Somebody sent me a beautiful talk given by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone at a conference at St. Patrick’s Seminary early last year entitled, “Doing the ‘Pastoral Thing’ Will Always Be Harder, but Right.” It seems to have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. Normally, I would put the link to the entire talk, but it looks to have been delivered in response to some unknown controversy at the seminary (I’m sure those there know about it, but we don’t need to!), so I’m just going to quote some parts of it that were amazing. These are the parts that seminarians everywhere should hear, as should those who are opposed to his efforts to help the SF Archdiocese. I’d love to think they’d like to know what makes the Archbishop tick, but I’m reasonably sure they’d just like to throw that alarm clock out the window.
Of course, there is a valuable lesson of life here, especially for your future ministry as priests, God willing. Sometimes doing the right thing will be emotionally difficult. The temptation will be not to take decisive action in order not to create conflict and to keep relationships harmonious. Yes, often things can be worked out in less disruptive ways, and that is the course of action to take whenever possible. But other times you just have to bite the bullet, man up, and do the right thing regardless of how you feel about it.
Anyone else standing on a chair clapping right now??? I’ve run into a few good priests who have literally said to me, “I don’t want conflict,” and not acted on things they know they should have done. It’s really frustrating for us laity to essentially watch your siblings throwing a temper tantrum and getting away with it. I can tell you, as a parent, your children are not always receptive to what you are telling them, and sometimes all the explanation and conversation in the world doesn’t reach the rebellious child, so you just have to put the proverbial foot down. These priests are our spiritual fathers. They don’t (or rather shouldn’t) just get to check out when life gets uncomfortable. They do need to “bite the bullet,” as the Archbishop says.
None of what he says means love goes out the window when you have to be the adult in the room. If you can really get to know “your child,” you can figure out the best way to reach him/her, but in the end, what needs to be done needs to be done. More from the Archbishop on that later.
There is another valuable lesson of life here. Some of you may not like the decision that was made, or the way that it was done. You might feel that your loyalties are elsewhere. When you don’t have all of the information, it is easy to second-guess and foster a hermeneutic of suspicion. But I’ve learned that when you assume greater roles of responsibility over an organization, you become privy to information that not everyone has, and you begin to see things in a different light. Quite often when you make a decision some people will get mad at you.
You always see this when a new president takes office. In the election he says he’s going to do x, y, and z, but when the CBO comes back with numbers or he gets the daily intelligence briefings he wasn’t privy to before, he gets a far better picture of the problem and what needs to be done. I’m sure this is similar for a Bishop/Archbishop, or even a Pope. In the dioceses in the Bay Area, I don’t think anyone can quite comprehend the level of disaster the last thirty years have created until you’re trying to repair all the damage. I remember getting frustrated about some bishop not dealing with some situation and I finally said something to him. He politely asked me, “Do you know how many other fires I’m trying to put out right now?” Again, I’m not privy to the daily briefings. While the archbishop’s last comment was aimed at the seminarians who were living with the “issue”, I really think it can apply to all of us.
On the day you are ordained – God-willing that it happens – you will make a promise of obedience to your bishop. That promise is not conditioned on any extenuating circumstance. You do not promise to obey your bishop so long as you like him, and obey his decision so long as you agree with it. That’s not obedience, that’s just being self-indulgent. Obedience only counts when you submit yourself to the will of the authority even when it’s unpleasant for you – that includes the authority of conscience, as I mentioned above when doing the right thing is emotionally difficult for you, but it also includes the legitimate ecclesiastical authority.
Archbishop Cordileone really nails what has been missing around here for a long time! We had bishops/archbishops who ran the dioceses here more like a club than an organization with a hierarchy. Maybe it’s because many of the bishops and priests were in school together and they never made the leap to being the bishop of people who were once their brother priests. It could also be for the same reason the Archbishop is talking about – sometimes you just have to accept that not every decision you make is going to be understood (because some are missing the parts) or embraced. They just didn’t want to be unpopular.
This is all the more important when it comes to obedience to your bishop, and other legitimate authorities, such as here at the seminary. Otherwise, you begin to connive against the authority, and work to get your own way, which tears down any sense of solidarity or common purpose. It all eventually leads to chaos. And yet, it’s been my experience that those who are most conniving and challenging to authority, complaining about lack of consultation, are precisely the ones who are most dictatorial once they are in charge. That is why it is so important that you learn the proper spirit of priestly solidarity, common purpose and serene obedience here and now, during your years of priestly formation, precisely so that you will be a just, generous and wise leader once you are entrusted with pastoral responsibility. To expand upon what Bishop Daly told you in a rector’s conference a few months ago, I would also say that a conniving, insubordinate, narcissistic seminarian will be a conniving, insubordinate, narcissistic priest.
I hope you weren’t drinking as you were reading this because I’m reasonably sure your computer would be soaking right now! AWESOME! Translation: When the patients are left to run the asylum, you get more craziness! It’s like he just spelled out the plot of Lord of the Flies! Children cannot raise themselves without proper knowledge of authority or it will be every man for himself with the bullies in charge. This was the history of St. Patrick’s Seminary.
