Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Puzzle of Pastoral Planning

This article by Diana Macalintal originally appeared in Today's Parish Minister, Vol. 38, No. 7, November/December, 2006.

Two-Minute Training Tips: The Puzzle of Pastoral Planning
by Diana Macalintal

When you begin a new puzzle, the type with a thousand pieces, what do you do first? If you’re like me, you find all the edges and put those together so that you’ll know the shape of the picture you’re working with. Pastoral planning is a bit like putting together a 1000-piece puzzle—overwhelming, but easier if you start with the edges.

The Church’s “edges,” the four sides that define the shape of Christian life, are a starting point for pastoral planning because they are the “rulers,” the straight edges that remind us of the goal of parish life: progressive maturing into the life of Christ that draws others into his mission. We find these edges defined in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults where we learn how to form the puzzle-picture that is Christian life, for “the catechumenate means not simply a presentation of teaching and precepts, but a formation in the whole of Christian life…” (Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity, Ad gentes, 14). Spend a few moments with these four edges each time you begin to form and assess the pastoral picture of your parish.

The edge we might call Word is “a suitable catechesis…planned to be gradual…accommodated to the liturgical year…that leads [us] to a profound sense of the mystery of salvation…” (RCIA, 75.1). This catechesis is not for catechumens (or children) only. Throughout our Christian life, we are fed by the mystery of salvation found in the living Word. Whenever two or three gather—at the dinner table, to count the collection, at choir practice or staff meetings, to decorate the Church or clean the parking lot—include in your gathering a reading from the Sunday Scripture and/or a story of faith from the week or from your experience of doing the task at hand. How can the Word and faith be shared in places other than Mass and catechetical gatherings?

The rule of community teaches us that through “the example and support of…the entire Christian community, [we] learn to turn more readily to God in prayer,…to bear witness to the faith,…to keep [our] hopes set on Christ,…and to practice love of neighbor, even at the cost of self-renunciation” (RCIA, 75.2). This reminds us that community isn’t simply about feeling good, but it is learning how to die to ourselves for the sake of the other. Anyone who has ever lived in a family knows that there needs to be a lot of dying to self. How does your parish deal with conflict? Does it bring its divisions readily to God in prayer? Does the staff model love of neighbor amid discord? Do the parish leaders keep their hopes set on Christ in times of crisis? Evaluate if your parish’s community life is focused only on avoiding conflict.

Our weekly Eucharistic sacrifice and the daily and yearly rituals of prayer align us to live “in a way worthy of [our] calling, [so that we] will carry out the divinely appointed offices of priest, prophet, and king” (Ad gentes, 15). Our worship “purifies [us] little by little and strengthens [us] with God’s blessing” (RCIA, 75.3). When the baptized gather to pray, especially in Mass, they exercise their priestly office through their offering of intercessions and their participation in the sacrifice of praise that is the Eucharistic Prayer. In your parish, how well do these two parts of the Mass enable the baptized to participate fully in their rightful role?

The last edge called service draws us out of the confines of our parish. “Since the Church’s life is apostolic, [we] should also learn how to work actively with others to spread the Gospel and build up the Church by the witness of [our] lives and by professing [our] faith” (RCIA, 75.4). This rule of service, however, is different than charity that keeps us unchanged or unaffected by those we are serving. Assess the types of service opportunities your parish offers, and develop ways to make these more into opportunities for evangelization, conversion, and faith for all those who are touched by it.

Diana Macalintal is the director of worship for the San José diocese and holds an MA in theology from Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minn.