Friday, March 27, 2009

Another Sr. Joan coming to Rochester

According to a flyer that arrived in yesterday's mail, Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB will be giving a "Special Lecture" entitled "Ecology, Theology and Feminism: Concurrence or Conflict?" at (where else?) St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry on June 25.

This isn't up on their web site yet and the flyer says we'll have to wait until April 15 to register.

For those planning ahead, the time is listed as 2:00 PM and the cost is $20.00.

Encore! Encore!

Last year St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry offered a presentation for priests only entitled Dealing With Difficult Parishioners (see here).

Well, it looks like there are still some pesky parishioners out there who need to be dealt with, as the French Road Heresy Factory is offering the same talk this spring.

It seems a bit interesting that the flyer advertising the talk also contains a blurb for phone-in mental health services. Could it be that those difficult parishioners are causing high levels of stress among some of our clergy?

I'm still waiting for St. Bernard's to offer the laity a talk on dealing with difficult pastors and staff (but I'm not holding my breath).

Monday, March 23, 2009

A dialogue homily done right

Archbishop Charles Chaput celebrated the 6:30pm Mass yesterday at Denver's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.  In the course of giving the homily he told the congregation to imagine that old scenario where they had just died and were now standing in front of the pearly gates and St. Peter had just asked them why he should let them in.

The archbishop then took a hand-held microphone out into the congregation to collect responses from 3 people after which he went on to deliver the rest of his homily.

According to my stopwatch the 3 lay people spoke for a total of 15 seconds, while the entire homily lasted just over 20 minutes.

Here in DOR a "dialogue homily" usually means that the priest or deacon speaks for no more than 2 minutes and is followed by a lay person who "develops the theme" for another for 8 to 10 minutes.

My thanks to the archbishop for demonstrating what the Church really means by the term "dialogue homily."

Listen to the archbishop's homily here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Archbishop Chaput laments dismal catechesis of last 40 years

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver was in Detroit yesterday to deliver the keynote address at the Hands-On Conference Celebrating the Year of St. Paul.  The Catholic News Agency reports that His Excellency had been asked to examine what November 2008 and its aftermath can teach Catholics about American culture, the state of American Catholicism and the kind of Pauline discipleship necessary today. According to the CNA the Archbishop said (emphasis added):

November showed us that 40 years of American Catholic complacency and poor formation are bearing exactly the fruit we should have expected. Or to put it more discreetly, the November elections confirmed a trend, rather than created a new moment, in American culture.”

Noting that there was no question about President Barack Obama’s views on abortion “rights,” embryonic stem cell research and other “problematic issues,” he commented:

“Some Catholics in both political parties are deeply troubled by these issues. But too many Catholics just don’t really care. That’s the truth of it. If they cared, our political environment would be different. If 65 million Catholics really cared about their faith and cared about what it teaches, neither political party could ignore what we believe about justice for the poor, or the homeless, or immigrants, or the unborn child. If 65 million American Catholics really understood their faith, we wouldn’t need to waste each other’s time arguing about whether the legalized killing of an unborn child is somehow ‘balanced out’ or excused by three other good social policies.”

Offering a sober evaluation of the state of American Catholicism, he added:

“We need to stop over-counting our numbers, our influence, our institutions and our resources, because they’re not real. We can’t talk about following St. Paul and converting our culture until we sober up and get honest about what we’ve allowed ourselves to become. We need to stop lying to each other, to ourselves and to God by claiming to ‘personally oppose’ some homicidal evil -- but then allowing it to be legal at the same time.”

Commenting on society’s attitude towards Catholic beliefs, Archbishop Chaput said, “we have to make ourselves stupid to believe some of the things American Catholics are now expected to accept.”

“There’s nothing more empty-headed in a pluralist democracy than telling citizens to keep quiet about their beliefs. A healthy democracy requires exactly the opposite.”

