Why so many formations and retreats?

Do they make us better Christians?

It has become fashionable in our Catholic Church to organize various retreats, formations, recollections, reflections, seminars, rallies, convention and so on for the clergy and laity alike. You may call them by various names but they all more or less refer to the same - gathering of Catholics to discuss and reflect on issues facing us. Most of the time these sessions bring no concrete results whatsoever in the end.

A lot of time, enegy and money are spent to organize these events and as such it may be pertinent here to ponder to see whether they bring any real long-term benefits to us. Do they make us better Christians?

We are told that these formations are vital to be a good Catholic. There are some who even go on to say that we cannot reach God without attending these formations. Are these really true? Formations are good and are intended to make us better Christians but how better do we become after participating in such activities? There are many among us who attend so many formations and retreats but when we return we continue with our old selfish ways, refusing to talk to others, neglect elderly and indifferent to those in need in our midst.

The clergy too are involved in their own retreats. They are away 3 days a month on their monthly recollection. In addition to that, they have their retreats, off days and vacation. In most parishes the priests are away on leave one or two days a week. In fact in some smaller parishes there are those who take off as long as 3 days a week. During their absence there is no priest to cater for Eucharistic celebrations, final rites and anointing, confession and counseling.

When the priests return from their monthly recollections, not a single word is uttered of matters that were discussed. It is as though they had attended some top security meeting of a secret society, which must be kept secret from even their own congregation. Despite the beautiful slogan, “We are the Church”, the laity is left completely in the dark as though they do not exist. Neither are there any positive changes in the attitude of the priests towards their job and the parishioners after every retreat or recollection.

Talk to any priest today, his main grouse will be that very few parishioners are coming for mass and participating in the various organizations. On the other hand, at the BEC meetings more than 90% of parishioners will complaint that their priests do not visit them. In fact these days many complain that their priests have lost touch with the people and are not interested to know their parishioners.

The people today, being more qualified and well versed in many fields, are not happy with the lack of dialogue and openness in the management of the parish. They are not happy with the financial accountability of the parish administration that is rather unprofessionally run. The knowledge and skills of the laity are not appreciated let alone utilized.

It is sad that slowly this indifferent attitude of the clergy towards the people is slowly being accepted as a norm. As the Eucharistic celebration forms the crux of our faith, our priests consider themselves as indispensable. They are happy to say mass, consecrating the bread and wine and nothing more. All other duties are being designated to the laity with the excuse as they do have the time as they are in short supply.

With the rapid scientific and socio-economic changes in the global world today, it is time for our bishops and clergy to review their strategies in building the Kingdom of God in our midst. Are they really serious in their mission to build His Kingdom? How committed are they to this task? There is a need to improve the clergy-laity relationship to a level where there is more mutual respect for one another. The present system of monologue should be replaced by dialogue on a more equal standing. We must bear in mind that we need one another and have equally important roles in building the Kingdom of God. As mere mortals and sinners, we are all equal in the eyes of God.

Recollections, formations and retreats are important but of greater importance is their commitment to mankind in the form of their congregation. Unless they identify themselves with the people there is no way they can build God’s Kingdom. Their retreats and recollections must bring them closer to the people, in whom God dwells, otherwise these retreats and formations would be just waste of time and money.

Dr.Chris Anthony

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