Making sense of the church crisis

I don’t want to read about it.

But I know I have to. (And not just because I work in Catholic media.)

Even before the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released, the sex-abuse scandal in the Church was back on my radar screen. That’s because Cardinal McCarrick served in two New Jersey diocese. He presided at my husband’s Confirmation.

Before the grand jury report was released, my pastor dedicated his bulletin column to this difficult topic. He shared his disgust and how the first sex-abuse scandal had affected his priesthood. He called for our parish to participate in a 54-day Rosary novena, beginning August 15.

I’ve been reading about it, and trying to pray, and trying to figure out what it will mean for a Church that’s largely empty already — largely due to the first round of scandals in 2002.

Since 2006 I have been VIRTUS-certified so that I could volunteer and substitute-teach in a Catholic school. I have had to attend the class (which, having also been through the Boy Scouts’ Youth Protection Training, was less informative than the class the BSA offered). I’ve had to go to the really sketchy places in semi-abandoned industrial parks every 3 years to get my fingerprints done. (How sketchy, you ask? How about so creepy-people-in-the-elevator-sketchy, you think it’ll be safer to take the stairs on the way out — because at least you can run if you’re on the stairs? Yeah, that sketchy.) And to be honest, I haven’t had the best attitude about all of that, because I feel like I was being treated like a criminal because some other people were criminals.

I tried to turn that attitude around by praying for the victims and, yes, even for the criminals (they need prayers too) but I still feel that the rest of us were punished for the actions of a few.

But if that’s as much as this has touched me, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I cannot imagine the torment the victims and their families have experienced.

I feel like something is broken in the Church and it’s not something I have the power to fix.

I’m very unsatisfied by the statement of the New Jersey bishops, as well as the bishop of my own diocese. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that we need more than platitudes and talk of best.

We need shepherds, not CEOs.

Especially right now.

On Thursday, when I went to Adoration and took my rosary out of the little pouch, it was broken. That nearly undid me. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but that broken rosary (which was all in one piece the week before when I’d prayed it at Adoration) was a symbol, for me, of the brokenness we are experiencing now. So I sat there using my fingernails to try to repair the links, since I don’t generally bring pliers to the Adoration Chapel. I had to make it whole before I could begin to pray.

I will not stop going to Mass. I think we need to pray harder than ever right now. We need all the grace we can get. The criminals are not the Church. The bishops are not the Church. The Pope is not the Church. They are all part of it, but they are not all of it, and there is too much that is good in it to toss out the whole thing because of the bad stuff.

Helpful Resources

(to be updated)

The National Catholic Register ran an interview with seminary professor Janet Smith this week. It’s worth the read, especially if you are wondering what you, one lay person in a broken Church, can do right now.

What can the laity do right now?

We should certainly pray and fast and try to keep our faith strong and that of others.

We also need to help other Catholics see how seriously bad the presence of homosexual networks in the Church is. We should write letters to our bishop. We should 1) commend our bishop for the good works he has done 2) demand a clean-up of whatever homosexual network exists in the diocese. Carefully give evidence if we have some prefaced by “I have heard; I don’t know if it is true but I have heard it enough to think queries if not an investigation should be made.” Demand that if there are credible accusations against priests and more evidence is needed, that private investigators need to be hired 3) tell him that if cleaning up the homosexual network means that there will be such a priest shortage that parishes will close and services will be curtailed, say that we will stand by him and support his actions 4) that a lay board be set up to which priests and others can make charges of sexual harassment by the bishop himself and priests and the particularly priests can report any mistreatment from the bishop without fear of reprisals; 5) send the bishop copies of the best articles published expressing lay outrage; 6) promise to pray and fast for him 7) send copies of your letter to DiNardo and the nuncio; 8) get signatures of others who may not be inclined to write; 9) ask for a reply. Be polite but firm. And write again every month until something is done. If we don’t get a satisfactory reply, we need to consider writing to the public newspaper.

Father Willy Raymond, C.S.C., President of Holy Cross Family Ministries (and one of my employers) offered a short prayer for the innocent victims.