Noting the 2008 presidential campaign’s “revealing” focus upon the candidates’ “narratives,” he said the campaign seemed not to involve facts, but rather “story-telling.”

“Of course, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with story-telling -- unless the press and other news media themselves become part of the story-telling syndicate; in other words, peddlers of narratives in which facts are not told because they’re true, but rather become ‘true’ because they’re told by those who have the power to create an absorbing narrative,” the archbishop explained.

In such a state, he warned, real power does not rest with the people but with those who “shape the structure of our information.” He linked this situation with Pope Benedict’s critique of the “dictatorship of relativism.”

The archbishop also connected this relativistic spirit to St. Paul’s appearance at the Aeropagus, recounted in the Book of Acts. At the Areopagus, a prestigious place of debate for Greek philosophers, “Nearly anything was tolerated, so long as no one claimed to have an exclusive and binding claim on the truth,” the archbishop explained.

He then quoted Acts 17’s description of the Areopagite mindset: “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.”

“It’s worth paying attention to that description. There’s no mention of truth,” he commented, noting that when St. Paul preaches the truth “he’s mocked and despised and his preaching is a failure, at least in the short term.”

“Paul’s failure at the Areopagus is a good lesson for the times we face now in America,” the archbishop said. “When Catholics start leading their daily lives without a hunger for something higher than their own ambitions or appetites, or with the idea that they can create their own truth and then baptize it with an appeal to personal conscience, they become, in practice, agnostics in their personal lives, and Sophists in their public lives. In fact, people who openly reject God or dismiss Christianity as obsolete are sometimes far more honest and far less discouraging than Catholics who claim to be faithful to the Church but directly reject her guidance by their words and actions.”

Noting that Paul mastered the language of the popular urban culture of his time and used “every technical resource, tool and environment at his disposal,” Archbishop Chaput extensively quoted Pope John Paul II’s 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio, which also discussed St. Paul at the Areopagus.

“If Paul felt so fiercely compelled to preach the Gospel -- whether ‘timely [or] untimely’ -- to a pagan world, then how should we feel today, preaching the Gospel to an apostate world?” he asked, answering that the love of Christ must “impel” Catholics forward.

“Catholics in America, at least the many good Catholics who yearn to live their faith honestly and deeply, can easily feel tempted to hopelessness,” he concluded. “It becomes very burdensome to watch so many persons who call themselves Catholic compromise their faith and submit their hearts and consciences to the Caesars of our day.”

But Archbishop Chaput closed by encouraging Christians to remember the words of Jesus:

“In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Special honors

Two prominent members of the Women's Ordination Conference are currently in charge of Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Rochester.  Sister Joan Sobala, SSJ is heading up the Our Lady of Lourdes - St. Anne Church Cluster, while Nancy DeRycke is in charge at Good Shepherd Parish.

Both of these women have now been granted what seems to be a special honor in DOR. Last September Bishop Clark visited Our Lady of Lourdes and formally installed Sister Joan as the cluster's Pastoral Administrator and this past weekend he was at Good Shepherd to lead the installation of Ms. DeRycke as its PA.  (The latter must have been more challenging, as it seems the bishop needed 3 Masses to get the job done.)

It is no secret that Bishop Clark has said that he would be happy to ordain women as priestesses, if only Rome would allow it.  Well, Rome has emphatically said that it lacks the power to allow it and so the bishop now seems reduced to these public displays of his support for their leadership.

To the best of my knowledge our bishop had never traveled to a parish to formerly install a pastoral administrator until last fall.

Isn't that special?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sisters of a Certain Age

These days the only place I see nuns in habits is on EWTN.  And, except for a couple that used to have classrooms at Holy Cross School, EWTN the only place I ever hear of nuns actually teaching school.

Peony Moss of Pansy and Peony - The Two Sleepy Mommies has noticed the same thing ...

Much talk in the Catholic blogosphere about the announcement of an apostolic visitation to religious communities, and of one snippy Sister's response. For some crazy reason, I can't help thinking that Sister Snippy's community hasn't welcomed any novices in a while.

