Saturday, February 15, 2020

The pain of not being able to find a priest

Are you a young engaged couple looking for a bilingual priest to marry you?

Increasingly in various parts of the world, and even here in our western societies, it is becoming difficult to find a priest. You might be a young couple in love and you want to get married in your own language in your favorite parish church, but the priest there can't speak your language. So you go looking for a priest who can and you find just how difficult it might be. Priests are older, fewer, and laden with more and more duties. Our priests in many places are suffering a similar fate to lay people in the workplace where, in order to "maximize profits", more and more corporations are eliminating posts and expecting current workers to not only continue doing their own job but, in addition, taking on the jobs of those who have been "downsized", or "excessed", or "reduced"....

The big picture, at least in part, when people make requests of the Church...

One reason for a possible delay in obtaining a bilingual priest to serve you is simply the current conditions in our society and our Church. When I was a boy, the vast majority of people went to Church on Sunday to worship the Lord... we would join the crowds of neighbors all walking to Church. At the same time, the devotion to God and prayerfulness of people and their support of the Church and generosity of both service and contributions raised very high the "good reputation" of God as well as of his Church in society. New parishes were established and new churches built throughout the 1940's to the 1960's because all the churches were literally full to overflowing with 4 to 5 Masses in the church and perhaps 3 to 4 Masses in the basement every Sunday. Most parishes saw anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 people every Sunday.

Many young men were therefore encouraged to heed the Lord Jesus calling them to follow Him and join the ranks of his priests at the service of the People of God. Moreover, the generous support of the large Sunday assemblies permitted the local parish to care for the people as well as for their buildings and services. In addition, parishes were receiving enough donations to be able to send their share to the Diocese to enable the Archbishop to assure a number of services needed by everyone but unavailable in parishes.

Then everything changed...

Then came the great prosperity and the emerging "middle class" of the 1950's because of the industrial development brought about, ironically, by the tragedy of World War II, followed by the "sexual revolution" of the 1960's, the abandonment of faith, of the Church, and of God by a large proportion of the population in the 1970's, a kind of "love affair" of society with science and technology in the 1980's (which trend continues until today) and simultaneous distaste for God, faith, and religion, and, sadly, in the 1990's began the coming into broad daylight of the hidden scandal of sexual abuse, clericalism and the abuse of power and authority in the Church.

There has probably always been some sexual misbehavior since the turning of the first human beings away from God. More seriously, there has probably always been the risk of sexual abuse of children within the family circle - by a parent or relative or family friend - due to psychological trouble and emotional immaturity in adults close to children. Also well documented is the risk and occurrence of abuse of women by their husbands or by their parents, and other causes of distress.

Unfortunately, the sexual abuse of children is such pure evil that until our times people could simply not believe that such things could possibly be happening. It is a fact that when a child tried to tell its mother that it has been harmed by the father or uncle or someone else, that all too often the mother just could not believe it, and the child remained isolated.

Until the 1990's not enough was understood about the condition of adults who molest young children; so it was simply seen as a "sin" about which the "sinner" could be expected to feel sorry, repent, and never do it again. What social science research finally discovered is two things. First, that the pedophile who abuses small children has a pathological condition by virtue of which he or she is incapable of realizing the harm they are doing or to stop or "repent". Second, and much more important, the sexual abuse of a child is a very serious crime because of the profound harm done to the child.

The sexual revolution of the 1960's and the abandonment of morality generally in the 1970's by society caused a proliferation of abuse, and many of those who might have been restrained by fear of punishment in the past now no longer felt such restraint and this evil increased. It is now being documented that in a number of seminaries a "homosexual culture" took root which drew in men with unhealthy sexual lifestyles and psychological immaturity; while at the same time trumping the seminary's important duty to "filter" candidates and offer the appropriate formation. This brought new challenges that have to be resolved and a new urgency to face these challenges and work together to find lasting solutions. Thankfully recent popes have taken some important measures and there is reason to hope that they will continue to do so.

The dramatic social upheaval of the 1960's and 1970's caused many serving priests to become aware of doubts regarding their faith and their vocation, and probably more than 1 out of 10 left the priesthood. This trend continued until today when, occasionally, in the face of all these challenges, a priest becomes discouraged and finally leaves the priesthood, but does not necessarily become any happier than he was before.

The crisis of faith...

Social upheaval throughout human history has affected individuals, families, and the whole society. The very dramatic upheavals of the past century have profoundly destabilized human life and family life as well as the whole society as we can see with all the suicides, gender and other identity issues. Troubles in the lives of adults have also had dramatic impacts on children and the young, often affected by such hard changes in their own lives as separation or even divorce by their parents, then having to go through shared custody with their estranged parents, or else being affected by such changes in other people close to them.

Many people have never really experienced the love of God, or struggle in their life because they find God too invisible, too silent, and find their faith almost reduced to insignificance in the face of all the dramatic troubles in society, in the natural environment, and in life in general.

