Pastoral Practice and Imagination: Wholesale or Retail? Print
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 18 January 2008 06:53
I was quite taken by this snippet from John Allen's column today: his topic the necessity of being imaginative about communicating the drama and power of what goes on inside our Catholic communities (especially our cathedrals) to the rest of the world.

Here's his very apt summary:

To repeat, the problem is not a lack of material to communicate. Every RCIA director in this country has stories to tell of that remarkable convert whose life is the stuff of a Hollywood screenplay; our social action directors know families whose lives were rescued by a timely intervention of the church; our principals and teachers can point to kids whose lives were headed in the wrong direction, but who were instead given the chance to flourish in our schools; our confessors and counselors understand more deeply than most what’s churning today in human hearts. Incredible drama unfolds in cathedrals every day; indeed, it would be stunning if this were not the case. Religion is where people bring their deepest fears, their highest hopes, their most intense passions -- it’s the Coliseum of the conscience, the arena in which the universal human struggle between sin and redemption, between disgrace and new grace, plays itself out.

You don’t have to manufacture news, in other words, you simply have to be imaginative about communicating the stories we already have before our eyes.

We have experienced ourselves over and over during gifts interviews when men and women share - often for the first time - some amazing experience of God's grace. And we are seeing it again during Making Disciples training when participants have the chance to really listen to another's lived relationship with God. So far, all the feedback we have received is that it is an moving, healing, even life-changing experience before which one's "don't ask, don't tell" assumptions and fears simply dissolve.

The most startling thing for me is to see the impact of this experience on priests. I suspect that most lay Catholics assume (I certainly did) that priests hear these kinds of stories on a regular basis but the rapt attention and misty eyes of clergy listening to a story of transformation like that of our friend Daniel indicates otherwise.

As Fr. Xavier put it with his usual directness during the OP pastoral conference last week: Pastors and parish leaders tend to do religion "wholesale, not retail". We move huge numbers through the sacraments and various programs while telling ourselves that we don't have the luxury of attending to God's grace at work in individuals.

But "retail" - the work of God in a individual human heart - is the end for which the parish and the Church and the pastoral office exists. it is what gives "wholesale" its purpose and meaning.

The great stories of faith, stories that fire the imagination, even a thoroughly secularized imagination, and galvinize the heart and will, are always "retail". There is always the story of an Augustine or Francis or Dominic or Catherine or Teresa at the epicenter. Movements and wide-spread renewal and true cultural or structural change is always the fruit of hundreds of thousands of individual choices to respond to God's grace in a particular manner.

Extraordinary stories are being lived in our midst right now. Stories that can heal our own broken, tired hearts and renew our hope. Stories that illumine and confirm both doctrine and experience, that "name" us and enable us to hear God's call, that help us grasp something of what God is doing in our generation. Hundreds of thousands of stories that proclaim the reality of Christ's loving, powerful, redemptive, transforming presence in the world and capture the imagination and can open doors to the Gospel for many.

If we bother to ask.

If we can set aside our anxiety and busyness long enough to listen.

If we dare to tell.