Archive for August, 2013

August 24, 2013 – Continuing Change

August 24, 2013

I thought I would begin this week by commenting on the joint Mass we had with St. Mary’s in Ellis Grove this past Saturday.  I want to thank the parishioners at Ellis Grove for being such gracious hosts.  I think some folks were just expecting maybe a cookie and a glass of punch following Mass, and instead we were treated to a full-blown spread.  Of course, rarely have I been to a Catholic function where anyone went home hungry (lol).  Nonetheless, we were welcomed very warmly by our neighbors, which I am very thankful for.  We had a very good crowd for the Mass, although the fear some had that the crowd would be so large that chairs would have to be set up in the parking lot didn’t quite materialize.  As is usually the case at Mass, there were still spaces in the FRONT pews (lol).

Of course, the real purpose of the evening was for people to get to start to know each other a little better as we continue to form our partnership.  Fr. Gene did a great job in explaining why it is necessary for us to begin working in partnership, and also detailing some of our future plans.  It is necessary for us to continue to move forward because we have two progress reports that must be turned in to the diocese – an initial report next month and a final report in December – as to what we will do when we have only one priest ministering in our partnership.  This is not a question of if, but a question of when.  If Fr. John at Sparta, who is here as a visiting priest, is called back to his home diocese, or if Fr. Ben is assigned to a larger parish, or some other event occurs that forces the departure of a priest, then we must have a plan that will kick in at that point.  This plan would include a revised Mass schedule, a plan to combine ministries, finances, and committees, as well as other things.

In the meantime, our parishes will continue to do joint activities together.  Fr. Ben and Fr. Gene will once again have a pulpit exchange in September and October.  We will have joint penance services during Advent and Lent.  We have also discussed the possibility of February 15, 2014 as a date for a joint Mass here in Chester with a dinner and dance afterwards.  We have invited the youth of Ellis Grove to join our CYO in our activities.  We may in the future begin to celebrate the Holy Days of Obligation together.  I’m sure there will be other things we will do together as time goes on.

One of the observations I made last Saturday was that many of the parishioners from our parish were socializing with the Ellis Grove parishioners because they already knew each other, whether by friendship, family ties, or other means.  This step we are taking certainly has a “fear factor” involved with it because it is something new.  However, as Fr. Gene pointed out, we are all Catholic by virtue of our beliefs, and the nature of Catholicism is that it is universal.  There is no reason that we should not be willing to work together and share our resources to more effectively evangelize the gospel message.  If we keep an open mind to the process, and let the Holy Spirit guide us on the right path, we could be opening new opportunities that we never would have thought about before.  Let us pray for continued guidance and cooperation as we proceed into the future.

Along the lines of who attends what parish, there was an article from Our Sunday Visitor that caught my eye yesterday.  The author threw out this question: Is it better to attend your geographic parish or a parish that you feel comfortable in?  The stance on this has certainly changed over time.  In the olden days, leaving your parish for another parish wasn’t equivalent to leaving the church, but it was close.  My grandfather lived his entire life on Shawneetown Trail, which would have been very close to the Ellis Grove church.  However, as a child he attended St. Mary’s in Chester, and he continued to do so most of his life.  That was “his” church.  I still think many older folks still have that same attitude.  They feel a sense of “ownership” with their parish.  They contributed for so many years to that place, and that is in a sense “their” church.

Folks of the younger generations, however, I think in many cases have no problem attending a parish that is not necessarily in their geographic area.  It may be because Mass times are more convenient, or the Masses are shorter somewhere else, or other reasons.  Nothing is really said about this anymore because, I suppose, at least in view of the Diocese, they are going to church somewhere.  It may be a “faith-saver”, as a matter of fact, if someone chooses to a church outside their area because they feel it is more compatible.   However, as the article indicated, is someone who attends another church because they are comfortable there missing the whole point of community?  The mission of a parish isn’t about “how good it makes me feel,” or about entertainment value.  It is about me associating and caring about those who may not be like me, yet are still brothers and sisters in the Lord.

The declining number of clergy, which necessitated the Diocesan Renewal and Restructuring Plan, will result in a declining number of choices folks will have to attend Mass.  For example, if someone wants to attend Mass on a Saturday evening, they will have to go to this church or travel a great distance to find another Mass.  As was mentioned before, this is an opportunity to show our true Catholic faith, to welcome in those who are apprehensive about a particular church.  Doors to new opportunities are opening, and it will be up to us whether to enter in, or to close them.

