Does Your Parish Need a Transplant?

parish transplant

parish transplant

Does the Mystical Body (or at least the portion represented by your parish) need a transplant? Is your parish missing some body parts? It could be, if some members have left for other parishes. St. Paul tells us:

As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body…If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. (1 Cor 12:12, 26)

The Parish as Community

Ideally, even in large parishes, the laity have developed a sense of community within their particular parish. This sense of community can act, look and feel like an extension of the family. It can result in moral and spiritual support, as well as material support, in times of need. For example, other parishioners may ask if a family member, whom they haven’t seen in a while, is okay. They may offer to help with meals, transportation, or delivery of Communion. A palpable sense of solidarity truly can exist between us and others within the parish extended family. This sense of unity develops over time. It comes about through the relationships we build by our active involvement with other people at the parish.

Leaving a parish is serious business, but parish hopping seems to be fashionable nowadays. When people leave a parish, though, it disrupts relationships. It can upset the order of things at the parish. For those leaving, it can be difficult to create similar, new relationships at the successor parish. This is particularly so if the new parish is located far enough away to put a damper on personal engagement there.

For those remaining at the former parish, a gap exists in the relationship network, especially if the departed laity were somewhat active at the parish. Discontinuity in parish ministries can occur with these changes. That can be good if the ministry needed some freshening up, or it can be bad if it was otherwise working effectively. Of course, some personal relationships might continue outside the new parish of choice. It’s just not the same at the former parish, though—there’s often a sense of loss when someone leaves. Consider also that we each have some unique talents and charisms we’ve received to build up the Church. When someone leaves, that unique set of charisms goes with them. Will it be replaced by someone else’s charisms? Maybe. Maybe not. If not, what impact will that have on the parish?

Why Parishioners Leave

The reasons for leaving are as varied as the parishioners who leave. They might include the need to move because of a family’s relocation to another area. Perhaps the parishioners are leaving one parish to join the parish within whose boundaries they actually reside. Maybe the parish they’re leaving is somewhat unorthodox in its practices. As a result, the parishioner leaves to seek the orthodox truth and all that goes with it. These all seem to be sensible reasons for making a move.

On the other hand, many people leave a parish for other, arguably more arbitrary reasons. Many of these moves are driven by the parishioners’ opinions about, and dislike of, individuals at their parish. Usually the departing party will have accumulated a list of beefs about parish life that led them to look elsewhere. In those cases, they’re often running from something, instead of to something.

Parish Volunteers’ Complaints

Everyone is different. What aggravates one of us may not bother the person in the pew next to us. For example, a hum-drum homily may offend one’s sensibilities. It may not bother the others next to him or her, though. In talking with acquaintances from my diocese and elsewhere, I’ve heard a variety of gripes from parish volunteers that led them to go elsewhere. For example:

I will no longer distribute Communion; I don’t like the priest and can’t work for him.

When we distribute Communion, it is important to remember that this truly is Christ in our hands. We lay people, with unconsecrated hands, have the privilege and blessing of distributing Communion to others. That is an awesome responsibility and we ought to ponder it from time to time. Our personal opinions of the priest, deacon, or anyone else should have no bearing on our role as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. We’re not working for the priest or deacon—we’re working for God, as unworthy as we are.

Perhaps we might want to reflect on scripture when these kinds of things make us crazy:

It is good sense to be slow to anger, and an honor to overlook an offense. (Prov 19:11)

Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. (Jas 1:19-20)

Other Complaints at the Parish

Regardless of who the offending party is, we probably can find something to be offended about with them if we look hard enough.

He walked by me without even speaking to me, and that’s just plain rude.

On the face of it, most of us would agree that this behavior is rude. Normally etiquette would dictate that we acknowledge others. This especially is true if they’ve made eye contact with, or have spoken to, us. Most people have a lot on their minds much of the time. On top of this, some people in pastoral ministry may be at least somewhat introverted. As a result, their social skills may need a little work. If we seek to affirm our self-worth through others’ acknowledgement or affirmation of us, though, we will be disappointed. (They just don’t know that it’s really our world and they’re taking up space on it.)

The priest [or deacon] preached about [abortion, or some other hot button topic].

Given what I’ve heard as homilies both at home and in my travels, this seems to be a less common complaint. The important, although potentially divisive topics, just don’t seem to get that much air time. However, I’ve talked with priests who have had parishioners read them the riot act after Mass when they did preach on one of these topics. Sometimes the Good News—the Truth—is hard for some to hear. Be that as it may, we ought to praise God for having clergy who are brave enough to share it with us.

