Monday, December 11, 2017

Living Stones - Parishes Unite


     When I was asked by Fr. Murray if I’d be willing to serve on this committee, I was excited about the opportunity to represent the parishioners of Holy Family, honored to be asked to serve, and curious as to what role I might play in the overarching process. As far as the curiosity, I was unsure of the impact that I might have as some told me that they believed that the outcome was predetermined.  Nothing could have been further from the truth, so I soon learned.
     Our “mission” is given the challenges facing the Diocese at large, in terms of decreased active participation in their faith of Catholics, a decrease in vocations, and other factors, plan how to best serve the Catholic Community of Watertown based on the assignment of one pastor and one parochial vicar at some point in the future. Note that I said our mission “is” as this is an ongoing process and I believe it will be continuous as we adapt to ever-changing conditions. Though the Living Stones Committee may evolve over time and at some point disband, I do believe that we, as a faith community, will continue this mission.
     As far as expectations, I began the process with a belief that I was to be an advocate for my parish and try to preserve the status quo. That belief quickly changed as I gained a better understanding that our mission was to plan to serve the entire Catholic community and not just our parish.
    There are several things that I learned during the meetings, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on two:
     First, I learned that the challenges facing our parishes extend well beyond local, diocesan or even national levels. The crisis facing the church is very broad. The Catholic population in the United States has undergone some striking demographic shifts for several decades. For example, the Catholic population has lost more members than it has gained from religious switching. In fact, one in ten adults in the United States is a former Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2009 report “Faith in Flux.” We are now dealing with the impacts of these shifts both locally and nationally. The Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut is in the process of reducing their number of parishes from 212 to 147. The Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey is in the process of merging 10% of its parishes. The Archdiocese of New York has consolidated over 140 parishes since 2015. So, know that Watertown, New York is not alone in its challenges.
     Second, though many people are very passionate about their faith community, there appears to also be a great amount of either apathy or futility as evidenced by the lack of participation in these town halls. The perceived apathy may be reflective of some of the challenges that we face; namely, decreased active participation among the Catholic community. We all need to reflect and talk to others who may not be present here to attempt to identify why parishioners are seemingly apathetic about potential changes among the parishes. This will help better inform our planning process. I do realize that some of the perceived apathy may come from a feeling of futility based on a belief that the decisions have already been made. Know that this is not an accurate belief.  We had many spirited discussions within the Living Stones Committee and evaluated feedback from the broader Catholic community as brought forward by committee members. Thus, this plan has been informed by your feedback as given and there was no predetermined outcome.
     As for passion, though passion for faith community can be a good thing, passion focused in the wrong manner can be dangerous and lead to divisions within the Catholic community. This potential is addressed in the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians where he speaks to Divisions in the Church as follows:
     “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I am thankful that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius; lest anyone should say that you were baptized in my name. For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
     Throughout this process, I learned that this plan is about our Catholic Community meaning the Church as the Body of Christ. Though we may have been baptized in Holy Family Parish, Saint Patrick Parish, Saint Anthony Parish or any other, we were all baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. We need to remember that going forward, and as we approach a day when we may have to implement this plan, to avoid divisiveness among our Catholic family. In the face of this crisis, we are all being called to serve and furthermore to lead. The problems that face us are not solely the responsibility of the Pope, the Cardinals, the Bishops, the Pastors or any one group or individual. Rather, they are the responsibility of all of us. If we hope to leave a vibrant church for our children and generations to come, then the solutions must come from all of us and be supported by all of us. We all need to be pulling in the same direction. So, I’ll leave you with two passages, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.

From The Book of Isaiah: “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

And, again, from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians: “Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”

Thank you.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

God Is Not Nice - An Invitation to Study More

I know that this does not sound like a good title, but it is an excellent title.  Richard Niebuhr stated eighty years ago about a religion which Americans have seemed to embrace: "A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross."  Speaking about the author, Ulrich Lehner, Scott Hahn states: "Ulrich Lehner is not the first to observe that the preaching of this nice gospel corresponds rather exactly to the collapse of Christianity in the global North and West.  We may instinctively like a nice God -- and even go so far as to "like" him on social media.  But will we make sacrifices for him and to him?  Will we be willing to die for him?  Will we make the effort to get out of bed early to praise his name?"
    Both Lehner and Hahn are accurate and describe well what has happened to the practice of our faith both in the church building as well as on Main Street.
    I would like to invite parishioners to read this book and give it some serious thought.  The book is worthy of discussion among the interested.  So, I will offer discussion sessions on the book on the following dates:
     February 5, 12, 19, 26
     March 12, 26
     April 2
All sessions will begin at 6:30 pm.  All sessions will be in Msgr. Sechi Hall.  Participants will have to purchase their own copy of the book.  Currently the price is $12.34 on Amazon.  Even though I have read it on my Kindle, you may want to consider a printed version because it is the type of book that you will want to underline and write comments in the columns.  Don't forget to go through the parish website to purchase the book.  We will divine up the book into sections for our weekly discussions
     If you were annoyed by the opening comments in this notice, then you are a good candidate to participate in this group.