Thursday, January 31, 2008

PESSIMISTICALLY OPTIMISTIC

I consider myself a careful optimist. That is, if someone asks me if the glass is half full or half empty I would first ask whether it was a glass of barium or a dirty martini. But fight it off as I may, I have had this nagging feeling of optimism lately. It may just be this glorious frigid weather we are having, but this positive sensation is as persistent as a February cold.

I must say the whole thing is aggravated by those who were once sure footed peddlers of doom and gloom who kept us sensible and hard working all of a sudden pointing out rays of hope for the future. Because of them I have been forced to think that perhaps this nagging hope was not contained to my little world – birds of a feather and all that rot.

In a letter to the editor of Priest magazine this past month, Fr. John Koelsch took hard working, dedicated pessimists to task, telling them to wake up and smell the incense. “The American Catholic Church (sic) some 70 million strong in over 18,000 communities is arguably the largest group of actively practicing Catholics in the world. Yes, Mass attendance has declined, but it still averages three or four times that of most of the world’s Catholics . . . we still “luxuriate” in priest-per-people compared with other countries (especially the so-called Catholic ones.)”

He makes some further points. Scandals and defections are not nearly so bad as they had been in the time of some of the reforming saints. In fact, there is hope in that despite the various Church scandals the faithful, who have their eye on what is of true importance have contributed each year, “to the largest and most developed Church institution in the world (our universities included among them.) The survivability and continued response of our people is unequalled anywhere.”

A further troubling factor is our seminaries. Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR writes, “I visited three seminaries recently, filled with seminarians who are clean-cut, dedicated, enthusiastic and loyal Catholics . . . The good news is that we are improving from the roots up. Every priest and every Catholic layperson should be glad and rejoice. If I had the time, I would write a book in response to “Goodbye, Good men!” It would be called “Welcome, Good Men!”

It seems the number of seminarians is on the rise and I grudgingly report a growing satisfaction with my own seminary – and might even say it? Can it be the dawning of . . . pride? Is that too much?

Believe me, I could come up with pages of issues that my cautious heart would like to see fixed in the Church. But despite the patches of chilling snow that still lays on the ground, it seems that a new springtime in the Church cannot be stamped out adequately. One cannot stamp out a crocus without ten glaring daffodils popping up elsewhere. Especially with younger people – around forty five all the way down, among those who practice the faith there seems to be a hunger and a cry for serious Catholicism, for orthodoxy, for challenge, for boldness of witness and practice. It is becoming harder and harder to be an honest pessimist.

The glass may only be only half full, but I think it is a martini.

23 comments:

adoro said...

Yesterday I was at a meeting with some people from my deanery, and they spoke of some of their "concerns" with our coadjutor Archbishop. One of the women seemed surprised that the "young people" just love him, and the people beyond a certain age limit are highly suspicious and afraid he won't let them run rampant anymore. (the latter is my words, not hers!).

In my observation, many of the pessimists are those above a certain age, mostly, who are as comfortable with their worldview as an old shoe they can't seem to throw out. It's going to take a bunch of puppies to tear those shoes up for those people to be forced to open their eyes and watch the flowers blooming.

sparky said...

This blog makes me optimistic. Thanks for always delivering my daily "cup of cold water".

Theocoid said...

Is that Fr. John Koelsch from the Diocese of Boise? He used to be here in one of our more liberal parishes but was reassigned to one in southeastern Idaho.

Rob said...

Question: Is the glass half-empty, or half-full?

Answer: It is completely full.

adoro said...

Q: Is the glass half - empty or half-full?

A: I don't know...I usually end up knocking it over anyway. At least if it's half-full it's easier to clean up.

:-)

Anonymous said...

Q: Is the glass half empty or half full?

A: Yes!

JustMe said...

It is always half-full on the way to overflowing.

I recall reading statistics of Church and seminary growth a few years ago, a year or so after news of what was actually worldwide scandals broke here in the States and scalded all the rest of us so badly, too. What statistics did I see? Either a holding-steady or an increase, even then.

