Regular readers will by now be used to the fact that I get into funks periodically about the Catholic Church, as an institution, and about my local parish, and, in fact, the other day I was told that our attendance numbers have dropped by about 20% in the past half-decade or so, so it’s not just my imagination. And I seethe at the inaction, at the complacency and fatalism of those who are the designated leaders, whether it’s “we’ll just have to pray about it,” or (this is always an easy way of provoking a rant on my part), “those young adults/your adult children (when addressing a specific empty nester) will surely come back when they have children,” and I want to bang my head against the wall and remind them of the modern-day parable of person, awaiting rescue due to a flood, to rejects assistance because “God will save me,” which admittedly isn’t a very close analogy but is a reminder that you can’t just wait for God to fix things from on high. The third reaction, “oh, yes, we know we need to do something about it, and we have a committee meeting and might implement some changes a year or two from now after our bimonthly committee has met some more,” isn’t much better.
So I’ll start this post off with a question: are you happy with your local parish?
And, as a follow-up question, if you are satisfied, is it because you think your parish offers a wide range of ministries and you and your fellow parishioners are involved in these, or is it because, bottom line, you think that people wishing for this have gotten ahead of themselves and really ought to sign on with the Rotary Club instead? Yeah, I know, that’s not an easy question to reply to, so let me give you something of a wish list of what my dream parish would be like.
There would be diverse Sunday mass liturgy styles, from chant to contemporary praise, and all would be characterized by participation by the assembly, that is, singing rather than just listening as if the choir/soloist is a performer, and, let’s face it, the pews would be full enough that you’d better get there on time.
You’d open up the bulletin and see information for a wide variety of community-building activities, both those people can just show up for (or preregister if needed for planning purposes) and groups to join. Hmmm. . . do I want to go to the Family Bingo Night next Saturday or the Step-by-Step Painting night later this month?
There would be opportunities for Bible Study and other sorts of adult education, and groups that blend community support and education.
There would be supplemental prayer services/liturgies, such as Taize.
And there would be aid for those in need.
I don’t just mean a St. Vincent de Paul group operating in the background that provides short-term financial assistance. I mean this: at my own parish, people like to pat themselves on the back: “it’s so great the way everyone helps when there’s a family where someone is hospitalized or when there’s a new baby, and people provide babysitting, meals, and so forth.” And I say, “but that’s something that only happens if that person is already connected into the church, in a CFM group, for example.” And the back-patter says, “well, it’s their own fault if they didn’t join a CFM group before they had a family crisis.” Honestly, I’ve heard this multiple times, and it drives me batty each time. Maybe it’s just that way everywhere, and introverts everywhere are just SOL, but at a minimum this means that providing meals to families who are already firmly connected to the social infrastructure of the church and school is nothing to be proud of — it’s like Jesus’s parable about not inviting your social peers to your banquet, because they’ll reciprocate and you won’t have done any sort of good deed, but instead you should invite the social nobodies who can’t reciprocate.
So anyway, that’s a sort of wish list. How many of those boxes does your parish tick? And how do you get from here to there, or is it all just foolishness to imagine that it’s possible in the first place?