Somos el Cuerpo de Cristo
Thoughts from Some Fellow Parishioners of Holy Spirit
June 24, 2007
“It must be understood, that a prince cannot observe all of those virtues for which men are reputed good, because it is often necessary to act against mercy, against faith, against humanity, against frankness, against religion, in order to preserve the state.” from The Prince by Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli. (It is said that Machiavelli wrote The Prince as advice to Cesare Borgia, a Cardinal of the Church and son of Pope Alexander VI.)
The fourth anniversary of the firing of the parish workers has certainly set off an exchange in the local version of the blogosphere—a lot of heat, certainly, and even some light. Anniversaries give us an opportunity to step back, take the long view, and try to understand the significance of what has happened over a period of time.
Some have emphasized the actions of the three priests who have been in charge of the Parish since June 2003, but in the big picture there has been one consistent player who has never wavered in his attitudes and his actions vis-à-vis Holy Spirit and who has controlled the main flow of events over this entire time. Bishop Peña has orchestrated it all in a way that would make Machiavelli proud.
It is hard not to come to the conclusion that the Bishop wanted a dramatic confrontation in June 2003, when he very easily could have taken action in 2002, when the labor contracts were signed, by immediately getting on the phone to the five pastors and informing them that they did not have the authority to execute such contracts—the issue would have been settled on the spot. Instead the Bishop allowed nearly a year to go by, giving, to all intents and purposes, tacit approval to the contracts, and then chose to dramatically violate the contract in a parish he wanted to make an example of anyway.
It has all been manipulation—conservatives and progressives both have been played, contributing, unwittingly, to an exercise of raw power, not authority. The Bishop portrays himself in public as the voice of reason and pastoral care, seeking a way to “heal and reconcile factions in the parish.” This conveniently ignores the fact that he created the divisions in the first place and, by his failures to act, has encouraged the three priests to further exacerbate the situation. The Bishop has engaged in at least four different, long term, behind the scenes efforts at supposed dialogue and negotiation on particular issues, but every time has found a way to see these fail, blaming others on each occasion and leaving the net situation in the Parish worse for the effort.
Some of the most recent entries on Reflections of the Spirit raise the call for some honest dialogue—calm, respectful, and face-to-face—without involvement of the clergy. Sort of a clubhouse meeting, players only, that might have a chance of putting human faces to expressed feelings and ideas and so create an atmosphere where some real progress might take place. This seems like a good way to start the fifth year of this sad saga and begin a turn from tragedy and farce to effective action.
Let’s everybody put their copies of The Prince back on the shelf, set aside its advice, and get to the business of creating a better Parish.
Assessment and Metrics
The great number of parishioners in government, education, or some large business enterprise have certainly become aware, of the large amount of emphasis and energy that goes into assessment these days. Sometimes this emphasis seems extreme, but everyone has to admit to the logic that careful assessment should lead to a more effective enterprise. Good assessment depends upon clear articulation of goals and clear definition of metrics.
When the Bishop in his interview on KRGV, and others in blog contributions, declare Holy Spirit to be thriving, the question becomes how did they arrive at such a conclusion? What was measured? How was the data gathered?
There is an old adage, de gustibus, non est disputandum (concerning taste, there is to be no disputing). Some people think that The English Patient was terrible; others think Fargo is a terrific film. Taste is not the subject of a proper assessment. Neither are anecdotal impressions. When the Bishop says, “the Confirmation candidates were well-prepared,” he should be able to tell us upon what data he based that observation—help all of us understand the religious education effort better.
There are some numbers that point to a Parish that is not thriving: Mass attendance is dramatically less; Sunday collections are significantly lower; hundreds of people have left the Parish; fewer youngsters are participating in religious education; ministries and activities in the Parish are fewer in number and involve a smaller percentage of the Parish. These are “bottom line” numbers that should concern everyone.
The fact that some people like or dislike certain changes is not really fodder for assessment—we need to decide what is important to be doing and how to measure what we are doing. Merely disputing taste won’t get it done and eventually becomes time-wasting and destructive.
Rules of the Road
Chalk it up to a moment of truth is stranger than fiction. In the midst of a week filled with increased death and violence in Iraq, renewed focus on healthcare, immigration issues, efforts to raise awareness about the desperate living conditions of so many of our brothers and sisters at home and around the world—in the midst of all this and more, the Vatican released a document called “Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road”. Within its 36 pages it even includes the “10 Commandments of the Road”. Sorry, but my immediate reaction was along the lines of doesn’t the Vatican have something better to be spending its time and energy on?
But if you put the document in perspective, the advice is good. Especially when the document is viewed according to what is at the heart of the matter—how to be in relationships with each other that are just, relationships guided by Jesus’ commandment to love one another. Then the document really comes to life. It stresses prayer, avoiding expression of power and domination, bringing parties together for the experience of forgiveness, protecting the more vulnerable party and feeling responsible toward others. How different this world would be if all of us—world and church leaders included—could follow those guidelines. from fellow parishioner, Michelle Pena
“…I have known many wonderful priests who do their best to bring Christ alive today. A friend will soon be ordained to the priesthood, and I am happy for him. I am, however, concerned about what the editorial describes as ‘a new breed’ of priests enamored of the robes, jewels, costumes and attitudes that are as misfit a medieval concept as limbo. Such men cannot be faithful disciples or effective ministers when they place themselves on pedestals above the people they are called to serve. Clergy are not holier or more virtuous than laypeople. They are our brothers who exercise a particular ministry within the community of faith…. It seems that many bishops are more concerned with protecting the institution at all costs than they are with leading us in doing Jesus’ work in the world. Where is their faith in the goodness and fidelity of God?” Sheryl B. Za-bel in a letter to the editor, National Catholic Reporter, 6/22/07
Total below budget: $47,058.50 (last year same date: $49,559.67)
Total shortfall (including expenditures over budget): $116,979.86
Projected yearly shortfall: $168,970.91
Note: The total shortfall numbers in the last two newsletters were incorrectly reported as $58,267.80 and $64,094.58. They should have been $92,369.94 and $105,920.59, respectively. Sorry for the error.
How and why is it that the Holy Spirit Preschool appears on several websites as a branch of the Catholic Charismatic Services of Dallas (also known as the Christian Community of God's Delight)?
Prepared by RGV Parishioners for Progress and edited by Jerry Brazier. Copy this, and pass it on to fellow parishioners, either by e-mail or paper. If you want an opportunity for prayerful discussion of these and other issues about the parish or have any other comments, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.