But We’re All Human

Something we forget at times is that we’re all human.  We need to look at others through the eyes of Christ who suffered horrifically and died not only for us, but them as well. It’s interesting that we judge ourselves on our words, deeds and intent. We judge others on their words and deeds. Sometimes we assume others’ intent, and our assumptions about their intent hardly ever are positive. As well, in most disagreements or conflicts, rarely is only one party at fault. Often there’s at least some part of the blame to share. How much of the drama and trauma is due to our own words and actions?

Looking again to scripture, we might consider reflecting on the following:

Do not give your heart to every word that is spoken; you may hear your servant cursing you, for your heart knows that you have many times cursed others. (Eccl 7:21-22)

[And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. (Eph 4:32)

Do not speak evil of one another, brothers. Whoever speaks evil of a brother or judges his brother speaks evil of the law and judges the law. If you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save or to destroy. Who then are you to judge your neighbor? (Jas 4:11-12)

Giving It to God

In a broader sense, when it’s time for our particular judgment, what will we tell God about all the various choices we’ve made in our lives? Or, to borrow from Ignatian discernment techniques, in the light of eternity, what will we say to God about our decisions? If we’re agitated to the point of leaving our extended parish family, might it not be better to take it to prayer and spiritual direction first?

Michael Casey, a Cistercian monk, has written a book on St. Benedict’s Rule, titled A Guide to Living in the Truth. In that book, he notes that, “It takes much sober reflection to lead us to the conclusion that more often than not we are the real cause of our troubles.” My own painful, personal experience has led me to agree with him on this point. More often than not, when we look in the mirror, the person we see is who we have to change first, with God’s grace. May God give us the grace to work on that person in the mirror. May He give us the grace to seek and to live the Truth with charity towards one another, to build up the Body of Christ.



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29 thoughts on “Does Your Parish Need a Transplant?”

  1. Code of Canon says we should attend the parish in which we reside…that is, where God has placed us. If “the flood” comes, it would be a good idea to be close to The Ark.

    Homilies are for edifying the faithful, in reflecting on the days readings….not necessarily contraception, and all the other evils of the world.

    Maybe God has placed you in that parish for a reason? Reflect on that and bring about the change you (and God) desires? Be Bold.

    Obey your Church. It’s not all about YOU.


    1. And yet people are now “permitted” to attend the parish of their choice. I am afraid that horse long ago left the barn. I cannot in good conscience attend a parish where feminist language has taken root. Words matter.

  2. I have attended dozens of parishes because I do multi-month contracts across the country.
    I know of ZERO parishes that I could describe as a community, much less a family.
    For example, if I got sick or laid off and needed help – they would at best refer me to whatever Caesar had to offer.
    It was hard to get close, and even when I did often something happened where I was hurt or rejected. Not that the soil there was deep enough to create roots. It is practically encouraged. You can’t find it at Home Depot? Check Lowes. Can’t find it at St. Frances, check St. Anthony.

    Most of the complaints above is that people too easily abandon the parish over small things. But that rarely if ever happens in a true family. Only superfical acquaintences. They found it easier to leave because they never really felt as if they belonged. There were no bonds, much less strong ones. More like working in an office where you know your coworkers, but don’t get involved, keep your head down, and do your work.

    Of course, Not All, it depends, and the usual disclaimers. But when someone starts to disappear, or is gone for a month, does anyone from the old parish even bother to call or write or email to even ask? Or don’t they care.

    We are no longer a cohesive community, nor even a more profound family.

