Sister Schuth's study of priests serving multiple parishes.

Current Quotes to Ponder

Valuing the Aged People in Your Community: "Staying close to the elderly, helping and supporting them, reawakens in everyone a taste for life, which means not throwing away one's existence or wasting one's energy. It means, rather, investing in humanity and solidarity with others. The elderly receive help from those who are younger and support them, but they also give a lot in terms of affection, friendship and meaning to life. It is like a school of humanity." (From the Sant'Egidio community's materials on the aged. The community, centered in Rome but with houses in many parts of the world, promotes major peace efforts, along with justice and interreligious dialogue, and takes a special interest in the aged.)

First Texas Archbishop Named Cardinal: "I think what the Holy Father and the Holy See are saying is that the whole South and Southwestern part of the United States with its variety of people -- obviously a major portion of whom are Hispanic -- is a noteworthy and beautiful addition for the Catholic Church in the United States, and they wanted to recognize that." (Archbishop Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Texas, commenting after Pope Benedict XVI designated him a cardinal Oct. 17)

Violence in Religion's Name: "Faced with a world riven by conflict, where sometimes violence is justified in the name of God, it is important to reiterate that religions can never become vehicles of hatred, that never by invoking the name of God can evil and violence be justified." (Pope Benedict XVI, speaking Oct. 21 in Naples about the true "spirit of Assisi" to participants in an international ecumenical and interreligious Encounter for Peace)

Weddings: What Message Is Conveyed?

"What message about Christian marriage in 2007 will be left with the millions of worshippers at the thousands of weddings to be celebrated this year in the Roman Catholic parishes and chapels in the United States?" Paul Covino, a liturgy scholar, posed that question in a speech Sept. 26 at Jesuit-run Boston College. He is associate chaplain and director of liturgy at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., also a Jesuit institution.

Covino asked: Will the people present for weddings in Catholic churches this year "find a hope-filled alternative to society's despair about committed relationships in the church's proclamation of marriage as 'an intimate partnership of life and love' or will they exit the church like the groom in a poignant Jack Ziegler cartoon saying, 'Not bad for a ceremony steeped in meaningless symbolism?"

Following the principle that "if you want to know what the church believes, then come worship with the church," Covino asked, "Are the messages and the values conveyed in our liturgies consistent with what we believe about what is taking place?"

The approach Covino proposed is one in which "marriage ministers would see the wedding liturgy as a culminating moment in the marriage preparation process and would be concerned about the careful preparation and life-giving celebration of every wedding liturgy celebrated in the parish." What is at stake, he believes, "is whether the church's faith concerning marriage is going to have a life beyond books on our shelves and whether we will take advantage of the opportunity that the wedding liturgy presents for evangelization about Christian marriage."

Among numerous concrete recommendations, Covino urged that attention be given "to those current but largely ignored provisions in the Rite of Marriage for texts and rituals that most clearly reflect the church's faith regarding marriage, such as the entrance of the bride and groom together with their parents and the encouragement of active participation in the liturgy by the assembly, which acts as witness to the marriage." Again, for example, he said it is appropriate to the couple's role "as minister of the sacrament" that "they stand in such a way that the entire assembly can see and hear them exchange their vows."

Covino urged that "the wedding liturgy be an opportunity for evangelization about Christian marriage" and that couples be encouraged "to resist the consumerism evident in much of the wedding industry," choosing options for their wedding "that reflect an authentically Christian understanding of marriage." (Covino's speech appears in the edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service, dated Nov. 1, 2007.)

How to Gain Greater Understanding of the Liturgy

There is a need to grow in understanding the liturgy, but the type of understanding needed is not simply cognitive. "One can only truly understand the liturgy with the intelligence of the heart," Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Mechelen-Brussels, Belgium, said in an Oct. 25 speech at The Catholic University of America in Washington. He delivered essentially the same speech earlier at Jesuit-run Boston College, and America magazine made that text public online.

One main concern for the cardinal was to encourage the type of liturgical understanding that only comes from spending time with the liturgy. To penetrate the liturgy's "incomprehensibility," he suggested that its mystery needs to be contemplated. Thus, for example, its signs and symbols need to be taken seriously, and the human capacities for hearing and seeing the liturgy need to be put to work.

One primary concern of Vatican Council II and of the church today has been "that the liturgy be understood by the celebrating community," Cardinal Danneels said. But to achieve this understanding, a cultural problem needs to be surmounted. Cardinal Danneels said:

"Our contemporaries often conceive understanding as the ability to grasp at first hearing. Such an approach is valid for the ordinary objects of our knowledge that can only be grasped at a purely cognitive level." However, he said that "one can only understand the liturgy if one enters into it with faith and love."

