Saturday, January 21, 2012

What Went Wrong?

Dear Parishioners,

We see along the Northeast corridor of our country significant changes taking place within the Catholic Church.  Parishes are merged.  Catholic schools are regionalized.  Other schools and church buildings are closed or scheduled for closure.  Mass attendance has dwindled.  With this, the Church’s decision making and teaching authority is questioned and sometimes ignored.  Bishops are ridiculed.  Pastors are often placed in awkward or difficult positions.  Emotions run high.  Frustration and anger are frequently expressed.  Many look for someone or something to blame.  Plenty of questions are asked.

Exactly what went wrong—so terribly wrong—that we are in our current situation?  Are factors like changing demographics, troubled financial situations or the slumping economy the only causes of our problems?

Jesus asked this question a long time ago:  “. . . When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk. 18:8)  I think this is where we should begin to examine the situation.

In many ways we are experiencing in our society and in our world a profound crisis of faith.

We will certainly find the faithful disciple among us—a person like St. John, the Blessed Mother, or St. Mary Magdalene—someone who stands by Jesus and His Church, faithful until the bitter end.  These three were among those remaining at the foot of the cross.  People like them, however, seem to be few and far between—even in Jesus’ time.  After all, where were all of His other disciples?
More often, Catholics today fall into numerous other categories.  Jesus didn’t relate to us the Parable of the Sower (Mk. 4: 3-20; Mt. 13: 1-23; Lk. 8: 4-15) because everyone received His message with undying fervor and enthusiasm.  Quite the contrary!

At times, we may be like St. Peter:  “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” (Mk. 14:31)—until the going gets tough, that is.

We may be like Sts. Peter, James and John who were asked by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to:  “Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.  The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Mk. 14: 38)  Jesus returned and found them sound asleep.  So much for His urgent request!

We may be like the people of Athens when St. Paul tried to preach there: “When they heard about resurrection of the dead, some began to scoff, but others said, ‘We should like to hear you on this some other time.’” (Acts 17: 32)  For many of the so-called academics residing there, the “good news” about Jesus was too much pie in the sky for them and/or Jesus remained simply an intellectual curiosity.  Unfortunately, little or no real faith could be found in this situation.

Fast forward to today and the quality of discipleship present:
  • The number of Catholics who do not attend Mass weekly far outweighs those who participate regularly.  If only those Christmas and Easter crowds would continue all year long!
  • More and more parents are consciously limiting the sizes of their families—often with seemingly good intentions—thus contributing to a reduced future population of parishes and schools.  Gone are the days of those stereotypical large Catholic families.  (Whether or not artificial birth control or sterility techniques are being employed to do this is a topic for another day.)  
  • Fewer Catholics tend to get married in Church.  (Options such as destination weddings are increasing in popularity.)  And if couples come to the Church to be married, they are frequently living together (cohabitating) first.  
  • Personal sacrifice for matters of faith is more infrequent today.  (For example, my parents chose not to take a personal vacation for over 30 years because they chose to send their 5 children to Catholic schools—all the way through college!  I’m not sure how many people today would be willing to make a similar sacrifice so that their children could attend a Catholic school.)  
  • Morality has become all too subjective and relativistic.  What “I” think is right or wrong too often supersedes what the Church teaches on the matter.  (In conjunction with this mentality, too many Catholics do not benefit from the Sacrament of Penance regularly.  There is no need to do so when you act as your own moral compass.)  
  • Scandal, disillusionment, past questionable decisions, mockery or criticism of organized religion, materialism, secularism, indifferentism, and far too many other factors including sin and selfishness, have eroded and taken a serious toll on the faith of so many.

Some may highlight factors like changing demographics, poor finances and a difficult economy, which certainly have some influence on our situation, but I do not think that this goes far enough.  I conclude that many of the problems that we find in today’s Church are  manifestations of multiple factors—a sort of perfect storm—the greatest of which is an obvious decrease in the practice of and adherence to our Catholic (Christian) faith.  And this problem isn’t just local or even regional but throughout the world.

Why, then, do I personally remain faithful to Jesus and His Church?  I recall that Jesus had to deal with a serious crisis of faith when some of His followers chose to leave Him because of what He taught about the Eucharist:  “Jesus then said to the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’  Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” (Jn. 6: 67-68)

Despite everything else that may occur, I pray to maintain my faith in Jesus.  I believe that He still works through His Church.  And I continue take consolation in His promise to us that He will remain with us always, until the end of time. (cf. Mt. 28: 20)

Ongoing personal conversion at all levels of the Church, however, is still very much needed.

Fr. Ed Namiotka

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Two Saints in the USA

Dear Parishioners,

This week we honor both St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (Jan. 4th) and St. John Neumann (Jan. 5th).  I proudly admit that I have a personal devotion to both of these “American” saints.

Frequently, when I am in Philadelphia, I visit the church of St. Peter the Apostle (5th St. & Girard Ave.) where the remains of St. John Neumann are kept in the lower church.  He was a remarkable man who came from Bohemia (currently the Czech Republic) to America because of an over-abundance of priests in his homeland during the 1830’s.  John was ordained a priest by Bishop John Dubois of New York and assigned to work with German immigrants, initially in the Niagara Falls and western New York state area.  He was a man gifted with languages and could hear the confessions of people spoken in at least six tongues.

Being lonely and seeking some fraternal camaraderie, he joined the Redemptorist Order (Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer or C.SS.R.).  Later, when he was appointed the 4th Bishop of Philadelphia, he established and organized the Catholic School system there, increasing their numbers from two to about 100 schools.  In addition, Bishop Neumann notably fostered the 40 Hours Devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist, established and built many parish churches and founded and/or invited various religious orders of sisters to work in his diocese.

As a seminarian, I completed my studies at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD.  Buried in Emmitsburg are the remains of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.  Elizabeth, a native-born American, grew up in the wealthy part of New York society.  Married with five children, her husband died of tuberculosis while they were in Italy.  Influenced by her stay there and moved by an ever-increasing love for and belief in Jesus’ Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, she converted to the Catholic faith (from Protestantism).

Elizabeth later became an educator of children, was instrumental in the establishment of free Catholic schools, and is the foundress of the Sisters of Charity—from which six separate religious congregations trace their origin.  She is honored by the Church as wife, mother, educator and foundress.  She was the first canonized American-born saint.

It is important that we know our local Catholic history.  I also find it invaluable to visit, whenever possible, the shrines where these saints are buried.  We can learn so much from them.

These two faith-filled people are part of our Communion of Saints whom we one day hope to join forever in Heaven.  Get to know them!  You will be glad that you did!
Fr. Ed Namiotka

The Remains of St. John Neumann