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

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Wrong Answer. Wrong Question?

“How was church?” I asked my daughter yesterday after she returned from the 8:00 Mass.

“Boring.”

Maybe I’d asked the wrong question. Maybe I should have inquired if she’d seen anyone she knows there, or how the music was, or who had preached the homily.

I don’t know what answer I’d hoped to hear. But the answer I did hear leads me to believe that I’ve failed.

When I was her age I suffered through the summers because I had to sit in the pews instead of with the musicians. I didn’t have a place to sing at home in the summertime. I’d go to Mass with my parents sometimes (and once I begged sheet music for original hymns from the songwriter who was playing them at Mass.) Other times, I’d walk to the church a mile away from our house. A lot depended on my work schedule.

I didn’t consider it boring, but then again, I didn’t go to Mass expecting entertainment. My biggest obstacle in the summer was that I wasn’t serving.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I haven’t taught my kids that Mass isn’t about entertainment. Maybe I haven’t stressed enough that we’re not there to get, but to give (and I’m not referring to what we’re putting into the collection baskets).

I can make my kids go (as long as they’re living in my house) and I can even insist that they don’t wear shorts to Mass. But I can’t make them want to.

Is my example enough? Is bringing them week after week after week, sending them to Catholic school, enough? Should I have done, said, been something more?

Have I failed my Domestic Church?

Photo copyright 2015 Barb Szyszkiewicz. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz

First Communion: Save It for Sunday

Disclaimer: The following is my own opinion based on my own observations over many years of being a parent, a musician, and a parishioner. I am not a member of the clergy, a catechist, or the holder of a degree in theology.

This past weekend, it was my privilege to be one of the musicians at our parish’s First Holy Communion celebration. This is the first time in several years that First Holy Communion was held on a Saturday.

I’m not a fan.

I can think of only four reasons to schedule First Holy Communion as a separate event for only the children in the Communion class and their families:

  1. Hairdressers are open on Saturdays.
  2. It’s easier to schedule the afterparty.
  3. Sunday Mass won’t take 5 extra minutes because there are a few children receiving First Holy Communion, and it takes a little longer to have them (and their parents) receive before the entire assembly.
  4. There’s a good deal of extra running around involved for the DRE.

None of these are good reasons. All of these (except reason 4) pander to people who are either more concerned about the externals of the celebration than the sacrament itself or likely to complain because Mass is a little longer than usual. We need to challenge the assembly, including the families of children receiving sacraments, to be better than this.

I can think of one compelling reason to (as my parish has done for the past few years) designate a Sunday (or two) as First Communion Sunday and invite families to sign up for the Mass they usually attend and receive First Communion:

Reception of the Eucharist is not a private event.

The celebration of First Holy Communion should not be divorced from the rest of the parish.

I used to love when First Communion Sundays rolled around. There would be several families arriving in the vestibule as I got there. The other musicians and I would make sure to congratulate the children. The First Communicants and their families would sit in the first few rows of pews, and there would be special mention of First Communion during the homily and the Prayer of the Faithful. The rest of the people at Mass were the people who are also usually at that Mass, and seeing children receive First Communion at Sunday Mass strengthens that community bond within the parish.

Three years ago, when my friends’ sons received First Holy Communion, I wrote:

I love that at this parish, First Communion is celebrated during Sunday Masses, so that the whole community gets to be there to celebrate along with the children who have been waiting in the pews for seven or eight years to join the rest of the assembly in the sacrament.

Those boys are altar servers now. There’s a commitment to the Church that is affirmed when a family faithfully attends Mass together.

