Survival of the Adaptable
Being open to change and resisting complacency
One expectation for us priests is that we participate regularly in continuing human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation. Many of the programs that we participate in are often coordinated by the director of continuing formation of the diocese, who is usually a brother priest. It is the responsibility of these directors to keep us growing according to God’s plan. We owe a debt of gratitude to these leaders for all they do.
A few months ago, as part of an effort to promote this publication, I attended the National Organization of Continuing Education of Roman Catholic Clergy Convention in Newark, New Jersey. I met continuing formation directors throughout the nation.
I was also blessed to hear the keynote address by the president and publisher of Paulist Press, Father Mark David Janus, CSP. Father Janus shared that he is a native of Rochester, New York, which was the home for Eastman Kodak, famous for imaging in photography. Some of us may have grown up with the phrase “a Kodak moment.” I often say this to people at baptisms, “This is a Kodak moment.” Many of them have no idea what I am talking about. Needless to say, I date myself when I use that expression. It is really a suggestion to take a photo.
Father Janus noted that the company had developed the first patent for digital imaging but did not use it. The company remained status quo. In the meantime, other companies began implementing digital imaging. It cut in on their business to the point that today we hear very little about Kodak. The moral to this story, according to Father Janus, is that we must never stop adapting. He concluded that life is not so much about “survival of the fittest” but “survival of the adaptable.”
When I returned to my parishes in southwestern Pennsylvania, I could not get that image, excuse the pun, out of my mind. It is so important that we be open to change and resist complacency and the status quo.
Father Janus’ words really hit home because in just a few weeks the two parishes I have been administering will become one parish as part of a diocesan initiative to grow the Church and make it more alive. The change does not stop there. Recently, our bishop announced a plan of school regionalization for the region that I serve, which will mean the closure of four schools — two of which I have been overseeing. The four schools will give way to one new school with two pre-K to 8 buildings.
I would venture to say that what is happening in my world is happening in many other areas throughout our nation. The Church is living in a time of great change. This change is the result of demographics, finances and diminishing available clergy.
Implicit within these changes is the reality that we priests need to change and adapt, especially with fewer of us and with more expectations. As much as we aspire to be all things to all people, we need to know our limits. While there are certainly only duties that we can do because of our ordination, we need to work smarter. One key in this regard is collaboration. It is vital that we work with those around us and trust them. Another key is delegation. As priests, we need to forgo some of those nonpriestly things that we do. It cannot be business as usual. Otherwise, we can do serious harm to our health and well-being.
The final key amid all this change is prayer. We need to keep praying and cultivating a deep relationship with the Lord Jesus. He must be our rock and fortress in this time of change.
When many of us prostrated on the floor of the cathedral at our ordinations, we probably never imagined facing what we have had to face. We might not have expected all of the changes and adaptations from within and without. The Church we gave our lives to is the same Church founded by Peter. Because she is imbued with the Holy Spirit, there will inevitably be change. That Spirit transformed fear into faith for those first followers. The same Spirit can do wonders for us, helping us to change, too.
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. To share your thoughts on this column or any others, email us at email@example.com. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.