Sunday, February 3, 2008

"Moving beyond the parochial vision"

My pastor told us about a meeting in my diocese looking forward to changes over the next few years. One thing on the horizon is a certain consolidation of services between parishes. This consolidation is a point of anxiety for many folks who fear the loss of parish identity. On the other hand, the bishop reminded us recently that 'we are not congregationalists.' Rather, we are Catholics, and our catholicity requires awareness of how everything is directed 'according to the whole' (kata- holos). And so my pastor appealed to the parish to move beyond the parochial.

I was interested to learn from Fr. Giussani about the development of parishes in the Church:
«The most recent studies show that first the apostles and then their successors, the bishops, long resisted the tendency to multiply local communities out of their desire to preserve true unity in the Church. Thus at first many cities, or dioceses if we can call them such, remained linked to an apostle; then for a long time the dioceses remained centered around the bishop, and the "parishes" - in the modern sense - were few at first. It was only in feudal times that the number of parishes increased; and the clergy remained bound to their own Church, and to their own piece of land ("benefice") rather than to the bishop. One of the spiritual consequences of this was a weakened sense of ecclesial communion and contact with the life of the universal Church. This in turn led to a decadence of the clergy, who tended to isolate themselves and settle for the very limited religious needs of the people.»

(The Journey to Truth Is an Experience, p 110-111)

When I read this passage, it's clear to me why the bishops now reassign priests periodically. It's so that the pastors will continue to be a sign of catholicity to the parishes. And the people, even if they don't move around, need to adhere to the bishop so that they too, will announce the presence of Christ who draws us ever deeper into communion with the totality of the Church.

During Advent I had the opportunity to experience this catholicity during a reconciliation service at a parish other than my own. There were 15 priests there including an auxiliary or emeritus bishop. During this service this parish went beyond the parochial vision - it became the locus for the universal Church. One could see then that it was no longer the church of Corinth but the Church herself in Corinth.

As I lean into Lent, I want to remember those instruments that cultivate in me an ever greater awareness of the totality of the Church. Fr. Giussani reminds us that the early Church used letters of communion (Litterae Communionis) to bind each place in the Church with the whole. And so, I want to be more faithful to Traces - the magazine whose particular mission it is to build up this communion among all. And also, I want the Good Friday Way of the Cross to be a more public sign of communion in Christ.


Suzanne said...

This post is really helpful! Here in Steubenville, we are also facing a consolidation of parishes -- six parishes will close to form a new cathedral parish. It seems to me that this process has been made more complicated by the presence of ethnic parishes -- that is to say, parishes that were not determined by geographical boundaries but by ethnic identity. In the end, this approach to the formation of parishes might have exacerbated the clannish parochialism that makes it hard to convince people to work for unity. I have shared the text of this post with everyone in my SoC, and I hope we will get a chance to speak about it at some point. We've already been very preoccupied by our desire to live our unity with the whole Church during this period of change. So, thank you!

Freder1ck said...

Thanks, Suzanne.

While the parish is not The Church, it is a local community. And so, it's only natural to feel a loss when that community becomes less local or becomes consolidated with other communities. It is possible that friendships and associations from the old parishes will continue in a new way in the new community. It's also an opportunity to become more Catholic, an invitation to deeper communion.

My own parish may be moving soon - so no doubt I'll be grappling with these issues first hand.