January 1, 2011

Spent and Tired Bureaucracies

So I'm through about half of Light of the World, Peter Seewald's latest book of interviews with (now) Benedict XVI. As usual, the most interesting, surprising, and even provocative material is quite other than the bits picked up and celebrated by the secular media. Here's one part that struck me strongly in what I have read thus far:

Benedict is speaking on the decline in Catholic observance and identity in Europe and the United States, in relation to the new vitality the Church is experiencing in other parts other world:

Less clearly but nevertheless unmistakably, we find here in the West, too, a revival of new Catholic initiatives that are not ordered by a structure or a bureaucracy. The bureaucracy is spent and tired. These initiatives come from within, from the joy of young people.*

What is meant by 'bureaucracy' here? Is it the structures of dioceses? That would seem to be the obvious guess. If so, I think the Pope's words raise an important reflection for us religious, and especially religious of institutes that are largely clerical.

Historically, here in North America, the ministerial resources and priestly energies of religious have often gone into supporting and assisting the diocesan structure and its parishes. This was a tremendous good work at one time, and built a network of parishes, schools, hospitals and many other Catholic institutions that accomplished the greatest work of social uplift the world has ever seen.

But where are we now, if the bureaucracy is "spent and tired"? Often we religious of clerical or largely clerical communities justify and eagerly go about the work of parish priesthood because we want to respond to what is called "the needs of the Church." But I think Benedict's words beg for us the question: are the 'needs of the Church' the same thing as the needs of bishops and the needs of diocesan structures, which may be 'spent and tired.'?

This is a difficult and delicate question. Many religious communities have tried to better proclaim the Gospel by moving outside of the traditional structures of the Church, but some have only succeeded in stepping outside of the Church--and sometimes even Christianity--altogether. So, to me, the question is not whether or not to work within the structures of the Church--because we all form that structure, and to deny it is to deny ourselves and our baptism--but how it is we can best serve the needs of the Church conceived in the broadest possible way, and perhaps this means seeking out and supporting the new and joyful energies of which Benedict speaks.

*I don't know the page number, because I am reading the Kindle edition. It's 'location' 870.


Carlos said...

I may be a little out of my league in commenting on this, since I am but a lay Catholic and cannot comment on religious or clerical life; but I took that section to mean that we are seeing the activities with the most impact, coming not from the official structure of the Church, but instead from its members who are taking the initiative to organize these efforts. I don't mean to say that the Church leadership is out of touch, but I do think we see a great value in allowing the creativity of the members of the Church, with the support and guidance of the Church (to ensure we remain faithful to the Her teaching) to shine through when they lead and structure some of these initiatives.

I think ultimately, I reached the same conclusion that you did, but I cannot say how that should impact the activities of religious communities directly.

Ad Abolendam said...

Did you get a Kindle for Christmas too? I got one, and my first download was...wait for it...Light of the World. Provocative, challenging stuff.

Brother Charles said...

Ha! My Mom gave me a pot of Amazon credit for Christmas and I couldn't resist. Light of the Word was my first thing too! Great stuff. So peaceful, plain, and deep.

Sara said...

I don't have the book so can only comment on the small bit that you've quoted-- but does it have to be such an either/or thing-- the same-old bureaucracy or going outside the traditional structure of the church?

My experience as a young lay person has been that people (not only religious) can't always distinguish between the traditional structure that is actually there to structure and support Christian life, and the stuff that has "always been done this way" but is not really structuring or supporting anything.

If I had to choose between starting some initiative within my parish --and it meant going through the parish council--, or starting the same initiative on my own entirely outside the parish with just the help of two or three Catholic friends, I'd take option 2 almost every time. It's too bad but there it is.

K T Cat said...

Could it be that Europe is in such a state that it is more tailored for a missionary movement, a la Marquette and Joliet than a fixed, set church?

Greg said...

Love your reflection:

"But I think Benedict's words beg for us the question: are the 'needs of the Church' the same thing as the needs of bishops and the needs of diocesan structures, which may be 'spent and tired.'?"

Such thoughts send us to meditate on San Damiano and the Lord's request for Francis to "rebuild my church."

I believe there is much that could be done by Orders at this time, but in so many cases they are "spent and tired" beyond the level of the dioceses. But perhaps that provides an opportunity...

My "ear to the ground" tells me people are hungry for continuing catechesis and the current retreat program may be too "liberal" or too based on psychology to fulfill the need, so there is room for new efforts.

I would imagine the energy needed might come from a revitalization of the Third Order Secular... (???)