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.

10 Comments

  1. Amen, Amen, Amen! Where were you when we lived in S’port?? lolol Sharing this….

  2. When I travel I also come across these parishes. There are few or no children at Mass and if there are, they are bored. Lots of women doing everything. Terrible, banal songs posing as hymns. The tabernacle is down the hall, in the next room, or off where it cannot be seen. Father is the focus of attention and it is all about him: doesn’t he tell a good joke? Confessions are only in a small window or ‘by appointment’ so basically no one goes. There is no teaching from the pulpit at all and the faithful are uncatechised and fall away; after all there really is no sin. They do not believe in the Real Presence and Father may not either. The children come up and glad hand father in the middle of Mass like in the diocese of Grand Island. They are not really there to worship God but to socialize with high decibel noise before and after Mass. Yes, travel can be interesting and one does indeed encounter CINO parishes. The pastors there do not truly give of themselves to care for the spiritual life of their flocks. It is terrible and why millions have left.

  3. Only 10 minutes of time allotted for Confessions – that’s 10 minutes more than we’ve had in the past year (or several years)!

    Religion classes for adults and for children were discontinued. Both were well-attended.

    The rectory and church office answering machines are off, and the phone is seldom answered. The bulletin is not on the website.

    Liturgical abuses abound. Neglect of the faithful is egregious. Our current pastor shows up most Sundays. That’s it. In exchange, he receives $12,000/annually plus substantial benefits from us. (In this diocese parishes are required to pay the salary for the priest.)

    Unless the bishops require accountability, there will always be lazy priests who will inevitably be shuffled off to remote parishes such as ours. I’ve lived in two dioceses where the bishop required priests to offer weekday Mass, and scheduled Confessions, and religious ed.

  4. great way to start the new year…. attack our priesthood & invite the comments to destroy Christ….

    • Father, if you knew me and had read my writings, you’d know that I have nothing but respect for the priesthood. It’s that respect that makes me so upset to see some priests neglecting their priesthood and running their parishes on autopilot.

      So far, the combox has done nothing attacking the priesthood or destroying Christ. I see only criticisms of several different common abuses of the priesthood.

    • Maintaining my above reply, I have nonetheless softened the approach of the article a bit.

    • That’s ridiculous.

  5. Of course the Eucharist is still the valid Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and if these parishes have great social outreach programs, that is commendable. The former is a key sign of a Catholic parish. But it seems that most modern Roman Catholic parishes are still stuck on this droll 1960′s America culture of kumbaya. Lex orandi, lex credendi folks. In an age when many people seek mystical experiences, the Catholic parish provides no comfort for the soul.

    There are many folks like us who believe that “beauty will save the world,” and that beauty compliments truth. Of course, beauty must be a subset of the truth. Externals must never become the focal point of our Faith. But we folks love to complain don’t we! Has anyone out there joined or even sought to formn a schola? Get active and start a movement in your parish!

    • I agree entirely with you.

      My point wasn’t the externals. The Mass at the parish in question was no doubt valid. The problem was that they didn’t bother to make clear the times of their Masses. That, coupled with their inattentiveness to proper liturgy and the sacramental needs of their community gives the distinct impression that they don’t really care.

    • Yes, I have seen this quite a bit. Many priests are very holy men but lack good leadership skills. I know many parishes are short of money and could use volunteer help to get things done. Volunteerism creates a stronger bond by parishioners to their parish.

      I recently asked a priest how I could help out since I was a contractor and have carpentry skills. He told me that he would let me know. Still waiting. He could have at least turned me over to whoever is in charge or maintenance in the parish. Again, these priests need to be taught good leadership skills on a continuing basis. Not all men are good leaders but they can at least learn the mechanics of it so they can make an attempt.

      Of course, I am not one that is good to talk, I don’t really have good leader skills myself.

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