My Brush with a Dead Parish and a New Year’s Suggestion for Priests
Brilliant scholar of all things Catholic, G.K. Chesterton once remarked that “a dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” Now some tend to focus more on the activity a living thing has, rather than the direction. You can see this in ten thousand parishes across the countryside, when priests and congregations are very active in misconceived “updates” of the Church. You know the type. From benign liturgical slip-ups and doctrinally concerning homilies to invalid Mass and sermons from the Nuns on the Bus, these are the parishes that are doomed to go the way of the Episcopalian. Others focus more on the direction without much of the activity. Like stones dropped in a riverbed, these folks, usually SSPXers and the like, refuse to move with the current. In their unwillingness to move outside of themselves and make disciples, however, they stagnate, lucky just to attract to themselves the moss that would otherwise pass them by. Fruitful Catholicism is like the salmon, swimming against the stream with firm and resolute purpose, to live and to spread the gospel far and wide. To be a faithful Catholic means to be a sign of contradiction in the world.
Last and least, however, we have the branch: the lost, lifeless limb of some overhanging willow. It has neither lively activity to swim nor the sense of direction to go against the stream. It simply floats along, going as the stream dictates.
Question: What do you do when you’re somewhere on vacation, you need to go to Mass for a Holy Day of Obligation, and you happen upon a dead parish? That is, what do you do when you – as I have done today – come upon a parish with no indication of Holy Day Mass times on their signage? With no voicemail message indicating such times? With no online bulletins? With no website?
As I write this, it’s about 4pm on New Year’s Day. I haven’t yet been to Mass today for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. No worries, I’ll be going in a bit, but it won’t be to the local parish where I am. It’s okay, really, for me. Frankly, I don’t want to go to a parish that takes no interest in having me.
And that’s precisely why, even though it’s okay for me, it’s terrible for them: it’s the wholesale neglect of the new evangelization.
See, I’ve visited the parish in question before. I’ve seen their Masses. They’re poorly attended. They’re banal. They have liturgical abuses. The pastor offers Confession for a mere 10 minutes before just one weekend Mass. It couldn’t be clearer from their lackluster approach that they don’t care much whether or not I show up. They don’t care about my soul. They don’t even care about my offering.
I cannot be the only one who feels this way. I cannot be the only easy catch these fishers of men aren’t reeling in.
And there are hundreds of parishes – at least – just like this throughout the United States.
I mean, seriously, do we need a Gordon Ramsey of Catholic parishes? Some host of Parish Nightmares on EWTN during the 8pm Friday slot? (We can’t very well spoof Ramsey with Hell’s Parish, although there are a few I suppose might come close to qualifying.) I feel like that’s what’s going on whenever I have to write one of these. (And I’ve written a lot of these: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.)
My dear Fathers, I love your priesthood. I want you to love it, embrace it, and use it well. To that end, if you should find that your parish has become a dead branch, I offer a respectful gathering of New Year’s Resolutions: get websites;* put your bulletins online; start blogging; update your voicemail; get on social media; put some orthodoxy and conviction into your homilies; if you can afford it, dump the volunteer DREs and YMs and hire professional catechists with solid credentials (or train your volunteers); spend less time chatting up parishioners in restaurant booths and more time absolving them in the confessional, open the doors wide to Christ this year and DON’T. LOOK. BACK.
This is the year to win back your flock.
God bless your 2014!
*As an aside, my dear Fathers, don’t let some charlatan gouge you for thousands of dollars on a parish website. I ask my mechanically-inclined brother-in-law about car repair costs whenever the come up. The Church should do the same. As T&C’s webmaster, I can tell you that a parish website need not cost you more than a $100/year at most in fees and web-design need not cost an arm and a leg. Heck, I’ve done it for free before (code doesn’t cost money). Someone in your parish might, too. Know that most web-designers made ludicrous profits on their work. You don’t have to accept their high rates.