Then there are all the other stories about Sisters of a Certain Age who abandoned their habits and their community life. Some of them left teaching or nursing behind; they felt called to Be Prophetic, which meant talking about how Prophetic they were, and maybe beating on railroad tracks with ball-peen hammers. Others might have stayed and are now school principals or hospital administrators, but their sisters are either also in administration or are retired. None of their sisters are still in the classroom or at the bedside. Some of these Sisters of a Certain Age have been reflecting on how Their Mission is Complete or Our Order is Moving Into a New Phase, which to the cynical might sound like happy-talk for We Have Had No Vocations Since The Ford Administration and We Need To Sell Our Land to Pay For Our Retirement.

Yet, strangely, there are still sick people that need nursing care, and children that need schoolteachers. There are still poor people. And, for whatever reason, the orders of Sisters that used to serve them have withered away.

Read the rest here.

Pro-Life group to sponsor conference at U of R

A pro-life group at the University of Rochester will be hosting an on-campus conference a week from Saturday.  They would like those interested in attending to sign up by this Wednesday (see the link, below).

From the press release ...

Rochester Students for Life, a student-led pro-life group at the University of Rochester will be hosting a conference entitled Spotlight on Life: The Issues - What they are and what you can do on Saturday, March 28th at the U of R.

This conference will address a variety of life issues including abortion, the care of the elderly, and genocide. The goals of this conference are to provide an opportunity for pro-life students and community members to network with one another and to become better informed on life issues.

The cost of attendance will be $6 for community members and is free to students. Lunch will be provided.

Please go to their website to register for the event or for more information.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

MCCS 2009-10 enrollment at 2,600; target is 4,000

Registration for the 2009-10 school year in the Monroe County Catholic School System began a little over 6 weeks ago, on January 26.  Channel 8 is reporting that thus far 2,600 students have signed up, some 1,400 shy of the Superintendent Anne Wilkens Leach's target of 4,000. 


3,700 students are currently enrolled in the system's 11 schools, at a tuition of $2,900.  Tuition will remain the same next year.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Godspell at Holy Cross

Last Sunday Holy Cross Parish held its annual Paschal Gathering. Along with Lenten crafts and refreshments the event also featured several scenes from the musical Godspell presented by the Greece Arcadia High School Music Theater.

The cast features several Holy Cross parishioners and the "sneak peak" we received Sunday promises a great performance when the full show debuts later this month.

Performance dates and ticket info follows (click to enlarge) ...

Monday, March 9, 2009

Quote of the day

If everyone in the Catholic community gave the price of a latte a week, we'd have no financial crisis in Catholic schools ... So, if we know that this is the way to have a future for our church of articulate, faith-filled adults, why aren't we doing it? It just seems like a no-brainer.

We have to say as a Catholic community, this is just like Catholic Charities. This is our mission ... The church needs to look at this and say, 'These are our children.'

- Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, O.P.

Sister McCaughey is the new superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago.  She's been on the job since last July.

Full story here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tuition assistance collection scheduled

Both Channel 10 and the Catholic Courier are reporting that Bishop Clark has directed that a special collection be conducted either this weekend or next. Its purpose is to raise funds to meet a challenge issued by the Wegman Family Charitable Foundation.

The Wegman family has offered the diocese $2 million in assistance for poor children to attend Catholic schools, provided the diocese can raise another $500,000 in new donations on its own.

It appears that the bishop has already gone through his list of wealthy donors and has managed to come up with about $320,000. Now he's reaching out to average parishioners in an effort to raise the remaining $180,000.

The bishop has also directed that a letter asking for support be read at every Mass this weekend. The bishop's letter says, in part,

I know you have already been generous to the Catholic Ministries Appeal. But I ask you again for support in this special effort for the sake of these children and their future.

