- Allison Goldsberry
It is fitting that during Lent, a time of reflection leading up to the holiest day of the year for Catholics and Christians, the Catholic Church faces the task of selecting a new Pope.
Much has already been published in the media, and more will continue to come out as people speculate and reflect upon the state of the Catholic Church, its people around the globe, and the men who could potentially become the new Pope.
An opinion piece in The New York Times by Bill Keller grabbed my attention. Keller compares the Catholic Church to a large corporation in need of a turnaround. Indeed, there are many similarities between the Church and large, bureaucratic companies that have seemed to lose their focus or that have been dogged by negative publicity and scandals.
There is a large gulf between the Church as an institution and what Catholics actually experience in their daily lives living out our faith, and what we encounter at our local churches. It often appears the “business” side of the Church, its bureaucracy, its organization, are out of step with what really goes on locally, and business decisions aren’t always made that keep faith and the Church’s mission as the focus.
Nowhere is this more apparent locally than in Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s restructuring plan for parishes. While combining staff between local churches might make sense organizationally and financially for the Archdiocese of Boston, it has nothing to do with furthering the Church’s mission and doesn’t consider the spiritual needs of parishioners.
In searching for administrative efficiencies, the plan considered things like parish budgets, donations, and the number of baptisms and weddings. However, there is more to the modern church than those measurements. For example, my church, the Immaculate Conception Parish of Malden/Medford, has faith festivals and activities that include people of all ages, a vibrant youth ministry, a wonderful Pastor, strong volunteers, a terrific staff, and programs for the needy. The church has been chosen to combine staffs with Sacred Heart of Malden, which will be “phased in” by the summer of 2014. Both churches will share a staff and a pastor, and unfortunately not necessarily the same wonderful Pastor, Father Mehm, that we now have.
Rather than closing churches, combining parishes, and other business decisions that seem devoid of spiritual relevance, the Church should focus on its main mission: serving as the spiritual home for people who are following Jesus Christ. It should also not lose its focus on serving those most in need. This is what should lead discussions about the next Pope. The Church continues to grow in all parts of the world, particularly Africa, but it is languishing in place like Europe and North America. Catholics need a spiritual leader who will help grow the Church in new places while revitalizing it in others. Now is the time to make this happen. Let’s pray during this Lenten season that the men tasked with electing a new Pope will chose someone who will be a genuine faith leader for Catholics around the world.
When a church can motivate its parishioners to buy gifts for those in need during Christmas, it is doing something right. Pictured above: presents at the Immaculate Conception Church of Malden/Medford. Courtesy photo.