Last Supper by Giotto (1267 – 1337)
What will stop evil cultural forces from corroding your priests? I assure you, unhealthy solitude is not a diocesan priest’s answer but community, because “no priest…can on his own accomplish his mission in a satisfactory way” (PO, 7). The adage “new wine requires new wineskins” is meant to be incarnational, not only abstract (Mk 2:22). The Church does not subject its mission to infrastructure; rather, infrastructure is for mission, and so priestly community life may adjust for the mission.
The old military orders highlighted this aspect of mission over infrastructure. For them the mission was singular, the mission was bigger than the individual, and the individual derived deep satisfaction from playing a part, no matter the size, in the mission (cf. 1 Cor 12:14-31). They lived together, prayed together, ate together, and trained together not because they took a personality test and calculated they were socially compatible. No! They were in love with the mission which was bigger than any one individual; they understood priestly communion existed for mission.
In a similar manner, diocesan priest community life should be somewhat structured to sustain its life, but a principle of low control by any individual priest is absolutely necessary to avoid subtle power hierarchies. Brothers and sisters, each of your priests are ordained to live this priestly communion for mission; and he can fulfill his mission “only by joining forces with other priests” (PO, 7).
Therefore, with fresh vision and felt responsibility for his priests’ mission, Bishop Boyea is making a bracing call to move his brothers, your priests, from the status quo culture of current residential models or unhealthy anonymity to a community model in essential continuity with the early Church’s tried and tested structure of priestly life, love and support where each experiences himself as known. Whether this includes common residence or other forms, living in community allows the priest to more fruitfully come alongside the Church’s missionary mandate.
It bears repeating, the mission of the Church is of greater value than the preservation of dated residential models which may no longer serve the mission as in times past. Where we are going is more important than where we have been.
For example, infrastructure served mission in 2019 when Bishop Boyea demonstrated pastoral care for the faithful at both Saint Martha, Okemos, and Saint Mary, Williamston, by prayerfully considering the possibilities of priestly communion for the assigned priests. The rectory of Saint Martha, Okemos, which can fit multiple priests, was only ten minutes away from Saint Mary’s condo-rectory. After some prayerful discussion, the Bishop of Lansing granted the residential change of the pastor of Saint Mary to that of the rectory of Saint Martha.
This positive step was a big deal! Why? In 2017 Father Mike and I were already engaged in discussions related to aligning our resources for mission. In order to better serve mission, our residential situation was realigned to match our mutual focus on something bigger than ourselves: building vibrant missionary parishes.
Additionally, my life as a priest was elevated on several levels by the move. For example, Father Mike and I received permission from Bishop Boyea to have a private chapel with the Blessed Sacrament because we both desired that our new fraternity was based on time before the Eucharistic Lord. We spent time together as brothers before the Master, and we were better priests and pastors because of it.
Priests living in community are more capable of grasping the evangelical essence of Vatican II, and better disposed toward the mission and service of our parishes. Realigning Resources for Mission without priests encountering Jesus Christ together in community is a process already condemned to sterility and death.
This aspect of living in community develops conversion, leading to the individual’s deeper decision to follow the Lord, delving deeper together into the mystery of His Person, ultimately leading to greater creativity for parish renewal. In the near future, your support of priests living in community will be indispensable for its eventual normalcy and success.
Thank you, kindly.
Father Mark Rutherford