Parishioners from church to church tend to be interesting, even, at times, fascinating; their variety can be categorized similarly to groups in high schools. As most students are at school to gain an education, most parishioners are also at church for the right reasons: to become better people and grow closer to The Lord.
But like classrooms where some members want to test a new teacher’s boundaries, I have found that most churches have a few members that want to do the same to a new pastor. They have tattle-tales that can’t wait to inform the bishop if their new priest doesn’t follow some particular procedure or rubric that they think is crucial, or if they just don’t like his style. Fortunately most bishops are able to keep such complaints in proper perspective and challenge us as adults to work matters out together. Most priests have encountered their fair share of parishioners with father-issues who project them onto the priest or those who develop a crush on him. With presbyteral brothers, priests sometimes acknowledge or joke about the various personality types that exist in parishes. There are the mothers of brides, affectionately known as M-O-Bs. There are the cultural Catholics that care nothing about our religion but get stoked by religious holidays, baptisms, and first communions. Then there are those poor scrupulous guys that frequent the confessional—multiple times a week—tortured by obsessive-compulsive sexual behaviors. And there are always the modern-day Pharisees that hold a holier-than-Thou attitude to condescend upon anyone who doesn’t meet their standards of piety.
Parishes with schools have a host of other characters: helicopter moms and snow-plow parents, dads that relive glory days through elementary school sports, and relatives that embarrass everyone by their bad behavior in the bleachers. The school secretary on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off offered a litany of student groups: sportos, motor-heads, bone-heads, skanks, geeks, dweebs, dorks, gang-bangers, waste-oids… While capturing the cliques pretty well, she intimated that humans, shaped by interest, personality, or passive categorization, have little chance at being categorized in God’s image and likeness. As it was in their Chicago school, so does it surface in parish churches and schools under different titles. Fortunately every parish, like every school, has plenty of good-hearted souls that rise above labels and possess a kindness that invites those bearing a label to become more than they may seem; these good souls are clearly there to learn, grow, and attain self-betterment through awareness, openness, and understanding; they provide example and incentive for others to do the same. They enrich the community through their outreach and compassion.
While schools develop brains and talents among students, parishes want to develop wisdom and insight among her members. Parishioners truly are interesting—perhaps most especially those that strive to rise above categories and shed school-type labels by using their faith community as a place to become the person God created them to be.
~Fr. Don Farnan