Whither the Church?

As a Catholic and a priest I remain quite stunned at the decline in Mass attendance during my lifetime. When I was a little child I remember jam packed Masses, get there early or stand. In those days of the early to mid sixties if you put up four walls Catholics would fill them. There were waiting lists for the parochial School, lots of Religious Sisters, and there was not just an associate pastor or curate, there was a first, second, third and fourth curate. Long lines for confession on Saturdays were common then too.

But this is largely gone. Yes there are still some  large parishes in suburban areas but even they used to be a lot bigger. Weekly Mass attendance has gone from 80% to less than 30% Vocations are beginning to rebound but the usual experience is empty convents and largely empty rectories. An Associate Pastor is unknown in many parishes and in some parts of the country even a resident pastor is often missing.

There is no other way to describe this than “stunning.”  And I can hear all the usual arguments about why swimming in my brain. We abandoned tradition! No! Say others, we are not progressive enough!…..There are too many rules!  No,  say others our problem is that we abandoned all the rules!….I could go on. Everyone has their human explanations and there are lots of disagreements about them.

But what might God be doing or allowing? Now I know I am on difficult ground in attempting to ponder this question. But please be sure, I am merely pondering it, not proposing a complete answer. But I have often asked the Lord, “What’s up with the Church?….What has happened Lord?” I do not claim a bolt from heaven came in answer but just a gradual and increasing awareness that what we are experiencing is not really new. There does seem to be a Biblical precedent that in the past God has frequently seen fit to thin his ranks, to prune and purify his people. In the Old Testament as well as the New there seems to be a kind of remnant theology at work. That is to say, of the many followers of God, many if not most fall away and only a small remnant remain to begin again. Perhaps some examples from Scripture will help:

  1. There were Twelve Tribes in Israel. But ten of them were lost in the Assyrian Conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 BC. The Prophets had warned the Northern Kingdom of its wickedness but a refusal to repent brought the destruction promised. Those who did not die in the war were deported and disappeared by assimilating into the peoples around then. They are known as the Ten Lost tribes of Israel. Only a remnant, the Tribes of Judah and Levi survived in the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
  2. Judah too grew wicked and prophets warned of destruction. The Babylonians destroyed Judah, and Jerusalem with it,  in 587 BC They deported the survivors to Babylon. Eighty years later the Persians conquered the Babylonians and allowed the Jewish people to return to the Promised Land. But only a remnant went, most chose to stay in the Diaspora, preferring Babylon to the Land promised by God.
  3. Gideon had an army of 30,000 and faced the Midianites who had 60,000. But said to him, “Your Army is too large. Tell the cowards to go home.” So Gideon dismissed any of the soldiers who didn’t think they were up for this battle. 20,000 left. Now with only 10,000 God said to Gideon, “Your army is still too large, lest you think you would win this battle on your own.” So God had Gideon observe the men at the stream as they drank water. Some drank leisurely and others lapped up the water like dogs! “That’s your army,”  said the Lord, “300 men and I will be with you.”  Gideon won that day with three hundred men whom the Lord had chosen. God thinned his ranks, and chose only a remnant as his true soldiers. (cf Judges 6 & 7)
  4. Jesus too didn’t seem to trust big crowds. Some of his most difficult sayings come when there is a big crowd. In fact, anytime you see a mention of a large crowd in the Gospels, fasten your seat belt because I can guarantee you that a hard saying is coming!  Once when there was a large crowd, Jesus taught against divorce (Matt 5 & 19, Mark 10). Another time spoke to crowds and declared that no one could be his disciple unless they renounced their possessions took up a cross and followed (e.g. Luke 14). Yet another time Jesus taught on the Eucharist and many left him and would no longer walk in his company (Jn 6).

These are just a few examples of remnant theology in the Scriptures. There are many more. I would like to quote one last one from Zechariah because it also gets to the root of what God may be doing in our times, if my hunch is right. First the quote:

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,  against the man who is close to me!”  declares the LORD Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones.  In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it.  This third I will bring into the fire;  I will refine them like silver  and test them like gold.  They will call on my name  and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’  and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.‘ ”  (Zech 13:6-9)

A stunning passage to be sure. But it also show the purpose of God thinning his ranks. There is something very mysterious as to why God allows many to stray and yet it is true  that we are free to stay or go. There seem to be times in the History of the Church and Israel that God allows many to depart, even “causes” them to depart as this passage describes it. It is a hard mystery to stomach. But I suppose I understand one aspect of it. It is currently pruning time here in the Northeast. My mighty rose bushes, eight feet tall have been pruned to one foot off the ground. And I had it done on purpose. But if my roses are to thrive next year and be beautiful, the prunings have to be done. The roses do not understand what I do, but I know of what I do. It is necessary, though painful. And God too knows of what he does and we cannot fathom it any more than my rosebushes fathom me. But he does it. And the 1/3 who remain in this passage must also be purified, refined as in fire. But when it is done:  pure gold. Those who remain and accept purification will call on God’s name. They will be a people, a Church after his own heart.

