the best and worst of times; my life as a parish catechist

When my children were young, I put my heart and soul into our parish catechetical program. I was in the midst of studies myself, and on fire with a desire to teach the Catholic faith. There were no paid positions in our rural parish, but I willingly put in many volunteer hours preparing children for Sacraments and facilitating adult faith formation sessions. I had found my calling. In many ways, it was the best of times.

Unfortunately, our parish and diocese was in the midst of a sadly dysfunctional situation with our priest and bishop of the time. Heads were rolling. Priests and laity were being dismissed, often without explanation. Lines were being drawn in the sand. Folks sucked it up, grumbled and stayed. Or, they spoke out and quickly found themselves on the other side of the church door. I was in the latter group. It truly was the worst of times.

I learned several lessons about church politics from this experience. My priest friends, who were skittishly looking over their own shoulders at the time, were not willing to stand up for me. They offered a shoulder to cry on and affirmed the injustice that had been done, but that was the extent of their help. I was left alone. But when two of their own were unceremoniously removed from the diocese, we lay folks were expected to raise our voices in loud protest and support!

I also learned that each parish has a small flock of obedient sheep that will continue to do the pastor`s bidding regardless of the extent of his nastiness. They will commiserate and grumble loudly about the injustices being committed, but never directly to the priest. Their silent acquiescence is interpreted as support, and enables the bad behaviour to continue.

Several priests have come and gone in our parish since then. I had one more `best of times` experience facilitating the RCIA program. The pastor at the time affirmed and empowered us in our work. It was a refreshing interlude, but only lasted as long as his time in the parish. His successor was another over-controlling, micro-manager and I wasn`t ready to join his ranks of minions.

What is my involvement in parish catechetics today? Zilch! Sadly, my roller coaster experience sucked all my energy and passion. I no longer feel called to parish work. It took a long time, but I`ve finally made my peace with it.

I`m sharing this story in the spirit of disclosure. Yes, my experience left me scarred and more than a little embittered. It has also given me the perspective of both an insider and outsider. Our parish catechetical programs have their shining moments, and faith-filled and committed catechists provide the brightest lights. But there are weaknesses that need to be addressed with honesty, creativity and collaboration. And so, this discussion will continue….

3 thoughts on “the best and worst of times; my life as a parish catechist

  1. I continually question my involvement in a Church that has hurt, and continues to hurt so many people. Am I by my presence, affiliation and support responsible for the very dark, one-sided shadow of this institution?
    Like you, my most personal negative experiences were when I had spoken up in the Church, or church affiliated institution. I often found that evil would be tolerated as long as it was not questioned, or talked about; and if you spoke about it, your motives and even your sanity were questioned.
    In several primitive cultures there are fetishes and images of people with their mouths sown closed. These bizarre images speak to me of tremendous violence being done to people. This brutal silencing, and its’ violence can be can be found at all levels in the Church. Pope Benedict admits that “sin is in the church” and says publicly that we are facing a “cultural and spiritual crisis.” in our Church.
    As for me, I have learned the hard way to keep a healthy distance from the Church. I just try to imitate Jesus; but I question if even my remote presence gives support to the one-sided shadow of an institution that hurts so many good people.

  2. Hi Ray,

    Sometimes I wonder about the correlation between one`s love for the Church, and one`s ability to be hurt by her. It seems that those who care the most for our faith are also those who are willing to stand up and speak out when injustices are done. The faithful, obedient types often don`t sully their minds with the nastiness that exists in our community of sinners and saints. Wearing blinders can make being a Catholic much easier!

    But, many of us refuse to put on blinders and therefore have our own story of disappointment. And we continue to stay.

    Our church is truly a communion of sinners and saints. I don`t believe that our staying in the church enables the sinners. I`m staying to stand in solidarity and support of all the good women and men who take the gospel to heart. They are the ones who show the world the integrity and universal goodness in our Catholic faith when it is lived at its best.


  3. Perhaps for the first time in two thousand years of Christianity the Church is being forced to look beyond the personal sin of individuals to its’ own structural sin. We are finally beginning to understand that people do harmful things because they are part of sinful systems, cultures and institutions. We can remain “good” Catholics as long as we deal only with effects and symptoms of the personal sin of those in the Church; just do not talk about the structural sin of a system where harmful things are part of its’ culture.

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