By John Mansford Prior

Need for a Paradigm Shift in Parochial Cultures

Due to rapid social change in a post-modern “cyber” world, Catholics now feel relatively free to forge new meanings and networks that are often only loosely connected with the parish. There is a plurality of models in contemporary Catholicism (See, Claver 2009:111-115). As in Latin America, Catholic loyalties are shifting from diocese and parish to movements, groups and organisations (Smith: 1994: 119-143).

BECs (Basic Ecclesial Community) cannot breathe in a staid, homogenous religious culture. For if BECs are absorbed into the institutional structure of the conventional parish they tend to be reduced to little more than parish wards. In that case Catholic activists move out into extra-ecclesial networks. Similarly, when charismatics are brought under the control of the conventional parish, and clear demarcations are insisted upon between liturgical rites and charismatic celebrations,1) then understandably many move on to the freer Pentecostal churches.

When left to mature according to their own dynamic, both movements advance social pluralism, foster participation in the wider society and promote an expectation and practice of both church and societal accountability. Participatory BECs express a process of social differentiation in the direction of personal choice and greater participation. In participatory BECs women experience independence and self-esteem. Individual choice is encouraged, and therefore free will. The emphasis is on achieved rather than ascribed status which contrasts sharply with the conventional parish.

We need, then, to shift from an authoritarian to a collegial culture; from a commando ethos to one of listening; from a religiosity that inculcates acceptance to that which inspires faith-in-action; from a church culture over-adaptive to local and global cultural norms to a church culture embedded in the values and norms of the Scriptures; from a church centred on its members to a church focused on its mission to society.

Towards a Communion of Communities

In short, the culture of the conventional parish needs to be replaced by an open, networking culture. We need to develop the parish into a flexible poly-centred web where BECs and other (charismatic) movements can mutually enrich rather than studiously avoid one another. If each movement were somehow to combine their strengths in the coming decades the result would be extraordinarily potent. If the charismatic movement were to absorb, and be transformed by, the social justice vision of the BECs while the BECs would take up the emotional, communal, narrational, hopeful and radically embodied ‘experientialism’ of the charismatics, the offspring could be more powerful than either parent (Smith: 1994: 119-143).

At the beginning this might well have to be forged despite the parish priest and his pastoral council. The vision and the practice comes from below; the pressure must also. The central threads converging in the ‘nucleus’ of this poly-centred web would consist of Catholic activists and their families. This core would arrange their own ongoing training and so challenge the parish pastoral team. Does anyone here know where we can find any “dialogic, participatory, co-responsible parish pastoral teams?

Lay leaders from BECs could be trained together with ordained pastors and non-affiliated activists according to the reflection-action-reflection (see-judge-act) model of reading life in the light of the Hebraic-Christian scriptures — and in multi-faith contexts the scriptures of other faith traditions – and then acting upon insights.2)

This would assist the BECs in uncovering the social roots and religious implications of the problems of life. Members could learn to read the bible in a way that links Christian symbols, events and teachings to the life of Asia’s poor. Then, as long as the ordained. leadership does not feel threatened by developments but continues to work collegially in bold-humility, the open parochial culture would cultivate a communion of communities. 3)

Ref:

1) While the disciplinary norms of the Instruction on Healing (art. 1 – 10) are theoretically plausible, I am not aware of their implementation which, if carried out, might well drive even more Catholics into the Pentecostal churches.

2) One pattern that has emerged in Java, Indonesia, is that collaboration in the struggle against systematic corruption and for human rights forges deep friendship and close bonding which opens up into inter-scriptural sharing on their fath based commitments.

3) For an appreciative yet critical look at Gaudium et spes 40 years down the road, see Felix Wilfred 2006, 15-20. Felix Wilfred argues for a broad sociological-political-economic-cultural analysis of society rather than a narrower cultural-anthropological one.

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