Last week, I talked about the various groups that priests are called to lead spiritually: Faithful Catholics who are the backbone of the parish, those who have ceased practicing their Catholic faith, people of other faiths and those with no religious affiliation.
Canon 528 of the Code of Canon Law says, “The pastor is obliged to see to it that the word of God in its entirety is announced to those living in the parish, and with the aid of the Christian faithful, to bring the Gospel message also to those who have ceased practicing their Catholic faith or who do not profess the true faith.”
Is all that possible for one pastor to do, especially for those priests who pastor more than one parish? Of course, it isn’t!
If you read the mandate from Canon Law, there is one key phrase that we must look at seriously: “with the aid of the Christian faithful.”
The work of seeing to it that the word of God is announced, especially to the faithful and those who have ceased practicing their Catholic faith, means that we must find ways to empower all the baptized.
Even though it was denied when we started closing parishes that it was not because of a priest shortage, surely, we all know that was not quite true in some cases.
I agree that the problem may not have been so much because there was a priest shortage as the fact that we had not trained our lay people to be missionaries. We found out that we had failed to implement that part of Canon 528 that said “with the aid of the Christian faithful.”
I have always thought that when a struggling parish is identified, we should recruit diocesan missionaries from stable parishes to volunteer as members there for a few years: music ministers, religion teachers, maintenance workers, secretaries or whatever ministry is needed.
Some could volunteer to simply become parishioners, bringing their financial support.
The idea would be to train local people in the skills of evangelization and church growth before moving back to their home parishes. That sounds better to me than the diocese merely handing out a parish subsidy and prolonging its struggle.
We need more priests, yes, but is there something more we can do?
Priests cannot clone themselves, but there are some things we can do to make ourselves more available to more people in some creative ways. When my term as pastor of the Cathedral of the Assumption ended, many people came forward and asked if I would be their spiritual director.
That was impossible, but what was possible was this weekly column, publishing several spiritual books, creating a blog and recently recording YouTube videos.
To grow the church, we desperately need more imagination.
To read more from Father Knott, visit his blog: FatherKnott.com