Have a great week.  Stay cool.  Peace.

August 17, 2013 – The “Why” of the Pastoral Plan

August 17, 2013

This weekend we bring our parish partnership with St. Mary’s in Ellis Grove to a new place as we hold a “joint” Mass together.  Our Pastor and Administrator will concelebrate the Mass, and our communities will have a chance to pray and worship together, as well as hear a little more about what the future holds for our parishes.  As you have read here, heard at Masses, and probably read elsewhere, the main factor driving this is the continuing decline in the number of clergy – a factor which will continue to become more pressing as we continue to lose the services of our priests due to aging and health.  And of course, this is occurring at the same time that very few men are entering the seminary for our Diocese.  We of course must continue to pray for vocations and hope that more young men will hear the call to the priesthood.  However, even if we can turn the current trends around, we will be another 10-15 years down the road before this would have an impact.  So we have definitely reached a crisis point, and even though it seems that things are happening quickly and hastily, the time to plan and begin to act is now.

A question that some folks may have is whether this is a trend across the country.  Well, in most places, yes it is.  I have tried in the past to be careful not to bore you with numbers, but in this case I think they are necessary.  According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), the year 2012 marked the first time in over 60 years that the number of parishes in the United States was more than the number of active diocesan priests. Nearly one in five U.S. parishes do not have a resident priest pastor. Seven in ten have a diocesan priest serving in this capacity and religious priests serve as resident pastors in 11% of parishes. In 17% of parishes a priest is serving as a non-resident pastor (in a small number a “team of priests” administrates). In about 430 parishes, a deacon or lay person is entrusted with the pastoral care of a parish by their bishop. Yet even here, the parish life coordinator, as this person is often titled, must still do their best to arrange for priests to be available for Masses and other sacraments.

Looking at the map below, in the areas marked in yellow and red, the number of active diocesan priests is less than the number of parishes.  This represents about 60% of all U.S. dioceses.



The green areas on the map have more active diocesan priests than parishes.  This includes a number of urban areas.  However, as with most statistics, you have to dig a little deeper to get the whole story.  For example, an urban priest who is a pastor of one parish may be responsible for serving the needs of 5,000 registered households, while a rural priest in one of the red areas of the map may serve as pastor in three parishes in one county with 200 registered households in each parish. The rural pastor may be able to serve the needs of these communities by himself, whereas the urban pastor may need a parochial vicar and/or a retired priest to assist him and still struggle to meet the needs of his community. Green and red are not always as “clear” as it might seem in practice.

What is clear from the data, however, is that a “traditional” model of parish where one can find a priest at any time of day or night is not possible in many areas of the United States.  If the U.S. Catholic population continues to grow, and the number of priests in the U.S. continues to decline, this would likely create more pressure to close and consolidate parishes at the very time that population growth would indicate a need for new construction.  We may see, even in our neck of the woods, a need to construct one large facility in a central area where many people can gather at one time.  If we reach the point 10-15 years down the road that there are maybe 20-25 active diocesan priests left in our Diocese, many things will have to be modified for us and for those coming behind us. We could reduce the number of Masses, outside of holidays, down to the “demand” capacity (i.e., enough open seats for Mass attendees). We could also reduce and consolidate parishes to the degree possible (…what is the maximum distance people would be willing and able to travel?). The Church can (which we have done in this Diocese) invite priests from overseas to serve here to balance the equation as well. In 1999, international priests made up 8% of all priests in the United States. Today, they are 16% of all priests in the country.  However, this is something that we cannot guarantee will continue over time.

It seems ironic that this coincides with recent efforts in New Evangelization and welcoming new or returning parishioners to communities.  It seems that we wouldn’t want to, at the same time, reduce the number of parishes and/or Masses.  Instead, it may be time to more boldly let the country know that the Church is “now hiring.”

We know that any kind of change is scary.  We like our normal routines.  There is a comfort level in knowing that when we go into our own churches we know where we will sit, where the microphone sounds the best, where the air conditioning doesn’t blow so much, etc.  However, we also find ourselves in the midst of new opportunities.  Bringing our talents together can benefit greatly what will probably become one parish in the future.  I hope that you will be open to our efforts in becoming the church that will serve not only our needs, but the needs of future generations.

Have a great week.  Can this weather really last?  Can the Cardinals ever turn it around?  We’ll see in the week ahead.  Peace.