    1. Good points. It is a problem especially in large parishes to figure out who is coming and going and many

  3. This is a very timely topic for me. I have been visiting a local parish which I have been considering joining but am hesitant for a couple of reasons. First, the parish is staffed by Benedictine priests and seemed orthodox when I first attended. The ecclesiastical appointments are traditional and edifying but the music leaves something to be desired, as the music director who is not Catholic seems to favor piano accompaniment over the organ, leading to a more Protestant feel to worship. The deacon wrote an article in the bulletin last week about how the Bible is the most controversial book in print and while it has done much good has also caused more damage than any other text causing Christians to act in oppressive, ignorant and abusive ways in the name of Jesus and the Gospels. He cited slavery and the colonization of indigenous peoples as two “damning” examples. Huh??? Sounds like the classic euro-western bashing that seems to be very popular today. Slavery was an almost universal institution in the ancient world, also among indigenous populations including the hunter-gatherers who immigrated from Asia to the Americas about 10,000 years ago and whom Columbus named “Indians”, including Aztecs and Mayans who practiced human sacrifice. Modern anthropology and archeology have shown that before the arrival of Europeans many Indian tribes were subjugating each other. I am not excusing the terrible treatment Indians received under the U.S. government, especially forced conversions and suppression of their culture but as most Christians were functionally illiterate until the invention of the printing press I think the Bible is getting a lot of unfair blame. Jesus clearly taught in the parable of the good seed, which was his Word that it would fall on good, rocky or dry soil and that those who remain in him would show it by their fruits. From the beginnings of the Church it has been so. The deacon also used the term “Godself” to avoid the masculine pronoun for God. I am debating with myself as to whether I should respectfully contact the deacon or pastor as to why the aforementioned makes me uncomfortable about joining this parish.

    1. Wow. I can understand your discomfort. From a practical perspective, based on my experience as to how things work in most parishes, for the dcn’s article to be published in the bulletin, it probably would have had to been approved by the pastor. If that’s the case, then I am not sure that your discussion with either of them would change anything. It still would be good to give them the respectful feedback–and then probably look elsewhere, unfortunately.

    2. Thank you so much for your input, I think I will send an email to the pastor because, as you pointed out it is the pastor who ultimately approves the content of the bulletin and he may be interested as to how a visitor views his parish.

    3. I would suggest you get as far away as possible from this parish. These are things that are deeply disturbing because they are profoundly anti Catholic. There are, thanks be to God, truly Catholic parishes out there, living and worshiping in true faith. From personal experience, a parish like the one you describe almost never agrees to even acknowledge its errors, much less depart from them.
      Do not waste your time. Find a true Catholic parish with believers who strive to leave their faith in prayer, fasting and almsgiving, all for the glory of God and salvation of their souls.
      God bless you.

  4. When your parish is run by cliques of poorly cathecized laity and a priest who is just a figurehead, and not a spiritual father; when Mass resembles more a social gathering than a worship, when the priest comes down from the altar during the homily in a false attempt to be closer to his people, and choir members ascent to the altar in an almost theatrical manner to lead the singing, when people don’t even try to pray with their whole bodies, not just their words, when liturgical responses are changed willy-nilly according to the whims of poorly cathecized lay “leaders”, when priest regularly takes a back seat to a deacon who preaches the homily, when the singing is completely incongruent and even disruptive of the Mass, what are we who want to reverently worship Our Lord supposed to do? Go find another parish that is faithful, reverent and humble in their worship.
    Suffering for decades through Masses that felt more like sacrilage than worship, i now attend Holy Mass at the parish outside my Diocese, which has Mass in Latin and Gregorian chant, but more importantly-has reverence both by priests and by laity, and teaches the truth, not shying away from God’s word.

    1. Thanks, Daniella. You are citing another valid reason why parishioners need to look elsewhere at times.

      It’s what I refer to above, “…Maybe the parish they’re leaving is somewhat unorthodox in its practices. As a result, the parishioner leaves to seek the orthodox truth and all that goes with it. These all seem to be sensible reasons for making a move.”

      No need to suffer through conditions that are not in accord with the solemn and glorious mystery of the Holy Mass. God bless.

    2. I was always struck by the verse in Malachi…that what the Lord wants is true worship and true knowledge in the land. I know the Mass is always valid but that is made obscure to our senses and becomes a hard crust when that is unsupported by as you say worship in the body.

  5. Everything in this essay is true. But I think the times require more outward look. Facebook is a good example. The internet has made our community wider. I don’t parish shop but I do parish hop. It is unreasonable to expect one parish to meet the needs/desires/politics/schedules of everyone in the parish. For example, sometimes the only time I can fit Mass in for the family is Saturday night at 7:30 in a parish 30 minutes away. I also belong to a Bible Study led by a theologian in a neighboring parish. And I hate the CCD (religious ed) in my own parish. Parents just drop their kids off and leave. A neighboring parish have a family based religious instruction. During Lent different parish have different programs–some more interesting than others.

    1. Sorry, I didn’t finish.
      I think you get the idea. Nowadays parishes should get together and share their resources. Of course, money is the devil. Which parish do you support? That’s another topic.

    2. Thanks, Faith. All good points. Your suggestion about parishes sharing resources makes sense. A question for you is how much of a sense of community you personally feel at one or more of the parishes, in terms of supporting/supportive relationships with multiple people there. It just seems to me that it would be harder to build those relationships within a variety of groups compared to one. Thanks again, and God bless.