And then there are the other reasons that Sunday is the proper day for First Communion:

  • The pastor will not be tempted to tell parents of First Communicants, “If you’re not going to bring them on Sunday, don’t bother bringing them on Saturday.” (Yes, this happened when my oldest received his First Communion in 2000.)
  • The pastor and/or deacon will not need to provide verbal directions such as “Please kneel” (after the Holy, Holy, Holy) because even if there are visitors among the families of the First Communicants, the vast majority of the assembly will know what to do and will lead by example.
  • There won’t be a low hum of conversation throughout the entire Mass. (Yes, this happened at the class Mass on Saturday.)
  • Catechists won’t need to scold First Communicants for talking and fidgeting while they wait for the rest of the assembly to receive Communion, because the First Communicants will be sitting with their parents, who should be monitoring and modeling church behavior. (Yes, this happened at the class Mass on Saturday.)
  • Family members and friends of the First Communicants will be less tempted to treat the occasion as a photo opportunity (even after instructions to the contrary are given) and won’t jump out into the aisle to wave at their First Communicant during the entrance procession. (Yes, this happened (several times) at the class Mass on Saturday.)

There should be nothing in the religious education program at a parish that sends the message (intentionally or not) that sacraments of initiation are private events, to be enjoyed only by those receiving those sacraments and their families and friends.

By Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP via Flickr (2009), CC BY-NC 2.0

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

#WorthRevisit: My Semiannual Spiritual Attack

Shame on me. Once again I’m letting myself fall victim to my pride, and I’m letting that pride get in the way of the holiest 3 days of the Church year.

In short: there’s only one group of musicians at my parish that is invited to participate in the Triduum, and that’s not the group to which I belong. So instead of acting like a grownup, I pick up my toys and go home and don’t come to the Triduum.

Shame on me. The only one I’m hurting is myself.

I said this last year, but I didn’t follow through:

For the past several years I’ve basically boycotted the Triduum, because it hurts to be there. It hurts to be excluded. So I rant in this space (and to my husband) and commiserate with the rest of the folk group–and nurse my wounded pride.

That needs to stop, and I’m the only one who can stop it. This year, I need to make it my business to be at the Triduum.

Honestly, it is pride that gets in my way here. I rail about the entitlement mentality but I let myself get all caught up in it when it comes to music. We’re there every week, yes. But we’re not owed anything because of that.

This journey, like any journey, will begin with a single step. And I’ve decided to make a plan for that step. I’m starting tonight by refusing to rant at folk group practice about the fact that we’re left out. It’s time to stop licking my wounds and just start praying.

Please pray for me, in your kindness, as I try to get over this.
worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

#WorthRevisit: Take the Kids to Say “Hi” to God

I’m thinking back to a time when I was in grade school, and my dad would take us into an empty church on a Saturday afternoon. In those days, churches were open during the day, and anyone could just go in and pray for a few minutes. If you have the opportunity to bring your children to a church or Adoration chapel–not just for Mass, but for a visit–definitely do so. It will leave an impression.

When I was around 10 or so, my dad would take us kids to a church in a neighboring town while Mom was at some meeting or other. Dad would have some time to kill, and we’d walk around the neighborhood, visit a park, and at some point wind up in the church.

One of us would ask him, “Are we here for church?”

“No, let’s just say hi to God.”

That was an amazing idea. You can go into a church, and just visit. You can just let God know you’re there, say a prayer, light a candle. Dad would let us walk around a little, look at the statues, kneel down for a moment by the tabernacle.

The church would be quiet. Most of the lights would be out, but it wasn’t a spooky darkness. It was kind of comfortable, actually, kind of the way you feel at night when it’s dark, and you’re nice and warm and sleepy, and you know you’re safe. After all, even if the church is nearly dark, and nearly empty, it is still full–because God is there, just waiting for you to come in and say hi.

(March 2006)

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

The Evangelizing We Need

In a conversation a few weeks ago, a friend observed that people have been leaving parishes (and, by extension, the Church) because they’re not being evangelized.

I was all in with that sentiment until it became clear that by “evangelized” she meant “told what they want to hear” and “affirmed in what they’re doing, even if it’s not what the Church asks of us.”

Actually, I think that if that’s the definition of “evangelization” we’re seeing too much of it, not too little.

If all evangelization does is affirm what we are doing, it’s a failure.

Evangelization is meant to call us to be better. It’s going to involve telling us things we don’t want to hear and calling us on our bad behavior.