August 10, 2013 – Different Perspectives

August 10, 2013

First I want to thank you for the compliments I received this past week about the blog, and also for helping set a new record.  Last Saturday the blog was viewed 21 times, which shattered the previous record of 19.  Still modest numbers, but hey, a record is a record.  As I said last week, I never would have guessed that I would have been doing this for this long, much less actually having MORE people taking a read as time went along.  So again, thank you.

One of the frustrating yet intriguing parts of life is how different people look at things from different perspectives.  For example, if you ask 2 people about the quality of a restaurant, one may tell you what a great meal they had, while the other may tell you that they wouldn’t let their dog eat there.  Or if you ask 2 people about how they liked a doctor they went to, one may tell you that they were kind and answered questions, while the other may tell you that they were abrupt and didn’t explain anything.  It’s not that one or the other is right or wrong, but they have formed an opinion based on their experiences.  The person who didn’t like the restaurant may not have liked that type of cuisine, or the person who didn’t like the doctor may have caught them on a bad day when they were running behind.  It’s about our own experiences.

In my reading this past week, I came across 2 different perspectives from 2 people that I respect very much.  During the World Youth Day celebration in Brazil, Pope Francis addressed the Bishops of Brazil.  He expressed concern about the number of people leaving the Catholic Church for evangelical congregations.  Pope Francis fears that the message of the church has become too “intellectual”, and that a simpler message reflecting the core values of the Catholic faith such as love, forgiveness and mercy is what is necessary.  In Francis’ own words, “at times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity, and import an intellectualism foreign to our people … Without the grammar of simplicity, the church loses the very conditions which make it possible to fish for God in the deep waters of his ministry.”  OK, so it seems that the Pope is telling us that some of our teachings may be a little too lofty for some people, and this is turning them away from Catholicism and toward a simpler message.  This appears to make sense, right?

Now to the other perspective.  I also viewed a short piece of video from Fr. Robert Barron in which he essentially talks about the “dumbing down” of Catholicism.  He points out that since Vatican II, we have taken a simpler approach to teaching kids religion in our Catholic Schools.  In some cases, it has even gotten to the point of not issuing a letter grade for the subject of religion, but simply assigning a check mark or an “S” for satisfactory on a report card.  He fears that this sends a message to kids and parents that religion is not as important as the other subjects, and does not deserve the time and intensity that other subjects get such as science and reading.  He also fears that if people of the older generation are not being properly formed in Catholic teaching, that they will be unable to properly pass on the faith to future generations.  He feels that if high schoolers, for example, can handle subjects such as physics and calculus, that they can absorb the teaching of theologians such as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Newman.

So we certainly have been given two different perspectives.  Does this mean that one or the other is right or wrong?  I don’t think so, because I think there is validity in both opinions.  As someone who will be beginning my 15th year of teaching religion to 7th and 8th graders, I have struggled with both sides of this equation.  On one hand, I am reluctant to get too deep into Catholic teaching out of fear that kids in that age group will become bored and will be reluctant to try to learn anything at all.  On the other hand, I become frustrated when some kids are unable to answer basic questions such as what day Jesus rose from the dead, or when they appear not to grasp the notion that when they receive communion, that they are receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus.  I then feel like if they do not have at least a basic foundation of knowledge of their faith, that they will not gain an appreciation of Catholicism and will abandon it.

So what is the answer?  As is usually the case, the answer is not clear cut for us.  However, this much I know.  If kids are not given a base of religious teaching at home, it will be that much tougher to relay it to children.  If parents or guardians do not stress to their kids the important role God plays in their lives, it will be that much tougher for teachers to get them to believe this.  If parents make the decision that a shopping trip or a sporting event takes precedence over attending Mass on a Sunday, then it will be that much harder for teachers to stress to their students the importance of keeping Sunday a holy day.  Whatever perspective we gravitate towards, the teaching of the Catholic faith has to begin with a firm foundation at home.  If this happens, then we as teachers of the faith can figure out the rest much more easily.

On the subject of teaching, I cannot believe that the school year begins this coming week.  Was there a summer season?  Did I miss something?  Anyway, good luck to all of the students as they begin another year of learning, and let us pray that the year is productive and that our kids will gravitate toward what we teach them about our faith.

Have a great week.  Peace.