To me it has become clear that the Lord is pruning his Church. He is preparing us for spring. And we do in fact have a difficult winter we are enduring. But we’re being purified, cleansed. These are tough days for the Church but I already see signs of a great springtime ahead. There are many wonderful lay movements and growth areas in the Church. I am very impressed with the calibre of men entering the priesthood. These are men who love the Lord and His Church and who deeply desire to speak the truth in love. In my own Convent we have 25 young sisters of the Servants of the Lord, a wonderful new and missionary order. They too love the Lord and his Church and want to spread his gospel everywhere. Though our overall numbers of practicing Catholics are diminished, I see greater fervency in those who remain. In my own parish there are many who are devoted to prayer, bible study and praise of God. Eucharistic piety is stronger  in the Church today through adoration, daily mass. On the Internet there are many signs of excitement and zeal for the faith. Many wonderful blogs and websites are emerging to strengthen Catholics. EWTN is doing wonderful works and many Catholic Radio Stations have begun.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. God has pruned and is purifying us as Church. There are already many signs of this great work of God. I have no doubt that there are still some difficult winter days ahead before a full springtime sets in. But God never fails. He is renewing his Church and preparing us for whatever lies ahead. I realize this post will not  be without controversy. I do not propose it as the only answer to the times. Neither do I claim that fallen-away Catholics have simply been pruned as though we could know they will never return and be grafted on again. We should continue to Evangelize and seek to grow the Church by Christ’s own mandate. We cannot know when spring will set in fully and so we must step out as if it is already here.

Please remember a  blog is about discussion so feel free to comment. I do not propose this as a full answer but as a discussion starter: Add subtract, multiply but DON’T divide!  😉

37 Replies to “Whither the Church?”

  1. The holidays always offer opportunities for interesting exchanges among my family members. Sending my children to Catholic school was a hot button this year. As a result of the church abuse scandal, most of my extended family has left the Church. They don’t trust the Church anymore. Given the circumstances, I do understand, and I also understand that anyone who has betrayed another’s trust will need to prove that they are trustworthy again. The Church isn’t exempt. In reading what you wrote, I heard my in-laws views expressed, the difference being that they think that purification still needs to occur within the Church. I did talk about the “pruning” that has happened, but they don’t believe the Church still isn’t hiding offenders and covering up scandal. They aren’t coming to my daughter’s Confirmation next week. I don’t know how to respond to them.

    1. Christ has promised us that He will not abandon His church – the gates of hell will not prevail against her. If you abandon the Church, you abandon Christ because where His Church is that’s where He is. Stick to your guns. It will be hurtful for you if they do not attend but offer your pain to Christ so that through it they may be saved.

  2. My own faith has probably slipped because of my own dealings with the Church. I feel that sometimes within the Church I can’t truly be myself. Sometimes I feel as though I am living 2 lives: the ER lifestyle, and the Catholic that appears good on the outside (going to daily Mass, going to Bible study, etc) but struggles with much on the inside. I haven’t always felt truly accepted by the Church, though I have good priest and seminarian friends that I talk with.

    I think you are right though, that the Church will see a great springtime. Hopefully soon. We all need each other and our faith through these troubled times.

    1. Glad to know you’ve got some life-lines in those priests and seminarians you mention. I know too that I am glad I hung in there when I had struggles with the church back in my late teens and early 20s. My experience was that the struggle was a prelude to stronger faith. I hope the same for you as well.