In this time of almsgiving, in this time in which we celebrate our own blessings and the abundant love and forgiveness of Almighty God, let us give hope to these children; let us stretch out our hands and offer them a way up and out of poverty through education.

Given that the CMA drive seems to be stalling out substantially short of its goal, it will be interesting to see how well the people respond.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The duties of a bishop

A couple of weeks ago Bishop Joseph Martino of the Diocese of Scranton publicly lambasted the Diversity Institute at Misericordia University for inviting a nationally recognized proponent of same sex marriage to speak at its annual diner.  Since then Bishop Martino has taken quite a bit of flak.

Now the Bishop is answering his critics.  Key points in his response follow.

As Catholics, we believe there is an objective, moral Truth – given to us by Jesus Christ. This Truth is timeless, and it cannot be altered by the shifting tides of popular culture. If our faith and our actions are not rooted in this Truth, we risk contributing to the "dictatorship of relativism" cited by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in a homily given just prior to his election as Pope Benedict XVI. He said:

"To have a clear faith, according to the creed of the Church, is often labeled as fundamentalism. While relativism, that is, allowing oneself to be carried about with every wind of 'doctrine,' seems to be the attitude that is fashionable. A dictatorship of relativism is being constituted that recognizes nothing as absolute and which only leaves the 'I' and its whims as the ultimate measure."

As the Bishop, it is not only my right, but my obligation to ensure that authentic Catholic teaching is being provided in all Catholic institutions in this Diocese, and that viewpoints in opposition to this teaching are not being presented as acceptable alternatives ...

I also offer this postscript to those who criticize me for taking public stances that may not be popular or "politically correct," or may not agree with their own personal notions of what "progressive" Catholic doctrine should be. My job as a Bishop is to promulgate the authentic teaching of the Catholic Church to all the faithful. I will continue to do so. (emphasis added)

Here is a man who understands what it means to be a bishop.

DOR Mass Attendance Free Fall Continues

When I began this blog 14 months ago my first post detailed the precipitous decline in weekend Mass attendance in the Diocese of Rochester over the 7 year period ending in 2007. During that time Average October Attendance had fallen from 108,000 to 84,000.

Last year's number is now available and it shows that this trend is continuing unabated. DOR's 2008 AOA was 80,710.

DOR has now lost over one quarter (25.3%) of its weekend Mass attendees in a mere 8 years. Put another way, we have been losing an average of 3.58% of our Mass attendees year in and year out since 2000.

The data

Here is the AOA data from 2000 through 2008 in tabular form:

In graphical format it looks like this:

Spirit Alive! is having no effect

In 2007 the diocese launched Spirit Alive!, a 3-year effort that is DOR's idea of what a diocesan-wide spiritual renewal ought to look like. One of the purposes of Spirit Alive! was to help stem the decline in Mass attendance.

I had my reservations as to how any program lacking a healthy dose of catechesis could have any real effect (see CCC #8) and it now appears those reservations were well founded. Whatever good things Spirit Alive! might be accomplishing, keeping folks in the pews is not one of them.

National attendance trends are steady

Eugene Michael at Rochester Catholic has recently posted an article dealing with declining Mass attendance in the Irondequoit area and citing sources showing that decline to be an anomaly. He quotes Dr. Mary Gautier of the CARA Research Center at Georgetown University as saying that nationally,

The percentage of Catholics attending Mass has remained stable over recent years (my emphasis).

In other words, things like the pedophile priest scandal and the "generational shift" have had no real effect on our national Mass attendance rate.

The question remains

There's no denying that DOR's weekend Mass attendance is in a death spiral and that there is no nationwide statistical explanation for it.

And so the question remains, why is the Mass attendance rate in DOR falling off a cliff?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Reliving the moment

Those of you who are not followers of Fr. Z's blog should be. 

The following is from his latest post ...

Jesus Christ, God and Savior, gave us the Sacrament of Penance, of Reconciliation.

