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The Catholic Moment: A pastor’s tightrope

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

By Father Rob Waller

Children being sent five days a week to a Catholic school and not being brought to Mass on Sunday, and a pastor addressing the situation: it is like walking a tightrope.

The rope is way up in the air and is taut — tightly drawn, tense, but with some slack and bounce and give. The performance takes place in front of an audience, which holds its breath, gasps or cheers. Sometimes there is no safety net, which adds to the danger and to the excitement.

The tightrope walker looks straight ahead, focusing on the goal: to make it safely to the other side. He risks harm, if he looks down or back, or if he pays too much attention to the reaction of the crowd. He concentrates on balancing the pole in his arms, and allows the two ends of the pole itself to keep him balanced. His legs and feet dance, back and forth, alternately moving quickly and coming to rigid stops. It is two steps forward, losing balance, one step back, regaining balance, and then two delicate, dancing steps ahead. The artist is barefoot, in stockings or in some flexible footwear.

I discovered a new word in writing this article: funambulist, “a tight rope walker.” Being a pastor and addressing the situation of children being sent five days a week to a Catholic school and not being brought to Mass on Sunday is funambulism, tightrope walking.

The good pastor wants his actions to encourage and not discourage. His ultimate goal is to help all to get safely “to the other side,” while the more immediate concern is helping them get to Sunday Mass. Threatening does not have much of a future; shame and guilt are not long-lasting agents of change.

Yet the pastor must balance the proper use of parish financial resources among parish families, some not giving any evidence that attending Sunday Mass is much on their minds, and some wanting their children to get at school what they give them at home all week long and on Sunday.

It is a balancing act and takes some fancy footwork. I am still learning the art. If only I could figure out what sort of sock or shoe to wear!

Father Rob Waller is pastor of St. Andrew Parish in Milford.

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