Sunday, October 20, 2019

A Note to Our Parish Deacon

Image result for Few people in pews

(Our parish has an African priest as the administrator. He's a good man, but the parish is slowly losing people, collections are down, and so on. On Monday, because school was out, I was able to make it to morning Mass. Father talked about some of the problems in the parish. I responded with the following note to our parish Deacon.)

I went to Mass this morning, and Father F*** was lamenting the decreasing attendance and collections, and asking if people care about the parish surviving. He wondered if he was the problem, and what he could do.

This wasn’t the group to preach to – given their daily commitment, and their involvement in the parish already.

After Mass, I said he needed to share this on Sunday, repeatedly. But I also said I could sit down with him and share enough observations to fill an hour. (Of course, we were unable to do so, so that was more rhetorical than realistic.)

I’ve chosen instead to share with you. Aren’t you lucky? You can do with it whatever you will. Delete comes to mind!

There are a number of outside circumstances. The demographics in G**** are changing, so we are not the only parish suffering. There are fewer practicing Catholics to draw from. There’s “competition” from other denominations that have livelier services, fewer rules about some things, etc.

The population is aging, and fewer younger people are going to church in general.

There are a lot of people angry at the diocese and the Church because of all the scandals. There are others who are angry about church rules concerning divorce and remarriage, birth control, cohabitation, and so on.

The culture is very anti-Church, anti-faith, anti-traditional morality, anti-institutional. People are far more secular, and don’t feel the need to pretend to be religious any more.

In looking at the parish, there are positives, but also issues affecting

Among the positives: Father F*** is clearly a devout man. Returning the Tabernacle to the altar was a plus. Inserting the “Hail Mary” into the Mass was a good idea. Calling for greater reverence (and quiet) is good.

But then there are problems.

Quiet and reverence needs to be spoken about again and again to break the bad habits – and it needs to be modelled by parish ministers and staff. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen ushers, choir members, staff members talking loudly, laughing, glad handing in church while people are trying to pray and get ready for Mass.

Reverence includes how people dress. Yes, I know the old argument, “Hey, at least they are at Mass” – but would they go to a wedding or a business meeting dressed in gym shorts, sweat pants, tee-shirts promoting businesses or sports teams? Notes in the bulletin, or reminders from the pulpit, might help.

Reverence includes following the rubrics. People at the parish have gotten into habits that could be broken. The parish leadership finally got them to stop standing during the consecration, for example, and ended lay preaching, but I think that was compelled by the diocese. But it can be done if there is the will. Leaving Mass early? Absolutely not, unless there is a really good reason like illness. At the school where I teach, and the parish where we go to Mass, people stay until AFTER the last verse of the final hymn, and then everyone ALL kneel for a moment of prayer before leaving. It’s a growing parish, by the way. We could do that here.

How about the people assuming the Orans position during the “Our Father” – something that only the priest should be doing? It’s a lesser thing, rooted in the Charismatic movement, I believe, but still helps to undermine the reverent atmosphere.

I go to the men’s group at St. P*** – a group with which you are familiar. Why do they get 20-30 guys each meeting? What are they doing that we could be doing here? (I can’t go to men’s group at St. T********* because it’s at the same time as band practice. That St. P*** group surveyed men to find out what would be a good time to meet. But even if I were free, I would not likely go given what I’ve seen and heard of the content here. I like what the St. P*** group offers - a consistent program with videos/topics/speakers that challenge me or help me to grow.)

I know of one prominent family in the parish whose children were taking part in the youth program at another parish. Why? What does that parish offer? (My sense is more orthodoxy, with a Steubenville influence – but it would be good to know if that is indeed the case). How many youth groups do things like take part in prolife events as a group – the March for Life for example. NCYC is fine – but what about going as a group to the March or 40 Days or Stand Out, or the Steubenville conferences? At the school where I teach, a substantial part of the middle school and most of the high school go to the March (we fill a bus) – and the students in K -12 who don’t go to Washington take part in a pro-life march in East Rochester. Will the Youth group be at the Love Will End Abortion session next Sunday? (For that matter, will the staff, the Knights, the Parish Council, etc.? I know when we had that special Mass for the Transitus of St., Francis on October 3, even though it was promoted in the bulletin, only a few parishioners came, only one staff member did – she had to serve as sacristan – and no one representing any parish groups came.)

