Walking down a simple dock on a sunny day with a cool breeze moving us along, my friend and I were discussing associations of laymen. We moved to this topic after participating in what he called “idle strategizing.” You see, we began our usual weekly lunch discussing Church politics, making our decisions about what bishops should or should not do, or what the Pope had done or said in the recent week. In the middle of this he felt moved to halt the conversation and bring it local. This time, we shifted gears to laymen. “We can’t affect these things,” he said. “We’re not a bishop, we’re both married men, I much older than you. We’re not going to be bishops. This is just idle strategy, we need to be talking about what we can do, first in our own interior life, and then our local community. We need to move from the interior life to the exterior, the further things, or issues, or decisions are from us, the less effort and time we should spend on them. Work locally, and do our best there, the rest will figure itself out.”
It was a fair point, though my counter was naturally that conversations on what a particular pope, or a particular bishop is doing or not doing can be educative simply by virtue of the questions being brought to mind. That counterpoint aside, I think his position should be given deep consideration as it contains important insights for the Catholic life, especially for the majority of us who aren’t sporting a collar.
How much time do we spend reading, writing, or talking about whether the Pope is wearing red shoes or not? How much time do we spend getting engaged on facebook or any given blog concerning topics like homosexual marriage, abortion on a national level, or the latest “priest or bishop controversy”? Compare that to how much time you devote to discussing with your fellow parishioners different local activities you could start or join, witnessing the Catholic Faith to your local community? How much time do we spend at the soup kitchen, in front of the local abortion clinic (if there is one), starting or strengthening adult religious education, or participating in any number of corporal or spiritual works of mercy within your own parish community? On the flip side, how much time do you spend driving kids to dance, soccer practice, or Lego league? While athletics or the arts are obviously important, why soccer practice instead of having the kids help out at the soup kitchen? Why dance instead of bringing your 13 year old to an adult religious education class you’re participating in? Why are you spending time on the internet stimulating your ego (and reading this blog, encouraging my pride), instead of planning, or building institutions within the context of your parish life that help your parish community reach out to our spiritually, or materially poor brethren? If you can’t do both, maybe we should consider doing more of the latter and less of the former. In the end it is a matter of competing personal priorities.
Last summer, our family got rid of the internet at home for six months. We used my wife’s smartphone, plus some well-timed trips to the library, for email and contact with extended family. It was liberating, we suddenly found more time to spend with each other, more time to read, more time to participate in parish activities. This summer we’ll again be in a position to cancel the internet, this time hopefully for good, focusing inwardly toward the home first, and gradually building upon those efforts in ordering our family by participating more robustly in the life of our local community
What’s going to do more for the new evangelization? Writing, talking about, and discussing the Pope’s red shoes? Switching your facebook profile picture to a not-equal sign? Or getting other Catholics in your parish together to strategize about building the local parish community into something a bit more vibrant, traditionally Catholic, and effective?
My lunch companion is making his next family goal “converting the next-door neighbor.” That might sound simple, but it truly is a lofty goal, and a far more important achievement than “winning” the latest debate about atheism or the liturgy. He’s in his fifties and hopes to live another twenty years or so, and doesn’t anticipate relocating to a different neighborhood. Most of us spend a couple seconds on a tweet, or ten minutes writing a check to the parish debt reduction fund, or occasionally an hour at adoration. He is at peace with a twenty-year goal, fighting for the Faith. How much time do you have?
© 2013. Joseph Mazzara. All Rights Reserved.