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A chapter is the building block of the CCC. Just as Our Divine Lord said ‘where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in their midst,’ so, too, if anywhere from two to three, or five to ten or twenty or more priests and deacons gather, that can be a chapter. All you need to start a chapter is to have a place to meet and some names to invite. After a chapter has been in existence for six months or more, we request that the members forward their names to the national office so we can keep a record, a database, to help others connect and network, especially when so many are moved and transferred so often.
How often does a chapter meet?The goal of the chapter is to meet faithfully every month. Even if only 2-3 guys get together initially, it is worth the effort to TRY. Key is PERSEVERANCE. Many priest and deacons sadly believe they are too busy to make time for themselves. The Popes, Vatican Council, Code of Canon Law and the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests disagree. Every ordained man must MAKE time for his spiritual life. One day a month is not too much to give to your spirituality. We only ask for a minimum of two to three hours ONCE A MONTH, normally in the afternoon, so as to accommodate parish schedules (funerals, Communion calls, evening appointments, etc). There is no strict rule on how long the meetings need to be, but to make it beneficial to as many as possible, it is important to include time for ongoing spiritual, theological, pastoral and human formation in a fraternal setting. Sometimes, due to holidays and holy days, you may have to postpone or move a monthly meeting. Summer time, you may need to take a two or three month haitus but the more regular and stable your meeting place, the better for everyone. Sending email or text message reminders or phone calls a week or day before is also helpful.
Yes, we are at daily Mass and daily pray our Breviary and Rosary. Those are non-negotiable to be sure. But we clergy need fraternal support. This is why Jesus called a GROUP of twelve. They spent time TOGETHER. Your Canonical annual retreat is essential but not enough. One afternoon a month is not selfish, it is important. If we neglect our spiritual, intellectual, pastoral and human needs for ongoing formation, then we are not going to be able to give our people what they deserve. The need well-rounded men who can balance work and prayer, study and leisure. Our Divine Lord was no workaholic nor was He a prudish party-poop. He worked, prayed and had healthy ‘down time’ with friends like Martha, Mary and Lazarus. When priest and deacons forget to take time for their personal spiritual needs, they can become cranky, irritable, discouraged and worse. Often, they see no light at the end of the tunnel. Our priesthood is not just WHAT WE DO but it is WHO WE ARE. If your car needs an oil change, you get it done regularly and faithfully. If your tooth hurts, you go to the dentist even if it is your day off. Should we not make time for our soul? Doctors, lawyers, teachers, businessmen and other professionals get together with their colleagues for mini workshops and mini retreats or afternoon gatherings to talk shop, encourage one another, network and share ideas. Clergy are no different. Making time for your spirituality will make you a better priest or deacon and help you better serve your people and your bishop. This is not EITHER/OR as Pope Benedict XVI tells us, it is BOTH/AND. We need to make and spend time with our people and with brother clergy as well as making time for ourselves and the Lord. Daily Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours are the pitons we cling to each day but once a month we also need some intellectual and spiritual refreshment and nourishment just as we need an annual retreat, a day off and a vacation from time to time.
The priest that I know who have left public ministry did not just stop praying one day. They burned themselves out. Many of them saw their priesthood as activity. They DID many priestly things and were very active in the apostolates. Danger is that we can be tempted to try too hard or do too much. The work will never be done, so we cannot work until we drop. We must exercise PRUDENCE and employ BALANCE. Work and prayer (public and private). During a vocation shortage, we need to work smarter, not harder. No one HAS to join just as there are many options and alternatives the Church recognizes and endorses, nevertheless the beauty of the CCC is that it is not limited to one type of spirituality. It is not exclusively or predominantly Opus Dei, Dominican, Franciscan, Benedictine, Jesuit, et al. although it is always helpful to have a religious priest come often to give spiritual conferences and hear confessions. Priesthood is not just WHAT we do, it is also WHO we are. Too many of our brethren get burned out, discouraged or disillusioned because they spend all their time with priestly ACTIVITY. Even Jesus spent time by Himself and with His Disciples in a quiet and out of the way place. Martha got anxious about many things while Mary spent some quality time with the Lord. If Jesus thought it important for the Apostles and Disciples to get away now and then, how can we priests and deacons not do likewise? No matter how far is the nearest parish or cleric, the CCC is here to help and encourage you in all areas of ongoing post-ordination formation.
