Simon, son of John, do you love me?

I was listening to a presentation the other day on how to develop pastoral strategies in the parish, how to get the most out of volunteers, along with many other excellent and praiseworthy ideas that placed good business sense at the service of effective pastoral leadership. And let me say, we absolutely must make this a priority in the work of priestly formation, especially for men who have had no experience in administration, finance or business practices.

But never once was the Name of Jesus mentioned, nor was it said that we as a Church exist to glorify the Father, nor was it said that any pastoral plan worthy of the name Christian must be both well ordered and simultaneously docile to the free action of the Holy Spirit.

No One Can Serve Two Masters

Now, I know that the lecture was not meant to be a theology class but a practical application of basic leadership principles. But it has to be known that it is simply not obvious how to integrate Robert’s Rules of Order with St. Ignatius’ Rules for Discernment of Spirits at a Pastoral Council meeting, why a prayer life is a sine qua non for all ecclesial decision makers, or how martyrdom fits in with effective conflict management. My experience in the Church across the board has been this: there are few that really know how to bring contemporary business models and the God-breathed Church model into a rightly ordered relationship that makes the business model a handmaiden of the faith model (as philosophy is the handmaiden of theology). In my anecdotal experience working for the Church, the two either live side by side in a sometimes-amicable/sometimes-tense, affection-less and separate existence, or the business model, under the auspices of “get real,” keeps the faith model in servant-mode.

I am fully aware, as Thomas Merton might word it, that I am a guilty bystander to this problem. It’s really quite difficult. But I see much hope in the Seminary that this is being addressed, and more good scholarly and practical work is being done on how to allow the Church’s bright vision of faith to transform best business practices.It’s not an easy fix, but a necessary one.

Leading While Sleeping on the Floor

This all sparked a memory (as always):

A devout Catholic friend of mine in New England, who owned and managed a gas station, once said to me years ago as we discussed how to effectively  convince people to “follow” Church teaching in matters of sex and life:

If you think you’re going to convince people to stop having sex outside marriage, stop contracepting; to not cheat, steal or lie; to be faithful to their spouse when the going gets rough; or courageously face being shunned or harassed for doing the right thing, the God-thing…all without loving and knowing they’re loved by Jesus…you’re livin’ a pipe dream.

Or it reminds me of St. John Vianney’s advice to a young priest who expressed his frustration with the lack of change in his parishioners who failed to come to Mass regularly, were addicted to wine, gambling. St. John offered him the soul in any effective priestly leadership action plan: identification with the Cross. He said to the priest in reply,

You have preached, you have prayed, but have you fasted? Have you taken the discipline? Have you slept on the floor? So long as you have done none of these things, you have no right to complain.

To end here, I need some Chestertonwisdom to help me with a quotable piece of wisdom. And on opening my book of Chesterton quotes, he did not disappoint….

“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”
–G. K. Chesterton

5 comments on “Simon, son of John, do you love me?

  1. Sherri Paris says:

    And yet another beautiful read! Blessings….

  2. Anthony Bennett says:

    Beautiful indeed, Tom. 🙂

    Fr Giussani of Communion and Liberation talks about being caught up in “initiatives”. Doing acts of charity, being a lector, doing, doing, doing, but forgetting why in the first place.

    It’s amazing how different a priest sounds while giving a homily or a lector while reading when that “sine qua non” is there; how much more weight the words have, and how much more they mean.

    • Amen! And it’s precisely those “movements” in Europe, like Communion and Liberation, that have recovered the integrated approach…I hope they finally make it to America in earnest! Thanks also for your extraordinary email summary of the men’s conference. Rich fare! 🙂

      • Anthony Bennett says:

        Oh, CL is definitely growing! I think people are really struck by other people of Faith who are also intelligent thinkers and who really seek to engage the culture. It’s a delicate balance, but its amazing to see others who do it well.

        I’m glad you liked the e-mail! Our men’s conference is such a blessing. I love it. 🙂

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