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  7. This article has come just at the right time.

    I do have a charism in the parish…music. For 11 years. But I just can’t go on. There are other factors but not important in themselves. Other than we have been going to another parish over the recent few weeks and we are immersed in worship and I weep everytime I go. Its not perfection we don’t need that but so consoling. My husband is the same. At the parish where we been serving I am such a functionary. Its hard to explain but despite trying for years and years the most beautiful effort I can no one is worshipping except a handful. It is just the whole atmosphere.

    I am torn about it feel sad at giving up. But 11 years is strong…is it a life sentence? Can God not be calling us to something else?

    1. You bring up good points in your post, Maria. Your situation may be one of those where there’s good reason to look elsewhere – as you note that “…no one is worshiping but a handful. It’s just the whole atmosphere…” Not sure exactly what all that means, but I’m aware of parishes where the sense of community was lacking, etc., and the atmosphere was not as comfortable as it could have been – not like my current parish community. Is there a group of like-minded friends and members of your current/old parish that share your concerns and might want to make a collective effort to change things?

    2. HI, thanks for the generous and prompt reply. “…no one is worshipping…” The atmosphere is one of comfort in that everyone stays seated on the comfy chairs all the way through. Very few kneel. Some lounge.” Homilies are poor. But it isn’t a particular person or issue..we had a difficult priest which many left over for a long time but we were still there. We have a very liberal Cardinal and Archdiocese. Lay everything. Our overseas assistant pastor is being incardinated…he is good but has been already hauled over the coals for reverence. We have run out of whatever it was we had. Just can’t do it anymore. The parish we want to attend is further away, it is a Priestly Society. I wouldn’t call them traditionalists but the overall Mass is a vast improvement as the people do worship, the homilies are better, the responses are in Latin. We don’t need perfection we just want to pray now. There is a group of us in our old (current parish) lately formed, about three couples. They are great but it isn’t enough. The parish has combined with a few around it and I would say apart from some faithful elderly that little group would be fully Catholic. My husband went with one other from this little group to another parish in our combined area for a mens meeting and they wanted to make Joyce Meyer their regular guide! Give us a break…
      Our friends in the parish will be, are a little gutted, especially the music but we can’t go back. Unless you can give me another perspective I haven’t thought of.

    3. Maria, I am sorry to hear of what you’re going through. It seems that you have some clear and compelling reasons for making a change all right. Thankfully you have the FSSP (or an order similar thereto), it sounds like, to provide TLM and sound preaching and guidance in at your new parish any event. But do keep praying not only for the priests where you go now, but for those at the other parish. They all need prayers, grace and protection.

    4. Lovely support thank you. No not FSSP (I wish) but still stable and decent worship worthy of the Lord…on the part of the worshipping people (this is about bad priests as such). Sometimes you just have to put something down. Its a faith move in that respect.

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  9. If you’re in a Parish and you haven’t heard a Homily on Contraception / The Four last things in years, get OUT! That Parish is DEAD!

    1. Thanks for your comment! I am curious as to just how many actually people do hear Sunday homilies on the hot topics, vs. how many don’t or only rarely do. I think protection of the collection gets in the way–just my two-bits.

    2. retiredconservative

      I pray regularly for my priest, that God might grant him the grace all priests need–the zeal for saving souls. I have yet to hear a homily on contraception or any grave sins. The closest he’s ever come to speaking out on hot topic issues is to suggest that if our culture goes any further down the path it’s on, he’ll be saying mass in prison for not officiating at same sex weddings.

      Our deacon uses his homilies as personal essays about his life, and I’ve seen him rudely brush off anyone seeking help from him.

      Our religious ed director uses the adult Bible study to talk about her life and to show mostly Protestant movie dramatizations of scripture stories.

      My parish is not quite dead, but it’s hanging on because of the cliques who use the church as their social hub. I believe the parish church ought to be a social hub, but the socializing ought to be done OUTSIDE of the consecrated church walls and not before, during, and immediately after the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Maybe in the social hall?

      I believe I must prayer more for the church, for my priest, even for our deacon, but most especially for religious education director who hasn’t quite recognized the heresies she’s supporting in her work.

    3. Pray indeed. The ordained clergy need our prayers very much–the evil one wants to destroy our Church, and priests are big targets. Priests don’t have an easy job and they need all the help and prayers they can get from us.

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