Go long

Wednesday 25 May 2016 — Homeport: Falmouth Village — 39th anniversary of release of the movie “Star Wars”

Most of my memories of junior high school, dear readers, are blurred. Just as well. Those are difficult years in the life of any kid. Who in his right mind would say, “I wish I could go back to those wonderful years I remember from junior high school?” I think not.

There is, however, one thing from my junior high school years that remains vivid in my mind. It was the day I awoke to a new level of consciousness. It was a day that ignited my imagination like never before. It was the day I became a dreamer.

Here’s the story. All us kids were herded into the auditorium for one of those dreaded school assemblies. Boring, yes, but at least it was a break from the tedium of the classroom. We shuffled down the school corridor, eyes deflected, like a chain-gang of zombies. In silence, we took our assigned places on the hard wooden seats.

A man stood on stage. Behind him was a projection screen. Oh no, thought I, in my junior high school mind. This guy is going to show us slides (as we called transparencies in those pre-tech days). I was right, of course. He did.

But the slides were fascinating. His talk was mesmerizing. The whole topic was engaging. Who was this Pied Piper at the podium? He was a representative of some auto manufacturing company (I don’t remember which one). He was showing us cars of the future that were already on the drawing board. Not the near future, you understand, but the far future (say, in the year 2016). Unbelievable! They looked like something from outer space. My jaw dropped. This man was what they call “a futurist.” Wow. Just wow. 

Those cars that were once prototypical sketches are now on the road. Nobody gives them a second glance. Sometimes, while walking down Main Street, I pause to admire passing cars. That futurist was right on the money. Wow, just wow. 

The Diocese of Fall River has an Office of Pastoral Planning. The Office of Pastoral Planning is now overseeing a project called, “Rebuilding in Faith and Hope.” The immediate task is parish self-evaluation. The phase of receiving feedback from all parishioners in all parishes throughout the diocese will conclude in just a couple of days. All of this will need to be analyzed and, along with a consideration of the facts and extensive consultation, future directions determined. 

Now, here’s a thought: Go long. Long-range planning was, until very recently, considered to be no longer than five years. Beyond that was the realm of mystery. There is, however, an emerging world consciousness (in government and business) that planners should be looking well beyond a five-year strategy. What will things look like in 10, 25 or 50 years? The rate of change is accelerating. If the past is any indication, the distant future will look very differently, but it will not be beyond our capacity to imagine here and now. The seeds of the future are already sprouting. 

There is more to planning than short-term property management and human resources allocation. In anticipating future issues and designing strategies to meet them, there is need for cooperation beyond personal convenience and parochial interests. This is about the common good. Easier said than done. Just consider the current presidential election cycle.

Changes in our way of thinking and acting will be as unpopular as they always have been. Envisioning a better future is risky business. I predict there will be an increasing demand for futurists — maybe even in the Church. 

How is human activity impacting the earth? Are our various world economies helping or harming the poor? How will technology and automation affect the dignity of human work? How do they affect bioethics? How will the demographics of an aging population impact society? How will all this affect the Sanctity of human life in all its stages? What about the increasing estrangement between governments and religion? How will we better address social justice issues? How do we learn to think and act together across all sorts of compartmentalization, fiefdoms, artificial borders, and divisions? Pope Francis is ahead of the curve on the issues the future will present.

Many dioceses have a Department of Pastoral Planning to deal with the short-term. What about the long-term effects of the decisions we are making today? How about a cross-disciplinary, interoffice Steering Committee for Future Issues, Cooperation, and Strategy Development? Maybe not.

The Catholic Church is the oldest and largest institution in the history of the human race. We learned to dream dreams and see visions long ago. 

What will cars look like in 2076? (At the age of 94, Father F. X. Wallace responds, “Tim, who cares?”) Nevertheless, the plans are already on the drawing boards. What will the Church look like in 2076? The Muses are whispering in our ear, “Go long! Go long!” 

Time for a break. I think I’ll step outside and marvel at the passing cars. 

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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