  3. Thank you for this analysis. I think part of the problem is that even Catholics who are sincere, attend Mass weekly, and are looking for spiritual guidance are not receiving the support and instruction of how to live in a world where much of what Catholicism is about is marginalized,ridiculed, thought peculiar. We face a world hostile to our ideas and we don’t know how to survive this. Our children are being lost. A generic homily with no teeth for five minutes a week is not enough to combat the secular anti-religious 24/7 bombardment both subtle and not subtle that we are immersed in. As Father Groeschel has said the real terrorists are the purveyors of this philosophy in the media, entertainment industry, etc. that are destroying the spiritual life of this nation. I really wished the clergy could know we are in a horrific crisis and would lead us through the darkness. Yes, there are some good lay groups and some reformed orders but what about the masses of weekly church goers who don’t have access to these lay movements?
    The average parish has way more time and enthusiasm and attendance for CYO sports, Christmas Fairs, etc. than daily Mass, Confession, Adoration etc. The tragedy is that I believe we are losing hundreds of souls that had the capacity to be GREAT and HOLY. Yes, there seems to be only a remnant left but who is responsible? We need, and I believe have the right to, bishops and priests who will be on fire and teach us and our children how to live in this world. We are like sheep without shepherds.
    Thank you for your columns. I receive immense inspiration from them and often send them to my son at college.
    God bless you!

    1. Judy, I couldn’t agree with you more! I have been frustrated at how many opportunities are lost on a regular basis to celebrating the truth of our faith, especially where our kids are concerned. I don’t mean to be harsh, but I think our kids are actually being taught to be lukewarm at both the school and parish level. We certainly don’t teach them to face the anti-Catholic crews with strength! I am reguarly at odds with those in charge because I push for the things I think ignite the kids. We had a wonderful priest at our parish who inspired our kids to be on fire and he was criticized for his enthusiasm. We have a wonderful faith formation leader who is always pushed aside and told “this isn’t necessary,” and “that’s not needed.” I see greatness and holiness not just lost but squashed.

      1. Yes, I understand what you are both saying. We have often been living on the past in the Catholic Church. We have been so huge in the past that evangelization has seemed almost “unecessary.” Our parishes were so bign and impersonal that a few missing faces weren’t noticed. Further we seem to have speicaliized in the social funtions and sports rather than spiritual things. I think we’re imporiving but the poor grasp of the faith of two to three generations is pretty clear testimony that we didn’t do a very good job of handing on the faith or truly evangelizing the faithful.

  4. As a cradle Catholic who has defected from the Church, I do not think your “spring” will be soon. The Catholic Church is in for a long winter. I believe there is a far bigger scandal regarding marriage whose effects will resound for years and years and years, but I am soundly thrashed on the ‘net’ so take it with a grain of salt if you wish, but the Church IS in the business of destroying marriages, in spite of what it says or what you personally believe. Likely you are not aware of it or, although I hope not, you do not care. I would not want to be a priest. The burdens a priest has are immense and the burdens a priest faces through his assistance to others are legion.

    I do pray for the Catholic Church and for priests, although I no longer trust either, from experience not from simple bigotry. When I see priests and bishops actually engaing people like me who they can learn from and actually acting upon what our experiences are, then my attitude may change. But I doubt I will live long enough to see that in real, significant numbers of cases. In my own case. I do not want to die outside the “official” Catholic Church but I will unless it addresses my horrendous experiences, face up, and takes actions to hold to account those whom I can prove have done what I have “alleged”.

    It has refused to do so for twenty years. My accusations are known throughout the Church and are know at the highest levels in Rome. Yet nothing is done to address me as a human being, at any level, local, national or international. There are real crimes being committed by those in Roman Collars which are being ignored, knowingly. The consequences of such behavior is having consequences for the Catholic Church and you are seeing it manifested in complex ways.

    Believe it or not, some of us really do love the Catholic Church. We complain and we draw the ire and fury of many, who think they know what they are talking about because they are even priests oor canon lawyers, or have degrees in theology or pastoral theology. They know little about what I and others have experienced and CANNOT get addressed anywhere in the Catholic Church. The Church demographic winter will contunue, by the choice of God Himself, until His Church addresses His Children, with respect and in earnest.

    I, personally, am waiting right outside for a call from my bishop Archbishop Dolan of New York. I will respond to him when he accepts that he has been wrong for choosing to ignore me, when he accepts that the Church has been wrong for not addressing my situation and when he is willing to apologize to me, to our family and to the Church as a whole, from his pulpit in St Patricks.

    This will not be done because he lacks the humility it would take for a man who is an Archbishop to invest himself in a regular guy and a valid marriage. He is UNWILLING TO BE THE GOOD SHEPHERD.

    His vocation REQUIRES him to be A GOOD SHEPHERD.

    I continue to wait for him. He knows how to contact me.

