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‘We Fight by How We Train’

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Bonnar (new)Recently, I was asked to give a talk to a gathering of people on the changing face of parishes. I have been a priest for 34 years. I have witnessed some subtle changes over time. Parish life is different from when I was first ordained a priest. Back then, there were more priests to meet the demands, as well as a full menu of times for Mass and confessions. There were also fewer lay members on parish staffs.

Today, many parishes share clergy, staff and resources with other parishes. What is more, it seems to me that there are more so-called roaming Catholics who plug into different parishes according to their needs and time constraints. And, of course, there are fewer Catholic schools associated with a parish. Thankfully, Catholic education endures, but it is different, including regional and collaborative models.

One of the more significant changes, from my perspective, relative to parish life centers on meetings. There seem to be more and more meetings in parish life. The purpose of these meetings is manifold: to discuss, plan, share, account, prepare, socialize and train.

The last-mentioned purpose is one that has become increasingly significant in parish life. It is vital for staff, volunteers and the faithful to be properly trained and instructed. The training covers the gamut, including liturgical ministers, lectors, ushers, cantors and choir members, altar servers, sacristans, greeters, parking lot attendants, finance council and pastoral council members, safety-team members, catechists, teachers, coaches and staff. The training is not just for a specific role or organization but, at times, it is for a specific situation like a special Mass, seminar or gathering.

A few months ago, I was at a national church meeting. It could be argued that there are more meetings not just in parishes but on the diocesan, regional and national levels. What I took away from that particular meeting was something said by a participant. He said, “We fight by how we train.”

That statement got me thinking about the value of training in the life of the Church. There are many battles along the way, whether doctrinal, philosophical, ecclesiological, liturgical, educational/formational, pastoral and financial among others. When it comes to these challenges, how equipped are we to face them? How well are we trained? Remember, “We fight by how we train.”

When we look at our counterparts who are professionals — for example, doctors, lawyers, educators and accountants, to name a few — there are standards that demand continual training and updating through classes, seminars and workshops.

The People of God deserve the best. As priests, we do not leave formation behind at ordination. The expectation is that we are to engage in continual and ongoing formation for the rest of our lives in the human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral realms.

For about seven years, I was blessed to work with a young and very competent DRE who I hired from graduate school. When we would meet for confirmation sacramental preparation meetings, Darcy would say to the candidates, “One cannot live an adult life on an eighth-grade faith.” The gist of her remark was that confirmation does not mean graduation or an end of formation, but it is simply a next step in the journey. If one is to be ready to fight the challenges that come with adulthood, they necessarily need to continue to pray, study and train accordingly. We fight by how we train.

None of us can live our priesthood without continual formation and updating. Training and formation are integral to the priesthood. We must never stop learning, seeking or growing. Just as parish life changes, so, too, does life in general. With every change there comes new questions and challenges.

One of the biggest changes regarding training and formation centers on the opportunities and means for it. Thankfully, most dioceses have in place allowances and time for men to seek quality formation. In addition, many of these programs are available online, which can be a blessing to the busy priest.

As we stand on the threshold of the new liturgical year, I invite you to resolve to train more for the good of your priesthood and the Church. Remember, “We fight by how we train.”

BISHOP DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown.

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