A couple of years ago, one of the Hands of Christ recipients was already openly living with her boyfriend when she received the award. I know of music ministry people who were living in such situations. I had a conversation with one person whom I see active in parish ministry who admitted he slept with his girlfriend. I know of parishioners who were active in parish ministries who were allowing their children’s boyfriends/girlfriends to live with their children, or stay overnight, in their own homes. I recall a discussion with some parish ministers who said they don’t bother going to Holy Day Masses because they’re inconvenient. How many other ministers are living in ways incompatible with the teachings of the Church, or are picking and choosing the rules they follow, yet are presented to the parish as good Catholics? I’m not talking about mounting any kinds of investigations/inquisitions, but when it is openly known? At the school where I teach, we take an oath of loyalty to the Church and its teachings every year. Can’t parish ministers do the same?

If you look around the diocese, the parishes that are growing are either in areas that are growing in population or, offer more orthodox expressions of the faith (O** L*** of V******, St. J*******, etc.). At St. T********* we offer basically just what the other dying parishes offer – nothing stands out, nothing sets us apart as more spiritual/orthodox/inspiring in some way.

Another factor, and this is not meant as an insult, I really like him as a person. is that Father F*** is simply hard to understand. People have left, or have tuned him out, because no matter how good his message is, they can’t understand what he is saying.

Any thoughts about all this?

(No response so far from the Deacon. This morning, one of the other Deacons - not officially assigned to us, but who is in the preaching rotation - tried to boost the parish in his homily. He cited some of the good things at the parish, though it was interesting the number of good things he left out. And he referred to a religious sister being one of the folks at the parish who gives "homilies." Sigh.)

Pax et bonum

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Robert Forster, RIP

Image result for Robert Forster - Bud Baxter

Robert Forster, a Rochester native who went on to star in movies (even earning an Academy Award nomination) and on television, passed away October 11. Cancer took him at age 78.

I saw him most recently in role a recurring as Bud Baxter on Last Man Standing.

Rest in Peace.

Pax et bonum

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Monarch Butterfly

Image result for Monarch butterfly on autumn flowers

Monarch butterfly
alights on autumn flowers
that like it face south

Pax et bonum

Saturday, October 5, 2019

West of Brooklyn

Old Western

Brooklyn cowboy
defeats Brooklyn Mexican -
cue the theme music

Image result for Martin landau as a Mexican

Pax et bonum

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Carp flopping on the fire

Image result for sad boy
then, I knew when
my father said the carp
flopping on the fire felt no pain,
he lied.

Pax et bonum

A limax inter zizania

Years ago when I was a reporter at a Catholic newspaper we received a copy of a book by a Rochester spiritual writer, Father Thomas Green, SJ. (God rest his soul.)
The book was Weeds Among the Wheat.
Being a wise guy - and not intending any slight against Father or his book - I quipped that if I ever wrote an autobiography it would be called A Slug Among Weeds.
The Slug part is a given. Slug suggests a slothful, lazy person, an idler. That's me.
It's also a lowly creature. Also me. Some wags might even call me slimy.
I think of St. Francis calling his own body Brother Ass. At least he was worthy of being a mammal.
When it comes to Weeds - I have an affection for them (as my neighbors might attest). I'm not one of those herbicidal maniacs out to massacre every non-grass plant on my lawn. I like dandelions, chicory, Queen Anne's Lace.
From a theological point of view, there are many folks who have been (and are) considered "weeds" by others - lepers, prostitutes, drunks, tax collectors, fishermen, shepherds, pro-lifers, and so on. So A Slug Among Weeds makes sense.
As for the sluggy haiku, well, I think many purists would not consider my 17-syllable scribbles proper haiku, although a few of my creations might flirt with the literary boundaries. I certainly would not submit them to haiku journals.
I'm simply playing with the words and images, having a grand old time, nurturing my Dada side and my inner slug.
And besides, it's better than sitting around obsessing over the perceived sins and faults of others.
I'm a slug, after all.

Pax et bonum