There was even what seemed an increase in Protestant pastors converting. Now, that's saying something about this glorious faith, because these men (and women) have been supported by their churches, and now, perhaps middle-aged, jobless, with families.. they must find some paying work as well as give up what they have loved to do, and all of it sometimes causing great enmity in extended families..all for conversion to the greater fullness of the Truth. A white martyrdom of sorts.

I've lost touch with priests and (mostly) seminarians I'd corresponded with, one of whom was gentle Joseph who after 3 years of all sorts of struggle, not least of all financial but also his family was rather anti-Catholic, may've dropped out for good. But that's not why. The problem was his roommate was involved in cyber-sin, and others were carnal in the flesh. It broke his heart, and it may have broken his resolve, to find that little was done about any of it. But from many reports these past couple of years, seminaries (and some "Catholic" colleges) are apparently not liberal (and far worse), for real--very orthodox teaching, much overseeing, and the initial discernments far more in depth. Indeed, bold! We had no ordinations last year, but we'll have 8 this year.. if we keep praying. We now have a Seven Trumpets Mass program and much priestly invitation and all sorts of dynamism going on. Praise God for both His house-cleaning and His re-stocking.

So we may dare say it: Cheers!

Rich said...

I'll drink to that!

Domini Sumus said...

You have been awarded the E for Excellent award at We Belong To the Lord.

http://dominisumus.blogspot.com/2008/02/e-is-for-excellent.html

A Simple Sinner said...

Counting Blessings is an post I wrote a few months ago for our group blog Per Christum.

I argue that the glass is not half anything - it is filled more than half!

I argue that (1) things were not that bad (2) they are getting better still.

Seminaries are expanding, vocations are on the rise, orders are building, women religious that have maintained or return to traditional community life and habit are packing them in.

If you count America's 16.6K deacons (the true forgotten clergy of the Catholic Church!) we have MORE clergy than we did 30/40 years ago. According to my source at CARA (basically the woman who answers the phone when I call w/a question - she is a good source, call her she's friendly!) there are almost 4K men in formation at various stages for the diaconate as well.

Another thing we don't consider much is how many future priests are NOT being formed in America. I am more and more frequently encountering priests from oversees who like true apostles have left home and country to aid Catholics here.

Ten years ago I would frequent the Josephinum library to do research and got to know some of the seminarians that went on to be ordained. Ten years later, I am meeting some of the young men the guys I knew pastored who have helped to foster and inspire vocations.

Be proud.

And keep praying.

Terry Nelson said...

This is a very encouraging post. Thanks Father.

Father Schnippel said...

a simple sinner:

You've hit on something that I think is key in the recent uptick in vocations: the young are inspired by the new clergy that are emerging from the seminaries full of energy and a zeal for souls. It inspires them.

The growing lay movements are also inspiring vocations, as they should.

The challenge (not to turn such a positive post to the negative) is how to spread this fire among the lost generation, people my age: 25-40.

That's something else entirely, I think.

Rob said...

Ach! I'm 35. I'm in the lost generation!

sparky said...

Father Schnippel:

I agree! I'm one of the lost generation too! Frankly, I haven't given up one the aging hippies either.

I always thought there should be some kind of catechisis talks Sundays after mass where everyone hear more indepth discussions. I think they'd be pretty popular.

adoro said...

I'm in the "lost" generation although I think that aging hippies that caused us to be lost are in need of more help; because in this generation (I'm 33) there's a lot of resurgance going on. But there's also a lot of lost souls.

My parish does do a Sunday presentation at 8:45, but people don't go. They'll offer the same thing on Wednesday evenings, hoping to reach the parents who are brining their kids in for formation, but it likewise doesn't get anyone to show up. Very very sad.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Father: I agree. I'm looking forward to the future as well.

sparky said...

