Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The man who revitalizes parishes

Every once in a while we attend Mass at St Clement’s Eucharistic Shrine in Boston, which is run by the Oblates of the Virgin Mary. It isn’t our home parish, but we have a family connection to the order through my wife’s cousin. They present the liturgy reverently and beautifully. Last week, on the dotCommoneal blog, there was a reference to Rev. Peter Grover OMV in an entry called “The Vineyard of Parish Life". Fr. Grover usually celebrates the Sunday evening Mass at St. Clement’s. The blog makes reference to an article called "Unleashing the Laity" in Godspy. (never mind the comments of the naysayers at the bottom).

I’ve seen Fr. Grover many times myself, and have been impressed enough to include links to his homilies and reflections on this blog. Whatever this guy has, they ought to bottle it. St Clement’s is right across the street from the Berklee College of Music, which attracts students who tend to be on the avant-garde side. It is quite a sight to walk into a Sunday evening Mass at St. Clement’s and to see the Church completely full of young people, colorful haircuts and all. They attend from Berklee, Northeastern, Emerson, BU, and other schools in the area in big numbers. After Mass, Fr.Grover always has a huge line of people standing in line to speak with him.

When you merely listen to Fr. Grover’s homilies, it is hard to get the full effect. You really need to see them. Slightly stooped with mussed bed-head hair, his homilies build to a sort of crescendo, he gets more and more emotional, and just when you think he is about to lose it, he brings it back down again. The thing is, it isn’t a gimmick. It isn’t theatrics. He’s as self-effacing as they come and he is the real deal, and the students know it. They can feel his passion and authenticity. Some quotes about why he has been successful and what he believes is required:

You've got to give people environments where they can talk about their faith," Fr. Peter says. "Normally, the priest does all the talking. He gets all the fun because he gets to talk about the faith, which is the greatest thing. But a lay person, he never gets to talk about the faith. You go to work, you can't talk about the faith—there you talk about the football game, politics. Maybe you go home and your wife and kids aren't interested. Where can you talk about the faith? It's the best thing in your life and you can't talk about it to anybody."

We talked about why so many pastors seem afraid of entrusting teaching responsibilities—particularly adult catechesis and ongoing spiritual formation—to lay leadership. Fr. Peter didn't want to generalize, but he attributed the problem to a lingering clericalism—"Don't talk about the faith," he said, spoofing these attitudes, "just shut up and listen, and I'll tell you what the faith is."

Then he introduced a truly radical and hopeful notion: he thinks that the religious vocation crisis in the Western European Church today is being used by the Holy Spirit to correct the clericalism of the past. The clergy and the laity must now join in a true evangelistic partnership in which the clergy and religious focus on feeding the people and the people bring the world to Christ. "God's running the Church, hang in there," he told me, gently chiding my pessimism. "God's doing a good job, He's directing the Church to where it's going."

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