Saturday, May 26, 2007

Good News, Bad News

First, the bad news. While sitting in the Reconciliation Room today, not one person came for Confession. This could be interpreted as either a great thing ("Yay, all the Catholics around here are sinless, woo-hoo!") or a sad thing ("C'mon, Father, 'penance' is such a Lenten thing. We've moved on."). While I'm hoping for the former, I'm banking on the latter. The good news, though, is that I had the chance to read more than half of Good News, Bad News, the new book by Fr. C. John McCloskey and Russell Shaw published by Ignatius Press. A few weeks ago, I interviewed Mr. Shaw about the book for my radio show, but like most things in my life when pressed for time, I had scanned the book for the interview, rather than actually reading the book.

First things first: it is an extremely quick read. In an hour, I covered about 80 of the book's 127 pages, and that was whilst underlining passages and writing keywords in the margins so I can find certain parts of the book quickly in the future.

One of the best things this book accomplishes (so far in my reading, anyway) is that it brings home the idea that the task of bringing people from other religions to the Catholic Church, as well as those raised Roman Catholic but who have lapsed in the practice of their faith back the the Church ("converts" and "reverts", as the authors name them), is something primarily meant to be done by the Laity. This doesn't mean, however, that the clergy are "off the hook". Again using simple terms, Fr. McCloskey says that Priests are "formers" and "closers". We are "formers", in that it is our task to properly form the Laity so that they not only are educated enough in their faith to answer questions, but also see the need to live their faith in the world. Priests are "closers" in that, once someone comes to us wanting to become a Catholic or return to their Catholic faith, we can provide the Sacraments that "close the deal", whether it be Baptism or Confession. In the book, Fr. McCloskey gives the reader a "dream-homily", one which he would love to see Catholic Priests stand up in their pulpits and deliver which would convey that idea. Here it is:

"My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

I want you to understand that my associates and I are here above all to preach, to administer the Sacraments, and to catechize. We do these things for you, our parishioners, so that you can do a better job of bringing Christ - and being Christ - to your families and your neighborhoods, to the people where you work and go to school, to your community, your nation, your culture, your world.

That being the case, I'm here to tell you not to worry about it if you don't have time to get so heavily involved doing things in the parish - lay ministries, committees, all that. Those things are good, and we priests welcome the participation of those among you who are able to lend a hand in that way. But doing things in the parish isn't your first and most important job as Catholic lay people.

Your job is to go out and change the world - to do what it takes to place Christ at the summit of all human activity and to help more and more people know him and accept him and love and serve him.

That's what it's all about. Please let us priests know how we can help you laity do it better."

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