Many people feel their faith is strong when they feel close to God or have the impression that they feel his love for them, but then they feel they have lost their faith when they no longer feel close to God, or don't feel his love, or feel isolated or abandoned in the face to troubles and suffering.

The truth is that - like in the poem "Footprints in the sand" - when we feel close to God it is simply that God is carrying us by his grace. Then, when we feel alone or abandoned by God or suffer because He seems to be silent and invisible, those are the times when God has so much confidence in us that He set us down on our own two feet and says, "Okay, you can do it, go now and play, and know that I am with you."

God is merciful toward his children...

By the grace of God, the taboos preventing us from facing our challenges, from talking about evil wherever it occurs, and from fighting to resolve it and prevent it from happening again, many of these obstacles have finally begun to unravel, and society now feels that it is able to face these wrongs and try to set them right.

God is purifying his Church and is using his Church to bring to the whole society his healing for all that is sick and distorted in persons, family life, and human society. God heard the cries of his children, and in the 1990's the scandal of abuse was brought out into the light of day, thanks be to God.

So how does all this have anything to do with you finding a bilingual priest?

So, now Church authorities are taking strong measures to resolve the problem, to alleviate the suffering of the victims, and to change ways of doing in order to weed out any who might be inclined towards such evil behavior and acts. You need to understand that over the past few decades many priests have left, many have died, the number of those coming forward to replace them has trickled to almost none, the priests we still have are now all older, some of the young who joined us have become discouraged or ill or left their vocation.

In addition, new burdens have been added to the shoulders of the good and faithful priests who, though aging, continue to serve the Lord and his people. Now that instead of 75% of Catholics going to Church on Sunday in Québec, Canada, it is more like 5%. In a typical inner city parish instead of Sunday offerings around $4,000.00 they probably don't get even $1,000.00. Most of our churches are in disrepair and have plaster falling, stones falling out of the walls, leaking roofs, bad plumbing, furnace problems, and the list goes on.

Many beautiful churches have been condemned as unsafe, closed, and the parishes dissolved because they had been abandoned for decades with only a handful of people going on Sunday and an accumulated need for urgent repairs in the millions of dollars for each church. Most parishes can't even afford to give their priests the proper salary, or have a full time secretary, or even give a proper salary to their janitor. There is only so much that volunteers can do.

So, what are your options?

When I was young, Mass was in Latin, but we followed the Latin prayers with a parallel English text in our missal prayer book. You want to marry at a French church, fine. The priest assigned there speaks French; so he can celebrate your Mass in French and allow you to say your vows in English. He can obtain the text from an English parish. You can read your vows to each other from an index card. No matter the language, the Mass is always Jesus offering Himself to his Father and inviting us to join Him in offering ourselves also to the Father.

Most of our priests are of retirement age, but by the grace of God, they continue to be dedicated and motivated to serve; however, we must all acknowledge that we cannot expect a 70 or 80 or even 90 year old priest to be able to function as though he were still 30 or even 50.

Your desire to have an English Mass in a French church seems simple, but because of the current conditions of our whole Church, is very difficult to fulfill, in fact, it is becoming increasingly impossible. You need to decide what is most important for you... is it the French church or getting married in English or what?

The important thing is that no matter what you decide, God loves you and is with you both and your families. Our Lord Jesus is asking you to be merciful and to feel somewhat sorry for the troubled state of his Church. Society in general has a lot of contempt for the Church, for priests, and even for God. More than ever, as Jesus continues his work of salvation on Earth, He needs our help and our support in any way we can. We all need to do our part.

It is time for Christians to believe in the face of great unbelief, because God is calling us to Himself...

In addition, I believe that God wants everyone to demonstrate a little more respect for Him, for his Church, and, yes, even for his priests. There is something schizophrenic about a society that has contempt for clergy today but then tomorrow wants favors from them, or that turns its back on God and his Church on Sunday but when the occasion arises expects the Church to still be there for them. That would be like expecting doctors, nurses, teachers, police, and firemen to continue serving us while simultaneously cutting their salaries down to 10% of what they have been getting. That would be like no longer repairing your home but expecting it to continue to be in top shape for the next 50 years. It's time for Alice to come back from wonderland.

I have been a priest for over 36 years and I am delighted to have been called by the Lord. I can't say that I am always happy, but my life is punctuated by incredible joy, peace, and the love and mercy of God. It is amazing for me to see the "hand of God" at work in people's lives, to see the gentle flow of "living water" from the Holy Spirit heal, grow, and refresh people from within. Jesus continues to be amazing as Lord, King, Messiah, and High Priest.

We need to encourage men who are hearing Jesus call them to "not be afraid" and to explore the possibilities they have for responding to his call. Please pray for these men every day, and as we all begin once again to truly put our trust in God; then He will manifest his power to save in amazing and even dramatic ways. The whole Bible makes it clear, though, that God wants our faith. He wants us to show that we believe in Him, demonstrate that we want to know and do his will, manifest clearly our willingness to obey Him, and He will most certainly act.

May God bless you both and your families, the Father, and the + Son, and the Holy Spirit.

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