    1. Not sure what happened Karl. Perhaps you refer to an annulment situation or somethng? But I hesitate to comment much because the matter seems very personal to you and I risk just further causing harm. I do pray you might have some success in working with local clergy in your area (Sounds like NYC). God bless you in your wrestling with this large, ancient and often flawed (humanly speaking) Church of ours!

  5. Careful analysis is needed (that is why organizations like CARA perform a useful function for the Church). In the past 40 years we have seen the greatest evangelization in the history of Christendom — taking place in Africa and Asia. In Latin America, Catholicism has gone from sonething that was a thin veneer in the lives of many to a real part of peoples’ lives for millions more than before. In Eastern and Central Europe, the Church has been freed from the shackles of Communism and has great potential. I

    n western Europe, Mass attendence really has not fallen off that much when taken by social class. This is an interesting and often overlooked point. The western European peasantry and titled nobility traditionally had high Mass attendence and generally still do today. They are just a much smaller proportion of the population. Among working class Europeans and many urban dwellers, as Pope Pius XI cried out, many of them were lost to the Church in the 19th century. A working class alienation from the Church in Europe continues in the present day.

    The sisters of the Servants of the Lord are a great example of the proper response to this sad situation. Much of their work is to minister and evangelize the urban poor. While in the United States we never had the degree of working class alienation from the Church as in Europe (in part thanks to visionaries like Cardinal Gibbons and the “labor priests” of the last century), many of the poor suffer a social alienation that extends to all social insitutions including the Church. The sisters’ work in Harlem and East New York is most commendable.

    I do think the Church in the USA is “underpeforming” nowdays with the lower middle class — formerly the backbone of the Catholic community. Initiatives of the past like the worker-priest experiment in France and the social justice advocacy of the late Msgr. George Higgins are still things that have merit in their own right, but I don’t think will solve the current crisis. My thought would be a serious consideration of industrial chaplains* and a new ministry of “worker-deacons” along the lines of the worker-priest experiment.

    * I feel very strongly there is a need here. I understand there are difficult issues such as how they operate in a pluralistic workplace and the need that they never become lackies for the employer as was the sad case sometimes in the past.

    1. Thanks for an interesting analysis especially of the situation in Europe. I am unaware of the nuances in the numbers except that the bottom line is that attendance there is in the single digits (percentage-wise). I too have often thought we could do more targeted work with deacons.They seem so often to be just parish based apendages to the pastor. Not sure exactly what is meant by indistrial chaplains but I suspect it has to do with workplace based ministry. I have done a little of this here in DC. I have done on-site bible studies both at the Congress and the White House. They were often well attended. Likewise, Opus Dei runs the Catholic Information center right in the heart of the K Street business district and they get a lot of office workers that come into the shop, visit the chapel and attend seminars and lectures there.

      1. Your colleague, Monsignor Sal Criscuolo, does excellent ministry as chaplain to the Police and Firefighters.

        Most locals of the UAW have a chaplain.

        If the Archbishop has a spare deacon who happens to speak English, Spanish, Creole French and Ethiopian and wanted my opinion as what to do with him (since this is already somewhat unlikely, let’s just go ahead and make him biritual in the Ge’ez Rite as well), my suggestion would be to assign him as an industrial chaplain to the workers in the hotel industry. These housekeppers, bartenders, waiters, bellmen, desk clerks and valets do hard work and have shifts that are disruptive to a normal life. They could use a pastoral presence in the workplace. I think Emily Durso of the Hotel Association and John Boardman of Local 25 would be thrilled to work out an arragement that gave such a chaplain free access to the facilities and staff as well as maybe even a small office space and telephone.

  6. The Church stands for the truth, in all the teachings from the Word and Tradition with which we, as Catholics, should be familiar. In an era of unprecedented moral relativism and individual freedom, the Church can be perceived as an irrelevant, outdated institution. Even if its teachings are of value, people view the institution – and all its trappings – as unecessary. Hence the defection of many Catholics to less-demanding Protestant faiths and so-called “non denominational churches”.

    Also, we, as Catholics, have to acknowledge and accept that the multiple sex abuse crimes (let’s dispense with “scandal” and call the rape and physical abuse of children what it is – a crime) have been disastrous for the Church. The crimes themselves and the perceived cover-ups have shaken Catholics’ faith in the clergy; also, it serves as an understandable blockage to the return of so-called “lapsed Catholics” or “non-practising Catholics” to genuine participation and worship.

