Thursday, March 23, 2006

Who's Your Pastor?

As I have been dragging a very stuffy simian cranium around the rectory, trying to work up strength sufficient to continue my God-given duties (as well as my personal desire to rage and to raise a monkey fist in protest), a parishioner dropped a form through my mail slot. As I was without my glasses and was drowsing on the downstairs couch, I heard it fall but didn't respond initially. Eventually, I got up and retrieved the document and did a double take.

The form was for a scholarship that the archdiocese provides and the application requires a recommendation from the pastor. One problem: as the student in question moved to another town to go to university, he isn't my parishioner. I left a message on the parents' answering machine. I am bracing myself for an indignant phone call, suggesting that I somehow just fill it out. Of course, the form asks for information concerning whether or not he is going to Sunday Mass, which I don't know. I would like to believe that, but that won't make it so.

Here's how the Church defines the matter. The Code of Canon Law (1983) reads thus: "Through both domicile and quasi-domicile, each person acquires his or her pastor and ordinary (CIC c. 107, 1)." In other words, your pastor is based upon where you live. The Code stresses this by granting jurisdiction for the needs of transients, those who by definiton live nowhere, to the place where they are for the moment (CIC c. 107, 2). The only exception to this would be those who are members of personal prelatures.

Now, this leads to a subject which the instant I mention it, I will be assaulted in the combox forum. For too many people the parish and my pastor is determined by where I "signed up." Registration might get you the newsletter and a set of contribution envelopes, but it doesn't make you a parishioner. You are a parishioner based upon whose parish boundaries you live within. Now, I know that too many pastors don't enforce this and it has problematic consequences. For instance, if one pastor won't baptize your kiddo, because you are not practicing the Faith or are in an invalid marriage, then the temptation is to run from parish to parish to get the sacrament the way you want it. However, if you aren't practicing the Faith, the goods of Baptism will be diminished or muted completely by the fact that the household they are raised in doesn't encourage the growth in grace.

Okay, so go ahead and say it: "But Father, my pastor is a looney. Can't I go somewhere else?" Well, answer me this. If all the faithful Catholics jump ship, aren't you abandoning your fellow parishioners to the looniness? Further, aren't you surrendering your opportunity to be a positive force for change? Additionally, I would be worried that you are submitting to a "Burger King" mentality. If the pastor doesn't support this or that thing, then I am justified in leaving and "shop around." The only exception I can think of involves heresy or schism. If the pastor were invalidly celebrating the sacraments or anything along that line, then after you contact him and the bishop, then I think you could be legitimately able to go elsewhere.

So, like a family, I have to work with the father I am given, and I have to work with the family I am given. Mutual support and transformation in grace is the outcome of this.

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