I am doing a week on 'Community Mission', a fascinating topic which has already raised a number of questions for me, arising out of the experiences and stories of those who are facilitating the sessions.
The thing which is really becoming central for me is to reflect upon what my calling to be a priest is in this context. There are a number of factors that have caused this:
- We were asked to do an exercise in which we write what we would like to see in our own obituary. The first question to help us reflect on this was, "What has been achieved?" I really struggled with this because I just don't think in terms of 'achievement'. My aim is basically to 'act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God'; if I can do this, and in some small ways contribute to the human flourishing which is God's intention for all his people, then I will be happy.
- One visitor was very honest with us about an experience he had with a parishioner, in which he was so focused on bringing about transformation within the local community that the parishioner voiced how she felt pastorally neglected. Having done a Long Essay on liberation theology recently, I am very enthusiastic about tackling structural sin, but at the expense of neglecting the pastoral needs of individuals? There's a balance there which is fine and full of tension.
- Today, the question was asked about what a parish priest is called to be: chaplain to the congregation or to the community? On paper, the answer is simple: 'the cure of souls' is for the whole parish, not just the congregation. But when the congregation have the expectation (be it explicit or implicit) that the priest is there primarily for them, then how does one handle that?