    Finally, Msgr., I feel that we have to acknowledge that high attendances in former times were not always an indicator of genuine participation or worship. In certain communities, both here in the United States and elsewhere, failure to attend Mass or other Church events led to discrimination and dire social consequences. Our Church, for all its good points, does have an authorotarian history. While fully occupied pews are nice to see, I prefer them half-empthy with people who have come there freely.

    And this, I think, is the reality that we have to grapple with. Is it better to have a smaller group of geuinely committed faithful than a larger group of half-hearted members? Is it better to have our house cleansed of those who did not want to be there in the first place? Should we concentrate more on living our faith as best we can before trying to evangelize? My impression of Pope Benedict XVI’s analysis is yes to all of these. I believe he perceives that the Church will have to get smaller, leaner, and more honest with itself to withstand the forces ranged against it (and against society in general) – the culture of death that is so pervasive in all aspects of our lives and the creeping fundamentalism in all religions and belief systems (including Christianity). Quality over quantity.

    1. Not too many arguments from me. I agree that there was a lot of cultural pressure to attend Mass in the past that is gone today. That so mnay fell away so quickly seems an indicator that deep faith was lacking. I have heard the Pope quoted as you have said. In a certain sense I cannot disagree that a smaller Church but one more intense may be the actual spring time we get. Our numbers may not rebound anytime soon. But the springtime I see is more one of being more fervent and with greater zeal for the truth and a desire to live it. It seems, if Biblical remanat theology is the reference, that God prefers zeal to numbers. A smaller but dedicated army may be more effective that large unfocused troops (cf Gideon above)!

  7. When I registered my family at our parish, the only acknowledgement was the arrival of offering envelopes. (Meanwhile, someone from the Lutheran church I joined TELEPHONED and invited me to a new-member welcome.)

    When I responded to a notice in the bulletin about joining a group to maintain the parish’s landscaping, my interest was acknowledged, but I never heard anything else. (My Lutheran church sends out announcements on its listserv when yardwork needs to be done. My daughter loves to help.)

    My husband and I have offered to help out with instrumental music, but in FIVE YEARS we’ve never been asked to do anything. [The one time we played was because I was assertive about providing music at our vicar’s last Sunday in the parish.] We’ve played plenty of times at my Lutheran Church, and my husband has conducted rehearsals for various music groups when the regular director wasn’t available.

    As a public-school student (and too difficult for a parish school to manage) my daughter is precluded from participating in activities for elementary-school students. Music rehearsals start immediately after the parish school day ends – an hour before public school gets out. At my Lutheran church my daughter rings handbells, sings in choir, and occasionally serves as an usher. She loves going to the Lutheran church, and is indifferent to the Catholic church.

    And then my husband’s journey to join the parish’s Knights of Columbus council:

    August 2006: he sends an email to the membership chair. No response.

    September 2006: he sends an email to other officers. No response.

    October 2006: he starts snagging various ushers after Mass. They either aren’t Knights, or they belong to a different council.

    November 2006: I see a Knight selling Christmas cards and the parish’s craft fair. I give him my husband’s contact info and tell him that my husband has been trying to get in touch with the council for three months. No one ever calls him back.

    early December 2006: At Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, my husband sees across the aisle the Past Grand Knight, whom he recognized from pictures on the council’s web site. FINALLY he gets an invite to the next meeting.

    late December 2006: My husband fills out an application to become an active KoC member again and transfer from the council to which he previously belonged.

    February 2007: My husband gets a welcome-back phone call from his OLD council. He explains that no, he is transferring.

    May 2007: Finally his existence in the parish council is acknowledged.


    I certainly won’t generalize from my parish to the Church in general, but if my family’s experience is any measure some parishes could do waaay better at integrating new parishioners into the church community and at making use of the gifts offered.

    1. In my own parish we’re trying to get better at all the levels you describe. Returning calls of interest is pretty key isin’t it? Once again I think we’re using patterns from the BIG past. Most parishes had the following evangelization plan: open the doors on Sunday and hope people come. Not a very good strategy especially when the Lord said “GO therefore….” We’re getting better at contacting our visitors and following up with those who express interest in service. The smaller we get, the more priority we return to something we should have been doing all along. Returning calls is pretty basic….pretty basic….but our huge mega parishes of the past just got lazy, or possibly overwhelmed. Size does create a lot of frantic running around. But now, simple urgency in compelling us to do better. Too bad we have to be compelled.

