‘Growing up I never met a parish priest who wasn’t always cross’. These are the words of a lady who grew up as a Catholic. She went on, ‘The parish priest said “No” to everything.’
In recent weeks I find myself saying ‘No’ to parishioners. Some resent the lockdown and priests are seen as inflexible enforcers. Many requests are connected with funerals.
Encounters with grieving families leave me wondering if I’m overzealous; a parish priest who can only say ‘No’. I’m aware that any flexibility I concede is grudging and the family get less than they want. I have a fridge magnet which says ‘What would Jesus do?’. Does pastoral sensitivity demand that I ignore the rules? It’s a tough call. Where’s the ‘good news’ in all of this?
For many Catholics their occasional contact with the Church is at times of crisis. Funerals are not a good time for a stand-off. Grievances over a funeral lodge in a family’s memory to be revived each year at the anniversary.
And there are parishioners who imagine that the whole coronavirus reaction is over the top. This can be coupled with a belief that secular rules and regulations should not apply to the Church; that we answer to a higher authority; that the Lord will look after His own; that churches are ‘safe’ by definition. And there are some who simply resent being told what to do by anyone – secular or religious.
My soul-searching leads me to question my own double standards. Do I pick and choose which rules I observe or reject? For example, do I blithely dismiss Coronavirus restrictions and at the same time enforce rules on Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried? Or vice versa? No more Mr Nice Guy?