My community has a provincial chapter in the spring. That means elections and the opportunity to make decisions about what we do and where we're going as a province. The conversations have started about how we can best serve the local churches in which we live. They're not easy.
Things seem dire. Even with parish closings, there are too few pastors. Priests are asked to pastor multiple parishes, and have to spend all their time in duplicated or triplicated meetings, and ministering to decaying buildings rather than people. Catholics continue to disappear from practicing the faith. Here in Boston it is said that something like fifteen percent of baptized Catholics ever go to Church. The wounds and legacy of sexual abuse still call out for penance and conversion. Even among those who have not explicitly rejected the faith, whole extended families and communities have reached a kind of critical mass of not having been catechized or sacramentally initiated, such that it is sometimes hard to find a single qualified sponsor for an infant baptism. And so it continues. The lack of catechesis comes to bear the rotten fruit of fights over the obligation to marry according to canonical form, to offer proper funerals and bury the dead, etc. Everywhere money is running out; much could be done in some parishes with more priests and lay ecclesial ministers, but there isn't any money for salaries. A few more cold days during the heating season can mean the difference between solvency and bankruptcy for a parish.
Who am I in all this? I know well the temptations to bitterness, anger, and despair. They used to weary me when I was a parish priest myself, having to argue with people about baptismal sponsors, absurd choices for wedding or funeral Mass music (a problem which we ourselves have sown by our normalizing of 'picking a song' to replace the ordinary chants of the Mass) or about their obligation to bury the cremated remains of their loved ones.
But you know what? I've decided that I won't let all of this take away my Catholic joy. I joined this religion, I believe that God has called me to be a religious and a priest within it, the whole business suits me very well on the natural level, and I intend to enjoy it. The Communion of Saints assures me that the historical and geographical moments in which my earthly life finds itself are but a part of my place in the Universal Church. I get up in the morning and I read the writings of the saints, and I know that they are just as present to me in Holy Communion as the other brothers in the chapel. I pray for the perseverance and courage of those baptized souls who will have the privilege of being on earth on the last day when the Lord returns. Even if the Church were to be completely falling apart in my own historical moment, that moment does not exhaust my location and so does not comprehend my Catholic life.
Is such an attitude a temptation? Is it an abdication of responsibility? It depends. If I do this in such a way as to lock myself away (either interiorly or exteriorly) with my own desire for God and a devout life, not paying any attention to the trials or sufferings of the larger Church, for sure it's a temptation. But if I do this in such a way that it is a rebellion against decadence, despair, and bitterness, and a devout and joyful rebellion with which I try to infect other souls that God puts in my path, then I think it is an answer to the fundamental Franciscan mission: "Go, Francis, and repair my Church."