      1. Last time I bought a house, a good number of restaurants, dry cleaners and other businesses seemed to take the home purchase listings from the DC real estate office and mailed me advertisements and coupons. I suggested to my pastor that someone could clip the home sales listings and mail a post card to each new homeowner in the parish boundries giving the Mass times, address and a welcome. He said he had a retiree he would give the project to. I hope it is still happening. This isn’t exactly an overly agressive form of evangelization, but I think it is worthwhile.

  8. Two things come to mind:

    1. St. Peter’s response to Jesus (John 6:68) asking if he and the other apostles want to leave: “Master, to whom shall we go?”

    2. This 1936 essay by libertarian philosopher Albert Jay Nock, who picked up on the idea of “the Remnant,” and who gives this wonderful paraphrasing of God’s charge to Isaiah:

    In the year of Uzziah’s death, the Lord commissioned the prophet to go out and warn the people of the wrath to come. “Tell them what a worthless lot they are.” He said, “Tell them what is wrong, and why and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart and straighten up. Don’t mince matters. Make it clear that they are positively down to their last chance. Give it to them good and strong and keep on giving it to them. I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you,” He added, “that it won’t do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life.”

    Isaiah had been very willing to take on the job — in fact, he had asked for it — but the prospect put a new face on the situation. It raised the obvious question: Why, if all that were so — if the enterprise were to be a failure from the start — was there any sense in starting it? “Ah,” the Lord said, “you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it.”

  9. It makes me nervous whenever I hear anyone in authority speaking about “purification.” While I understand the point of the article (I think) and agree with it, I think priests and others in authority need to remember that God is doing the pruning, and we should not presume to know what branches need to be cut. I think that the highest ideal for the political body of the Church should be COMPASSION. Otherwise, it risks the same fate as the Pharisees.

  10. Well, in a broad sort of way I also agree with you but would prefer some distinctions. There are times, hopefully rare when discipline and even excommunication must be used. Jesus himself teaches the need for it (Matt 18:17). St. Paul command the Corithina Community to excommunicate a seriously sinning brother (1 Cor 5). So, there is a place for bishops to prune in the Lord’s name. It is rare to be sure but sometimes necessary and the Church is given the power and presumably therefore the vison to bind and loose (cf Matt 16 & 18). Further I think compassion needs to be defined. For a lot of people today compassion means just being nice all the time and seldom if ever rebuking any behavior. Perhaps there is some middle ground between compassion and phariseeism? COnsider a patient who goes to a doctor. Now the patient’s diet and lifestyle are killing him. If he doesn’t cahnge soon he’ll stroke out or die of a heart attack. Further they are not taking their medicines.. What is the “compassionate” thing for a doctor to do? Remain silent and simply affirm the patient or speak passionately and clearly, warning the patient of soon and certain death if changes are not made. Now take a pastor and a parishioner/ Say the parishioner is not taking their medicine (Sacraments, esp Communion on Sundays). What if they are engaged in serious sin such as cohabitating, or what if they are commiting adultery, or refusing to forgive or somthing like that? WHat is the compassionate thing for the Pastor or the Church in general to do? Silence and tacit approval or clear instruction to repent or face serious consequences in the life to come?

    So I guess Mike I can affirm that in no way should we rush to prune (excommunicate) and where possible kindness and affirmation have their place. But I need some distinctions here. Compassion sometimes means walking a difficult road, sometimes it means quiet understanding but it really depends on circumstances as to what is the most compassionate thing to do.

  11. Getting back to the first anon response – Anon, I would ask this – for you to reverse the situation. If you were one of the “extended family” that will not be attending your daughter’s Confirmation, what would you want from the Confirmandee’s family and church?

    I think I would simply want acceptance of me. That I and my baggage are welcomed, respected and loved. In return, I should be expected to respect your values, beliefs and actions. We might both have thoughts and experiences that we can learn from.

    1. Anon, I told my in-laws that they are welcome to attend, not obligated. The broader point I think I failed to make, is that I do not know how to answer some people’s questions and others’ attacks. My family is very angry with the Church and my involvement there is received like a slap in the face. I can sympathize but the words fail me, and I find myself apologizing for still being Catholic.

      1. I understand what you are saying, and I will pray for you. It is very very hard to be a devout faithful Catholic outside a very narrow circle these days. I have relatives who are former Catholics who are very happy in their new denomination and take the occasional opportunity to criticize all things Catholic. I am not a professional apologist and it is very hard to deal with this. Again, I would like some direction from our clergy. How do we handle living in a world where our relatives, co-workers, friends are antagonistic or mocking of our faith? Do we instruct them, rebuke them, distance ourselves from them, or just become targets? We need direction and help because this is something our children experience too and I would not like to see them conform to the world in order to keep the peace and maintain relationships.

