success stories

Utilizing The Church's Talent Better

Eugene Hemrick

I wonder how different the Church would look and act if priests and deacons were given positions that better matched their talents? I likewise wonder if many of its present problems would be fewer if this happened?

These thoughts hit me when a bishop recently commented:

"Gene, we have priests who have studied for years to obtain degrees, but who never utilize them once they obtain them. Minds filled with valuable knowledge are left to die on the vine."

If we were to add up all the studies undertaken by priests and deacons, we would find a very high percentage of them are extremely well educated. Many of them have studied in some of the finest universities in this country and throughout the world. Without a doubt, the various degrees they hold equal the degrees held by persons in the most prestigious positions known.

Why doesn't the Church make better use of its talent?

The first reason that immediately comes to mind is necessity. The shortage of priests is compelling the Church to utilize every warm body it has to fill parish slots. This follows the principle: pastoral needs of parishioners take precedence over the need to accommodate one's personal talents.

Need over accommodation has validity in that priests and deacons, especially those who work in a diocese, come from the people for the service of the people.

This principle, however, needs much rethinking in light of a greater need for excellence in post modern, complex times. As much as service to others is at the heart of spirituality, and is the trademark of the Church, excellent service requires more than providing bodies to fill in a crunch. Squeezing people into positions without giving their talents their due, is not the way to combat the crunch the Church faces.

When the renowned scripture scholar, Fr. Roland Murphy, was teaching seminarians and laypersons studying to be church leaders, he would repeatedly remind them that "study is ministry." They must never stop their pursuit of knowledge or cultivating talent on the grounds of being too busy in serving people. Why hold this? Because excellence in studies and self development more often than not translates into excellent service. These pursuits are not a selfish luxury, but absolutely are necessary for quality. We should also add, not only do they energize those who pursue them, but those they serve.

One of the offshoots of frustrated priests and deacons who aren't using their talents to the fullest is opening of the door to anger, exasperation, apathy, passiveness and a host of other abnormal behaviors. When these behaviors take hold, the virtue of service loses its greatest allies: aspiration, vision, enthusiasm, creativity, energy.

I believe another major reason the Church fails to use its talent better is that its own are too impersonal. Most priests, deacons and bishops know each other's names, background, positions, foibles and achievements. But seldom do they become personal enough to know each others' aspirations, convictions, vision and hoped for achievements. Openness in personal matters like this is minimal.

No doubt, some priests would rather have it this way due to having a personality that shuns openness and the sharing of intimate thoughts.

And too, the priesthood in many ways fosters a false humility that says if you talk about aspirations, convictions, vision and achievement, this borders on pride.

This talk also rings with a sound of the Protestant virtue of industry having a work ethic that glorifies hard work and getting ahead.

One wonders if those who think this way have never read St. Thomas on the virtue of magnanimity, or thought through the biblical admonition of not burying one's light under a bushel basket, or burying one's talent.

It should be noted that this lack of personal sharing of ideals doesn't only happen in the Church, but in all of life. Many people just don't sit down with each other and share their ideas and feelings about their perceived talents and how they would like to utilize them. The only time they might do this is when they become so desperate for a job that they go to a councilor to talk over these matters.

I often wonder what would happen if personnel boards and bishops sharpened their skills ever so little more in listening and creating greater openness among priests, deacons and lay leaders. Even though their credibility has been damaged and openness is hard to come by, my guess is that the personal touch and transparency this would create would immensely booster the morale of everyone involved, as it would their output. It would do wonders also for restoring credibility.

It will take a long time for the Church to recover from the difficulties of the last year. Recover it will; how fast this happens will depend in great part on how much better it comes to personally know its own and promotes the immense talent it has in its midst.