When a Catholic parish is a good one
By Matt Abbott
Susan Gorski, a traditional Catholic and friend of mine, often has some very insightful observations and reflections on matters Catholic and life in general. The following is her most recent (slightly edited) reflection:
"I was asked not too long ago how to tell, aside from the extremely obvious, when a parish is a good parish. I have worked with a great many parishes over the years and some were better than others. I gave it some thought and this was my response. While I am no authority on the subject, these are the things I look for and here are the things I look for plus the reasons why I look for them.
"Some people will measure that by growth and some by the warm fuzzies they feel when they go, but this is not how I would measure the level of goodness in a parish.
"It is written in scripture, 'By their fruits ye shall know them.' This is absolutely true. I measure how good a parish is in terms of the priests' leadership and example. This is because by his example, he will lead the people. Thus, he will either lead them to God as he is supposed to, or he won't.
"The comparisons I draw: How Christ-like are the priests' examples? Jesus on earth was God and became man, but even so, He humbly submitted Himself to the Will of His Father in heaven. Is there humility as opposed to arrogance? Because Jesus is God as well as man, He is deserving of great reverence, not just at Mass, but at all times. Monsignor Michael Schmitz [of the Institute of Christ the King] recently reminded us that pride is the root of all sins. While many are properly disposed and reserved, a priest can give place to the devil in just as many, or more ways than a lay person can, even possibly through gossip or anger. He must always be on his guard.
"Is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass Christ focused? I was recently at a deanery Mass for the new bishop of my diocese, and the people who set up this special Mass quite obviously did not share all the details of their plans with the bishop. While he kept himself quite reserved, even he looked surprised when the choir began singing what sounded like show tunes from what appeared to be a riverboat musical. What this had to do with Mass or worship, I could not find a correlation. It was more of a stage show than a welcome Mass for the bishop, and there was no Creed at all. I have to believe the people who arranged it probably thought they were doing the right thing, but they took the focus off Jesus and placed it somewhere else entirely. This must never be, for what is the Mass but the unbloody sacrifice of Calvary.
"In times of temptation, does the priest immediately recommend himself to God, as Jesus did when he allowed Himself to be tempted in the desert? This is a big issue, because there have been so many scandals in recent times. The priest, while he is the most attacked creature on earth by virtue of the fact that he is a shepherd of souls, has certain types of armor that he may employ for his own protection. If he doesn't use them, it is only a matter of time before he may find himself tempted beyond his own strength. He alone cannot protect himself. His armor lay in his daily Mass and sacraments, his daily office and rosary, frequent confession and extreme care in governing his own relationships with others. Hence the reason many priests prefer, and rightfully so, the friendship of their own brother priests. Companionship of others outside of their respective circle and family must more commonly be at arm's length. If a priest is stand-offish, this isn't because he is cold or prideful but because he must exercise care in his relationships at all times.
"Does he have a great devotion to the Blessed Mother? If not, celibacy may become the heaviest cross he will bear throughout his life and he will be tempted sorely without that great protection that Blessed Mother bestows upon her devoted priests. If he has not that tender devotion for Mother Mary, as Archbishop Sheen said in his video on the priesthood, 'Without this great feminine love, celibacy becomes extremely difficult. The Blessed mother is our great feminine love.' If a priest does not have great love for her, he will perhaps unknowingly reject that special protection that has been given to her by the Father to provide.
"It is written also in Scripture, 'A man can not serve two masters...ye can not serve both God and mammon.' Is he a worldly priest? By this I mean, is he more concerned about money than the salvation of souls. I have met many in travels that I would describe this way were I to describe them at all. For example, a priest I met from another diocese wanted all the Church goods I had in house for a little mission church that he would not provide the name of.
"Something told me to hold back, so I did. I later found out he had no mission church and he was selling off church goods on eBay. He did it to finance a certain type lifestyle to which he had become accustomed. St. John Vianney, upon reaching Ars, went into the rectory and sent the used furniture back to the donor because, poor though it was, it was too rich for him to use. He would, throughout his life, abhor luxury of any kind because it led to avarice. He had taken a vow of poverty and adhered to it with great conviction.
"Father Stanley Wasilyk, CR, told us numerous times that a priest can not be worldly and still be able to serve God as he was intended to. Father Stanley himself spent his time visiting the sick and going after the lost sheep. One woman I recall had been visited by two nice, young, and handsome, Mormon men who immediately saw that she was lonely. Through this, they succeeded in converting her. Father went to her home repeatedly and finally he returned her to the Faith. The lost sheep become lost for lots of different reasons; getting them back to their faith is the work of the shepherd, who is the priest.
"Does he provide solid counsel in the confessional to aid the penitent to avoid particularly difficult sins? By this I mean, sins the penitent has the most trouble overcoming. We all have certain weaknesses, but does the priest provide aid in overcoming the temptations that assail us through our weaknesses? I have had several harrowing experiences in the confessional in various parishes, including a priest who told me that he discourages frequent confession because anyone who goes to confession more than once in 30 days must be scrupulous. While scrupulosity does exist and can be common, this was the first time I went to confession to this priest, and he had not yet heard my confession. Up to that point, he had only heard how long it had been since my last confession and it was less than 30 days.
"The just man falls seven times per day, how is it that we, even if we are the just man, will remember every fall we took over a 30 day period? The Church has always taught that frequent confession provides graces that help us to avoid sin. He told me you can't store up graces, you either have them or you don't. I pondered how that was possible when our Lord Himself said in Scripture that we 'should store up our treasure in Heaven.' I realized the seminary training is very different now than it used to be. Now, many seminaries are four years, when many used to be seven years or more (Jesuits had 15 years of training before ordination) that included years of formation.
"The priest is a human being, and as such, is subject to failings, just as the rest of us are. His main function in priesthood is to follow Christ, being a shepherd in the likeness of Christ. Thus his main mission is the salvation of souls. As Archbishop Sheen so aptly put it, 'I believe that when we go before our Blessed Lord, He will ask each of us priests, 'Where are your children?' as in our spiritual children.... How many converts have you had, how many have you inspired to religious life, how many souls have you brought forth to God?'
"These are things I look for in a parish. To be properly spiritually fed, one must have a good shepherd who will lead each one to Christ. It is not for fellowship that I attend Mass, but for worship and reception of the sacraments. Yet fellowship, while secondary, is still very important, for how we treat each other is how we treat our Lord."
Susan Gorski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
https://www.catholic.org IL, US
Matt Abbott - Author,
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