August 3, 2013 – We Made It To 250

August 3, 2013

Well there would certainly be no shortage of things to talk about this past week from our Catholic world.  Just the reaction from Pope Francis’ press conference on his aircraft following the World Youth Day set the mainstream media into overdrive, even though he really didn’t say anything that would shatter what the church has always taught us. However, these things will have to wait because as has become tradition here in the blogosphere, whenever I hit a little milestone, I use this space to take a little look back and see what has transpired since then.  This blog marks my 250th edition of “The Webmaster’s Blog.”  As I have said in the past, to most folks this probably doesn’t mean a whole lot, but for a single, computer geek like myself, it is something to mark and toast with a glass of sugarless Kool-Aid.  So as I have done in the past, I have reviewed my last 50 blogs and have pulled out a few items that I wrote to see how they turned out or if my perspective has changed since I wrote them.  So here goes…

10/27/12 – “Bishop Braxton has decreed that the four parishes will be suppressed and that one new parish will be erected at the site in Ridgway where the church was destroyed.  The new parish will be dedicated to St. Kateri Tekakwitha who was canonized this past Sunday.  This situation was unique in that it was hastened by the destruction of the parish buildings in Ridgway.  However, as the data from the process continues to be analyzed, we may certainly see more parishes have to be merged together due to the shortage of clergy, population shifts, etc.”  Well as we have found out, every single parish in the Diocese (ours included) has been partnered with at least one other parish.  We have also already seen one parish close in Modoc, and likely will see others in the not so distant future.

12/22/2012 – “To farmers, and all who rely on river transportation: Bountiful rain and moisture to fill the river and make for a better growing season next year.”  This was one of my Christmas wishes for the coming year, and boy, has it come true.  I cannot remember 2 more contrasting summers than we have had last year and this year.  Not only were the rivers filled, but there were flooding scares earlier in the year.  And there has not been a single 100 degree day as of yet.

1/12/13 – “Finally, if all goes well, I hope to this week finish preparing information for putting together a new parish directory.  It will of course utilize online tools.  I don’t want to give too much away yet, but I think it will be cool (that’s my attempt at a 40-something trying to stay hip to the times).  Aw, forget it.  I think it will be good.”  Well the process took longer than I had hoped, but we finally came up with what  think is a pretty nice directory – printed and online.  And the exciting part to me is that we can keep it updated as time goes along, and can always have current information.

2/23/13 – “I do not see any type of scenario where we would not be merged with at least one other parish.  Geographically, the one that would make sense is Ellis Grove.  It is close in distance, it is in the same school district, etc.  A merger would mean that we would essentially have 2 locations under the umbrella of one parish with one parish name, one parish council, etc.  Again, I am not saying that this is what will happen, and I hesitate to say things like this because I know it doesn’t take much for the rumor mill to get started.  I am only throwing out possible scenarios so people will know what types of changes may be coming.”  Well my hunch has begun to take shape, as we have been placed into partnership with Ellis Grove.  I think the eventual outcome will be a merger, and as time goes on and resources continue to shrink, it may go even beyond that.  Thus far we have had wonderful cooperation with Ellis Grove, and I still think we can have a bright future as a church.

3/8/13 – “If I had to wager a milk shake, I would go with Cardinal Odilo Scherer from Brazil.  He is 63 years old, and demographics may be in his favor.  Some 42 percent of the world’s Catholics now live in Latin America, making the region home to the largest group of Catholics on the planet, according to Reuters. Europe is home to just 25 percent of the world’s Catholics.  Also, the next World Youth Day, along with the next Olympic Games, will take place in Rio de Janeiro.”  This was my pick for the new Pontiff, and I take at least partial credit because I was in the right continent, but certainly did not anticipate Jorge Mario Bergoglio.  However, I think it is very clear that the Holy Spirit led the College of Cardinals in the right direction.

I have always found it interesting to go back and read things and then jump ahead to see how things turned out.  That is one of the reasons I continue to enjoy doing the blog – it serves as sort of a “journal of events” for me.  It is something that even if no one else reads it, that I’ll have as a piece of “history”.

The other tradition when I hit one of these so-called “milestones” is to thank you for continuing to read my blog and also continuing to use our website.  I had no idea when I began this that it would last this long, and that a few folks would still continue to read it each week.  I am very grateful to have this vehicle to talk about my faith and whatever else pops into my head, and I am very grateful to you for sticking with me.  God willing, there are another 250 blogs to come.  Where will we be at that point?  It will be exciting to find out together.

For the 250th time, have a great week.  Peace.