By Frank Wessling
It’s said that God helps those who help themselves. While this is true enough, the Gospel suggests that God is even more readily available to those who can’t help themselves. But our point here is that we need to act on our needs and desires. God is with us regardless of how much power we have.
Parishes in our diocese are going through discussions on how we all might plan and organize to better use our resources. How will we as a community be more vital as an image of God in the future? How can we do better in sharing our faith with the next generations?
Every person in the diocese has had, or will have, an opportunity to say what needs to be done, what should be done. The minority of laity who respond to this opportunity are leaders. Their interest and energy is a crucial dimension of the faith that we stand for. The rest of us should thank them.
A community-wide planning process like this has its ragged edges, situations that simply lie beyond the competence of the people involved. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t allow us to plan our neighbors into ghettos. We have to resolve community troubles in other ways. The Roman Catholic constitution doesn’t currently allow us to plan for a future with married priests. That idea may appeal to a number of us in an immediate future that appears darker with fewer clergy, but it isn’t useful as a planning element.
There is some grumbling about that. Across the People of God there appears to be growing receptivity for a married priesthood. Surveys show this consistently among both lay people and clergy while Church leadership reflects the same spirit by setting up ways in which married clergy from other churches are accepted in the Catholic Church. We will soon have a Church-wide special rite for married clergy coming from the Anglican Church. Since this spirit is active among us, why can’t we respond in formal ways?
We could at least encourage the development by framing part of our need in terms that touch the heart of our faith: we fear limits on the availability of the Eucharist. This surely is energy reflecting the Holy Spirit in some way.
We can acknowledge this. It doesn’t necessarily follow that our planning energy should include this future possibility. The community of laity that forms a parish needs to focus on its response-ability in terms of resources at hand, not remote possibilities.
The Church has always operated on this two-level track: the kingdom of God present and the kingdom to come. We are called to live in this tension, acting in the spirit of Christ present now and at the same time longing for the fullness of that presence in a future beyond our control.
We are approaching the season of Advent again, an instructive period for people in a hurry. In the Church this is both the beginning of a new year and a short time dedicated to anticipation while waiting. We prepare for a celebration of God-with-us by remembering a time of waiting and hoping. It should help refine and sharpen our sense of what — and who — it is that we await.
Our planning in this diocese should not be distracted by a fuzzy dream of more priests in the future, married or not, as if this would relieve us, the people, of responsibility. By putting that dream aside it becomes clearer that all of us together in communion are the Church. We are the presence of Christ extended from the Eucharist.
When we act with that faith, God helps with a future we should anticipate in the same way we anticipate the feast of the Nativity.