One afternoon a month commitment to common prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and the opportunity for Confession (perhaps even spiritual direction?) is not a luxury for times gone by. Once again, daily Mass and private prayer are givens. Once a month, however, we can and ought to spend time with brother priests and deacons for some payer, theological discussion, and some healthy fraternity. Our annual national gathering will be even more appreciated and attended if more and more guys see the benefit of getting together in monthly local gatherings. The CCC has no formal structure for these meetings. We just suggest you invite local clergy (priests and deacons) from your diocese and perhaps neighboring dioceses, if applicable. Have one stable place to meet once a month, usually the same day (with a few exceptions for holy days, etc.). Have a light snack beforehand for those who arrive early. Plan on exposing the Blessed Sacrament in church (chapel or oratory). Have a spiritual conference (theological talk) or listen to a CD of Benedict Groeschel, George Rutler, Joseph Fessio, et al. Pray a Rosary and Vespers in Common. Allow time and opportunity for guys to go to confession while the Rosary is prayed. Invite those who can remain to have an optional meal together at a local establishment. If you plan something between 2-5 pm (as a suggestion: earlier or later depending on your traffic patterns) one day a month, and stick with it for a whole year no matter how many or how few show up, you’ll be pleasantly surprised in the end. While every priest and deacon in good standing is invited to attend a chapter meeting and/or our annual conference, membership in the CCC is never a prerequisite, only a suggestion. If someone comes occasionally, they are as welcome as the regulars. Since the YEAR FOR PRIESTS, we also have a quinquennial (every five years) visit to Rome (sort of our version of an ad limina) where we meet with our Australian and United Kingdom Confraternities.
Our problem as American is that we evaluate everything by numbers. Remember the Cure of Ars and how he started out with NOTHING. If just two clerics get together once a month, it is not a waste of time or effort. Don’t be greedy for large crowds. Unless you are Father Corapi, you and I will just not get those large numbers. Be patient and persistent. Keep asking and inviting, reminding your diocesan and religious brethren they do not have to JOIN the CCC to attend a local chapter meeting. In fact, initially advertise yourself as AN AFTERNOON OF RECOLLECTION FOR LOCAL CLERGY or words to that effect. If you have an Opus Dei priest nearby, (or a Dominican, Francisan, Bendictine, Augustinian Jesuit, Salesian Redemptorist, etc.) perhaps he could occasionally come by for confessions and/or give a spiritual conference. Bottom line is that YOU adapt as you need. Add or delete whatever. But do something.
Once you get a small gathering going, let us know so we can let other CCC members know. Guys get moved, transferred even go on vacation. If lodge brothers can invite out of town members, so can we. It would be nice to know that a visiting priest or deacon could just drop in on a monthly meeting if in the area. We can only do that by publicizing your group. This is a grass roots enterprise, so each chapter supports itself and actually the only costs would be the refreshments you provide for the monthly meeting, so a donation coffee can (if there are still such things in existence) can be passed around at each meeting to buy soft drinks, tea, coffee and light snacks. Your annual dues help cover the cost of printing and postage and for national publicity and the web site.
A brand new Confraternity of Catholic Clergy has been formed in Ireland, Scotland, Whales and England. While just in its infancy, these men were encouraged by what they saw and read about the CCC in the USA and in Australia. We look forward to meeting them again for our quinquennial visit to Rome in 2015. We have active chapters in the Los Angeles area as well as at Mount Saint Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD. Some others meet less frequently due to distance in places where the Catholic population is sparse or where the parishes are very far apart.
The CCC exists to support you, but also needs your support. Our Australian brethren told us they get a good amount of bequests from CCC members who left an inheritance in their will for this organization. Besides your modest annual dues, consider leaving something for the Confraternity in your will so the work can continue to support Catholic Clergy. Some priests give a little extra when paying their dues and some even sponsor a seminarian or deacon in their parish as part of their ongoing formation process. Most of all, we NEED YOU to get the word out. Our national office issues press releases from time time that you read on our webpage. Spread them around via email. INVITE your classmates and diocesan colleagues to one of our annual convocations as well as to a monthly chapter meeting. ATTEND monthly meetings, MENTION the CCC to other members of the Catholic clergy (priests, deacons and even seminarians) and PRAY for each other. MAKE TIME for your sacerdotal life.