Is the Priest a Father or Business Manager? By Fr. Bill Peckman

by Fr Richard Heilman | April 13, 2022 2:08 PM

Is the Priest a Father or Business Manager?

By Fr. Bill Peckman

I am still thinking and praying about the who family dynamic vision versus the transactional vision of how parishes and dioceses live their mission.

My premise is that so many times we have adopted the transactional/retail/mercantile/secular vision in how we live out our parish mission.

I believe one of the particularly devastating effects this vision has had is in priestly vocations.

Let me explain.

Most people in our churches see the role of the priest and the role of a husband/dad as disconnected. They are seen as either/or propositions. I can see that.

There is nothing terribly familial about a business manager. Even a good manager. I was one at one time. I might have been friendly with my employees, but it was nowhere near the same as being a member of a family. As a business manager, it was about income. My job was to sell a product and get people to see how they needed and should want what we were selling. It was something that I turned off when I left the store. It wasn’t a vocation…it was a job.

Being a son and brother was a much different experience. There, an emotional bond was called for. There, a self-giving love was required that didn’t switch off and on. It meant actively looking out for the good of those to whom I am related. I am not saying I did it always or effectively; only that it was a different vibe.

When a diocese or parish presents itself as a business, it takes on that retail vibe. In other words, I am here to convince you to buy what I am selling. The mission of the Church gets reduced to a package of goods or various worth. The mission gives way to marketing. A lot of time, programs within our churches come across very much this way. It becomes about repackaging the product, changing out stock that isn’t selling, and slapping a coat of paint over the walls. For the most part, budget drives the mission instead of the mission driving the budget. This is a dangerous place to be.

It feeds the cynicism about stewardship. This point is critical. If stewardship (which is related to the self-giving love that makes a family strong and functional) is reduced to a scheme for more money, it poisons the well of vocations. It strips the familial bond that a parish is supposed to be and reduces the priest to a business manager who can’t get married. It makes priesthood repugnant to young men who long by nature for that familial bond.

The Diocese of Wichita is a case in point of where the correct understanding of stewardship fosters vocations. In Wichita, the largest group of priests in under 35. Under 35. Most dioceses, including my own, don’t have enough priests under 35 to create a boy band. Where Wichita has enough priests to serve the needs of their parishes and lends priests to neighboring dioceses, most dioceses scrape by and are heavily recruiting missionary priests from Africa and Asia (where the family model IS more in play). Thank God, they come over. Sadly, so many times, they get treated as the hired help. When the parish is a family, there is greater likelihood of seeing priesthood as a service within a familial setting and not a business.

Priesthood doesn’t make sense outside a familial bond. The pastor is the spiritual father to his parishioners. The same traits that make a good dad and husband make a good priest and good pastor. Even for those in jobs other than pastor, the familial bond is supposed to be center, and that is made manifest by the title given to the priest: father. I tell people that were I to ever be named a monsignor (very very unlikely) I would never use the title. Why? Monsignor translates as ‘my lord.’ That is not my role within a parish. My role is father. This is not in some coopted hallmark sentiment (or marketing scheme), this is the reality of what priests are called to be.

Even when I was in retail, I never wanted it to be my career. I don’t know many who aspire to being in retail. It is a job you fall into to make ends meet. It doesn’t call for the heroic. It doesn’t call for any familial bonding. If we present the priest as little more than a manager of a store who can’t get married and will never get rich…it will be the rare young man who sees past it and looks to the possibility of priesthood. It will be hard for parents to see their sons’ abilities and futures as well served in what is seen by worldly standards as a dead-end job. We use a worldly standard for our mission, we suffer worldly comparisons.

The vocation crisis in most dioceses will never be solved as long as we insist on the retail model of mission. The falling Mass attendance and sacramental participation will continue as long as we are insistent on the retail model. The picking and choosing of beliefs and rejecting the necessity to learn what we believe will continue to grow the longer we embrace transactional/retail Catholicism. The cynicism about stewardship will continue to dominate the Catholic landscape as long as we keep this loathsome model.

There is a way out of this downslide. It has always been there. We must go back to what Christ established: a family…a bride, in union with Christ who sees itself as a family bond. We need to recapture this fundamental understanding of who we are and completely exorcise this demonic retail/transactional model from our parishes and diocese for good.

 

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