A spouse of many years asks, “Do you love me?” The other spouse answers, “Of course I do, I told you at the wedding!”
Laugh or shake your head if you like, but this is often the relationship we have with our local pastors and perhaps even with our Bishop.
While our Society year began in October, every January is a time to look at new goals. One that should be high on a Conference and Council list is to renew and improve the relationship we have with clergy. After all, let’s remember that the Society operates only with the invitation of our Bishop and parish pastor. We can’t take this for granted.
If ever there was a year to update each party, this is it! Our beloved clergy members at all levels continue to struggle with the Church’s sexual abuse claims and aftermath which has threatened our faith in its membership, finances and maybe most of all, basic trust. This was chased off of the media front pages only because of the even worse pandemic crisis. We still have lifelong Catholics who aren’t able out of health or fear, or allowed by the Church or secular authorities, to return to pray in their local church. They can’t share their faith or the good works resulting from it. They can’t, or for whatever reasons don’t, contribute financially to the parish. Parish fundraisers are cancelled, Mass times disappear or are changed, and we can’t even offer each other a sign of peace.
Meanwhile the Conference presses on. We meet virtually, which is nice but dampens our Essential Element, Friendship. We hold Home Visits not in the home but through phone calls, and electronically send rent and utilities payments on behalf of those we serve. We give food though contactless deliveries. Whether for better or worse, no doubt we aren’t the same Society we were a year ago.
In all of this change and often turmoil, any relationships may suffer including those in our own homes and those with our friends and neighbors. Likewise, our clergy relationships suffer from the basic reduction of contacts over time. This means we need to be more intentional in our scheduling and communications to maintain this critical mutual support. We can no longer count on a chance meeting with our priests in the hallway, at our functions, or even after Mass to update each other on our plans and activities.
During this pandemic and other challenges, the Church may need us more than ever. We sometimes focus our clergy conversations and reports on our activities in serving the poor during this time of illness and unemployment. Yet our mission is based on helping people get closer to God. Increasing the spirituality of fellow parishioners – and everyone else – should be a central part of our clergy messaging and ongoing relationships. Even in more settled, good times a priest can directly reach only so many people. We as a group of Vincentians can reach so many more! Evangelization is a central part of our charism.
Let’s not discount those services, however. It’s hard to find a parish that has enough priests, sisters and deacons to serve the poor on their own! The smarter clergy count on the Society as an extremely valuable layperson outreach and services tool for the Church to demonstrate its care and feeding of the flock. Yes, we are an independent entity. The poor, though, often see us as an extension of the parish, and that’s not a distinction we need to correct in order to help a family.
We often think that a priest knows all about us, our works and mission, our Rule, and even how we operate our finances. Many Conference Presidents are laughing as they read this, because these are often the root causes of challenging clergy relationships. A Bishop once said to me that, “it’s amazing what they don’t teach us in Seminary.” This lack of information very often includes anything at all about the Society’s purpose, works and potential value to the pastor.
Please don’t assume that your clergy, including your Bishop, knows what they need to understand and support you. Like all of us, they learn from their experiences. If their previous parishes did not include a Conference, or they never worked directly with us, perceptions of us may look quite different from one priest to another.
As Vincentians we seek to get closer to God, and this may take many forms. Let’s begin with a renewed, intentional, and continuing conversation with our local priest. Let’s explore how we can serve together for the Lord!
Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer, CEO