Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
It is a pretty rough week (last week), the week when I sign the 2,731 zero-contribution letters that we send out—to 54% of our families—for whom we have no record of giving anything to the parish in the past year. Some people I have known for quite a few years, which always surprises me. And many, many Spanish-speaking families, a number that is the fastest growing part of our parish. I wonder if we are doing something wrong. Of course, there are many who are just trying to make ends meet; these times seem to become more and more difficult, it is true.
When my brothers and I were kids we watched our parents write the check every week. We were far from rich, and lived without a lot of the things we saw that our friends had, but we knew that the Church got the first $20 (this was in the 70s), at times when we knew that there wasn’t a lot to spare. Maybe this is one of the reasons that my brother and I became priests. We witnessed our parents’ commitment to the parish.
I wonder if successive generations would remain more faithful to the practice of our faith if parents made visible the sacrifices they made in support of the Church. It would be a living example for children to know how to pick up where previous generations left off. Where your treasure is, there will your heart will also be. Children watch.
Maybe it was because my grandparents were first and second generation Americans of immigrant families. They had a keen sense that the only success of the Church would be due to their support. In this new country, they realized, there would be no benevolent ruler to build new versions of all the beautiful, old churches they knew in the “old country” and maintain them. Today i Europe things have gotten so bad that governments have had to step back in and shoulder the expense of maintaining all these historic churches because of their historic significance. Sadly, few of our churches in this country will ever qualify for the rosters of historic preservation societies.
Or, if you visit Central and South America, you’ll find the same remarkable churches from previous centuries. But with the wave of dictators and 150 years of freemasonry which has sought to destroy the Church in these countries, confiscating properties and murdering, straining faith communities financially to the breaking point, the Church is largely now controlled by the government as a “service” to the people. Salaries, buildings, maintenance and community development are all subsidized. At least, this was my experience studying several summers in Mexico and working two years in the Dominican Republic. There is not the direct correspondence between the Sunday Offertory and the survival of the parish in those countries as there is here.
What can we do to restore the Church as the heart of the community and the center of peoples’ family life?—This is the question that so many people are asking. I would like to know if this is even an ungrounded, idealized, sentimental vision of a past based on pictures of big, fancy churches and pious stories of pay, pray and obey. Maybe we need to quit looking at the past and see what we have now, where are we now?
What do we have now? What if we remove the word “restore” in our question and replace it with the word “build”? What can we do to build the Church as the heart of the community and the center of peoples’ family life?
Attendance at Mass here seems to be up and down. On an average Sunday (no football) we might have between 5,000 and 6,000 for Masses. Maybe a third of the parish population? How do we get the word out to all the people who aren’t here? Whatever the reason doesn’t really matter, what matters is they be here.
I’m told the biggest reason that people have left the Church is over marriage issues. Not divorce, but remarriage outside of the Church after divorce without the process of annulment. I’m told that previous pastors at Saint Mary may have refused people requesting to petition annulments. This was wrong. I’m sorry. Pope Francis is w0rking on this one, we will soon see the details of a new, faster process for annulments. But the problem goes even deeper, I think. Now there is a whole new generation of Catholics—even practicing Catholics—who don’t seem to know that their being married outside the Church actually excludes them from receiving sacraments. Either they weren’t listening, or they were never told.
Maybe if we all knew more, we would find solutions. This is where your office as lay people becomes so important. Show your children how to be faithful, and talk about these things where there is silence, contribute in the conversation.
God bless you.