This is the ordinary means by which He desires us to seek forgiveness for our actual, post-baptismal sins.

There is no sin that any limited little mortal can commit which is so bad that God cannot forgive it.

Christ gave His own power to forgive sins to the Church He established, the Catholic Church.

Priests exercise this ministry in the Church, acting by virtue of their ordination, as "another Christ".

When you confess your sins to a priest and he gives you absolution, you sins are taken away… not merely covered over or set aside.  They are no more.  You may remember them in sorrow, but they no longer harm your relationship with God.

Mortal sins break your saving friendship with God.  Mortal sin places you at risk of eternal separation from God and the happiness of heaven… forever.

Confession and absolution repairs that rupture and returns you to a state of friendship with God.

Awareness of mortal sin should drive you to a confessional.

In our weakness we will sometimes put off going to confession.  Perhaps fear or embarrassment keeps us away.   Time slips by.  Days become weeks become months become years. 

Then you die and go to your judgment.

So … maybe the priest is not friendly or the confession schedule is a little narrow…. so what?  A better confessor is some distance away… so?  It is a little hard… not convenient… too much to do….  And?

What is a moment of embarrassment, what is an interruption of your oh-so-important routine compared to the eternity of heaven or of hell?

You do not know the moment when your reckoning will come, friends.

Have you fallen into the trap, willingly or innocently, of going to "general absolution" without making a confession of your sins in the proper way?

The Sacrament of Penance heals your soul, strengthens you against sin, and – simply on the basic level of peace of mind – works wonders.

I will never forget one somewhat slow afternoon in a confessional… just a bit bored…  I heard someone get in and slid open the window.  "Bless me Father, I have sinned.  It has been sixty years since my last confession…."

When we were finished he wept and said "I’m free."

I know exactly how that man felt. I simply cannot put into words the feelings of freedom and gratitude that came over me after my first confession in almost 30 years.

Thank you, Jesus, for this wonderful gift.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

CMA Update

The most recent Parish-by-Parish Catholic Ministries Appeal results posted on are dated February 24. As of that date the data show total pledges of $4,723,062 and total assessments of $5,294,734. In other words, total pledges are now at 89.2 % of total parish assessment.

Pledges are tapering off

The number of new donors per day has been running at about 18 over the last 3 weeks and new pledges have averaged $105 during the same period. If these trends continue through the end of the drive in May, the 2008-09 CMA will wind up about $373,200 (or 7.0%) short of its goal.

Total donors still down by 4,000

The total number of CMA donors is now 33,067, some 4,000 short of last year's "more than 37,000." The difference in unemployment rates can explain about a quarter of this difference but that still leaves about 3,000 of last year's donors inexplicably absent from this year's campaign.

Parishes with MCCS Schools through June 2008

The Monroe County parishes that lost their schools last June continue to lag significantly behind those that kept theirs. Overall, the "Kept Schools" group has pledges running at 98.1% of CMA assessment while the "Lost Schools" group's pledges are at 81.9%. Were the latter group pledging at the same rate as the former their overall pledges would be about $125,000 higher than they actually are.

Individual MCCS parishes

Data for 10 of the 11 Monroe County parishes that kept their schools are being reported by DOR. (Peace of Christ Parish is conducting a combined CMA and parish fund drive and is not included.) Pledges at all but 2 of these parishes are at or above the diocesan average. In addition, only 2 of these parishes are $10,000 or more short of their assessment, St. Thomas More ($10,963 short) and Christ the King ($12,208 short).

12 of the 13 Monroe County parishes that lost their schools are still in existence. Of this group all but 2 parishes are below the diocesan average and 8 are $10,000 or more short of their assessments. These parishes (and their shortages) are St. Monica ($10,474), St. Andrew ($11,657), St. Margaret Mary ($11,920), St. John the Evangelist ($12,199), St. Theodore ($12,205), Good Shepherd ($13,033), Holy Trinity ($23,888) and St. John of Rochester ($28,693).