A parish is supposed to be a place of life and growth, yet many Catholic parishes have faced consolidation and even closings. This is a heartbreaking event for many Catholics and it causes much anger and turmoil. To see your spiritual home in shutters is never fun. But, it isn’t all bad news.
1. We can no longer deny the problems we have, within the Catholic Church, because the age of easy Catholicism is over. The closings of parishes are a signal to the Church in Western countries – we either change or continue to shrink. For too long it was too easy to be comfortable and OK with maintaining things and getting along with the world. Too few Catholics really chose to abandon their lives into the hands of God and follow Jesus wherever He led. Too few Catholics have a relationship with Jesus that is rooted in daily prayer and Scripture. So, the days of being managers of status quo Catholicism are over and we will have to adapt, change, grow, and get uncomfortable – and that is good for us!
“The devil is cunning and he will make this proposal, religious well being — “we are good Catholics, but up to here…” — and he will take away your strength. Do not forget, please: you are the children of martyrs, and apostolic zeal cannot be negotiated. I remember what the Letter to the Hebrews tells us: “Recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you struggled and suffered for the faith. Do not shrink back now” (cf. Heb 10:32-36). It also says, in another passage, a verse near the end: “Remember your fathers in the faith, your teachers, and follow their example (cf. Heb 13:7). You are a Church of martyrs….Go forth. Do not soften. No spiritual worldliness, none. No easy Catholicism, without zeal. No religious well being. Love for Jesus Christ, love for the Cross of Jesus Christ and love for your history.” —Pope Francis to Korean Bishops.
2. It may be the wake up call the Church in the USA needs to get us back into the mission field! Too few Catholics have been evangelizing and discipling others and this may be the kick in the pants that gets us back into the mission fields. Without the Catholic Church, the mandate to “make disciples of all nations” has no chance of success. But, we humans mess up all the time and if we have forgotten who we are and why we exist as a Church, then we will never fulfill our mission. So, if it takes a parish closing to get us back to our fundamental missionary identity…so be it. We are called to be thermostats not thermometers in the world.
“Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.” –Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 20
3. Hard times in the life of a local community are a call to Catholics to re-commit themselves to the project of becoming great saints – holiness is what we are created for after all. Jesus is always sovereign Lord and can always draw something good out of something bad – His plan is better than our own. There is nothing better for us than to become saints, because this is what we are made for. The early Christians were willing to suffer and die for Jesus. Yet, too many Catholics don’t even go to Sunday Mass, because they feel it is an inconvenience. This is a sign of our greatest need as a Church – to evangelize all, starting with those that self-identify as Catholic. God wants great things of His Church, but will allow a decline in the localized parts in order to wake us up, get us back to our core mission, and to give us another opportunity to become saints!
“The Saint is a medicine because he is an antidote. Indeed that is why the saint is often a martyr; he is mistaken for a poison because he is an antidote. He will generally be found restoring the world to sanity by exaggerating whatever the world neglects, which is by no means always the same element in every age. Yet each generation seeks its saint by instinct; and he is not what the people want, but rather what the people need…. If the world grows too worldly, it can be rebuked by the Church; but if the Church grows too worldly, it cannot be adequately rebuked for worldliness by the world. Therefore it is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.” —G.K. Chesterton
is Assistant Director of St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M University. This article originally appeared on their blog, Aggie Catholic and is reprinted here with kind permission.