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We Face Difficult Times

As a church, as the people of God, we face difficult times. Right now, we are dealing with the Coronavirus. We are celebrating public Masses (with face masks and social distancing), albeit with smaller numbers as people stay home to protect their health. However, it is not the Coronavirus that I want to focus on today. It is other crises that we face as a church that I want to write about today.

Notice, I used the plural “crises.” Yes, we face multiple “crises.” Which crisis comes to mind first for you?

Is it the sexual abuse scandal? This crisis has its origin in the sin of a few priests who led a life of sin in abusing children. There is no excuse for this. If you or someone you know has been a victim of this, I am sorry. It never should have happened. The sin was followed by the cover-up. None of us like to talk about sins but this was covered up in a way that failed to keep it from happening again. Now changes have been made but we must deal with what has happened and always work to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Our first concern is always for the victims and to make sure it does not happen again. That being said, we also admit it effects the way people look at the church.

Another crisis we face in the church is a crisis in vocations. Here, the first thing that comes to mind might be the declining number of priests. There are those who wish to blame this on celibacy, claiming that if the church would allow married priests, we would have enough priests to continue as we were.

Here, I will say that the problem isn’t celibacy itself. It is the way we look at celibacy. Society fails to see the value in celibacy. It is a sacrifice and, hence, a witness of service. The same is true for religious life. The numbers of women and men joining religious orders is down too. We need this witness.

We also need to include marriage as part of the vocation crisis. People no longer see marriage as a covenant for life. Society fails to see marriage as “service” or a witness of God’s love (see my video presentation Sacraments of Service in my series on the sacraments).

Another crisis we face is the declining number of people who come to Mass. In fact, I see this as a big part of the vocation crisis. If one isn’t coming to church, one isn’t going to enter religious life or become a priest. It also effects what we can do as a church. The timing of church closings often corresponds to the retirement of priests without enough new priests being ordained but at the heart of it all is the declining number of parishioners. It leaves us with fewer volunteers and less financial contributions. It is not about the money. It is about mission.

This leads us to the “identity crisis” we face as a church (see Divine Renovation: Bringing Your Parish from Maintenance to Mission by Fr. James Mallon. Twenty-Third Publications. 2014. cf. Made for Mission: Renewing Your Parish Culture by Tim Glemkowski. Our Sunday Visitor. 2019.)

Both Fr. Mallon and Glemkowski speak of the need for us as a church to move from “maintenance” to “mission.” Conversations about the decline in the number of people attending Mass tend to focus on recent decades. Fr. Mallon and Glemkowski see it as a much older problem. It was simply masked by increasing attendance at Mass from immigrants and population growth. Family size is smaller and there are fewer immigrants in many of our local churches.

“Maintenance” is what we do to keep going as is. This seemed to work for a long time because there was plenty of people involved in church. However, when we function solely in maintenance mode, we can lose our sense of mission. We lose our sense of purpose. From this, we lose our sense of identity.

What do we as a Church exist for? For the answer, I turn to what Pope Paul VI wrote in Evangelii Nuntiandi,

“Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection” (14).

We have been given a mission by Jesus to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19).

What we need to do is help people encounter Jesus (cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est (God is love), 1.). We need to help people see the presence of Jesus in their lives.

How do we do this? First, we need to think about who is leading us in what we believe. Unfortunately, for many it is the secular culture that determines what they believe. Then, they expect the church to go along with what the culture says. This is completely backwards. It is not the culture that determines what our faith believes. No, it should be, it must be our faith, the Truth of Jesus Christ, that shapes our culture.

It is the Holy Spirit who must be the one leading the Church. The Holy Spirit does this, in large part, through the hierarchy of our Catholic Church. It is the Holy Spirit that makes it possible for us to fulfill the mission Jesus gave us. This mission is who we are.

For more on this I invite you to two resources on my website:

The first is an article, “What Sort of Church Should We Be?” (2017, http://nebula.wsimg.com/6d03a2640f35abd4cf99429a55d3b8b8?AccessKeyId=F465FCE598BCE1CD661B&disposition=0&alloworigin=1), I wrote talking about our need to evangelize.

The second is a video presentation, Evangelization and Apologetics, I did in 2017.

I encourage you to do what God asks of you to share the faith with people around you. I ask you to pray for our Church to renew our sense of identity and that we be led by the Holy Spirit to fulfill our mission to proclaim the Gospel.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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