December 14, 2013 – Just My Perception

Is it spring yet? I used to really question why people would want to live in a warm weather climate, or escape to Florida for the winter, because they would miss the beauty of the changing of the seasons. However, after the last week or so, I may be persuaded to change my mind. At least it sounds like a warm-up is coming next week – thanks be to God!

As I sit here typing, I am pondering what at least in my vision appears to be two very different places of where we are as a church. This past week we again saw Pope Francis in the limelight as he was named the Person of the Year by Time magazine. This is a remarkable feat considering he has only been Pontiff for about 9 months. We also continue to hear of the new life and momentum he has brought to the church. An article in the New York Post this past week gave this headline: “Just how cool is the Pope? Wayward millennials flocking to the church.” It said that on the evening of December 4, even though there was gridlock in New York City because of the lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, more than 1000 young people came to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a monthly Mass that is geared toward the younger demographic. It was the most well attended event for young people ever in that church.

The article also gave quotes such as this: “There’s a new spirit in the church right now. I’m hearing that young adults love Pope Francis.” “Family members who went to church but have fallen away have decided to come back.” “Forty years I’ve been away from the church … and I am back because of Pope Francis.” “In a world where you have to defend your religion more and more, he’s given us the freedom to come out and talk about ours more.”

It is certainly an exciting time for Catholics. There is a buzz and energy that has previously been lacking. However, just as my confidence boils over, my mind then goes to the challenges we are facing as a local church here in our Diocese. As some around the country are reporting spikes in Mass attendance because of the “Pope Francis effect,” I hear of a neighboring parish having one person show up for a Friday morning Mass. As we hear of young people being energized because of Pope Francis’ message, we as a Diocese continue to try to unlock the secret of how to get more young men interested in the priesthood. We also continue to contemplate the closure of parishes because of lack of priests and lack of attendance.

We have lost several active priests recently from what was already a drained pool. Some were unexpected deaths. One was a younger priest choosing to seek laicization. I also hear of younger priests struggling in their ministries. I hear of conflict within some of the parish partnerships as to what Mass schedules should be and which, if any parishes, should close (fortunately our partnership has not been one of them). It seems as if a bubble has been shielding us in this Diocese from the momentum that the church is experiencing in other places. I am so grateful that Pope Francis is generating such buzz. However, I’m also concerned and frustrated as to why this doesn’t seem to be taking hold in our local church.

I know that my perception of the state of our local church is blinding the actual reality. I know that we have priests who are incredibly dedicated and will sacrifice their personal needs for their parishioners. I know that there are many dedicated people in our Diocese doing incredible works of ministry and charity with very limited resources. I saw last Sunday that despite a 14” dumping of snow, quite a few people braved the elements to gather for 9:00AM Mass. I see a true spirit of holiness and dedication in our parish and Diocese.

So what can we do to bring the momentum of Pope Francis to our corner of the world? Well I can think of several things off the cuff. First, we must do everything we can to take care of the priests that we have. Not just asking what we can do to perhaps ease their workload, but to simply ask them how they are doing. How is your family? How is your health? Lend an ear to them as they so often do for us. We of course must also continue to pray for vocations, no matter how futile the effort may seem. We know that God does answer prayers. However, often it is on the time that He sees fit, not on the time that we think it should be.

We need to spread this good news that Pope Francis has generated. Share an article about Francis on social media. Ask someone who hasn’t been to church for a while if they have heard what is going on. Invite someone to come to Mass, especially during this Christmas season. When people point to things going on in the church, and they give us reasons why we shouldn’t go to church, we need to be prepared with our own reasons as to why the time is now to return to church.

I myself, especially on this 3rd Sunday of Advent which is also “Gaudete” or “rejoicing” Sunday, need to take to heart the message of Pope Francis that the church must always be joyful like Christ. “Jesus was full of joy … the church is called to transmit the joy of the Lord to her children – a joy that gives true peace.” There is a lot of good news to share. Let us pray for the strength and courage to be heard. Have a great (and warmer) week. Peace.

 

 

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