        1. Judy, this is a great question, especially following a holiday! I have some experience with this as people know I work for the Church. I usually try to do two things, if what they are saying is dead wrong, to gently correct. What I have found to work best is to say somethng like this, “what’s most important to me is…” or before the issue gets heated to say, “I heard a great homily and the priest said…” or “What do you think about…., I read something really interesting that said…” I think if you focus on helping people understand why you beleive or how it makes sense in yoru life, than it moves the focus away from “debating” to hopefully respecting what you are saying because it works for you! I hope this helps.

  12. Great post, Msgr. Pope. You obviously put a lot of time and thought into your blog, and for that I am grateful. Thank you for all you do, and know that I will be praying for you and your brother priests. God bless!

  13. The only thing I can add to the comments Is I didn’t go to Church for 2 years and I kept making excuses, I also thought that I could find God in other churches, but when I started praying my rosary I found God in the same place I abandoned Him.

  14. The main reason for the poor attendance is that the sermons are not touching. People look at the preachers life and their practice .If they are contradictory they feel it is a bogus The eartwhile saints lived the gospel way . Modren way of the clerics are very extravagant and wasteful . Threr is no witnessing . We are almost on a similar situation just before the French Revolution and the Reformation Many Martin Luther may appear among the laity in our church.Let us take stock of the situation and mend our ways giving way for the laity to take decision and execute with the approval of the priests Shall the bottlenecks of the clergy be removed?

  15. To anon with in-law/family issues:

    Mt 16:25 “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”

    Perhaps an answer with words to other’s questions and attacks is not the answer. Silence speaks strength and conviction. And why offer an apology? In reading between the lines, it sounds as if something, somewhere, deep down in the center of your heart, your marriage, your past, your present, your beliefs, the church’s teaching, its history, etc. does not truly sit still within you – that is to say – you want to follow Christ and His teachings, but you have some reservations in following Him via the Catholic Church and its teachings. Being Catholic is not an easy path to follow. “Offer it up”, carry on with your cross, stay strong, but I don’t believe you need to apologize for being Catholic – “for they know not what they do.”

    1. To anon,
      It’s complicated. Someone in my family was molested by a priest. The Church offered that person counseling but fell so short in dealing with the family as a whole. Parents felt guilt for trusting the clergy with their son, sisters felt like the let their brother down by not speaking up on the rumors about that priest, the aunt was appalled that she had that priest to her home for dinner, etc. That priest not only violate the son, he attacked an entire family.

      I’m not apologizing for being Catholic, but sometimes I do feel the need to apologize that my remaining in the Church reminds them of a bad time in their lives and that hurts them. Furthemore, when they ask the “why” questions, they do expect an answer. You try being silent when everyone at the Thanksgiving table is looking at you. And sometimes I almost get the sense that they challenge me because they want me to come up with a good answer that will call them back, but maybe not. If that was the case, I can tell ya I fell short this year, as I had no wise words. I’m sure I’ll get another shot at Christmas.

  16. I heard today on the news that the Diocese has decided to stop giving aid to the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the unsheltered -if- the politicians/voters pass Gay Marriage legislation.

    It got me thinking about what would offend Jesus in this matter.

    Would Jesus be offended by Love or would Jesus be offended by letting the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the unsheltered go without.

    I recall Jesus saying whatsoever you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.

    There is food for thought.

    1. The charge that the Church has “decided to top giving aid to the poor” is incorrect. You may have missed a rather long conversation about those false charges previously on this blog here: http://blog.adw.org/2009/11/dc-same-sex-marriage-bill-an-imposing-agenda/

      Also, there are false dichotomies that many set up. You put it this way “Would Jesus be offended by Love or would Jesus be offended by letting the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the unsheltered go without.” What if Jesus was offended by both? Does that not seem possible? Your description “offended by love” of course seeks to glamorize what is essentially “illicit sexual union.” Jesus was quite clear that he was “offended” by such things (cf Matt 5, Matt 19, Mark 10 inter al.) It is not love that the Church stands against. It is illicit sexual union, whether heterosexual or homosexual.

