Stewing in Our Juices

None of us enjoy meetings, but, we have to admit, sometimes good things happen at them. Recently, we had a meeting, sponsored by our Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, to which lay representatives from each parish assembled to speak about our common pastoral priorities. At the closing session, one gentleman, an African-American, spoke with much wisdom.

''I worry,'' he began, ''that we are preoccupied about 'inside matters' in the Church. We seem only to talk about issues like parish closings and mergers, declining numbers of priests, of the impact the clergy sex-abuse scandal, or argue about controversial issues like celibacy or women's ordination.'' He then brought it home. ''But shouldn't we as Catholics be more concerned about issues out there, beyond us, always wanting to serve the wider community? The world, society, culture look to the Church for charity, education, moral direction, and spiritual nourishment. And we shy away from it because we're so wrapped-up with our internal problems!''

I enthusiastically joined in the applause his thoughtful remarks prompted.

While he did not use the terms, he was speaking about the distinction between ad intra and ad extraissues. Are we not consumed by the ad intra problems to the detriment of the ad extra ones? The evangelical dimension, the pastoral outreach needed to the wider society, seem to get short-shrift.

We are catholic; that means we are always looking outward, beyond ourselves, reaching out, embracing others. Our love, our charity, our solicitude is not confined to our backyard.

Two recent deanery meetings come to mind. Meeting ''A'' was taken up with conversation among the priests about added demands on our time, about dismal projections of fewer and fewer priests, about the stress many are feeling over the prospect of more duties and demands, etc.

Meeting ''B'' found priests excited over the growth of the population in their county, about how to welcome new members, on how to reach out especially to the young, single, professional adults whose number was high in the area, and eager to share ''best practices'' from parishes reporting increasing Sunday Mass attendance.

There you have it: meeting ''A'' was ad intra;meeting ''B'' was ad extra. The priests left meeting ''A'' gloomy and discouraged; they departed from meeting ''B'' energized and upbeat.

Now, let's face it: we need energetic attention to both ad intra and ad extra. I'm afraid, though, that the gentleman to whom I referred at the beginning of this article has a point: we seem concerned these days with ecclesiastical ''naval gazing,'' stewing in our own juices, speaking of in-house problems, instead of ''casting out to the deep.''

We priests have a lot of ad intra matters to consume us. The temptation is to look within and become all twisted up in our own worries.

Yet the wisdom of discipleship tells us that it is His Church not ours, that it is not all about us but about Him and His people, that He wants us to walk on the water toward Him, overcoming fear and anxiety, rather than remain cowering in the boat, that He beckons us to cast out to the deep rather than stay in the shallow water.

From ad intra to ad extra. . . .

Is that not what occurred on Pentecost? The apostles were self-absorbed, scared, worried, confused, sad after the Master had left them. It was all about them, all ad intra.

Then came the Holy Spirit, and it all changed . . . and that Spirit took them out of that closed-inroom and led them literally to India, Rome, Spain . . . to the ends of the earth . . . ad extra.And the Church was born as they recalled in the Teacher's last word: ''Go out!''

Let's be catholic, not congregational. Let's be ad extra for awhile. TP