- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2001

Excerpts from the McCarthy Lecture given Friday by Monsignor John J. Enzler marking his service award from Washington Theological Union.

While I am very pleased to receive this honor, I am more pleased that it allows me to represent my brother priests. As you may suspect, my prejudice is that the church really happens in the parish.
For most lay people it is through the local parish that they learn to teach as Jesus did, building a community of faith around the message and reaching out in service to others.
I would like to share three points about parish ministry, and in our busy world, how the pastor and people can collaborate. My first principle is that we as priests should say "yes" in every pastoral situation that is possible, and say "no" only when we have to.
In many ways we have become naysayers. We have so many expectations placed upon us that it is most often easier to say "no" to those who need the gift of ministry from the church.
I am in no way saying that we not follow the teachings of the church or disregard the guidance of the pope or our cardinal on issues of morals and doctrine. But there are many areas of everyday ministry that offer flexibility in how we might respond to people's needs. Now, I know we can't do everything for everyone, but it seems that in many cases a simple "yes" to a request for our time or talents is appropriate.
When I was ordained 25 years ago, the church was, to use a financial term, a "seller's market." The church had prominence, and it was part of parish life for the people to follow the priest's leadership. Even if people did not agree with a church teaching, or a priest's interpretation, they followed to stay a Catholic in good standing.
Today, I believe, we are in a "buyer's market." Our young people, and anyone under 50, are carefully looking at what the church has to offer. It is not unusual for parishioners to leave a church over a pastor's behavior, over feeling more welcome in a different parish or, sadly, because they find more community in another denomination.
People do turn away over doctrine and modern-day issues, but I believe it happens most often because they don't feel welcomed. People turn away because they ask for their child to be baptized, but because they are not practicing the faith, they are told "no." They come to the parish to be married, but not meeting requirements, they are told "no."
A simple "yes" to a couple not practicing their faith as they should may be the most important way that we have to touch them at a most vulnerable moment. I am not talking about waffling on doctrine, but our vibrant and ready "yes" may be the most important tool of evangelism we have today.
My second principle is that we should help the laity take their rightful place of leadership. I am talking about giving the laity power when they have the skills, charisms and gifts of the Spirit to do the work of the church. Sometimes, we church leaders give responsibility to a lay leader or staff member, but don't give the authority that goes with it. It builds frustration and the work of the church is diminished.
Many or our parishes, including my own, need to keep striving for a new recognition of the gifts of the laity, and this leads to my third principle there is also a priestly identity which should not be lost as we encourage lay leadership.
I strongly believe that among the reasons vocations have fallen off is the fact that young men and women see no difference between the priesthood and religious life, on one hand, and lay activity on the other. In the United States, "equality" is often equated with being "the same." We reject discrimination. But to recover its identity, the priesthood must eschew the mantra that priests are the same as everyone else.


Next week: A sermon by the Rev. Davies Kirkland at Dulin United Methodist Church in Falls Church.

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