The ideologue simply imposes his own ideas on everyone else, regardless of how it will be received and without trying to understand the people who have been entrusted to his pastoral care. The lazy priest, on the other hand, simply lets people do and believe what they want; he avoids conflict at all cost, and builds everything around his personal life, his ministry included.
Whaaaaaat? I’ve NEVER seen that happen in the Bay Area, or anywhere else for that matter. (Dramatic eye roll goes here.) Archbishop Cordileone has been showing us for months just what he meant when he said this at the seminary! Here’s a little more:
This is being pastoral: encountering the other, establishing a relationship with them, being lovingly present to them. A priest cannot possibly hope to help his people grow in holiness if he is not present to them. His loving, pastoral presence to them at those most critical moments of life – the loss of a loved one, the birth of a child, marriage, times of crisis – all of this prepares the ground for him to, when necessary, challenge them for their own ongoing conversion. So make no mistake: truly doing the “pastoral thing” will always be harder, it will always place demands on you, sometimes inconvenient and uncomfortable demands; it will require you to work hard.
Again, he’s been a living witness of this since he took over the Archdiocese of San Francisco. He wasn’t just telling these young seminarians to do something he’d never do. He’s ever going back to the opposition with love and compassion, trying and trying again to explain to them why he is doing what he’s doing. He’s had meetings with the teachers and parents. He’s had meetings with the press. He’s still doing what needs to be done, but he’s doing it with painstaking patience. (It’s been painful for me because I have the natural protective mom inclination to say, “Stop messing with my Archbishop you jerks!”)
Archbishop Cordileone went on to link the quotes above to how we have to treat the liturgy, probably because of the battles the faithful often get into over the music, the décor, etc., etc., etc.
To have credibility, we have to model that first and foremost at the liturgy: we are the servants of the liturgy, not its creators. This takes a great deal of discipline, restraint and humility on the part of the liturgical ministers, and most especially the celebrant.
Can I just say that credibility has been missing around here for a long, long time? We’ve had four wonderful bishops come to our area in the last twelve years (one has sadly left). They made great improvements, but we have a way to go! A lot of those who think they are creators of the liturgy have retired or will soon. Now these great new bishops have a lot of untangling to do. In fact, I’m sure Mary, Undoer of Knots, is probably their favorite novena these days!
Now, some people might say that this is all fine and dandy, but it’s irrelevant because it’s not what’s happening in our parishes. Well, if you see a discrepancy between what is in the pages of the Church’s documents and what is going on in our parishes’ liturgies, it’s not because the documents are wrong!
This is where the three approaches can be so easily illustrated. The ideologue will simply start mandating changes without talking to people, seeking to understand them, and, most importantly, teaching them. He’s in charge, so he does what he wants, and even if what he wants is what the Church says we should be doing, he alienates people. The lazy priest simply lets things drift off on their own, and get further and further away from what the Church teaches about how we are to worship. This, too, will inevitably begin to affect how and what his people believe, and so weaken their faith. But the pastoral priest will educate his people about what the Church teaches, what the Council really had in mind for authentic liturgical reform; he will begin to introduce changes gradually, probably targeting one principal Sunday Mass to build it up as the one with special solemnity. He also will not take anything away from his people; he will keep the contemporary music at the other Masses, and teach the musicians how to do it well. In this way, he will facilitate liturgical renewal organically. And it can be done. I’ve seen it done. I know pastors who inherited a parish in shambles (in one of them, the kids’ swing set was in the pastor’s back yard!), and, by approaching it precisely this way, they have completely transformed their parishes: the Masses are full, there are long lines for confessions, the full spectrum of ministries abound – even including the teaching of Natural Family Planning – and people are on fire for their faith.
This won’t happen with the ideologue or the slouch. When the ideologue discovers that the high school kid is having a great time banging away at the drums at Mass, he’ll tell him to take a hike. Never mind that this was his one connection to the Church, and maybe even hope for keeping out of trouble. Of course, the slouch will just let it continue, maybe even encourage it, and pretend as if it’s enjoyable. The true pastor will befriend the young man, guide him as to how he can use his instrument in a way that supports the singing rather than drown it out, and begin to sensitize the musicians to their proper role. When the young man graduates and leaves for college, there is an opportunity to make a subtle change of direction.
The documents of the Church aren’t wrong? Say it isn’t so! They’re archaic, at least, right? Really, this cannot be said enough! The documents of the Church are not wrong! We just got it wrong for so many years! Archbishop Cordileone is very clear: something has to be done about our liturgy. He’s training these men up in the way they should go and hoping they don’t depart from it so they can do the same for us and our children.
Archbishop Cordileone goes on to mention a few specific things in the liturgies around the Bay Area that are actually theologically incorrect and some that even encourage narcissism. Narcissism is so big around here; it’s pretty much a hobby for some! I’m hoping that all of his effort can stem that because, if you are familiar at all with Greek Mythology, you will remember that Narcissus drowned due to his love of himself. What happens when you can no longer tread water? You end up like the “100 Prominent Catholics,” sinking further into the abyss!
We cannot thank you enough, Archbishop Cordileone! We know you’ve taken the harder road so many before you have failed to do. Despite the media spin and the efforts of the “100 Prominent Catholics,” your love for the people in your care shines through! You are the true shepherd that we need for our local area as well as for the whole country. May your efforts be blessed!