      1. One of the topics of conversation among my family was the Adam Lambert performance during a music award show. Now my family and I often are not in agreement (I’m called a prude), but we ALL agreed on how offensive his behavior was. We also agreed that his behavior was a direct result of the glamorization of illicit unions. And the results of that are far reaching. In fact, I took my son to basketball practice a few weeks ago at a public high school. There was a poster on the wall about a “tolerance of alternative lifestyles day,” an event combined with AIDS awareness. We’ve become a society that has moved from sex being a sacred expression of self within a marriage before God to sex between whomever for whatever reason as long as you use a condom. I think we’ve moved far past issues concerning love.

      2. “It is not love that the Church stands against. It is illicit sexual union, whether heterosexual or homosexual.”

        I think the Archdiocese did a very good job in clarifying its position in the follow up statements it made about its committment to the poor and to Catholic Charities.

        I am sympathetic to its desire to see that the proposed law include a provision respecting religious organizations and I hope some accomodation can be reached.

        From what I have heard from people around the DC Council, part of the problem is that the Archdiocese however has not offered an explanation of (contrary to the statement above) why it doesn’t stand against illicit heterosexual unions. My hope would be that the DC Council at least slows down on this legislation until the Archdiocese can explain this and that, when they do, the Church is given a fair hearing.

  17. Karl said,

    “but the Church IS in the business of destroying marriages”

    Obviously everyone each has their own experiences in life, and I wouldn’t want to minimize yours, but one of the things that came to light at our Thanksgiving table is the divorce rate. For my generation represented there, of the five couples there, three had been divorced. In talking about our children, an interesting observation came about. My children go to Catholic school, and in my daughter’s 8th grade class of 50 students, one set of parents is divorced. In my neice’s 7th grade class in public school, nearly half the students have divorced parents.

    In my own experience with marriage troubles, I spoke to my priest about really wanting out of my marriage. He listened and agreed that I had serious issues and it was reasonable for me to want out, but he also suggested that I wait. I’m not in a dangerous situation, just an unhappy one. He asked me to think about what an ending of the marriage would create in my life.

    Now, in sitting around that table at Thanksgiving, with half the children at the ex-spouse’s house, listening to the woes of child custody, payments due for this and that, I was greatly appreciative that I waited on that decision. My marriage is far from perfect, but divorce would have added an element to my life I am clear I do not want. I’m very thankful for the wisdom of that priest.

  18. The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard aptly wrote, “for the believer no proof is necessary, for the non-believer no proof will suffice.”

    When it comes to faith, sometimes there is no way to respond to someone who doesn’t believe. It likes like how do you prove you love someone? You can give them a ring or a gift but that really doesn’t prove anything.

    How do you respond to your family that questions you belonging to the Church? There is no good answer. Live your life. If you are happy and fulfilled going to church then let them see that.

    It’s unfortunate how the actions of that one priest had such an effect on your family and it is understandable. There was a major breach of trust.

    I had my own difficulties with the Church when I was in the seminary. I didn’t get al ong with the new rector of the seminary for various reasons. The way he treated some good people in the seminary and favored others. I guess things were complicated in case because I confronted the priest with how I felt and i think my continuing in the seminary was unjustly hindered. I am recently engaged and am happy with how my life has turned out but that does not take away from whether I was treated correctly by the Church. I even had a priest friend ask if I was still Catholic.

    The simple answer is yes. I am still Catholic. I attend mass every Sunday, but like what many people have mentioned I do feel there is a lack of fervor in myself and others. One example, people don’t dress up for mass. It looks like some people just roll out of bed and put whatever on. Small sign of the indifferent attitude.

    The funny thing is, the more I hear people criticize the Church the more I want to stand up for her. I love my faith and I know that priests are just men. They are capable of grave sin just like any other man.

    When I first left the seminary dating was difficult. I was too nice, as I was told. Right or wrong I adjusted. I found a wonderful women who is not baptised but she goes to mass with me every weekend. She is contemplating being baptized. She wants to have that family atmosphere on Sunday, where we all go to church together and then on to some other family activity.

    I want so much to have this as well. I want to regain my fervor. My seminary experience has left me with some wonderful priest friends,but it also left a bad taste in my mouth. Plus my line of work, where I work in fundraising has given to me work with dioceses and churches. Working with diocese and priests is challenging. Some priest leaving you scratching your head. Why is this guy such a jerk, I am just tryin gto do my job and help out his parish.

    Anyways, I am impressed with some movements out there for young Catholic adults. There is definitely movements that are encouraging for someone like me looking to strenghten my faith again. i want to see the Catholci Church strong if not over-populated.

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