Side-stepping a bit on the usual topic that is "New Translation Thursday," although nothing is unrelated in this giant tent we call the Roman Catholic Church.
Two interesting news bits came into view this morning. The first was a news brief reported on Catholic News Service's web site:
Pope wants US Catholics to lead worldwide church revival, nuncio says
COLUMBUS, Ohio (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI wants the Catholic Church in America to be in the forefront of reviving Catholicism worldwide, the apostolic nuncio to the United States said in Columbus. "The church in the United States should lead the entire church in the world" in a revitalization effort, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano said. "This is a great task, but you have the determination and the grace to do it. This I know is the vision of the Holy Father regarding the church in the United States." The archbishop was speaking to an audience of seminarians and benefactors of the Pontifical College Josephinum at its annual rector's dinner April 23. He called on the American church to go beyond its mission of evangelizing the United States and "to be missionaries not only to the Third World, but especially to the countries of Europe. Christianity (in Europe) in some way has lost its strength and needs an example," he said, noting "very positive signs of growth" in vocations to the priesthood and the religious life in the United States. Archbishop Vigano said he especially wanted to direct his message to young people, particularly those studying for the priesthood at the Josephinum. The institution has experienced substantial growth in recent years and currently has an enrollment of more than 180 men, its highest in 25 years. They represent 29 dioceses from all over the United States, including six that sent seminarians to the institution for the first time this year, and their ethnic and cultural backgrounds echo the diversity of the American church as a whole.
I felt proud and inspired when I read the title of the news bit, which gave way to disappointment when I read the actual text. Believe it or not, I do wake up most mornings recalling what Pope Paul VI said about the Church in Evangelii Nuntiandi, namely that the Church "exists to evangelize." And I realize that the nuncio was speaking at a seminary dinner, but to narrow the field of evangelizers to those preparing for priesthood and religious life was to miss so many whose Catholic life mission is to evangelize; frankly, this kind of thinking missed me.
The next piece of news is from the April 30 issue of America magazine, an article entitled "Why They Left." Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., the bishop of the diocese of Trenton, New Jersey, commissioned a survey/study which sought out people who have left the Catholic Church in an effort to unearth the reasons why they left. The interviews also were aimed at asking these people what they would say to the bishop if given a chance. I was familiar with the fact that this survey had been done; America has done a good job reporting the results. Bishop O'Connell is to be applauded for his leadership.
So here's my conundrum today. On the one hand, we have Pope Benedict looking to the Church in the United States to be a worldwide leader to revive the Church. This is all well and good, but it is a fact that, as the article in America begins, "it is no secret that increasing numbers of baptized Catholics in the United States never or rarely attend Sunday Mass." It seems to me that we can have all the "positive signs of growth" we want in vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but somehow we need to be asking the questions, as did Bishop O'Connell, about why people are leaving. But we cannot leave it there. Unless we have some way of addressing the issues raised by these kinds of surveys, there will be fewer and fewer Catholics in the pews to whom this new flock of growing numbers of priests and religious will minister in the future.
These have been disappointing days for me personally. I was on my bicycle this morning at the gym and began to pray the rosary, as is my custom. As I began, I thought about the tears in the eyes of the nearly 80 year-old religious sister in my parish who was so deflated this past Sunday as she reflected on the Vatican's recent statements about religious sisters. And I thought of a retired priest that I know who, reflecting on the same issue, said to me, "Are they trying to find ways to divide us?"
These are legitimate questions, questions that affect me deeply. I was unable to contine with my rosary this morning. I did speak with the Lord, but it was more of an honest and frank and sometimes angry conversation; certainly all part of the prayer life.
And even on days like this . . .
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.