As Elizabeth Scalia observes in Little Sins Mean a Lot,

If we were naturally good, we would not have needed God to go to the trouble of spelling out to Moses that, no, we cant just abandon our parents when they get old and feeble; we can’t just take what we want; we can’t kill whom we please and have indiscriminate sex all day long. As obvious as those prohibitions sound to us now, we need to be told not to do those things–because otherwise we would.
. . . if we are going to try to become really good persons, we need to identify and then detach from the faults and sins that we so readily give into, and thus keep us always playing defense. (18-19)

little sins mean a lot

About a decade ago, we had a pastor at our parish who worked hard to evangelize us. I wish I’d kept the church bulletins from that era, because he wrote a weekly column that was a real spiritual challenge.

He didn’t last long at our parish. People were vocal in their opposition to him. I suspect that what they really didn’t like was the spiritual challenge. Nobody likes hearing that they’re not on the right track. But everybody needs to hear that–or they won’t grow at all.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it. (James 1:5)

It won’t necessarily be what we want to hear, but surely it will be what we need to hear.

"The Evangelizing We Need" by Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS @franciscanmom
Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz @franciscanmom All rights reserved

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

On Barb’s Bookshelf: The Church is Our Mother

I am too young to remember hearing anyone refer to “Holy Mother Church.” In my experience, I’ve only seen that in old books. It sounds like an impossibly old-fashioned phrase to me.

Of course, it’s no stretch to think of the Church as “holy”–it’s the “Mother” part that gives me pause. How can the Church, an organization led by men, be a “Mother” to me?

Gina Loehr is uniquely equipped to answer that very question. In 2013 she was chosen as one of 100 women worldwide to be a delegate for the Pontifical Council for the Laity’s study seminar on women and the Church.

loehr-2a

In The Church is Our Mother: Seven Ways She Inspires Us to Love, Gina Loehr breaks down the functions of the Church into 7 activities which every mother is familiar with doing: creating, caring, teaching, accepting, sacrificing, healing and celebrating. Loehr compares the work of a mother with the work of the Church in concrete ways. For example, in the chapter on teaching, Loehr describes the cooking lessons she received in her grandmother’s kitchen, then goes on to break down the Church’s reliance on Scripture and Tradition by comparing it to the passing along of culinary skills.

…using the (imperfect) analogy of chopping onions, Sacred Tradition is like the actual method of safe onion chopping. Sacred Scripture is like the recipe cards I made with written reference to the method, and Grandma is like the Magisterium. (34)

The Church is more than simply “an organization” or “a building.” It is the Body of Christ. It is all of us. The Church, entrusted to us by Christ, wants what is best for each of us, because–as a mother does–the Church loves us. It is there to guide, to teach, to comfort, to rejoice, to endure.

Writing from the perspective of her own motherhood, Gina Loehr draws concrete parallels that remind us of the Church’s true mission: to bring us to Christ. She challenges us to consider how we can mother the people in our lives, both physically and spiritually.

This book is tailor-made for people who have issues with the authority and tradition of the Church. It leads readers to think about the Church’s hierarchy in a new, healthier way.

Listen to Danielle Bean’s “Girlfriends” podcast to learn more about Gina Loehr!

Barb's Book shelf blog title

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This month I’m joining all the cool kids in the #Write31Days adventure! I didn’t pick a keyword or a theme, because just getting something written for all 31 days is challenge enough for me right now.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; your purchase through these links helps support this blog. Thank you! I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

#WorthRevisit: Panic at the Retreat

I was listening to a podcast this morning while I baked cookies for the soccer team’s pasta party. Greg and Jennifer Willits were talking about one of my favorite subjects–personality–and that was spun into a discussion about why Greg needed to leave a retreat over the weekend.

I’ve taken various forms of the MBTI countless times over the years, and I just went through the free survey at 16personalities.com, the site Greg and Jennifer recommended. My score: ISFJ (but I’m pretty close to ISTJ.)

I completely understand Greg’s experience at the retreat, as he described in episode 157 of the podcast. Which brings me back to a story I shared last fall–a story about the very same type of retreat Greg attempted to attend last weekend.

