As a daily blogger I get a lot of news feeds, updates, and publishers’ notices. I have deliberately requested most of these, with an eye toward watching for articles of particular interest for readers. I also get weekly news emails from my diocese in general, and another from our diocesan office of faith formation and family life (the department I work with.) Our Catholic diocesan newspaper is delivered to our door weekly or thereabouts. There is the church bulletin, of course, or “God’s Pennysaver” as I like to say. I think you know what I am going to say next: this is a lot of stuff.
You get these, too, I’m sure, as ministers, catechists and educators. The difference between you and me is that I have the leisure and power of judgment to filter through all this material for what I believe is particularly useful (which admittedly is not a lot) and discard all the rest. When I heard that Hillary Clinton had deleted 60,000 emails from her bathroom server, I thought to myself—small potatoes! I’ve discarded that many since I set up the blog. Some years ago I attended a meeting at the chancery, and an official complained about a pastor who had rigged his fax machine to refuse faxes from the main office. Three pastors sitting with us leaned forward and said in unison: “Can you really do that?”
Parish ministers, on the other hand, probably don’t feel quite so trigger happy with the delete button. After all, you might get something really important from the pope. I got an email today informing me that September 1 (that is, next Tuesday!) is a universal day of prayer for the environment. Now I respect the pope and his good intentions here, but in point of fact the timing and the absence of particulars make any serious parish implementation impossible. Not to be a legalist, but canonically speaking the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours for September 1 are already established for the day anyway. I checked the USCCB site and there is nothing about this. So, take your trembling hand over to the right side of the keyboard, say an Act of Contrition, and hit the delate button. You are not excommunicated, and your pastor already deleted his mail.
Now here’s a news release from the USCCB that might give you some pause along the lines of “what am I supposed to do?” This is particularly true if your pastor comes rushing breathlessly into staff meeting in say, November.
August 24, 2015
WASHINGTON—Families, parishes, schools and other Catholic groups can participate in National Bible Week, November 15-21, with resources provided in English and Spanish and available on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The theme of the observance is “The Bible: A Book for the Family/ La Biblia: Un Libro para la Familia.”
The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum will celebrate its 50th anniversary on November 18, 2015. National Bible Week logos and a variety of resources that highlight the Bible in Catholic life are available online: www.usccb.org/bible/national-bible-week/index.cfm
Before you lose any sleep, let’s look at this critically. First of all, for most parishes and Catholics in general, there is no historical background laid for such an observance. How many people know that 2015 is the 50th anniversary of the final session of Vatican II? How many have any idea of what Vatican II actually was? (This is why I introduced the Xavier Rynne narrative into the blog on Mondays and Saturdays this fall.) Are there ten people in your parish (this is sounding like the tale of Lot) who have heard of or read Dei Verbum? Or who know something of the fierce battle fought over its constitution?
I am going to assume that in your present programming you (1) place a high premium on age-appropriate study of the Sacred Scripture; (2) introduce Church history in your course schemas or study programs; and (3) do what you can to introduce observance of the Faith, including prayer and Bible reading, into the family setting. You are doing a good job. Hit the delete button and sleep well (unless you want some freebies from the USCCB to augment your existing programs.) You do not have to bake a cake on November 18.
The point I am driving home is this: it is August 26 as of this writing and you are set for this year. No one has the right to toss last minute demands, suggestions, or alterations on your desk for this year. You will get plenty of suggestions for optional holy or educational projects on a regular basis, even pressures that you do so. They will come from the diocese, USCCB, your pastor, your parishioners, and who knows who else. For the most part they will have some redeeming qualities, and you will find it difficult to say no. When I was pastor I would get all kinds of requests that the parish “do something” in response to a local or national tragedy. (I myself considered gathering up a group of parishioners in 1992 to visit the victims of Hurricane Andrew down the road till someone tactfully pointed out to me that all highway signs were gone. We sent the funds from a special collection instead.)
Have faith in the agenda you have set. Your focus should always remain on doing the basics well. Meet the spiritual and professional support needs of your present teams, and begin vigorously recruiting and preparing for 2016. Shelter your ministers and yourselves from last minute intrusions. And if it makes you feel better, unplug your email. Hillary probably wishes she had.