Or... what's a nice smart girl doing in a place like this?
Our parish got rid of a drastically bad pastor recently. Got rid of as in "had moved"; not got rid of in some Mafia-like way. I hadn't been going to church much at all during his tenure and I thought I was mostly okay with that decision. In Catholic lingo, going to church had become an "occasion of sin", and it was annoying to boot. So I avoided it. But I am learning something -or groping towards learning something- about myself in this transition time with new priests in the parish.
The long-suffering spouse actually heard the names of the replacements before I did, and came home feeling optimistic and hopeful. When I heard the names, my heart sank to my knees. I wanted to cry. Dave pointed out the obvious. There ARE no liberal priests in the diocese anymore. This is the best we could have hoped for. What did I want, he asked in some exasperation. I want a PASTOR, I replied -with no small amount of melodrama in my voice. (In the interest of fairness, I should say that the actuality of these guys in the parish has been much better than I had feared. It's just that my fear taught me something, so I'm focusing on that today.)
Then I was kind of dumbstruck for the rest of the evening. What did I mean by that, for heaven's sake? Was I hoping for a father figure, a spiritual leader? Oh please, spare me THAT! Am I relying on someone to be the designated "thinker" in the parish, the person whose job it is to mull over the theological and ecclesiological stuff, synthesize it, and feed it to me in manageable bits? I don't think so. I'm a smart enough and curious enough person, who keeps her ear to the ground on these issues, after all. Besides, I've learned the hard way that it's not a good idea to rely on someone else to do that accurately. For my own sake, I need to know as much as the priest does about what the documents actually say. So let's rule that one out. And I've never had much to say for the role of the pastor as a dispenser of services, the ecclesiastical gas station attendant, as it were. This model would suggest that church is where we go to get our spiritual tanks filled, and the priest has access (sole access?) to the fuel for that renewal. Surely, he's more than that for the community -or ought to be.
But maybe we come together not just for our own good, but for the common good. To create the common good, I mean. To honor what is more worthy in us. To nudge it forward. To name injustice and work towards fixing it. The sanctuary is a place, then, to create authentic hope -both personal and political- more than a place of easy and ultimately false catharsis. The priest, then, is the one who would hold before us the image of the people we SAY we want to be and wouldn't let us off the hook when that got hard or messy.
I don't know yet if we have that kind of priest, or even if that's what other people want from a priest. And I don't know how to make my vision become a little more true for me and the parish as a whole, even if it is what we want. But at least now I know a smidgeon more about what I do want. Should the long-suffering spouse ask me again, I'm ready with an answer ;)