‘Structure determines function’

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Father David BonnarThe other day I went to my chiropractor for a “tune up.” The stress of life and ministry can inevitably affect the body. There is this other factor called “age,” with its increasing wear and tear that can wreak havoc on the human body. Although I am only 58 years young, the body is not as limber as it used to be. Stress, years of running and heredity each bring a sense of complication to this issue. In recent years, however, I have found, in my own experience, that chiropractors can readjust and realign the body to make it function more smoothly.

During my last visit, my chiropractor said something that really got me thinking. He said, “Structure determines function.” The takeaway for me was that in order for anything — even beyond the human body — to work properly, there needs to be an order or framework in place.

In many ways, the current pandemic has compromised some of the structures that we rely upon in our lives to function appropriately. Family time, work, worship, recreation and entertainment are all staples that offer support to our lives. With the right balance, they enable us to function properly as human beings.

Some years ago, I discovered that I was a workaholic. I found it hard to leave the rectory. I was all work and no play. One of the things I did, however, was that I became a part-time season-ticket holder for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Throughout the summer, there were 20 games that I did my best to attend. I also ordered three tickets so that I could bring friends and socialize with them. While going to the games took me away from the grind of ministry, it also gave me a new and healthy structure that improved my functioning as a priest and person. Leaving the rectory, being with friends and watching baseball slowed me down and gave me a respite of sorts.

Several years ago, after celebrating my 25th anniversary as a priest, I made another decision. Even though it temporarily took me away from the rigors of daily ministry, it provided a healthy structure to enhance my life. With the bishop’s blessing, I took a month-long mini-sabbatical sponsored by the Institute for Priests and Presbyterates at St. Meinrad Seminary. Essentially, this decision came down to adding the structure of rest and refreshment to my life sprinkled with a newfound sense of fraternity with the eight other men in the experience. That month-long structure gave new life to my priesthood.

In both of these instances, these relaxing and revitalizing “structures,” I believe, improved my functioning as a human being and as a priest. More recently, the experience of being transferred, packing and unpacking added yet another new structure that promises greater vitality and efficiency.

While the pandemic has weakened, or even for the time being removed some of the common structures in our lives that ensure good functioning over the long haul, it is possible that new structures are emerging that can be just as helpful to our functioning. What is more, it is likely that we may have a newfound appreciation for some of the old structures that we can easily take for granted.

For me, especially having been in quarantine for two weeks early on, I behold even more the structure of prayer. Whether it is public or private, the Liturgy of the Hours or the holy Mass, I have found prayer to be the primary and foundational structure in my life that truly determines function. Without this structure in place, it is hard for me to envision being effective in any way as a human being or minister of the Church. Indeed, “structure determines function.”

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 16 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

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