Fr. Bryan Howard
1st Sunday of Advent – Year A – 1 December 2019
It’s been my practice since I started as pastor here to do a sort of financial assessment of the parish every September, where we go over the budget and talk about our plans for the future and what the Church needs to accomplish them. I was convicted recently that there is something more important than our financial condition, our spiritual condition. How are we doing as a parish and as a Church in our relationship with God and in our relationships with one another. What better time to ask that question than the First Sunday of Advent, when we begin to prepare for the birth of Jesus.
It’s dangerous to but too much stock in numbers, because there’s more to the health of the Church than how many people go to Mass, but we certainly want more people going to Mass and approaching the Sacraments. So, how is the Catholic Church doing? According to CARA, a Catholic research agengy, from 2000 to 2018, the US Catholic population increased by almost 9 million people, to 68.7 m. In 2018, there were 380,000 fewer infants baptized, over 70,000 fewer confirmations, over 200,000 fewer first Communions, over 100,000 fewer Catholic marriages, and the number of Catholic who attend Mass every Sunday dropped from 30% to 21%.
We know that the Church is struggling in the US, but how are we doing as a parish? In the past few years, the number of baptisms and funerals we’re doing has gone up, as well as weekday Mass attendance. We’ve instituted Bible Studies and have about 2 dozen people participating. We’ve stayed about the same on the number of weddings, only one each year I’ve been here. The best indication of the spiritual health of a parish, however, is to look at Sunday Mass attendance and the number of people going to confession. I would say that the number of people going to confession is about the same, or maybe a little bit higher, than when I started here, although we obviously don’t keep a count of that. The number of people going to Mass on Sundays, however, has definitely gone down. We always get over 500 people for Christmas and Easter and over 400 people for Ash Wednesday, but we’re averaging about 350 for a regular weekend where just a few years ago we averaged over 380.
Now, I don’t think that the Catholic Church is in danger of dying out; there are many places in the world where the Church is growing exponentially, like some parts of Africa and Asia. So, why is this happening here? Well, the clergy abuse scandal certainly plays a part. The bishops and priests who committed those atrocities forgot or ignored their responsibility to shepherd God’s people and many people stopped trusting the Church, and who could blame them. However, that doesn’t explain everything. The news broke in about 2002, but the decline in Mass attendance can be traced back to the 1970’s.
I think another reason for the decline is the cultural change that started in the 1960’s. As peoples’ morality and lifestyles changed and things that the Church considers to be grave sin began to be seen as normal, people began to label the Church as intolerant. When people identify something as part of their character or their right, then calling it a sin can seem like an attack on them as a person. The Church has a responsibility to preach the truth, but we all know that it can be very hard to hear the truth.
That’s a lot of bad news, but there’s also a lot of Good News. Remember what Mother Teresa said, “We are called upon not to be successful, but to be faithful.” In other words, our part is to follow the Gospel, to live the faith, and to love like Christ. God is the One who brings success or failure. If we are faithful, and seem to fail, then we should look to the Cross. Christ seemed to have failed when He was nailed to the Cross, but through the sign of the Cross the Gospel has spread to every continent.
Today, I want all of us to renew our commitment to God, to be renewed in the faith and in the grace of God. Moving forward, we will be focusing on renewing ourselves in the faith through a focus on the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Holy Matrimony. Let’s put the Eucharist at the center of our Church family and at the center of our families at home. The best way we can evangelize our community is to live out the faith with joy. Joy is contagious and addictive. When we see someone who is full of joy we want to be close to them and that gives us an opportunity to share the faith simply by living it out in a radical way. I see the mission of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church as helping your family to live out the faith and put Christ at the center of our homes and lives. As part of our focus on the Eucharist, we already have opportunities for Adoration every first Wednesday and every Friday morning. As part of our focus on the Family, we are working on starting youth ministry as well as more opportunities for Marriage Enrichment. We also want everyone to know that families and children are always welcome at every parish Mass and parish event, and if the topics being talked about are too mature for certain ages we’ll make that clear in advance.
Finally, this parish is already very committed to our patron saint, Our Lady of Lourdes, and we want to ask her to continue to pray for and bless our parish and our families. So, we’re going to be adding a Mass the First Saturday of every month which will be dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I’ll be available for confession half an hour before Mass and we’ll pray a Marian devotion or prayer after Mass. The Mass will be the ordinary (Novus Ordo) Mass that we’re used to, but all the prayers will be in Latin while the readings and homily will be in English. This will give us an opportunity to experience Mass in the language that the Church used for over one and a half millennia, and the language that most Catholics and most of the saints heard Mass in.
Lord God, we ask you to bless our parish, our community, and our families. Renew us in the faith and in your grace through the Sacraments of the Most Holy Eucharist and Holy Matrimony, that we might all grow closer to you as one family in Christ. Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.