November 20, 2008

Pastoral Conflicts

Sometimes I think I'm going to write a real article about new courses that ought to be offered in the seminary curriculum. Here's one that really needs to be invented: Common Pastoral Conflicts.

The thing is, there are certain conflicts that arise frequently in ordinary parish ministry that I never would have imagined. For example, it never would have occurred to me that people would nominate someone who had not completed their own Christian initiation--or wasn't even a practicing Catholic--as a godparent for their child. And yet this is a common problem. An ugly conflict inevitably arises when parents are told that only someone who has completed their own Christian initiation (i.e. through Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist) is eligible to sponsor someone else for the same journey. You can't show the way if you haven't been there yourself. It boggles my mind, and so I was very much unprepared to deal with such a thing when I became a parish priest.

Another frequent conflict comes with the issue of burying the dead. From my own Christian formation, I always understood that to bury the dead was one of the corporal works of mercy and hence a blessed act. But many times in the parish ministry I have come into conflict with people who want to have a funeral for their deceased loved ones and then keep their cremated remains around the house. Fortunately for my conscience, the policy of our parish is no burial, no funeral. But the problem is compounded by the local practice of doing committal services at the crematory before a body goes in, as if it were a burial. We won't do it, offering to return to do the committal service at the actual committal of the remains. This is uncomfortable, though, because it exposes those who don't actually intend to bury the dead. Again, I never would have imagined having this conflict before I got to be a parish priest, because I always thought Christians buried the dead. The affirmation of the human place of creation, as well as our hope for the new creation at the end of time, would be good places for us Christians to get back in touch with the Jewish roots of the blessed mitvah of burying the dead.

The practical issue for me in both cases is how to discern the line between changing conditions, times, and cultures on the one hand, and the breakdown of the ordinary practice of the Catholic religion on the other. This discernment is very needful, because the former calls for Evangelization, but the latter calls for correction.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Friar Charles,

When my sister died (after taking her own life), my brother-in-law hadn't a penny to his name and he wanted to cremate her remains without even a minimum of Christian ceremony, insisting that is what she would have wanted.

It's a long, sad story, but in the end I was able to convince him to sign her remains over to me so that I could have her buried out of our parish. The cremation eventually took place (as to respect his wishes and to have him agree to this arrangement), but not before the funeral took place, obviously.

He had all sorts of problems with this, as he was a Pentecostal, and told me quite frankly that he had all sorts of problems with the Catholic Church. He told me that his pastor calmed down him somewhat by explaining to him that my concern was about my sister being buried in "consecrated ground."

Well, yes, but not really.

A large part of it (beyond my own firmly held determination to bury my sister in the Catholic parish we were both raised in) was my respect for the belief in the resurrection of the body. Doesn't anyone take the resurrection of the body seriously anymore?

Sorry for unloading all that on you. Thanks for listening.