Somos el Cuerpo de Cristo
Thoughts from Some Fellow Parishioners of Holy Spirit
December 9, 2007
The saying, “politics makes strange bedfellows,” is certainly applicable to the No Border Wall effort in full swing these days up and down the Valley. An uneasy coalition of immigration activists, environmentalists, business interests, and now the Diocese of Brownsville itself, is emerging to try to stop the Border Wall’s construction.
Of particular interest, for its high irony, is the invitation given to Father Jerry Frank by the McAllen Chamber of Commerce to speak at the large anti-Wall rally being organized by the Chamber (scheduled for December 11th at the McAllen Convention Center). This is the same Father Jerry who was (and continues to be) vilified by business leaders in the community for his forceful and very vocal efforts for social justice when he was pastor at Holy Spirit. “It’s a strange, strange world we live in, Master Jack.”
The strong appeal that the Diocese made at every parish this week-end to have people sign petitions and to participate in the McAllen rally has the potential to have a big impact. It would be interesting to know what the dynamics were that finally brought about this effort at the grass-roots, parish level.
Imagine what the impact could be, over a whole range of issues, if the Diocese would embark on a sustained effort to bring the parishes into an organized work of educating parishioners about Catholic social teaching and providing them with the opportunities and tools in their parish communities to put those teachings into practice.
The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein, is a “short moral tale about a relationship between a young boy and a tree in a forest. The tree and the boy become best friends. The tree always provides the boy with what he needs: vines to swing from, shade to sit under, apples to snack on, branches to build a house. As the boy grows older and older he requires more and more of the tree. The tree loves the boy very much and gives him anything he asks for. In the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, the tree lets the boy cut her down so the boy can build a boat in which he can sail. The boy leaves the tree, now a stump.
“Many years later, the boy, now an old man, returns and the tree says ‘I have nothing left to give you’. The boy replies that all he needs is a quiet place to sit and rest as he awaits death. The tree happily obliges.” [excerpted from Wikipedia]
“The Giving Tree” at Holy Spirit is a Christmas season tradition that extends back into the deep mists of parish history. The idea is simple. There is a tree in the gathering space that has paper ornaments, each indicating some sort of gift or donation (a toy for a young girl, money for a poor family’s meal, a donation to help an impoverished Central American community, etc.) A parishioner takes an ornament and returns the associated gift to the parish in time for Christmas. This is not something elaborate that requires much of people, but is a nice gesture “in the spirit of Christmas” on the part on the parish community.
Wouldn’t you know it, this practice has been abandoned at Holy Spirit. The party line from the ever-thoughtful Monsignor is that people are already being asked to do so much at the holidays, that the parish should back off from this project. Make your own judgements, but given the abandonment of the parish Thanksgiving dinner, this is not really very surprising, is it? Like the tree in Silverstein’s story, the Holy Spirit tree has nothing left to give, but not because it has given all that it can, but because it doesn’t want to be bothered anymore.
What is Preaching?
“Preaching is a high and awesome responsibility. It is not to be equated with teaching, for in teaching the subject matter is outside of oneself and capable of being controlled. In preaching, the subject matter is very much part of the preacher and calls the one who speaks also into question. It is certainly not to be identified with the delivering of bromides, or of nosegays of pleasant thoughts. Preaching is not raconteurship, or the recital of charming anecdotes. It is not even the exposition of Scriptures. It is, instead, a matter of both the preacher and people being brought into question.” from Luke Timothy Johnson, Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Emory University in Scripture and Discernment, Decision Making in the Church (pp. 153-154)
Mi Casa es Su Casa
The word is that the parish is going to embark on two building projects. One is a retreat center/youth building and the other is a new home for the pastor (in older parlance, a rectory).
Let’s think about the retreat center /youth building first. It is very problematic that parish capital funds should be used as the primary source of building space for what is, in effect, a diocesan-wide ministry. Building funds have been collected over the years from parishioners with the assurance that they would be spent for capital improvement of the parish facilities—it is doubtful that the parish at large views the retreat movement as a Holy Spirit parish ministry, at least to the extent of this level of investment. What assurance does the parish have that there will be a sufficient income stream to staff and maintain such a facility? A building to support the parish’s youth ministry was part of the long-range plan established well prior to June, 2003, but given the dramatic decrease in financial support of religious education in the parish in the last two years, it seems unlikely that youth ministry will really play much part in this planned facility’s use.
What about the new rectory? What in heaven’s name is motivating such an expenditure at this time? You would hope it is something more than, “Father wants a nicer house to live in.” Wouldn’t we all like someone else to pay for us to have a nicer home? The current house that the parish provides for its pastor is in a subdivision a few blocks south of the church property and is very much like the homes of many of the parishioners.
Is it reasonable or even proper for a pastor live in a home that is markedly different from those of the parishioners he is called to serve? Bishop Fitzpatrick lived in a two-bedroom apartment, which he shared with another priest, not in a residence that cost $300,000 to remodel (as our current Bishop does). The argument that has been heard is that the Monsignor needs to be closer to the parish property to be able to serve the community better. That is truly laughable, given the fact the Monsignor is virtually never in the parish offices—is it truly the rectory’s current four block distance from the parish that is interfering with his putting in time there?
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.