Cardinal Danneels believes that liturgy "is not an object of knowledge in the commonplace sense of the word. It is not an object of knowledge at all; rather, it is a source of knowledge, a source of understanding." A necessary approach to understanding liturgy, he said, is allowing it "time to say what it has to say."

Thus, the cardinal said, catechetical methods won't succeed in promoting understanding of the liturgy if they are "unable to depend on good, community celebrations of the liturgy." The cardinal proposed the following rule: "First 'live' the liturgy, then reflect and explain it. The eyes of the heart must be open before the eyes of the mind."

When it comes to liturgy, the cardinal said, "experience comes first, and while reflection, analysis, explanation and systematization might be necessary, they must follow after experience." Liturgy "lets itself be understood only by those who have faith in it and who love it." Furthermore, "profound realities only gradually yield their full significance."

Adult Faith Formation: Characteristics of Adult Learners

Adults may not attend all the sessions of an educational program to which they have committed themselves or in which they've expressed an interest, an adult faith-formation newsletter in the Archdiocese of Detroit points out. In light of this, the newsletter (in its fourth 2007 edition) asks questions such as:

-- "Do you recognize that all learners will not be able to attend all sessions and plan them accordingly?"

-- "Do you give a brief review of the previous session before beginning new material for those who were absent? Do you recognize that this review will also be of help to those who were in attendance?"

-- "Do you prepare summary sheets/summary outlines for those who can only be with you from time to time?"

The online Detroit newsletter is titled "Resources for Adult Faith Formation" and is found at: www.aodonline.org/AODOnline/AODOnline.htm. (Click at the left on "news and publications," then click at the center on "newsletters.")

Acting in the Spirit of the Apostle Paul Today

Christians who "act in the spirit of St. Paul are not passive disciples, but are actively engaged in the life of the parish and of the wider church," Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto, Ontario, said in speech Oct. 25. Looking ahead to the Year of St. Paul that begins throughout the church next June 28, the archbishop discussed the apostle's personality and actions, and what they mean for all the people of today's church.

"Basic to the vision of Paul" is a "practical love" that includes "generosity to the vulnerable," and every parish is called to manifest this practical love, said the archbishop. He addressed the annual Cardinal's Dinner sponsored by the Toronto Archdiocese.

What about contemporary evangelization efforts? When St. Paul came to Athens, "he did not shy away from the marketplace. He did not retreat into the security of the inner world of believers, but entered into dialogue" with skeptical Athenians, Archbishop Collins said. This is what the people of the church today should do also, but "with humility and with the confidence born not of natural bravado but of the serene faith that gave courage to Paul," said the archbishop

St. Paul is someone who "faced down all kinds of opposition, and found creative ways to keep moving forward despite daunting obstacles outside and within the Christian community," the archbishop commented.

Everyone knows that Paul's conversion came about through a dramatic encounter with the Lord. Archbishop Collins said that for people today this means that apostolic action, if it follows the saint's lead, must arise from "a deep personal encounter with the Master." The archbishop said, "Individually and as communities of faith, we must recognize that it is not merely a set of doctrines that we proclaim, but the person of Jesus."

Furthermore, said the archbishop, "all our bold apostolic initiatives will be mere busyness if we do not, like Paul, root our creative action in the experience of Christ."

Blessed Conscience: Franz Jagerstatter's Beatification

"I am convinced that it is best that I speak the truth, even if it costs me my life," Franz Jagerstatter once said. The Austrian husband and father of three, born in 1907, was beheaded Aug. 9, 1943, under the Nazis for refusing to fight in the Nazi army. His request to serve instead as a medic evidently was rejected or ignored. It is often repeated that he preferred to be remembered by his children as a follower of Christ, not as a Nazi.

Pope Benedict XVI approved the decree of Jagerstatter's martyrdom June 1, 2007. Jagerstatter was beatified Oct. 26 in Linz, Austria; Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Saints Causes, presided.

"I cannot serve both Hitler and Jesus," Jagerstatter believed. He hoped to be remembered as someone who didn't allow himself to be carried away with the crowd. Many today look to him as an example of strength of conscience and exceptionally strong commitment. Many in his time thought he was carrying his faith to too great an extreme.

Apparently Jagerstatter believed that one would have to be a "magician" to remain at once in good standing with the communion of saints and the Nazis. Nonetheless, he exhorted others to love their enemies.

Retired Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit has described Jagerstatter as someone who "gave up his life in resistance to sin in the public order." And Jagerstatter "died a solitary witness, terribly alone," the bishop said. But the bishop found a lesson in that reality for people today.

Bishop Gumbleton made his remarks in 1987 in Linz. He said that Jagerstatter "might be here celebrating his 80th birthday in the presence of his family and friends if other Christians had joined in his act of resistance. His death reminds us that we all ought to be there, God's people together, resisting together what we know to be evil."