Christian community must be important priority in planning process

| Frank Schweigert | February 11, 2010 | 0 Comments

The article in the latest Catholic Spirit, “Mass Matters” (Jan. 14), signals a major shift in Catholic pastoral theology: There is no mention of the centrality of Christian community. Christian community is not included in the seven planning principles, nor is it mentioned in the article. A theological shift of this magnitude should be announced clearly; but instead it is slipping by quietly, falling out of sight and hearing.

Most telling in this regard is the statement of Father Bauer: “If a priest is going to travel between two parishes to say Mass, and he has to travel five miles, I don’t think it’s burdensome to ask and expect parishioners to do that as well.”

What is not said here is that the priest traveled the five miles so that Catholic parishioners could worship with their community. The parishioners have to leave their community to travel the five miles to a neighboring parish.

Of course, one might ask: What is so important about worshipping with one’s community? Can’t we consider the archdiocese our community, or the people of the neighboring parish our community? Isn’t getting to Mass and the sacraments the important thing?

Here is what’s missing: Christian life is life in community. Christian community is not an abstract notion, but the concrete group of people with whom we share discipleship, with whom we celebrate the sacraments, with whom we renew our conversion and pass the faith on to others in catechesis and evangelization. The Body of Christ cannot be merely an idea; it must also be a lived reality — real persons, in the flesh, with all our weaknesses and troubles and strengths and gifts.

With each step away from the local community, the reality of  Christian community becomes more abstract and less personal. Indeed, the archdiocese can be our Christian community only because we can mentally and spiritually extend to the entire metro area the reality we are living locally. If there is no local Christian community life, the archdiocese is reduced to an abstract notion. It is not a false notion, but it is in danger of being a notion empty of lived reality. And that is not Christian life.

The archdiocesan planners believe they are unable to provide sacramental leadership for all existing parishes, and thus some parishes must close. We can accept this; but it does not mean that Christian community must be ignored or devalued.

If parishes can no longer be the locus of Christian community, we must then find some other place, form and expression of this essential reality. Pastoral planning cannot be limited to concerns of sacraments, schools and leadership only; it must include community.

“Full sacramental ministry” is an important value; it belongs among the seven planning principles. But Christian community is also an important value. It, too, belongs among the seven planning principles.

Frank Schweigert is a Catholic living in St. Paul.

Father Bauer responds:

Father John Bauer is co-chair of the archdiocesan Strategic Task Force for Parish and School Planning and rector of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

As I read Mr. Schweigert’s letter, I could not help nodding in agreement with much that he had to say. The Christian community is indeed important. It should not be devalued or ignored.

However, one cannot ignore the essential connection between the community and the Eucharist.

While it is true that the “Christian life is life in community,” it must also be clearly stated that Catholic Christian life and Catholic Christian community are rooted in the Eucharist. The Second Vatican Council was clear about this in its Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests: “No Christian community, however, can be built up unless it has its basis and center in the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist” (No. 6).

These and many other documents make it abundantly clear that although one can have a Christian community without the Eucharist, one can’t have a Catholic Christian community without the Eucharist.

It is the Eucharist — the body of Christ — that strengthens us and enables us to be an authentic Catholic Christian community.

The document on the liturgy of the Second Vatican Council puts it this way: “The liturgy [more specifically the Eucharist] is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fountain from which all her power flows” (No. 10).

The principle of “full sacramental ministry” will ensure that the Eucharist will continue to be available to the faithful of the archdiocese.

Category: Archdiocese Planning Process