Get priests out of sacristies—and into confessionals
Bishop Robert Barron, who is widely regarded as one of the leading Catholic experts on evangelization, sees a problem with a parish-based approach. It’s not that he doesn’t appreciate parishes. “I love the parish and believe in its importance passionately,” he assures us. The problem, however, is that people aren’t coming to the parishes; the churches are empty. And even among the dwindling ranks of the active parishioners, only a small proportion participate in the parish programs that promote evangelization.
Most of the Church’s resources are going into parishes and their programs, but the parishes and programs aren’t attracting people to—well, to the parishes and programs. Thus far, Bishop Barron is undeniably right. But having accurately diagnosed the problem, he proposes a solution which, I respectfully suggest, heads us in the wrong direction.
Bishop Barron is following up on the suggestion of Pope Francis that we “get out of the sacristies and into the streets.” The title of the bishop’s column (at least as it appears in Catholic World Report) reflect the Pope’s suggestion: “Getting out of the Sacristy.” He promises another column which will, presumably, flesh out this proposal. For now, he writes:
My humble suggestion is that a serious investment in social media and the formation of an army of young priests specifically educated and equipped to evangelize the culture through these means would be a desideratum.
The problem here, I submit, lies in Bishop Barron’s implication that “an army of young priests” will be needed for this new type of evangelization. Why? What is it about the mission to the popular culture that requires priestly ordination? In this, the “age of the laity,” is it not the duty of lay Catholics to evangelize the culture?
The primary duty of priests, on the other hand, is to provide their people with the sacraments and with orthodox teaching and counsel—to nourish the army of evangelizers, and then send them out into the fields to bring in the harvest. The fact that so many Catholics are not attending Mass regularly, that so many Catholics apparently do not feel that they are nourished by the Eucharistic liturgy, points to an urgent need for priests to fulfill their own primary role, rather than looking for new fields to conquer.
Come to think of it, part of the problem is that we don’t often find priests in the sacristies, except for a few minutes before and after each Mass. Perhaps if priests spent more time there, ensuring that the liturgy was celebrated with beauty and reverence, the pews would begin filling up again, and the lay Catholics who did attend Mass regularly would encourage those who did not to give it another try.
Or how about this: If a priest feels the urge to “get out of the sacristy,” maybe he should try getting into the confessional—for more than 20 minutes on Saturday afternoon. Bring lay Catholics back to the sacraments, nourish them in the life of grace, and turn them loose to evangelize their neighbors.
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