The first time I was called upon to share my faith story, I had just returned from a Christ Renews His Parish (ChRHP) retreat. Newly married and new to the area, I was already feeling shy, and I was dismayed to discover that after you’ve attended a ChRHP weekend, you’re expected to be a presenter at the next one. I sat there at the follow-up meeting, listening to other women share dramatic stories of conversion and renewal of faith. I didn’t feel like I had anything to add or contribute; certainly, I had nothing that could compare to those witnesses. Finally I fled the meeting, weeping, and in a full-blown panic attack. I never returned. I felt like a fraud.

That was exactly Greg’s point in the podcast. We’re not all the same. Those retreats are wonderful–for certain types of people who benefit from certain types of activities. I am not one of those people.

Today, for the first time in over 25 years, I felt OK about running away from that meeting (though there are tears in my eyes as I think about it.) It’s part of my personality to want to finish what I start. It’s why I stuck it out a whole year in the school lunchroom, though I discovered under one month in that it wasn’t a good fit for me. I’d learned, by then, that I could create a new opportunity to help the school–and I’m still volunteering in the school library even though my kids have all graduated.

St. Paul is famous for saying, “There are different gifts, but the same Spirit.” There are different personalities, too–but the same Spirit. What works for one does not work for everyone. (It’s why I don’t podcast or do Facebook Live. It’s why I’ll probably bury myself in small tasks at the pasta party tonight.) As Greg said in the podcast, we don’t all fit the same cookie-cutter! The trick is finding what works for you, and using your own personalities, gifts and talents to serve God and others.

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

#WorthRevisit: An Act of Will

From deep in the archives–ten years ago:

Last week I read on Happy Catholic that “sorrow is an act of the will, not of feeling.”

I was chewing on that all week long, it seems.

Last night I had a very odd dream. At the end, I was sitting at a picnic table with a priest who was my pastor until 4 1/2 years ago, when we changed parishes after a series of events that left us angry, confused and heartbroken. And we felt that the pastor was doing nothing about it, and didn’t care.

In my dream last night I told this priest, “I’m still angry.” And he answered, “I know.” And THEN I said, “I wonder if anger is like sorrow–an act of the will?”

After 4 1/2 years, I think it is. We’re back at that parish now, with a different pastor, and that has been very healing to us. But there’s still some anger there, obviously. Why do I still hang on to that?

Ten years later, I have to admit I’m still hanging on to some of that anger, that feeling of betrayal.

Holding on to a grudge? Clearly, it’s my superpower–and not just in this situation. It’s not a good superpower to have, either. I have yet to find a way to use my ability to hold a grudge for good.

If holding on to anger is an act of the will, so is letting go. That’s what I need to focus on.

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!

#WorthRevisit: Church – Not Just for Sundays

We are blessed to have Perpetual Adoration in our parish. People can stop in for a short visit or spend a holy hour.

When I was growing up, we didn’t know about Adoration Chapels–if they had them. Of course, at that time, churches were open (at least during the day) so people could go in and pay a visit. And we did, as I recall in this post from 10 years ago:

Sometimes my dad would take us kids to a church in a neighboring town while Mom was at some meeting or other. Dad would have some time to kill, and we’d walk around the neighborhood, visit a park, and at some point wind up in the church.

One of us would ask him, “Are we here for church?”

“No, let’s just say hi to God.”

That was an amazing idea. You can go into a church, and just visit. You can just let God know you’re there, say a prayer, light a candle. Dad would let us walk around a little, look at the statues, kneel down for a moment by the tabernacle.

The church would be quiet. Most of the lights would be out, but it wasn’t a spooky darkness. It was kind of comfortable, actually, kind of the way you feel at night when it’s dark, and you’re nice and warm and sleepy, and you know you’re safe. After all, even if the church is nearly dark, and nearly empty, it is still full–because God is there, just waiting for you to come in and say hi.

 

 

worth revisit

I’m linking up with Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb for #WorthRevisit Wednesday, a place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link up with fellow bloggers!