Adoro:

I suppose we can pray for homilies that are "exclusively catechetical" and that avoid "useless patter" to quote Archbishop Ranjith. Cardinal Arinze even suggested the Catechism of the Catholic Church be covered in its entirety over three years of homilies.

adoro said...

sparky ~ I love those ideas, but have actually run into priests and others who say that the homily is supposed to be to expound on the readings for the day. Agreed, and in fact, that tidbit of info can be found in Sacrosanctum Concilium. But what drives me crazy is that the CCC CITES SCRIPTURE, meaning that catechesis is perfectly necessary and doable during the homily. It could be done in 3 years as Cardinal Arinze suggests.

I love my own parish and they often have great homilies, but the parish I attend on school weekends comments both on the readings for the day and then ties it to some point of catechesis. I've never heard a bad homily there, and even if the info covered is something I know, at least it gives me better ways to explain it, or solidifies a certain point.

Father Schnippel said...

Every homily should indeed be catechetical. I agree. I have a good friend who used to challenge me every other week (I was one of two priests in the parish, she went to the same Mass every week, we rotated.) on my homilies: catechetical points, action items, memorable ideas, etc. It made me a better homilist, for sure.

I'm thinking this is gonna spawn a new post over at Called by Name....

A Simple Sinner said...

"sparky ~ I love those ideas, but have actually run into priests and others who say that the homily is supposed to be to expound on the readings for the day."

On the face of it, that is fair enough... But I have found that the priests why say this, by and large seem to be hiding behind it.

The fact that many times, a clear link to preaching about going to confession, Humanae Vitae/Birth control, abortion, and some of the other "hot button issues" can't always be found in the Sunday readings... Well for some, "hiding behind" the whole "can only preach on the readings" means they can avoid what I think a lot of them fear to be "unpopular" or "divisive".

So long as one can claim that the daily readings aren't related, one is free to avoid the "toughies"... Just like 85% of the rest of the non-Catholic Churches do.

Of course that is a bit of a red herring, if a convienant one.

One Dominican priest I know can, in the course of a 5 minute weekday homily, tie catechesis, exegesis and the hagiography of the most obscure Dominican saint or beatus peculiar to the Domican calendar (Saint John de Massias, anyone?) all together. And sound good doing it.

adoro said...

sparky ~ I've heard a few priests do the same thing! I love it when he does that.

And I agree with you on the "red herring". It just frustrates me to no end ....because of course, it's TRUE that the homily is supposed to be about the readings. But of course, that truth does not contradict the reality that the entire Catholic faith is related to scripture.

At my own parish, the priests have done a great job of bringing in the life issues and condemning contraception and such, even though, on the surface, the readings didn't seem to be about that.

Last year when I taught RCIA, several times, although it wasn't related to the readings or the topic of the evening, I managed to relate life issues and other things because it needed to be done. I just couldn't expand on it, but it opened the door for others to talk to me about it after class, and sometimes, that's all that's needed.

Conversions happen one at a time, usually...not in groups.

RAnn said...

I don't consider myself exceptionally creative, but give me a topic you want to address from a catchetical standpoint, and a month's worth of Sunday readings and I can practicallly guarantee you I could find a way to relate the topic to one set of readings, if not more. Maybe it wouldn't be the BEST use of any of those readings, but I'll bet I could make it fit at least one of them.

A Simple Sinner said...

" don't consider myself exceptionally creative, but give me a topic you want to address from a catchetical standpoint, and a month's worth of Sunday readings and I can practicallly guarantee you I could find a way to relate the topic to one set of readings, if not more."

I have no doubt you could... which only re-enforces what a red herring this explination for sometines exceptionally weak sermons and poor catechesis this is. I don't even begin to dare to point out the online resources and publications available to a priest looking for some homiletic inspiration.

Again, a priest with a little preparation (and the lectionary cycle is available, in theory, DECADES/CENTURIES in advance!) can prepare and weave a 5 minute sermon into a catechetical/scriptural/hagiographic/whichever 5 minutes.

If they need ghost writers, get in touch with me! I work cheap!