Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My Pre-Pontifical Pilgrimage Ponderings

In a few hours, the Holy Father lands in the United States.  The mainstream media, whose "pre-papal visit" stories last week were non-controversial and actually somewhat interesting, have now jumped to stories with headlines like, "Restless Flock Awaits the Pope", and, "Facing Decline, An Effort to Market the Priesthood".  Let me give you a sampling of the articles (with my comments).

First, from "Restless Flock":

Some experts say the Vatican's views against divorce, contraception, abortion, homosexuality and stem cell research have driven away some Catholics, especially younger ones (does that make them "Young & Restless"?  Sorry, had to do it.  But seriously, if this were the case, shouldn't statistics show a jump in the membership of faith communities that allow these practices?  Anyone reading this have a Presbyterian, Unitarian, or Episcopalian community in their neighborhood that needs to build a bigger church because of all the new members they're getting?). But many other Catholics remain despite their differences with church leaders. Increasingly, those Catholics espouse a more democratic, even secular, faith that is far less dependent on a religious patriarchy and papal doctrine for instruction, according to both theologians and academics (...who want you to transfer your obedience on all matters of faith and morals from the Magisterium to, oh, I dunno, themselves?  Seriously, the majority of these theologians and academics don't spend any time in the average Catholic parish, except for - if we're lucky - a Saturday night or Sunday morning.  How can they possibly know what the faith life of a parish is, and, with all their academic degrees, what have they done in parishes to remedy it?). At the same time, the importance of their faith is based more on how to live their religion on their own moral grounds than on how church leaders say they should live (Ah, welcome to relativism.  Population: 1 AND ONLY 1!  You accept my way of living my life, and I'll accept your way of living your life - unless your way makes me feel guilty or selfish, then I have the right to call you a right-wing religious nut).

Now, from "Facing Decline":

The Rev. Luke Sweeney, director of vocations for the archdiocese — which covers the Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island and seven counties west and north of the city — says the church must make its case if it hopes to reinvigorate a priesthood that is increasingly elderly. “How do we get the ‘cool’ factor back into the priesthood?” Father Sweeney said. “If we don’t sell the priesthood, we can’t legitimately ask a young man to consider the priesthood as a vocation.”  (fancy videos are nice, and catch the attention of "Generation PlayStation", but in the end, Priests sell the Priesthood!  You can create a thousand 5 minute videos on YouTube to sell the Priesthood, but if these young men then go to Mass on the weekend and Father gives the impression by his preaching and his body language that he'd rather be anywhere else in the world except that altar, then it's all for naught.)

(Now, ready for some good news?) What the seminary lacks in numbers, it may make up for in intensity and eagerness. The seminarians speak of finding a joy and purpose that eluded them in secular careers.  “We live in a very confusing world, a world where there is a lot of evil in it, and good men need to step forward,” said Brian Graebe, a former high school teacher who is finishing his first year. “You can stick your head in the sand, or you can do something to change it. What more heroic life is there than to touch these eternal mysteries?”  (Amen, preach it!)

The biggest change, however, is in the age and backgrounds of seminarians. Decades ago, young men entered the seminary in their teens (...and, decades ago, young men also got married in their teens, and some went to war in their teens, and many got jobs in their teens that they intended to keep until the day they would retire from it.  The root of the Church's vocations shortage is grafted onto the bigger crisis of our culture's phobia towards any  decision that involves a permanent commitment.  Colleges allow students to be "undecided".  I can sign a contract committing myself to some business deal, and some lawyer can get me out of it.  I can make the promise to love someone for the rest of my life, and a divorce gets me out of that.  Should we be that shocked that, when we ask young men to make a decision that will affect them forever, they're a little bit hesitant?  NEWSFLASH: THEY'RE NOT USED TO IT!).


drewann said...

Great post- love your comments.

Unknown said...

"What the seminary lacks in numbers, it may make up for in intensity and eagerness."

I could not agree more. Having me some of the young men in formation at the Pontifical College Josephinum (which has DOUBLED in size in 8 years)... well they just knocked my socks off. Well adjusted, healthy, enthusiastic, mom-lovin', baseball-playin', Pope-obeyin', apple-pie-eatin' all American boys.

The future is VERY bright.

Unknown said...

"Having me some of the young men in formation "

OY! What a typo! I do NOT need to be commenting when I am half asleep.

Should read "Having seen some of the young men in formation!"

Yipes! Sorry!

Unknown said...

We've been blessed to have 2 wonderful young seminarians assist at our Parish during the holiday seasons. They are devout, dedicated, and a shining example of the reverence of young priesthood.