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Catholic Voice
  July 5, 2011   •   VOL. 49, NO. 13   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

The blessing and curse of meetings

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of being in Seattle. The weather was lovely, but I really wasn’t able to get out and enjoy it. I was attending the semi-annual meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Perhaps most people would react to such a fate by uttering a resolute “ugh,” or some such thing. After all, meetings have a bad rap and, to be honest, understandably so. A poorly run meeting pushes the edge of the envelope on the frustration tolerance scale, and is a waste of precious time for all involved. To illustrate, in a recent conversation with a hard-working pastor before — what else? — attending a meeting, the good man remarked to me: “I believe that meetings are a direct result of original sin.” I paused for a moment to formulate a response to that. He filled in the silence: “I really do believe that.”

Yes, a steady diet of meetings has certainly become part and parcel of modern-day Church life, and a bad meeting can seem like the curse of the devil. But a well-run meeting can be very effective in forming and clarifying vision and mutually coordinating efforts for a common goal, and leave everyone feeling that they’ve spent some productive time together. I’ve concluded from my own experience that meetings, ultimately, are the price of collaboration.

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, a bishop would seek consultation in his pastoral governance of the diocese mainly through the diocesan synod, a convocation of leaders in the diocese with the purpose of mutually discerning and planning the pastoral direction of the diocese for a certain period of time. This is why he was required to hold such a synod at least once every 10 years. That requirement has now been dropped, but not because such consultation is no longer valuable. On the contrary, it has been greatly enhanced by the Council’s call for stably-constituted bodies of consultation. The diocesan synod still retains its value and its place, but its frequency has been diminished due to the establishment of these consultative bodies on a stable, ongoing basis.

The national bishops’ conferences — which the USCCB is — were one of those consultative bodies the Council called for. It also called for a number of other such groupings at both the diocesan and parish levels: among others, the diocesan finance council, the diocesan pastoral council and the presbyteral council (a consultative council of priests) at the diocesan level; and, similarly, the parish finance council and parish pastoral council at the parish level. Many other such consultative bodies exist which, while not explicitly called for, are nonetheless effective means of implementing the Council’s vision for the pastoral life of the Church in our time: stewardship committees, liturgy committees and school boards, to name a few.

Oh, and yes, our USCCB meeting in Seattle was — in my opinion, anyway — a productive one. Among other things, we approved a pastoral statement on physician-assisted suicide, approved the Spanish translation of the USA Propers and Adaptations to the Roman Missal as well as Spanish liturgical texts for principal patronal feast days of Spanish-speaking countries for use in the United States, authorized the drafting of a document on preaching and approved the revised “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

Besides the work accomplished, though, an equally valuable aspect of these meetings is simply spending time together with the other bishops from all throughout the United States and getting to know them better. Informal conversations help to build a sense of fraternal support and common purpose, as well as provide opportunities to network and learn from the experience and wisdom of others.

Allow me to conclude here by preaching to myself: the next time you find yourself complaining about having to go to another meeting, remember that meetings are necessary for effective collaboration, and effective collaboration is necessary for any organization to achieve its goals. For us as the Church, of course, that means the mission Christ has entrusted to us of proclaiming his Good News through the evangelization of our culture. Surely there can be no greater or more urgent task, in our time or ever.

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