03 June 2011

Miscellaneous Updates & Ramblings about Parish Life. . .

Doing my two least favorite things in the world today:  packing and cleaning.  Ugh.  Fortunately, I've managed to keep recent material acquisitions to a minimum.  Most of the books are going back to Rome to await my return. 

Though I really hate packing and unpacking, it affords me the opportunity to rummage through my stuff two or three times a year and clean things out.  I shudder to think what my room in Rome is going to look like after I've been assigned there for 25 years!  

My experience of Dominicans is that we are a messy bunch when it comes to our private rooms, but generally very clean and orderly when it comes to public rooms in the priory.  I know several friars, however, who are meticulously tidy; their rooms are practically showcases!  That can't be healthy.  :-)

Anyway, I fly out late Saturday morning for Dallas.  I'll be at the University of Dallas from June 6th-Aug 12th, teaching two classes:  20th Century Literature (mostly the modernist novel) and History of Christian Spirituality.  God willing, I'll take a drive to Mississippi to visit Ye Ole Parentals and Assorted Familial Relations.  Then on to Oxford and Rome. 

While I'm waiting for the first cup of coffee to kick in, might as well muse on my time as a parish priest.  Ninety percent of my time in the parish was fantastic!  Great parishioners, excellent co-workers in ministry, good experiences in the pulpit, at the altar, in the confessional, the hospital.  The people of St. Joseph's are simply Good People.  They went out of their way to be kind and welcoming to a newcomer.  Helpful, encouraging, engaged in God's work, just Good People.  Having the opportunity/challenge to preach regularly to a non-academic congregation helped me tremendously in honing the homelitic craft.  I can't really pinpoint what's different about preaching to Regular-Normal Catholics (i.e., Catholics in a non-academic setting), but there is a huge difference and this difference has been a lifesaver for me spiritually.  Another big difference btw parish life and university life is the chance to celebrate funeral Masses.  How many priests get six years into their priesthood before celebrating a funeral Mass? 

Two areas of parish life have been difficult, or worrisome.  First, the work schedule/being on-call everyday makes concentration almost impossible.  Just as I get focused on reading/writing, a call comes in for a priest to come to the hospital to anoint someone.  Or the doorbell rings or the phone rings.  It took me a few weeks to stop being annoyed by these "interruptions" and remember that I am here to serve God's people and not sit around reading books.  The other difficult element of parish life for a Dominican is the absence of a discernible Dominican religious life.  My time here at St. Joseph's has been largely indistinguishable from what a diocesan priest would experience as an assistant pastor.  With just two of us in the rectory, there's really not much community life beyond the evening meal and common prayer.  Basically, when Dominicans serve a parish, the parish schedule and pastoral needs trump religious life every time.  A larger community of friars would be able to shape parish life more effectively.  I wonder if this has been done in other places?  

Despite these two small adjustments, serving the Good People of St Joseph's has been a blast! 

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  1. Anonymous2:08 PM

    Interesting. We had a fellow teacher who was friends with our friars and was attracted to religious life. (We have generally small communities and are in several smaller parishes.)
    He went over to the Dominican Priory in DC and loved the liturgical life of a larger community. So he joined the Dominicans and was ordained.....and then assigned to a small parish. I have lost touch but I heard he eventually left the Order for his home diocese. I think that is the problem with parish life...we do good work, are liked by our people but it isn't really what we entered for.

  2. Anonymous5:24 PM

    i've often wondered why Dominicans are assigned to staff parishes...maybe the Church would be better served if they were truly itinerant preachers, preaching all around the country. and teaching in secular as well as Catholic schools.

  3. A friend of mine, a diocesan priest, was the pastor of a very large parish in the DC area. At some point he was getting up at 4:00 AM every morning and praying the entire Office because it was the only way he could do it without getting interrupted.

  4. Interesting how the comments above all deal with "Dominican life". I have heard of a similar situation with a person who joined the Dominicans (he was really attracted to the liturgical life at the DHS in Washington, DC), but after he was assigned to a small parish in Ohio, that had NO resemblance of that strong liturgical life at the DHS, he bolted for the Benedictines.

    I agree that Dominicans should be in larger priories and be more engaged in preaching and teaching/ministering at secular schools....not parish ministry.