Thursday, March 4, 2010

Can't We Just All Get Along?

Allison Salerno, a frequent writer of guest posts at "Why I Am Catholic" had a very interesting post this past week that has been lingering in my thoughts in a profound way. Her topic "Because Parish Life Isn't Easy" rang true for me in so many ways. Allison wrote about how difficult it is to get along with others in the parish, especially when you are deeply involved in parish life and get a front row seat to everyone's foibles.

Last fall, my husband Paul and I had taken an active role in establishing a youth ministry in our large parish along with several of our friends. We did not have a youth minister in our parish at that time. Since then, the parish staff member who was assigned to help establish the youth ministry, has been hired as the permanent minister in this position. The teens love her, so we thought that was wonderful! However, she has pretty much dismissed the rest of the adults who had been working so hard to plan and chaperone social, prayer and service events in the parish. Her idea is to let the kids plan and run the events from now on without adult supervision except her own. Feelings are hurt, are course.

Add to that the fact that she does not have any type of theology background. She continually asks me questions like, "Anne, you know, are we allowed to have a Mass without a priest?" Scary! And of course, when she asks me questions like that, she doesn't mean that as a compliment, she means it as a dig. It is clear to me that she believes I am over the top in my faith, while it is clear to me that she is under-prepared for this position.

What I've just written, of course, is completely my point of view, my bias. The Youth Minister, on the other hand, may see things completely differently. She may think that I am a bossy know-it-all who always has to show that I know more about the faith than anyone else. We know that there are always two sides to every story, don't we?

Allison is so right, parish life isn't easy. But I love her rationale..."parish life is hard because life is hard. You don’t get to pick your parents and you don’t get to pick who sits next to you in a pew."

She goes on to say that what continues to draw her back to Mass, in spite of the difficulties that are sometimes found there, is the Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. I so agree! But I also know that the Real Presence is equally found within each and every one of us. God is looking at us right now and saying "Wow! I am so in love with her/him!" And we need to be looking at one another and saying that as well. Such a challenge, isn't it?

I just finished reading a very interesting book, "The Future Church" by John L. Allen. He talks about ten trends that will change the church. He concludes with this enlightening passage:

"The raw truth is that Catholicism is enormously complex, often enormously ambivalent, and much of the time it lifts your soul and breaks your heart in equal measure. Faith in the Church has never meant believing it does everything right; it means never abandoning hope despite all of the things it does wrong."

If I am to continue on in my Catholic faith, I have to accept the fact that we all come from different backgrounds, we all believe just a bit differently. The person sitting in the pew next to me, who has God deeply embedded within his soul, may be completely different from me in how he lives his Catholic faith. He may prefer Latin Mass, or maybe he is wishing to go back to the guitar Mass folk music days. He might not accept the fact that we are to fast for one hour before receiving communion and merrily chew on gum during the Mass. He may sing off key or have an annoying cough during the entire homily In short, he may get on my nerves in the worst way. But still, he calls himself Catholic, and he is there in church, participating and living his faith as best he can.

And then again, that person that grates on the nerves of those sitting nearby... just might be me.


  1. I can truly empathize with your feelings. Our very small parish is accustomed to being run by a handful of individuals. There are no systems--all institutional knowledge is simply passed from person to person. But what if that method no longer works? What about new people who would like to contribute their help and talents?

    When these 2 forces collide, it is not always handled in a respectful way.

    I hope that someone there realizes what a treasure you are, Ann!

  2. Very disturbing Anne. Lots of food for thought in this post. My family and I recently stepped down from all the ministries at our parish. I am waiting for God to call me to where he wants me to be. We have had problems at our parish too...among the EMHC!!!

  3. Wow, Anne, have you thought how intimidated she might be? Maybe at the bottom of her heart is a fear that she could fail gloriously. I'm not saying it's a certainly, but I bet you're so well versed in your faith that she might feel that there's a lot to criticize, and so she makes jokes out of her inexperience.

    Then again, maybe not! ;-) Have you spoken to the pastor about it? Sometimes I think we're looking to be strong in those tough situations, but life, and maybe even the devil, is in those details in life!

    An excellent post!

  4. Mary, you make an excellent point! I never thought about it from that perspective. It's sort of like the playground bully who picks on others because they are so insecure it is the only way that they can feel confident and more important than others. Maybe, deep inside of the Youth Minister, there is an insecure and fearful heart that doesn't know how to reach out and express her needs.

    I will pray for her more than ever!

    Thank you Meredith and Esther for your comments, too. I guess we've all known parish situations that make us shake inside for the future of our church. Best for us all to remember that God is in control and His church has been here for a long time, and will continue for a long time, despite all of our efforts to try to manage it!

  5. I will pray for her, too! And for all the hurt parents out there. Take care, Anne!

  6. I wonder if this youth leader is feeling the pressure to live up to some ideal that seems "too perfect" to be attained. I know that when I am in the company of individuals who are well versed educationally in their Catholic Faith I can feel really REALLY intimidated. I know I don't know nearly a third as much as a lot of Catholics who experience their Faith in profound ways on a daily basis. I know in my heart and spirit that I am no less saved, no less "Catholic" but my human side feels the stress of not knowing the "lingo" and all the nitty gritty ins and outs that many do. For some people in those situations they would rather not have those individuals who seem to know so much more around to inadvertently throw their lacks into stark contrast. They always feel like less around those who seem to know more or have seemingly more spiritual lives than they do. I think Satan uses all this to keep us keep us focusing on the "politics" of leadership areas rather than on being able to work together as a team. I don't know if that's what is going on for this particular youth leader but it's hard to leave the conditioning we receive from the world concerning the political structure of leadership out of the church and adopt the more spiritual structure of a community working in harmony to achieve desired goals.

  7. @Anne: I just stumbled into this post, where you quote mine. Thank you. I also love the point you make that the Real Presence resides in the parishioners who annoy the heck out of us.

  8. Wow, I love how you start by knowing that you got a 'dig' just for being a helper, in no way saying you were a priest or anything. Just doing your duty in the body of Christ. And then ending up with knowing that we all make 'digs' and have impressions of people that might not be the same thoughts God has towards His people. Thought provoking!