Just yesterday, the Archdiocese of Boston announced that it would be consolidating parishes in order that it might adjust to the “new” norm of faith participation. In a CNA article, a spokesman noted the necessity of the move, particularly in light of the present reality- where just 20% of Catholics attend Mass; a far cry from the 70% participation rate during the 1950s, when the majority of the to-be-closed parishes were built.
As a permanent deacon, I find myself continually stumbling upon these “former” Catholics- often in the workplace, but especially at baptisms, weddings, and funeral homes. And I continue to be picqued with curiosity when many of them describe themselves as “practicing” Catholics- while at the same time feeling no need to directly participate in the sacramental life of the Church. In conversations with them, they tell me that they are very “spiritual” and believe in God, but for various reasons, have replaced the public proclamation of their faith with other activities: children’s soccer games, jogging, household chores, or sleeping longer on Sunday mornings- I gather as a due “reward” for their hard work expended through the week. Others, however, are bolder, proclaiming that the clergy sex abuse crisis has “destroyed” their faith. While not denying the horrible reality of this scandal, I often point out that in the midst of such tragedies (present and past), God has continued to raise up saints and other holy men and women.
Jesus, I believe, refers to this dual reality (of the co-existence of good and evil) within the Parable of the Weeds (Mt 13:24-30).
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the householder came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”
I also point them to the past failings of prominent religious figures; each of whom experienced God’s love and redemption in their own lives, while at the same time being asked to play pivotal roles in ushering forth God’s plan for we sinful humans.
When Abraham should have stayed in the land and trusted the Lord, he fled to Egypt because of the drought. And this was by no means the last of Abraham’s failures.
Moses, in trying to help his people, ran ahead of the Lord and killed the Egyptian. Later, against the command of God, he struck the rock in his anger.
When David should have been out in the field of battle, he stayed home and committed adultery with Bathsheba and then plotted the murder of her husband.
Peter, in spite of his self-confidence and his great boast, denied the Lord, as did the rest of the disciples who fled before the evening our Lord’s arrest was over.
Despite their experience of failure; in the end, Abraham, Moses, David, and Peter remained faithful, showed up, and allowed God’s Spirit to transform them into something greater than their former selves.
In our day, the same truth applies. By showing up, we help to build up the bruised Body of Christ that cries out in these dark, cultural times. By showing up, our presence is truly a gift to a community of believers badly in need of unity, participation, and action. And by showing up, we gain eternally as well. Through the reception of the supreme gift- Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist; we receive the same Jesus who has promised to guide us- if only we give Him our hand and heart.