Big Changes Ahead, We’re Not Ready

In case more people than Liam are regular visitors here, it’s time for another taking stock. What’s there to write about?

We are deep in pandemic time, and the gradual release may be closer than the beginning of stay-at-home. However, we’ve only begun a significant shift in the world that will mark us for decades.

As a person of faith working with one finger on theology, another in the arts, and yet another on pastoral ministry, I can foresee I will never experience liturgy as I did three months ago.

Weeks away: funerals and weddings. Months away: full churches, Communion under both forms, and maybe even singing. And perhaps years: participation as some of us have known it. I suspect we will see fewer elderly people at Mass. I certainly hope I’m wrong about a lot of this. It might yet be that epidemiologists will find a vaccine more effective than the annual flu shots. Or, covid-19 and its future mutations will join the flu every winter and knock out a bigger chunk of the elderly, the obese, those with compromised lungs, hearts, and immune systems.

Our polarized culture in the US is unprepared for the kind of personal responsibility and common good this will demand of a mature society. I thought Donald Trump was going to be a blip. But it seems we really needed an Abraham Lincoln. Or a Jacinda Ardern. We got stale vinegar when champagne or a fine malt was needed. It’s going to cost.

Pope Francis’ words on the Amazon synod will run out here the day after tomorrow. I don’t know what’s next on the horizon. I continue at the parish office five days a week for now. Instead of five to eight liturgies a week, I prepare music for one. Instead of forty-plus singers and instrumentalists, I work with one. I had two at the Easter Vigil.

I’m doing tasks ordinarily reserved for the summer: researching, acquiring, and arranging music for Advent/Christmas, and yes, even Easter 2021. Construction workers were back on-site today for the first time in a month. Our church renovation will be finished sometime this summer. And a new rehearsal room will need to be readied with some old furnishings and new. I know I’ll be prepared, and much leaner and more organized when the all-clear is given. I don’t know what that will look like.

I have more singers in their eighties than younger than 50. Other parishes like mine are chock full of older believers. The kids have fled the nest. And they aren’t coming back. As a citizen, I might simmer and rail against an incompetent president. But as a Christian, I see much more damage done by the Catholic unwillingness to adjust to the times and challenges with which we’ve been presented.

It’s a very discouraging moment, telling it to you from my perspective. Literally, we will need saintly heroism to get back on our feet. If I were half my age, I’d have the energy to raise my hand high and say, “Send me” in some Isaiah 6 or Jeremiah 1 or 1 Samuel 3 moment.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Big Changes Ahead, We’re Not Ready

  1. Mary says:

    The biggest shift will come from the eye-opening experiences people are having with on-line liturgies: you may not see them, but they’re there watching what you are doing. Don’t like that they’re seeing / hearing – they’re surfing to the parish down the road. Will they come back to church at all? If they do, what will they be there for? Can we deliver?

  2. Liam says:

    My local territorial parishes (inner suburban) are demographic barbells: children with their parents, and older folks. Fewer folks in young adulthood through middle age who are without partners and/or children. There is considerable inertia to stay converged on a lowest common denominator. (Places attracting a more intentionally gathered group are more diverse at least age-wise but not necessarily class-wise, and perhaps more room for being less stuck.)

    Most places, if not exactly everywhere, there is a persistent resistance to – more likely, fear/dread of – engaging the common realities of spiritual dryness and darkness (and not just those in midlife and later years, but also in youth) and the opportunities they offer us in re-aligning ourselves with God and neighbor, and instead to focus on a reduction of the Gospel to either that of the purity-and-obedience tribe or the material version of the kindness-caring-and-sharing tribe.

    In a like manner, there appears to be an implied assumption that if you do more of X and less of Y, then you will feel more of A and less of B; it’s a reductive spirituality derived from consumer capitalism – rather than discipleship, which is about theosis, which is painful and hard (because it’s a relationship) and not about success or failure or scoring our vice/virtue management programs. There’s not much value placed on a more conscious alignment of will to that of Divine Providence in hope and trust – without certainty of specific result(s).

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