The public, the private, and weblogging

/ 4 April 2005

For a long time now I’ve felt that the personal is political (as the grand old feminist slogan goes), but I’ve also believed that the private is, by definition, not public. Writing in a weblog tends to test some of these boundaries, and this past week in particular I’ve become very conscious of that questioning. Being right in the middle of the tenure review process, I was spending a lot of my time and energy on that process — but saying virtually nothing about it in this weblog.

This weekend, as we waited in vigil and prayer for the Pope to breathe his last, I found myself turning to television to share in immediacy and connection to believers all over the world. I suspect there were also weblogs that might have given me some of that, but none of the ones I read regularly -- particularly those in my RSS feeds -- had more than a brief mention of what was happening. Why mention that now? Because it connects directly to my frustration at liturgy Sunday morning.

And in order to explain that frustration, I have to "come clean" about another reality I've been living through in recent months, but not commenting on in this weblog. That reality pertains to our local parish, IHM, and its most recent transition. Chuck Burns, S.J., -- a much beloved and blessed priest -- left after a lengthy tenure as our pastor, and was replaced by another Jesuit, Joe Weiss. To date our transition has been rocky at best, and much of that time I've lived in a tangled mess of frustration, anger, longing, and hurt (not simply my own, but all of those which members of the community have shared with me). As a member of the pastoral council I've tried to find ways to be constructive in the midst of those strong feelings, but it hasn't been easy.

This morning I went to church looking for a "family" of sorts with which to share the experience of grieving JPII's death, and looking forward to the future transition. In the midst of a liturgy with powerful readings -- not to mention a whole lively group of second graders making their first communion -- our pastor failed to comment in any way on JPII's death. It was left up to one of us, in the prayers of the faithful, to add a prayer on his passing.

What could have been going through our new pastor's mind -- in the heart of a vibrant Catholic community, no less -- not to at least comment, even briefly, on this experience so many of us have been sharing this weekend? Given the intense focus a world media fascinated by Catholic practice made possible, the omission was deafening and painful.

It's not as if our parish universally agreed with everything the Vatican's been doing, or even all of the specific teachings this Pope articulated, but I think it's fair to say that our entire parish greatly respected the Pope -- as a person of enormous faith and spiritual gifts, if nothing else. Beyond that many of us respected him for far more for his principled stand against the Iraq wars.

So what is the best thing to do about such frustration? What is my responsibility as a parishioner? as a member of our pastoral council? I'm not the only one to have voiced such frustrations -- in fact, I'm probably one of those trying to give him the biggest benefit of the doubt! -- but I'd really like to find a way to help our new pastor hear what we're feeling in a way that's constructive. He's hardly ever around, (his office is in our partnered parish), he doesn't respond to email, and he missed our last pastoral council meeting.

If you were a pastor new to a parish, what would help you the most?