A Check-up for the Parish
Anyone over 40 knows the necessity, and occasionally the indignity, of having to go for a medical. It is prudent and practical to do so.
With timely screening and appropriate intervention, health can be assessed, risks minimised and positive lifestyle choices be made. Usually that means more healthy food and less red meat, salt and the new devil, sugar.
Likewise, parishes need a regular check-up. But how do we assess parishes for health? Is there a mechanism?
All Systems Working Together
Quite often I hear comments like, “In our parish, we can’t do this. Father has said no”, or “Father X (or pastoral council chair Y) won’t allow such things”.
This is probably the first indicator of a parish’s health. How centralised is the leadership and, more important, the authority?
The human body relies on all systems working together. St Paul is very clear about this in his body metaphor (Eph 5:21-33). Yet, in many parishes we end up with all systems concentrated in the hands of very few.
Those few will often tell you the reason for the concentration is that there is no one else to do the job. I don’t buy this argument. If there is no one else, don’t do it. It’s like stress in the body: walk away from that which you can’t and shouldn’t do.
The Risks of Sugar
What is the sugar risk to your parish? In the last 100 years, our consumption of sugar — a source of energy but in excess a health hazard — has increased hugely. We face a pandemic of obesity. What is the sugar-risk in the parish?
I would venture that the sugar of our parishes has become our music.
In Tshwane, we hosted the World Choir Games this month. It was spectacular. South African choirs were singing Catholic liturgical music—Kyrie, Sanctus, Magnificats, Glorias. Some of it was even composed by fantastic South African composers.
And yet, you’ll never hear these works in our churches as most of the composers and singers are either atheists or Protestant.
In our Catholic communities we pour heaped spoons of horrible music into our liturgical tea in the hope that it will give us the energy for mission, or make us feel good.
Even worse is when we are importing songs from other churches and communities because they sound “nice”. That’s like substituting sugar with saccharine: no benefit and more deadly. We need to examine our sugar intake — and possibly rethink.
One of the risks of coming of age is cholesterol. The Bad Stuff. The stuff that clogs arteries and increases risk of stroke.
What is the cholesterol in the Church? I think it’s our habitual ways.
Cholesterol in the body doesn’t arrive overnight. It’s the ongoing abuse, neglect and decay that makes us sluggish. In the Church, it’s our unexamined attitudes. “We have always done it this way.” Yes, you have. And now stop it. It’s stupid.
Most parish communities should at least be on cholesterol meds to clear the arteries. But it may be too late. They’re so clogged up, some parishes already have had a heart attack and stroke—but no one has noticed and everyone just carries on as if nothing has happened.
Cancer and Blood Pressure
On with our medical: the cancer screening. Parishes needs to look at those malignant cells that have taken their role of defending things too seriously. In trying to correct things, they have gobbled up way more than was originally the stimulus.
This is very often a ruling group or family or cabal in a parish who hold the history. And by God, they will die defending it…and kill everything in the process.
Some parishes need chemotherapy. And some may need a death certificate.
And hypertension? Our assessment of parishes in terms of their blood pressure needs to be done on their finances.
How much do you buy into the support of your parish. No, seriously. Have you given that thought?
When told recently that a person would join my parish because something was happening here, unlike at their own parish, I responded that we all need to make the parishes we want.
We can be envious of other people’s parishes, just as we are of other people’s bodies. But any physician will tell you that looking at a body-building competition from the luxury of your couch — armed with a packet of crisps and a bowl of full-fat cream cheese and that sweet chillies stuff — will never get you that body. You have to do something.
Yet, we are comfortable to wait, watch, disengage. We never go to the gym — and the blood pressure just builds. And builds. And then all we need is one often small thing to give us an aneurism.
Prevention isn’t the cure in this case. Participation is. Get off your lazy butt and get on with it. Something. Anything. Engage! Because if you don’t, you have no right to complain.
And who are the physicians who can diagnose all this? Well, that’s a tough one.
Ideally, the diocesan bishop should be visiting his parishes often (parish priests share in his delegated authority — we are in the parish only in his place). And he should visit not as the Confirmation Fairy with a pointed hat but be there with practical and pastoral solicitude for the parishes.
Checking their books. Engaging with leaders and groups. Well, I know of only a few bishops who ever do that.
So who is responsible? Well, if you don’t feel a dis-ease, you will never move — get yourself to the doctor, do something.
Some parishes, dioceses and clergy are behaving as if they are terminal, and a visit to the physician would only confirm what they already know: “We’re dead — or will be soon.”
Or we can make the lifestyle choices that are necessary. Get the screening. Exercise. Change our diets, and DO SOMETHING!